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Joined: Mon Sep 09, 2019 2:46 pm

Mon Sep 09, 2019 3:08 pm

Uncontrolled Migration within in The Land of Smiles

Expat retirees went in to a frenzy this week after a news report broke of a new visa option which some misinterpreted as what many have long dreaded, Thailand Immigration would be tightening up on the requirements for a retirement visa. Many feared their stay in the Land of Smiles might be coming to an abrupt end. This paranoia was a false alarm, but at the same time it was a reminder for all foreigners in Thailand that other than the few who have residency or citizenship, there are no guarantees that you can stay indefinitely.

The so-called recent visa crackdown is anything but recent and can be traced back to 2006 when an American teacher in Bangkok, John Mark Karr, was arrested and extradited to the United States to face charges over the 1996 killing of a child beauty queen. Karr’s arrest resulted in a media storm. Foreign teachers in Thailand found themselves under greater scrutiny and the requirements for foreigners teaching in Thailand were tightened up.

With Karr’s arrest came the realisation that a lot of foreigners were essentially residing long-term in Thailand on visas designed for short-term stays. The government would crack down and each year requirements were tightened and loopholes closed.

A limit on the amount of time you could spend in the country on visa waivers was introduced, but would later be rescinded. Some consulates were once known to be a soft touch. Those that became known for issuing visas to anyone with a valid passport lost the right to issue certain types of visas.

The days of some Thai visa mills language institutes basing their advertising – indeed their whole business model – around getting students a long-stay visa are over as the Immigration Department cracked down on education visas and all but eliminating what was the easy option of staying in Thailand year after year. Thousands signed up for a language school solely because they wanted the benefits of an education visa – but they never attended class. When Immigration interviewed these so-called language students when they went for a visa extension and found they could not speak more than a few words of Thai, the racket came to an end.

A surprising number of people stayed for years by making monthly border runs. Every month they took a trip to a neighbouring country – often on a visa run company bus – crossed the border, entered the neighbouring country before turning around and coming straight back – all so they could get another 30 days permission to stay in Thailand. The Immigration Department put a stop to that and the computer system now flags anyone who spends a certain amount of time in the country on visa waiver stamps.

Double- and triple-entry tourist visas have been abolished, replaced with a multiple-entry tourist visa which has much more stringent requirements – and most embassies will only issue it to the those who live in that country or are legally resident there, eliminating the ease with which many foreigners residing in Thailand travelled to a neighbouring country and applied for a tourist visa there. Now they have to fly all the way home to get such a visa and even then it’s no certainty that it will be issued.

The requirements for the holy grail of visas, the multiple-entry business visa, are exhaustive and few find they can meet those requirements these days – just as few embassies issue them. And the old trick of applying for a multiple-entry non-immigrant "O" visa for the supposed reason of visiting friends or family in Thailand has been all but eliminated.

The one visa that has not been cracked down on yet is the retirement visa, a class of visa widely abused by those who don’t have the required funds. To get around that, they make a false representation at their embassy which then issues them with a statutory declaration saying that they have a monthly income of 65,000 baht or more. This document is presented to Immigration at their annual visa renewal to qualify for said visa.

The frenzy this past week amongst foreign retirees in Thailand comes on the back of the Immigration Department’s English language slogan of “good guys in, bad guys out”. Many retirees appear not to have noticed that their visa is a non-immigrant class i.e. it is NOT for someone emigrating to Thailand or moving there permanently. It does not guarantee you can continue to reside in the country indefinitely. This should be no surprise given that retirees have to renew their visa (technically, it is not a visa, but an extension of stay) at their local Immigration office annually. Unless you have permanent residency or citizenship, your stay in Thailand – irrespective of its length, and irrespective of the ties you may have with the country, be they perceived or otherwise – is, in the eyes of the Thai government, temporary.

Indefinitely Visa Options

While it may seem like visa options are running out, there remain two easy ways of staying in Thailand indefinitely.
  • Marrying a Thai citizen allows you to apply for an extension of stay based on marriage. In what is something of an anomaly (and as such I would expect this to be something they look at soon), the financial requirements for someone applying for a marriage visa are half of that for a retirement visa. It makes no sense given that many foreign husbands support their Thai wife. I would not be surprised if the authorities chose to substantially increase the financial requirements for this visa to be issued.
  • The other option for any foreigner who wishes to remain in Thailand hassle-free is to buy the Elite card. There are various options with the most affordable costing 500,000 baht. That gets the cardholder a 5-year visa which if used correctly allows one to stay for almost 6 years in Thailand. Defraying the cost of that period of time, it works out at around $2,500 per year to remain in Thailand without the need to make any visa runs or to renew / extend the visa annually. Given the amount of time and money some spend on visa runs, this is a decent option.
So why is the government cracking down on foreigners living in the country? Surely the money all these foreigners bring in to the country makes them a welcome addition? Many retirees think not one of them is expendable and the entire Thai economy would collapse if any one of them was told they could not stay.

