Stranded Foreigners Ordered to File for Extensions at Immigration

People queue up in front of the Immigration Bureau in Chaengwattana Government Complex on March 25, 2020.
People queue up in front of the Immigration Bureau in Chaengwattana Government Complex on March 25, 2020.

BANGKOK — Due to the ongoing worldwide travel disruption caused by the coronavirus epidemic, the Thai immigration said it will allow foreigners marooned in Thailand to extend their stay for up to 30 days.

The catch? They must ignore the government’s call for “social distancing” and head to the immigration offices to apply for those extensions after acquiring a letter from their embassies.

“The bureau had previously permitted the extension to foreign nationals of 11 countries and territories, but we now granted it to every nationality,” Immigration Bureau spokesman Phakkhaphong Saiubonsaid said in an interview. “Those who wish to apply need to acquire a letter from their respective embassies.”

Phakkhaphong spoke on the day a massive queue reaching up to 3,000 people was seen at the Immigration Bureau’s main office at the Government Complex in Chaeng Wattana, as many foreigners are scrambling to extend their stays, file 90-day reports, and get other necessary stamps before a possible lockdown of the capital.

Massive queues in front of the Immigration Bureau office.

Col. Phakkhaphong said the bureau already responded to the overcrowding problem.

“The bureau was crammed with people today because they feared that a curfew would be imposed,” Col. Phakkhaphong said. “We are expanding the waiting area at our Chaengwattana office so that people can keep some distance from each other.

He added, “We are also looking for a larger space elsewhere to cope with massive queues.”

The spokesman also said most services such as the 90-day reporting are available online or via registered mail, though applications related to visas still require their physical appearance at the immigration office.

“Most foreigners do not need to come to the bureau in person,” Phakkhaphong said. “However, we still require them to report themselves in person in some cases such as applying for a marriage visa.

Foreigners who queued up for their documents at the Government Complex today said they had to wait in line for hours as queue numbers exceed 3,000.  Many were also told to come back on the following day.

“I was there today. Quite a dystopian experience and the queue numbers were finished,” user Manuele Mambelli commented on a Khaosod English news thread. “So lots of people will have to go back tomorrow.”

When asked about the emergency decree’s ban on large gatherings, Col. Phakkhaphong said his agency will deliberate on the matter.

“We understand the current situation and we are trying to provide the best service,” he said. “But our national security needs to come first.”