BANGKOK, 30 September 2020: Thailand has extended the amnesty on visa renewals until the 31 October, local media reported on Monday, a move that takes the heat off thousands of foreigners stranded in Thailand.
The extension of the visa renewal grace period will be effective once it has been published in the Royal Gazette, which should happen before the end of this week.
News that Thailand was prepared to extend the deadline was first published at the weekend by popular travel blogger and Thailand watcher, Richard Barrow.
The Immigration Bureau estimates more than 150,000 foreigners need to renew visas that expired after March during the national lockdown. The bureau extended the grace period three times up until 26 September when it warned foreigners they would need to renew visas or leave the country to avoid the possibility of fines and black-listed deportation.
But as the 26 September deadline approached, immigration bureau offices were quickly overwhelmed by foreigners filing for extensions forcing officers to work overtime over the weekend. The crisis has been averted for now, but the travel industry wonders why the government doesn’t encourage foreigners who are currently resident in the country and are free of Covid-19 to stay and explore the country. They are a captive audience and treating them well would send a positive message.
The best government programmes geared to kick-starting recovery are complicated and restrictive and have a limited capacity to attract no more than 14,000 to 16,000 visitors from overseas over one year. It’s a drop in the ocean, hardly worth talking about. There are already 150,000 foreigners in the country who have the means to travel and enjoy Thailand over the next few months without any safety or security risks. There is also a tendency to ignore retirees who are a lucrative source of revenue for the country, a steady income that has been eroded by heavy-handed and archaic Immigration policies. If ever there was a time to review and modernise the country’s immigration bureau it is now.
Critics are calling on the government to wise up and recognise it needs to present a much softer and message to foreigners who are in the country.
Thailand is also gaining a reputation for complicating travel restrictions during the Covid-19 pandemic to the point that even Thai citizens find themselves stranded overseas. The UK is a case in point where thousands of Thais have placed their names on waiting lists for repatriation flights that are limited to around 200 passengers per trip. There are only three direct repatriation flights a month open to Thais from the UK, and once they are full, would-be travellers have to start from scratch. Back to square one, they have to add their names to a new waiting list for next round of monthly flights with no guarantees that their renewed efforts to return home will succeed.
The national airline announced today that Flight TG916 will fly to London three times in October to pick up Thais stranded in the UK. Since July the airline has provided 10 repatriation flights from the UK bringing home around 2,500 Thais. It is plainly not enough. While there is considerable talk about reopening borders and easing travel restrictions very little is said about the plight of Thai citizens overseas who need to return home. They are running out of cash and visa stays in foreign countries. There are just too many hoops to jump through to secure a seat on repatriation flights.