The admission renders enforcing the mandatory health insurance requirement pointless as Phuket Immigration this week also confirmed that foreigners can change the visa conditions under which they are applying for a one-year permit to stay.
Hence, any foreigners staying on a “Non-Immigrant O-A” visa can change their permit-to-stay status to “Non-Immigrant O” and avoid the mandatory health insurance requirement.
The loophole is expected to greatly affect expat retirees staying in Thailand on such so-called “retirement” visas.
The mandatory health insurance requirement is to come into effect next Thursday (Oct 31).
Under the new regulation, all foreigners applying for a one-year permit to stay on an O-A visa must have health insurance coverage for up to B40,000 for outpatient services and up to B400,000 for inpatient services.
The Immigration Bureau posted on its website an announcement on Oct 8, stating that the change in the Immigration regulations follows the Cabinet resolution made on April 2 this year.
The order, issued by Royal Thai Police Commissioner-General Chakthip Chaijinda on Sept 27, specifically states that the new rule is to come into effect on Oct 31. (See story here.)
However, Phuket Immigration Chief Lt Col Kathathorn Kumthieng confirmed to The Phuket News this week, “People applying under the Non-Immigrant O visa do not need health insurance, but people applying for permits to stay under different visas will get the different benefits of the visa they are applying under.
“For example, a foreigner who has Non- Immigrant O-A visa will get a one-year year extension,” he said.
Yet Col Kathathorn would not confirm that one-year permits to stay would no longer be approved for those applying under “Non-Immigrant O’ visa status. Under immigration regulations, that option is still available.
The Phuket News understands that Phuket Immigration is likely to be under considerable pressure to abide by and uphold the new health insurance rule instituted by officials in Bangkok, but yet cannot deny applicants the right to change their visa status as already permitted under Immigration regulations.
To that end, Col Kathathorn this week also denied a rumour that Phuket Immigration had submitted an official request to postpone the health insurance requirement until the rules had been “made more clear”.
The claim was presented to The Phuket News from a reliable source and cited a high-ranking officer at Phuket Immigration claiming that in total eight major Immigration offices in the country – Chiang Mai, Ubon Ratchathani, Nong Khai, Prachuap Khiri Khan, Petchburi, Chonburi, Rayong and Phuket – had all submitted such requests.
Regardless, when asked about the rumor, Col Kathathorn said, “It is not true. The health insurance requirement for Non-Immigrant O-A visas will start on Oct 31. Nothing has changed. If we receive any updates, we will share that information.”
Regarding foreigners exercising the option to change their visa status, Col Kathathorn said, “I don’t want to point out which one is good for any particular foreigners. It is their choice whether they apply under a Non-Immigrant O-A visa or a Non-Immigrant O visa – those are the options. Foreigners can choose which to apply for to stay in the Kingdom of Thailand.”
Col Kathathorn declined to answer any further questions on the issue, and instead referred other officers to give further explanations.
Lt Col Worapol Panpetch, who holds the position of Inspector at Phuket Immigration, also confirmed, “It is correct. Non-Immigrant O visa holders do not require health insurance. Phuket Immigration officers will not ask for it.”
Lt Col Worapol also confirmed the option for foreigners to change their visa status from within Thailand.
“For example a foreigner on a tourist visa can applying to be under a Non-Immigrant visa, such as a Non-Imm O, Non-Imm B (Business), Non-Imm Ed (education), or other. They can come to apply for the visas type that the foreigner is qualified for.”
However, like Phuket Immigration Chief Col Kathathorn, Lt Col Worapol also avoided expressly confirming that foreigners can change their visa status from Non-Immigrant O-A to Non-Immigrant O.
The confusion over the options open to retirees to be granted one-year permits to stay – along with the Non-Immigrant O visa loophole – comes amid much oblique and confusing explanations of visa requirements available through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA).
The main MFA website in Thailand makes no mention of any health insurance required for foreigners to be issued a Non-Immigrant O-A visa, which will allow the foreigner to be permitted to stay in Thailand for one year from the date of first entry – but it does state that the mandatory health insurance is required in order for Non-Immigrant O-A visa holders to be granted an extension to stay in the country. (See here.)
Oddly, the website also no longer lists the requirements for a Non-Immigrant O visa. Selecting “Non-Immigrant Visa” on the “Issuance of Visa” webpage has for at least weeks brought up a “404 – Page Not Found” error. (See here.)
Meanwhile, directly contradicting the main MFA website, the website for Royal Thai Embassy in London plainly states that the health insurance is required in order to be issued a Non-Immgrant O-A visa. (See here.)
The Royal Thai Embassy in London also promotes the Non-Immigrant O visa as appropriate for “retirement” for foreigners on a state pension looking to stay less than 90 days. To stay longer would require a permit to stay to be approved by Immigration once the foreigner has arrived in the country.
Phuket Immigration Inspector Lt Col Worapol declined to comment on the information provided by the Ministry of Foreigner Affairs.
“Please check the Immigration website (click here), that is better for foreigners who have a Non-Immigrant O-A visa, or other type of visa,” he said.