December 27, 2013 by Melissa Ray
This week, Thailand’s Ministry of Education (MOE) announced changes to the requirements for education (ED) visa extensions (as reported by Thai Visa). If you are a foreigner training Muay Thai on a longer term basis in Thailand, these changes might affect you.
A few years ago, when I first moved to Thailand, it was possible for foreigners to obtain a one-year multiple-entry non-immigrant ED visa for the purposes of Muay Thai training. Obtaining the visa was a fairly simple process—all that was required was a letter from your Muay Thai gym in Thailand confirming your planned attendance, as well as the visa fee. With an up-to-date letter from the gym, you could obtain this visa year after year on return to your home country.
However, approximately three years ago, the powers that be changed the ED visa availability, and from then onwards, it has only been possible to obtain a 90-day single-entry non-immigrant business (B) visa for training Muay Thai in Thailand (except, I believe, for training at Master Toddy’s Academy in Bangkok, which is accredited by the MOE and able to provide one-year ED visas to its students).
To obtain the 90-day non-immigrant B visa, copies of the gym’s business registration documents are required, as well as the letter from the gym confirming your attendance and the visa fee. After this visa has expired, your options for remaining in Thailand on a longer term basis are:
1) getting a full-time job with a work permit (not particularly conducive to serious training and fighting since training times generally clash with office hours, though has been managed by some fighters);
2) travelling to a neighbouring Asian country to obtain a 60-day tourist visa, which can be extended by 30 days at the local Immigration Bureau, and then doing repeated visa runs (although there are unofficial limits on the number of permitted back-to-back visa runs);
3) signing up for a one-year Thai language course and obtaining an ED visa.
There are numerous Thai language schools in Thailand, offering basic, intermediate and advanced Thai language courses, as well as the paperwork required for obtaining a single-entry 90-day ED visa in a neighbouring Asian country, and the documents required for extensions every 90 days at the local Immigration Bureau. The average price for these courses is approximately 25,000B (for 150 hours of study over one year). All visa and extension fees must be paid by the student.
This type of visa has become a popular choice for many long-termers in Thailand, including those whose initial reason for travelling to Thailand was Muay Thai training. Aside from the benefits of learning Thai language, the advantages of this type of visa include the convenience offered by the lack of visa runs (it is only necessary to leave the country once to obtain the visa, then the extensions can be done within Thailand) and the potential to extend the visa for up to three years of study.
Therefore, these language courses offering ED visa eligibility have become big business for Thai language schools, and some of the larger schools even have their own representative based at the Immigration Bureau in Bangkok to facilitate their students’ visa extension processes.
However, not all students actually attend their Thai language courses and the MOE has introduced the new visa extension requirements in an effort to crack down on the number of foreigners staying in Thailand for extended periods and working illegally (it is not permitted to work without a work permit in Thailand and potentially punishable by deportation, a hefty fine or, in rare cases, a prison term).
The new requirements for the ED visa extensions are:
1) two-year visa history of the student;
2) proof of income to support the student throughout the course;
3) reason for long stay in Thailand (if the student has already spent extended time in Thailand prior to the application).
Presumably, “proof of income” means a bank statement from the person’s home country since it is illegal for a student to earn income in Thailand. However, there remain some grey areas when it comes to legal/illegal working status in Thailand.
For example, a person completing internet-based work for a company or clients based overseas. Physically, they may be sat in front of their laptop in Thailand, but their services are not used within Thailand and any income derives from overseas. Since a Thai company is not involved in this work, it would be impossible for this person to obtain a work permit.
Another grey area is the working status of a foreign Muay Thai fighter in Thailand. In Thailand, most fights are “professional” in the sense that the boxers receive renumeration for competing in the ring. Does this payment classify the fights as “work”? Even if—hypothetically—a gym was to register a foreign fighter as an employee, to obtain a work permit, their salary must exceed 50,000B per month. Foreign fighters with purses exceeding that value are few and far between; most (particularly women) probably struggle to earn 50,000B in a year!
It remains to be seen if further changes will be made to the Thai visa system, though it does seem the new requirements are intended to prevent foreigners with the maximum number of repeat tourist visas then switching to ED visas to remain in the country.
If you are studying in Thailand on an ED visa, please bear in mind the new extension requirements and the new forms that must be completed and submitted to Immigration (app_1, app_purpose_1). Please also refer to the Visa and Immigration forums on Thai Visa for the latest updates on all Thai visa-related news.