I think part of it comes back to the reputation of foreigners in Thailand. Thailand has never attracted the best of the West. There are good folks but there’s a lot of ratbags too – and the latter are often the most visible. Many Thais give the impression that they are happy for foreigners to visit but would be just as happy if we did not stick around too long.

Probably the biggest story of the year regarding foreigners resident in Thailand was that of the 3 Americans arrested after police served a search warrant on a property where a dismembered body was found in a freezer. What did that do for the reputation of foreigners in Thailand?

And what about this story from the past week featuring a European on the rampage in Sin City. Pattaya news items featuring foreigners don’t tend to make the national news but this one did – and those fantastic images of this mad man who looks like he stepped off the set of a horror movie aren’t going to do anything positive for the reputation of foreigners in Thailand.

A few years ago I wrote about how some Thais had become frustrated at the way foreigners were driving up the prices of affordable accommodation in Bangkok. In areas that used to be the end of the skytrain line like Prakanong and Onut, you could once get a basic room in some reasonable buildings for around 4,000 THB a month. As these areas become popular with foreigners who did not want to live more beyond the reach of the skytrain, they were willing to pay a premium to live there, outbidding the Thais. In some buildings rent rates jumped from 4,000 THB to almost 10,000 THB per month in just a few years as foreigners drove up prices, and put them out of reach of the everyday Thais who traditionally lived in such buildings. Some Thais saw foreigners as having a negative effect on their own lives.

Much of the immigration in Thailand is uncontrolled and there are no quotas, for example, on the number of foreigners who can retire to Thailand. Uncontrolled migration is something many in developed countries are unhappy about and it was a major factor in the UK voting in favour of Brexit and the US voting to elect Donald Trump as president. All around the world people are becoming fed up with what they see as uncontrolled migration. With Thailand attracting so many foreigners, is it really so hard to see why the Thais might feel the same way – especially when you see some of the foreigners who call Thailand home?

I find it highly amusing that those who cite one of the major reasons for leaving their homeland was the influx of foreigners who make little or no effort to assimilate, who speak a different language to them and make zero effort to learn the local language, who behave badly in public and who are considered disrespectful towards local women. Are foreigners in Thailand any different?

If Thailand wants to get serious about the quality of foreigners residing in the country they should copy what Western countries do. Any foreigner applying for a long-stay visa should have to produce a clean criminal record from their homeland. Thai Immigration law prohibits entry to those who have done time in their homeland – but checks aren’t made. If Thailand was to introduce a criminal record check, I believe the number of foreigners residing in Thailand would drop a little and importantly, the quality would go up. It’d be a win : win for both Thailand and the expat community. That would be a good place to start.

At the same time there is a compelling reason why Thailand should open the border up, make things easy and encourage immigration. Thailand has an ageing population and a very low birth rate. While many foreigners point to the short-term economic advantages of residing in the country, it is the long-term economic ramifications of a population decrease that Thailand ought to consider.

While migration can bring great social and economic benefits – and migration along with free trade are two of the biggest contributors to increased prosperity – uncontrolled migration is not without its challenges. Throw in a healthy dose of nationalism and it’s not hard to see why Thailand has tightened up the enforcement of visa rules in recent years.
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Posts: 16
Joined: Mon Sep 09, 2019 2:46 pm

Sat May 16, 2020 12:35 pm

Uncontrolled Migration in The Land of Smiles

Staying in Thailand long-term used to be easy and getting a new visa to make sure you were legal was never a great concern. Sure, you might have to endure a trip to the border every 3 months but there were always plenty of visa options. Those who left Thailand did so because they lost interest in the place or ran out of money, not because they ran out of visa options. Thailand has changed, visa rules have tightened up and those rules are actually being enforced. This week I make a few predictions about what further changes to the visa regulations may be coming and look closely at the one visa option that is available to all of us. All is not lost. I expect Thai immigration to crack down further on those staying long-term in Thailand and close more loopholes – and there are 7 specific areas they may look at. I’ve also commented on how likely I think it is they will look at each of these.

