Covid tourist exiles in Thailand can stay until the end of May

Thai immigration authorities have announced that the grace period for foreigners unable or unwilling to return to their home countries has been extended once more.

Thai immigration authorities have announced that the grace period for foreigners unable or unwilling to return to their home countries has been extended once more. Those whose tourist extension permits run out after the end of January may now apply for a further two months until 30 March, effectively giving a new terminal date of 30 May. The cost is 1,900 and, to qualify, they must not lapse into overstay.

The Immigration Bureau believes that there are 100,000 to 150,000 foreigners still in the country, many residing here since last Spring, who have benefitted from a succession of concessions which have enabled them to avoid returning home. There are three groups. Firstly, there are foreigners unable to find flights to their required overseas destination because of airport closures or indirect routings. There are also tourists who prefer not to return home, perhaps because they fear the prevalence of Covid or because they are enjoying life here. Lastly, there are those trapped because they reside in neighboring countries where land borders are closed to most traffic.

The issue of a grace period for foreigners has had a controversial nine months. At one point, applicants had to produce (hard-to-obtain) letters from their embassy explaining their predicament and there was initial confusion after some immigration spokespeople said the visa amnesty had ended, only to be apparently overruled by higher policy makers. Those now applying for an extra 60 days, up to March 30, are not required to bring additional documentation except proof of address and passport. Technically, the visa extension is a discretion vested in the immigration officer not a right. Applicants should contact their local office for any special requirements applicable at that branch.

But guest workers from Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos are not covered by the latest memorandum and come under separate regulations issued by the Department of Labour. The Thai government has MOU (Memorandums of Understanding) with neighboring countries in an attempt to standardize work-related procedures. Those who currently find themselves without employment are being given a one year grace period. Illegal immigrants from these countries are being instructed to report themselves for registration and Covid testing with the assurance that they will not be prosecuted during the amnesty.

In announcing the latest policy for tourists, the Bureau states that the latest information about transport cancellations and lockdowns in many countries means that returning home may present serious problems for some foreigners still here. For example, several European countries in recent days have banned virtually all flights in and out of the region until further notice. Some observers believe it will be virtually impossible to avoid some form of visa amnesty until the land borders are reopened as exit points in addition to airports.

Neighboring countries also have a relaxed policy to overseas tourists who are trapped. Cambodia has agreed to extend out-of-date visas without registration and advised overseas visitors to leave when they can. Myanmar is in almost complete lockdown and the only flights are to South Korea. Malaysia, Laos, the Philippines and Vietnam advise foreigners wishing to leave to register with their immigration police and/or report their plans to their local embassy. As 2021 advances, there is no sign that international travel is beginning to return. Quite the opposite in fact.