The latest news that the Thai immigration bureau will allow “Covid captives” to remain in the country until late July, provided they make a formal application before May 29, will benefit various groups of foreigners. Police Lt. General Sompong Chinduang, the Thai immigration chief, said applications would cost 1,900 baht and that individuals should be ready to explain why they were “stuck” in Thailand.
The first category concerns those foreigners who are having difficulty returning to their home country because of flight problems. An example would be Australian citizens unable to return because of the strict controls imposed by the Canberra government. Online registration with the Bangkok embassy is required and a priority quota system appears to be in operation. Other examples would be small countries in Eastern Europe or most of Latin America where flight connections are far from certain.
The second grouping comprises tourists still in Thailand who are nervous of going home because of the gruesome pandemic engulfing their country. The huge death rates in countries such as Brazil and the United States are often quoted, but there are surges too across Europe. By comparison, the infected numbers in Thailand remain generally low thanks to earlier lockdown policies and efficient closing-off of districts, especially markets, where infection clusters have been found.
A third target group are those vacationers who have no particular reason to return home and have adequate funds to continue their holiday by taking advantage of the Thai government’s discretion. As an example, it is believed there are at least 200 Brits in the Pattaya area who continue to enjoy the sunshine by applying for successive Covid extensions. Although there have been isolated examples of foreigners being told “it is time to go home,” immigration chiefs have confirmed that the extended-time leisure visitors are boosting tourist revenue in a very bleak period.
A final, but often neglected set of Covid visa beneficiaries, are those foreigners who do not wish to return to their country of passport but to another country where they have residency rights of some kind. For example, there are British and American residents of Cambodia, who hold long term visas there which have now expired, who are finding it impossible to return there as they cannot fulfill the entry requirements (compulsory medical insurance issued by one specified company or sizeable cash deposits) or who are waiting for the land border posts to reopen. Flights to some other Southeast Asian countries are similarly difficult for expats, especially the Philippines and Myanmar.
The total number of Covid-related extensions is not known for sure. The immigration bureau estimated 500,000 several months ago, a number which has likely reduced somewhat in the meantime. No announcement has been made about future Covid-related permissions of stay. Many travel gurus suggest that the policy will continue in some form until the land borders with neighboring countries are fully open. At present they are restricted to goods traffic and guest workers passing to and fro under monitored conditions.