Limiting Time In Country On Tourist Visas

The most likely change in my mind will be setting a limit on the number of days one can spend in Thailand on tourist visas, visa waiver stamps (the 30-day stamp you get if you fly in without a visa) or a combination of the two. The period in which the limit would apply might be a calendar year, or it might be a rolling year i.e. the last 365 days. My best bet is that the number of days one can stay in Thailand on tourist visas will be limited to 180 days. The reason for that is that it keeps visitors below the level at which they become tax resident. At the end of the day, few could legitimately complain that 180 days per year is not enough for them to enjoy Thailand as a “tourist”. Likelihood: The Immigration computer is already counting time spent in the country on visa waiver stamps and with the use of tourist visas back to back a common loophole exploited by those keen to stay in Thailand year round, I’d say it’s very, very likely!

Outlawing Visa Runs

Just how long will it be before we see visa runs abolished altogether? In the last couple of years Thai Immigration has started publicly using the term “out / in” to describe the practice of exiting Thailand, entering a neighbouring country, spending little or no time in that country, exiting it and crossing back in to Thailand to “reset” their visa and get another 15 | 30 | 60 | 90 days permission to stay, depending on the class of visa they hold.

The Aranya Prathet - Poi Pet border crossing is the busiest land border point between Thailand and Cambodia and certain nationalities are prevented from making visa runs there. At one time Russians, Vietnamese and some other nationalities could not exit Thailand and re-enter Thailand there. If they exited at that point and wished to re-enter Thailand they had to do it at a different border crossing. This was to prevent those nationalities from making visa runs. Recent reports from some have it that holding a multiple-entry visa is no guarantee that they will let you make a visa run at that border as many have done previously.

A no visa run policy would be difficult to enforce because there are those who cross the border and come back the same day not to reset their visa, but because they have a legitimate reason for doing so. Perhaps they wish to take a day trip in a neighbouring country. Who wouldn’t want to pop across to Laos, see some sights, grab a decent French meal, stock up on good coffee and be back in Thailand before the sun goes down? And there are many who cross the border to enjoy one of the casinos on the Cambodian side.

There is an easy way for Thai Immigration to implement a no visa run policy. They could state that anyone exiting the country and returning the same day has to have a re-entry permit – which would mean that when you re-enter Thailand, your visa would not reset and you would still have whatever time is remaining on your visa. Likelihood: It might sound unlikely but I don’t think that the abolishment of visa runs is as crazy as it may sound. Given what is already happening at one border crossing, is it really a stretch to see it becoming a policy nationwide and visa runs, by land at least, abolished altogether?

Limits On The Amount Of Time Multiple-Entry Visa Holders Can Stay In Thailand

Related to the possible abolishment of out / in visa runs, I would not be surprised to see a policy change whereby those who use multiple-entry visas – be it non-immigrant B, non-immigrant O or tourist visas – are prevented from spending virtually all of their time in Thailand.

Multiple-entry visas are issued so that the holder can enter Thailand a number of times during a set period without the need to apply for a new visa each time. Many exploit a loophole and essentially stay in Thailand for the entire period of validity of the visa, exiting every 60 or 90 days and returning immediately with the clock reset so to speak. You can bet every plate of som tam in Thailand that those who designed the visa never envisaged it would be used this way.

And for some, multiple-entry visas are a backdoor that allow them to stay in Thailand when they don’t meet the criteria to get a one-year visa extension.

Let’s take the common example of a foreigner married to a Thai who doesn’t have sufficient funds to meet the requirements for a one-year visa extension. Instead, they get a non-immigrant OA visa which has a period of validity of one year and allows them to stay in Thailand for up to 90 days at a time. Every 90 days they do a border hop and re-enter Thailand and get another 90 days. Ditto for those who have a non-immigrant B visa and a legal business but do not have 4 Thai employees. They cannot get a one-year visa extension so they make a dash to the border every 90 days too. It’s the same for multiple-entry tourist visa holders who jump across the border and back in, and can essentially spend 270 days in Thailand before they need to go to a Thai embassy or consulate and apply for a new visa and the cycle starts again.

