Perhaps 400,000 foreigners of all nationalities with temporary or expired visas in Thailand are holding their collective breath about the future of the Thai amnesty scheduled to expire on July 31. At press time (July 15), it’s still guesswork although some visa flexibility is expected, or we would surely have heard by now if the guillotine chop was already on its way down the chute. Here are the updates for stranded foreigners in the countries with which Thailand shares a land border, all of which are closed to non-nationals.
Last April, the government granted automatic and free extension of tourist visas to all stranded foreigners “until they are able to depart Cambodia”. This discretion is still in force, although international flights from Phnom Penh are picking up in frequency. The US embassy there is currently advising its nationals to leave on commercial flights “whilst they are still available”. Over a hundred British nationals hired a private jet to take them back to UK. Their Facebook page “Stuck in Cambodia” said they had resorted to self-help as the British embassy had only offered their best wishes. Sources in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap say that most non-resident Europeans have now left the country, whilst Cambodia has very few guest workers from neighboring countries. The overall numbers still requiring amnesty is thought to be fewer than 5,000 of all nationalities.
A travel advisory issued by the government in Vientiane in late March stated that stranded foreigners could overstay their tourist visas but must report to the immigration authorities to do so. At the time, some foreigners claimed they had to pay a fee, averaging US$30, for another month and were told to come back, if necessary, several weeks later. The foreign affairs ministry last month issued an order that foreigners still wishing to remain in Laos, but without a long-term visa or permanent resident status, now needed a letter from their respective embassy setting out the reasons for the delay and explaining the plan of action. Two French nationals who left the country by air in early July said they were not charged for overstay because they had succeeded in obtaining a consular letter. Overall numbers still requiring amnesty were estimated by an embassy official to be “not significant”.
The country is still in travel lockdown with all commercial flights banned until July 31 and possibly later. Foreigners stranded there must seek a letter from their embassy if they have a tourist visa. Business visas, normally valid for a period of 70 days, can be extended with appropriate documents such as employer certification, marriage certificate to a Myanmar national or birth certificate of a child born in wedlock. There is no official estimate of the numbers still stranded in the country, but virtually all tourists will have left before the well-publicized shutdown of Myanmar’s airports nearly four months ago.
On at least two occasions, the government has stated that no action will be taken against foreigners who overstayed their visas through no fault of their own. But they now need a supporting letter from their embassy unless they are nationals of a neighboring country. In July 2,000 stranded and unemployed Vietnamese, hungry and penniless, were sent home on a chart flight paid for by their home government. Very few Europeans or Americans are thought to be still stranded although the size and diversity of the country makes it difficult to be sure. Many long-term foreigners living there have a special 10 year visa. It is delightfully called My Second Home.