Monday, March 1, 2021

Thailand extends visa amnesty for stranded foreigners

Foreigners can now stay until Oct 31 on expired visas, without penalty.

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Thailand announced on Monday that it will extend a grace period for foreigners who are stranded in the country because of global travel restrictions and whose Thai visas have expired.

Millions of tourists remain stranded in countries around the world as borders remain closed, airlines cancel flights and new infections climb globally, meaning there is little likelihood of them getting home soon.

Thailand halted commercial flights in April and banned foreign visitors from entering in an effort to keep Covid-19 at bay.

With repatriation flights being the only way of leaving the country, many foreigners already in Thailand found themselves unable to get home, holding rapidly expiring visas.

Tourists unable to leave were quickly granted blanket permission to stay once their visas expired in order to forestall a rush at immigration offices and possible consequent infections.

New amnesty expiry dates have been shifted further along in the year as the international travel situation has not improved. The current amnesty ended on Sept 26.

The latest extension will allow foreigners to remain in Thailand until Oct 31, a spokesman for the government’s coronavirus taskforce, Taweesin Wisanuyothin told Reuters.

The matter is subject to cabinet approval on Tuesday.

After October, a new immigration regulation will allow foreigners to apply for 60-day extensions to remain in the country if they are still unable to leave due to limited flights or other issues, said Pornchai Kuntee, deputy commissioner of the Immigration Bureau.

Previously, extensions required documentation from their respective embassies and were limited to 30 days.

The Thai government this month also announced a new scheme which will issue visas of up to 270 days for a limited number of long-stay tourists in order to generate a little money for the ailing tourism industry.

Tourists who apply will be strictly assessed on financial and medical grounds. They will also be expected to arrive on private flights and undergo a 14-day quarantine in one of 74 government-approved hotels nationwide.

The date for this scheme to begin is under constant review and remains fraught with logistical hurdles.

Malaysia has thousands of its own stranded tourists, all now on expired visas. They are allowed to remain in Malaysia without penalty until the end of RMCO, currently Dec 31, plus 14 days.

Malaysia has announced no plans for future long-stay tourist visas.

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