Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Thailand's Visa Crackdown: No Bliss for Expat Husbands

EXPAT husbands hoping to live in Thailand on modest means will have a tougher time now. Thai Immigration has added a new restriction to its non-immigrant "O" visa income requirement.

From December 1, any foreign male applying for a one-year permit to stay on the basis of marriage to a Thai must show proof of an income of 40,000 baht a month or a bank balance minimum of 400,000 baht, says Police Captain Napat Nusen, of Phuket Provincial Immigration.

Before this month, any combination of the husband and wife's income could be used. Now the income must be the husband's alone.

The change, however, is expected to affect only a small percentage of foreign residents in Phuket.

Figures from Phuket Immigration show that a total of 395 foreign men applied for a permit to stay based on marriage to a Thai from January to November this year. 

This compared with 2226 extensions based on the "B" (business) visa, 1625 extensions of retirement visas, 1434 extensions of student or teaching visas and 2305 extensions of "other" long-term visa types.

A total of 251 foreign wives of Thai nationals applied for a one-year permit to stay in the same period.

While in theory proof of income or bank balances is required, in practice foreign women and their Thai husbands are not generally asked to show income documentation.

The new law slashing visas on arrival for visitors arriving overland from 30 to 15 days generated howls of indignation from foreigners, coming as it did on the heels of the damaging airport closures in Bangkok by anti-government protesters.

Yet it also comes with an easing on the restriction for time limits, explained Colonel Chanatpol Yongbunjerd, Superintendent of Phuket Provincial Immigration.

Previously, people entering the country on the 30-day visa could only stay in Thailand up to 90 days in a 180-day period, and were then forbidden to return again for at least 90 days after reaching the limit.

Now, with the 15-day visa, a visitor may leave and re-enter the country freely with no limit on the number of days spent in Thailand, said Phuket's new Immigration Inspector, Police Lieutenant Colonel Suparerk Pankosol.

Perhaps a boon to the visa run companies in Phuket, foreign residents who do not want to get a 60-day tourist visa or a non-immigrant visa could potentially be making a total of 26 visa trips a year.

The 15-day rule was created to encourage foreigners living in Thailand long-term to seek a more suitable type of visa for their stay, Pol Lt Suparerk said.

Malaysian nationals arriving through land borders will still be eligible for 30-day visas.

In addition to explaining the new visa rules, Phuket Immigration welcomed two new officers yesterday, Lt Suparerk and Gunya Pechpiroj.

According to Phuket Immigration statistics from 2007, British nationals are by far the largest group of foreigners living in Phuket long-term.

A total of 2560 British nationals applied for extensions to stay last year, including 1353 on non-immigrant visas and 1207 on tourist visas.

Germans and Americans were the next largest groups of residents, with 672 Germans and 618 Americans applying for non-immigrant extensions.

Foreign residents who cannot read and speak English often have problems applying for extensions to stay, said Pol Capt Napat, since they may misunderstand the documentation required.

He said residents should bring in their permit-to-stay applications at least two weeks before the visa expires to ensure it can be checked and processed in time.

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