The special dispensation which has allowed short-stay foreign tourists to remain in Thailand since spring last year – 18 months ago – could be drawing to a close. The final date for obtaining yet another two months’ permission is September 27 which means that the scheme would peter out in late November. The scheme was introduced by the Thai government when land borders closed and international air travel became badly dislocated.
The immigration authorities have not formally stated the future of the scheme, but there are scores of reports nationwide of some foreigners being told “it’s time to go home”. A call to the immigration 1178 hotline brought the response that, whilst the Covid extensions are still available nationally, the decision is in the hands of the local interviewing officer.
Many immigration offices require applicants to certify that they have serious travel problems in moving on to their home country or preferred destination. A rule last year that the applicant’s embassy should certify his or her plight in writing was dropped after many diplomatic posts declined to get involved. The fee for the extension is 1,900 baht and the extension is often given in two separate monthly periods. Some wealthier Covid extenders have already transferred to non-immigrant visas such as retirement or becoming a student.
There are no published figures on the national numbers involved. Many have already left and those remaining could amount to around 30,000 according to a source at Phuket immigration. They include tourists who have preferred not to return home because of travel restrictions or fear of the virus in their native land or country of residence. There are also those who are waiting to enter neighboring countries once land border posts reopen. At the moment, these remain closed except for the transport of goods and returning passport holders of Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar or Malaysia.
A decision, technically by the Thai Cabinet, is due before or just after September 27. If the country does not show signs of opening up by then, the Covid extensions could continue on a discretionary basis. Should the country, or some provinces, expand the Sandbox initiative and allow entry to fully vaccinated tourists, it’s more likely the scheme will be terminated.
One problem some farang may face on returning home is their vaccination status. Mark Tyldsley, a British tourist, told Pattaya Mail, “I have had two jabs in Thailand of Astra Zenica, but the British authorities don’t recognize vaccinations performed here. In any case, everyone going into UK right now from a red-listed country such as Thailand is subject to a compulsory stay in an hotel for 11 days at a cost of well over two thousand pounds.” Mark is hoping the Thai immigration curtain isn’t about to fall on him.