Customers at the Chonburi Immigration headquarters are getting more numerous, even as the pandemic persists and a 15-days quarantine remains in force for all arrivals into Thailand. Some estimates say numbers at the Jomtien bureau have increased by 50 percent over the past three months.
It is true that the queues are longest before or after a public holiday, but numbers mid-week are reported to be higher too. One explanation is that richer tourists, though disliking the quarantine regulation, are paying for de luxe accommodation in specialist venues such as five-star luxury hotels, golf courses and even off-shore facilities. Also, the reintroduction of the 60-days tourist visa and the visa exempt 45-days permission has been popular in Europe, according to reports from the Thai embassies in London and several EU countries responsible for issuing the mandatory certificate of entry.
Frank Chesterton, a new Pattaya tourist from Manchester, said, “Actually Brits are not supposed to be travelling abroad for a vacation at the moment. But I had no trouble booking a ticket and obtaining clearance from the Thai embassy. At Heathrow airport, I was merely asked if my journey was really necessary. There was little sign of the inquisitorial interview which the government had threatened. Some large groups with tickets to India were not even approached by security staff or questioned by airline personnel.”
A Singaporean tourist, Joseph Tan, said he had just completed quarantine in Bangkok with his wife and son in a luxury hotel where they had access to sports facilities, a sauna and a la carte dining according to hotel rules. The total cost had been around 300,000 baht (US$10,000) but he felt it was worth the extra expense. “We have good friends in Pattaya and did not want to wait indefinitely, especially now that Thailand has such a good record in combatting the coronavirus.”
However, a Jomtien-based immigration officer cautioned that not all those arriving at the local bureau were new arrivals. He pointed out that all those who had already a one-year retirement renewal on the basis of having 800,000 baht in a Thai bank must now make an additional visit to prove they have not spent the money. Also, some short-term visa extensions – for example Covid discretionary permissions – now require two visits to immigration to obtain the full time period as some temporary applications have to be approved by head office.
Another feature, according to lawyer and immigration consultant Jessataporn Sriboo who is based in offices adjoining the Jomtien bureau, is that more visitors and expats are asking about changes in the regulations. “Long term expats are realizing that a re-entry permit alone is not enough to return to Thailand as they need various documentation and approval from a Thai embassy overseas,” he said. There are also people requesting more information about the Elite visa, the overlap between different visa options and the new avenues for working without a work permit, notably the 4-years Smart visa aimed at new technology experts and nomads.
Meanwhile the Foreign Worker Employment Agency, also adjoining the immigration bureau, is busy registering local guest workers from Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos. There are believed to be at least 60,000 in Chonburi province alone working in the construction, retail, factory, fishing and hospitality industries. Thai land borders are closed to tourist traffic but are partially open for the transportation of goods and limited entry of guest workers who are subject, like all entrants, to the familiar quarantine regulations.