Yes, technically, multiple-entry visas allow the holder to spend almost all the time in Thailand if they return to the country immediately after exiting. That is within the rules and is, strictly speaking, legal, but at the same time it is against the spirit of the visa. Think of using this class of visa in this manner as if you were at a buffet. You could haul all of the food on offer to your table and eat it all – it is, after all, a buffet and you are allowed to eat as much as you want – but that would be very much against the spirit of it. Likelihood:Not that likely but at the same time, it’s not beyond the bounds of possibility.

Retirement Visa Requirements To Be Reviewed

Once you’re 50 years of age it is very easy to stay in Thailand and the retirement visa is the easiest option of all with modest financial requirements. At some point the financial requirements are likely to be increased. When that happens there are going to be casualties because some people barely manage to meet the current requirements.

Currently, you only have to show a local bank balance of 800,000 THB or a monthly income equivalent to 65,000 THB to meet the financial requirements for a retirement visa. If the requirements went up to 100,000 THB or the amount required in a local bank increased to, say, 1,500,000 million THB – still relatively modest amounts by Western standards and I believe that many – quite probably the majority of – retirees in Thailand could not meet them.

Out of curiosity, I looked in to the financial requirements for a foreigner wishing to retire in New Zealand. There are a number of retirement visa options and in terms of the financial requirements, the easiest path is called “temporary retirement”. One must be aged 66 or over and make an initial qualifying investment of at least NZD $750,000 (approx. USD $550,000). You need an additional NZD $500,000 (USD $350,000) for settlement funds, and an annual income on top of that of at least NZD $60,000 (USD $43,000) from pensions and other investments. To see if this was an anomaly and the requirements unusually high, I searched for the requirements for a retirement visa in Australia and they were remarkably similar.

Many argue that the current financial requirements for a retirement visa in Thailand are adequate as that amount of money is plenty to survive on. That is missing the point. The number is not necessarily based on what you need to live, but at the level Thailand wishes to set to attract a certain quality of foreigner and importantly, a level at which the country gains certain economic benefits. Yes, plenty of foreign retirees only have around 25,000 THB a month and claim to live quite happily on that. Be that as it may, is it really so hard to understand that Thailand wants to gain greater economic benefits from foreign retirees? It is for this reason that I expect the financial requirements for the retirement visa to increase, not because you need xxx THB per month to survive, but because Thailand wishes to gain greater economic benefits from retirees than it does at present. Likelihood: Very likely indeed, in fact it is virtually a given. The question is not if - but when. It should be noted that Thailand has a history of grandfathering the previous requirements through for those already in the system – although there is no guarantee of that happening, of course.

Elimination of Dodgy Agency-Acquired Retirement Visas

Despite the modest requirements for a retirement visa, many retirees use an agency to help them secure said visa because they are unable to meet the financial requirements. These agencies open a bank account in the applicant’s name, deposit 800,000 THB of their own money in to it, get a letter from the bank stating the account balance and then withdraw the money using a withdrawal slip that had been signed by the applicant. The letter from the bank and photocopies of the bank book showing a balance in excess of 800,000 THB is submitted with the visa application to satisfy the financial requirements.

What I don’t understand is how these agents get around the requirement that the 800,000 THB must be in the account for at least 3 months prior to the application being made. Somehow they manage to get around this. The dodgy practice is perpetuated by a number of agents and even some foreign visa agents who have advertisements to the effect of “Over 50? Want to stay in Thailand? No money? No problem!”

I am amazed that so many have got away with this for so long but I do not expect it to continue. Just this morning a post on Facebook outlined how senior Immigration Department officials from Bangkok visited an Immigration branch by the seaside where this practice is widespread and reminded them that the 800,000 THB must be in the account for at least 3 months prior to the visa application otherwise the extension of stay cannot be approved.

Of all of the dodgy visa stuff going on, this one is serious and involves misrepresentations to a government department and fraud. Don’t do this as you could find yourself facing charges and your time in Thailand curtailed. Likelihood: Already Immigration is cracking down on this and Bangkok sending officers to the provinces shows they know about it and are serious about putting an end to it.

Marriage Visa Requirements to be Reviewed

I expect the financial requirements to get an extension of stay based on being married to a Thai national to increase. At the moment, a foreigner wishing to get a so-called marriage visa only needs to show a 40,000 THB per month income, or 400,000 THB in a Thai bank account. This strikes me as a low threshold to meet, especially as many foreign husbands support their wife and family financially – and that is hardly enough baht to support an entire clan on! Likelihood: Raising the financial requirements for the marriage visa sounds like a no-brainer but then I am not so sure if it will happen. Making things more difficult for foreigners married to a Thai could have negative consequences for their Thai partner and family. That might prevent the authorities from increasing the financial requirements.

