Holders of the five-year elite ‘Easy Access’ five-year visa who have been instructed to submit an application for an upgrade from 15 years to a total of 20 years on the last registration day, August 15, received an email from Thai Privilege The card company informed them that the new rules were suddenly repealed. After all, they can renew a five-year visa three months or more before their individual expiry date. Just like before. But questions remain over whether future transfer fees will be as they are now.
The order, which was originally announced to be lifted on Aug. 1, created two weeks of confusion for holders of the five-year option in the elite visa select program. The most likely reason for the cancellation was legal advice given to elite top executives, who could face court action from some visa holders on the grounds that their terms and conditions had been changed arbitrarily and with little notice. There are currently 25,000-30,000 elite members under all plans, with the most popular option being “easy access” or five-year multiple entry.
As for new and fresh elite applications, documents must be submitted by September 15 to be eligible for any elite visa program under the old rules. Then, for newly admitted students, the current scheme will be scrapped and new tariffs – details of which are still unclear – will come into effect in early October. It is widely believed that elite visas, which allow five to 20-year stays with or without family members, will be fewer in number and more expensive to purchase. Rumors on social media suggested that the price of the five-year visa would rise from 600,000 baht to more than 1 million baht, and the cheapest 20-year visa would rise from 1 million baht to 5 million baht.
Although elite membership doesn’t offer Thai citizenship, a second passport or even permanent residency, it does offer perks such as fast-track immigration, free medical exams, and deep discounts on hotel bookings, golf courses, retail outlets, and more. It is widely believed that the elite will limit the most generous benefits to those who purchase the most expensive visa options and/or visit Thailand most frequently. The model will be based on the familiar airline miles strategy offered by airlines: the more you fly, the more you pay for the seat, the more privileges you can earn.
The big picture in the room is the future of all Thailand visa programs, not just the elite ones. The national police deputy chief recently said some annual, renewable visas were too cheap, while criticizing corruption on the issue of retirement, study and voluntary visas. Meanwhile, the problem of some foreigners without health insurance and the inability to pay for medical care remains a hot potato in political circles. The last time Thailand underwent major reforms to visa regulations and fees was nearly 20 years ago. Thailand, on the other hand, must aspire to compete with other Southeast Asian countries that are also keen to increase the number of tourists and expats. Thailand has to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater as it seeks out high-spending tourists and wealthy foreigners.