Immigration Nightmare Part 2
I wrote the first installment of my Immigration nightmare story here.
After I got the 7 day extension my wife and I went back to Immigration the following day along with the lawyer we hired. We showed up at 7:30 to get an early spot in the queue and there was already a crowd of people standing outside in the increasing morning heat. We got a low number and took a seat to wait to see the officer. All was going according to plan, so far so good.
A bit of background on getting non-immigrant visas in Thailand is in order. If you want to get a business visa & work permit (non-immigrant B visa) or a spousal visa you cannot simply come in as a tourist – you have to get a single short stay visa of the same type at a Thai Embassy outside Thailand. That’s why I took the trouble of getting the 7 day extension, if I were to overstay my visa (easy to do as it expired the same day I informed immigration of my change in work status) then I am reduced to staying under an overstay condition which is technically illegal. This invalidates my visa and would require me to leave Thailand to re-apply for a short stay Spousal Visa at a Thai Embassy in perhaps Malaysia or Singapore – a hassle I didn’t want to deal with.
So you would imagine my total shock and surprise when the Thai immigration official said that I should have overstayed my visa and not got the 7 day extension and now she is unable to process the application! She never gave a reason except to say that this is the right thing to do according to her opinion and my lawyer was beside himself as this was not the case per the rules (of course these rules are arbitrary, this being Thailand and all). Fortunately he had a connection with the Chief of Immigration and after a few hours was able to get this issue resolved without any tea money changing hands. NB: I heard that in the Suan Plu immigration office the officials are pretty strict with regard to not taking bribes but if you travel upcountry to get a visa it is easier to solve any problems with a little tea money. I was just so surprised that the officers there don’t have an idea of what the official rules are. I can say that people tend not to know the rules and depending who you speak with you will get different answers. I highly recommend knowing or hiring someone with connections should things get messy as they tend to do.
The application required the usual deluge of information: bank accounts, job and pay slips for my wife (interestingly enough she is supporting me and is required to show a minimum monthly salary of 40,000 baht or so… a big number from for a local Thai salary!), the marriage certificate (of course) and a certification that we were not married before our current marriage. There was also a lame interview where the officer asked me what appliances we had in the house and mundane questions like what color the microwave is. These same questions were asked of my wife separately and I suppose this was to verify that we weren’t trying to pull off a sham marriage.
Part of the application is to include pictures of the couple together so we included several pictures taken through our relationship. The photos have to be on photo paper even though they came from digital images so we had to invest in some high quality paper to make these look like ‘official’ photos. My wife commented that the officers were worried about someone editing the photos- well you could always edit it and print it out on photo paper but don’t tell immigration that! Nevertheless the pictures we had weren’t good enough. There is a requirement that there has to be 2 photos taken of the family in the house and there are some nice samples of an upcountry family of about 10 people all sitting together in the living room of a very small house. An additional photo has to be in front of the residence showing the house or room number! So we had to go back home and take these pictures, print them off and come back to supplement the application. I began to get worried that there were more hoops to jump through so the wife and I paid respect to the big Buddha statue out front (I refer to him as the Immigration Buddha or ‘Phra Poot Truat Khon Kao Muang’ although my wife doesn’t find this as funny as I think it is) requesting that we can get this finished without more problems.
Fortunately the Immigration Buddha came through for us. After coming back the application was approved. The last step was waiting and paying more money to get the visa from a single entry to multiple entry and then we were off… only 2 days wasted to get this. Now I am the proud owner of a 1 year multiple entry spousal visa.
We asked the lawyer if the process to renew the visa next year would be simpler. He responded that it is the same level of complexity and difficulty. So perhaps going upcountry with some tea money in the pocket would be better when it comes time to renewing… <Not sure if this is possible any more with some Immigration branches insisting you go to the nearest branch and not those that are a soft touch – Stick>
As a side note I found it very interesting that you can come into Thailand as a retiree and easily get a visa (relatively speaking) providing that you have 800,000 baht in the bank that stays in Thailand. However I believe you have to be aged at least 50 to get this. If you are younger it doesn’t matter if you have 10 million or 200 million baht in the bank, you can’t come in as a retiree. Funny that. You’d think the country would encourage more rich farang to come into the country. Once you stop working and lose your work permit you are relegated into the class of the low class cheap backpackers – it doesn’t matter what you were doing before. This is why it’s so hard for people to settle here – even though you put down roots you could be cast out with a short string of bad luck or events.
So in summary I would recommend the following if you are trying to get a spousal visa to stay in Thailand:
- Try to follow the rules when completing your application but don’t be surprised if there are rules that come up in the last minute or that the requirements have changed.
- Hire a lawyer with some big connections or at least be ready to do this should you get stuck.
- Pay respect to the Immigration Buddha in the front and luck may tilt in your favor.
The inconsistency with regards to laws and rules in Thailand and their enforcement is most perturbing.
The point you make about wealthy, younger retirees is a valid one.
Thai Immigration is much stricter than Immigration in the likes of Malaysia or Cambodia where it is much easier to stay long term.