APEC Card Visits To Be Scrutinised

Many of us ANZACs use the APEC card to reside in the country year-round, year after year. The APEC card is issued to Aussie and Kiwi businessmen pursuing opportunities in the APEC region and it allows visa-free stays of up to 90 days. It has long been the back door for Aussies and Kiwis to stay in Thailand and other countries in the region and there are many advantages beyond just Thailand. With the APEC card you don’t need a visa to enter Vietnam, for example.

The card was created for frequent business travellers and not for those circumventing the visa privileges. After widespread abuse, the agency in Australia charged with issuing it tightened up the requirements but in New Zealand it’s still relatively easy to get. An email from a friend shows how the special category APEC card triggers the Immigration officer to question the traveller and as such the APEC card is now no longer a guaranteed way of getting visa-free 90-days permission to stay. Likelihood: It looks like use of the APEC card to remain in Thailand year round is already being cracked down on.

No doubt some will say these predictions are scaremongering but there is already a very clear trend on the part of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs – which issues visas, and the Immigration Department – which manages the borders – to tighten up not just on the requirements to qualify for a visas, but also on the enforcement of visa rules and the closing of loopholes. But it’s not at all bad news. There is one option that is available to almost everyone who wishes to stay in Thailand. All you need is 500,000 THB and you can stay in the country for almost 6 years without any visa hassles. And yeah, it’s legal.

The Visa Solution For All, The Elite Card

Thailand Elite launched the Elite Card in 2003. Today there are a number of different Elite Card packages ranging in price from 500,000 to 2 million THB. If you’re primarily looking for a hassle-free visa option that allows you to stay in Thailand long-term, the Elite Easy Access card is probably the best choice.

The baby elite card as I call it costs 500,000 THB which might sound like a lot, but at current exchange rates that’s around $16,000. For that, you get a 5-year visa. Every time you enter the country you get permission to stay for one year. Being a 5-year visa, you can actually stay in the country for almost 6 years – you can enter the country just before the visa expires and get another year’s permission to stay. Defray the costs over 6 years and that’s around $2,660 per year as your total visa + visa run cost.

If after a year you don’t wish to leave the country, you can simply go to the local Immigration office and extend the visa for another year, for 1,900 THB. It’s as easy as that. You don’t have to go through the rigmarole gathering documents and preparing your application that those on a work permit, the retired or those married to a Thai have to go through each year.

The Elite Card is not just a visa option. It has many other benefits which include: (1) Up to 24 free limousine rides per year between your hotel / residence and the international terminal at the airport. (2) Fast-track processing at Immigration, both coming and going, so you avoid the queues. (3) Free use of airport lounges. (4) 90-day reporting is done for you by Thailand Elite so you don’t have to go to Immigration yourself every 90 days - this is only available to those in Bangkok, Pattaya, Chiang Mai & Phuket. (5) Assistance when dealing with government agencies such as when applying for, or renewing a driver’s license.

Many foreigners howl and scream at the mere mention of the Elite Card, most likely because they can’t afford it. But for some of those howling, it might just be a good deal.

If you’re under 50 and residing in Thailand on back to back tourist visas, you’re probably going to have to fly home every 8 or 9 months to get a multiple-entry tourist visa. At an average of say 30,000 THB for a flight to Farangland, let’s say 8 trips over 6 years, that’s close to 250,000 THB. Then you have four trips to Immigration each year to extend your visa by 30 days with each visa extension costing 1,900 THB. Over 6 years that’s in excess of 40,000 THB. Then you have all of the runs to the border – the cost of which can add up – and just think of all that wasted time! You’re going to be visiting Immigration or passing through Immigration checkpoints at least 8 times a year when you consider all travel and visa extensions – and you just know that sooner or later they’re going to question you about why you’re staying so long on back to back tourist visas – and at some point that door will be closed.

The Elite Card is a really good deal if you are going to stay in Thailand for the next 5 years. If I was going to stay in Thailand, I’d get an Elite Card. There is no doubt in my mind that for those aged under 50, who aren’t married, who aren’t employed in Thailand but who wish to remain in the country that the Elite Card is a good deal and a trouble-free option.
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