It seems that my visa and work permit experience is rather typical, in fact - on the better end of what can be typical in Thailand for these things. People who have worked through teacher placement agencies that tried to help - have had similar, even more complicated experiences; and other agencies are simply uninterested in having their teachers be legal. I'm a direct hire, and I apparently work for a government school after all (which supposedly will make the actual processing of the papers smoother) my point is simply that having an agency doesn't necessarily make things better. In any case - here's a run down of my first trip to Immigration (there will be many).
Finally having the paperwork from the school, the school van, and whatever other loose ends were preventing the trip - yesterday I embarked on the trek to Immigration. As it turns out, TWO school 'officers' (secretaries) came along for this - because one is leaving the school after today (maternity), so she is showing the person that is staying the ropes of how to do it. The first officer attempted to go to Immigration ahead of us to get a queue number early - it used to be an automated ticket system. This time - they asked her "Where is the foreigner and where is their passport? You need both to take a ticket." Sounds fair enough to me, but none of this is really in my hands; and I wasn't going to complain about being able to skip the queue - but no go. She also apparently used to have a 'friend' that was in charge of the queue - whom she befriended by bringing them contraband coffee (they're not allowed breaks) and had previously been allowed to skip the queue entirely by this person. This 'connection,' has apparently leveled up in the ministry and is no longer on this level of things.
It may be a miracle that I even made it to Immigration one week prior to the expiration of my single entry, Non-B Visa (Teacher's Visa), on January 27. The Immigration office reminds me of an airport terminal. Huge open space - though relatively few people in that wide open space. Something like seven or eight levels of government offices of various ministries - and of course - or thank goodness - a food court, a 7/11 and other food and clothes vendors. One of my favorite office names: Geo-Informatics and Space Technology Development Agency (Public Organization): GISTDA. Many official signs, around Bangkok - not just here - are dual Thai English. No, I wouldn't have been able to read that in Thai (yet).
While I was in Immigration I wrote down observations about the experience - but it's amazing how quickly it all changes - half of them were irrelevant or changed by the end of the day. At Immigration we were attempting to extend my visa, because you cannot apply for a work permit when your visa is expiring. However, after the 4+ hour wait, including waiting through the hour lunch break of the Immigration officials because my queue number came up exactly at noon - we were simply told no, you cannot extend the visa without the work permit - even though we were only looking for a one week extension to allow time for the paperwork of the work permit. I'm not sure what was said, as it was said in Thai, but probably something to the effect of well you've had 90 days to do this - gee, imagine that. Apparently it all depends on the official you get - whether you get waved through and given extensions and papers with a swift "mai pen rai" or end up having to come back again. So, we will apply for the multi-entry, long term Non-B Visa another day. And I will apparently still have to check in with Immigration every 90 days with this visa, OR travel outside the country and return. I foresee short sight-seeing trips to other Asian countries; and times I'll just have to go back through these offices.
So, after Immigration, failed attempt number one - on to the Labour Ministry! I am thankful my farang co-workers mentioned the need for a health certificate from a Thai doctor for the work permit. My Thai associate said it was not necessary when I subsequently asked her, "not too strict," however when we got through the slightly shorter Labour queue - it did turn out that I needed it. This time, they didn't need my employment contract - complete with whited out dates of employment, then recopied so there was no physical white out on the page, changed to more recent dates since I've basically been working illegally. This is Thailand - this is typical. The thought of having to go back for the medical certificate alone is nauseating, especially since I already have to go back; it was well worth subjecting myself to the maybe necessary maybe not blood draw syphilis test (the one actual medical test required) at a clinic near my apartment. Made it through the phobia of needles and blood draws by glancing all over the room and repeating "sanuk, sanuk..." (fun, fun...) over and over - the best I could do in Thai to remain calm (Mai Pen Rai does NOT help me remain calm, plus it's a lot more syllables) - though the practitioners at the clinic spoke some English as well. So glad to have that over with, the doctor concluded "She had good healthy," gave his literal official stamp of approval, and that was that. Some people have gotten by with a glance up and down, immediate stamp - the certificate itself is not strict - but needing to have it to obtain a work permit is again, all up to who is behind your counter at Labour. I think she didn't need my blood test result, but if I didn't have it done then I would have needed it - at least this is my personal justification for subjecting myself to a dreaded blood test and trying to avoid some of the cognitive dissonance of all of this.
Right - so after submitting documents at Labour and paying the 100 Baht application fee, Here's what's next: January 26th (Wednesday) return to Labour at 8:30 am sharp if possible to pick up work permit, also probably pay another fee for it. Then proceed immediately to Immigration, where somewhere in the airport terminal like building there is a place to pay for photocopying. Obtain two photo copies of work permit. Go BACK to Immigration queue. Go to food court, 7/11, buff nails for half an hour - (yes, I did that), etc., and try again for the Non-B Visa. Oh, and just now from a co-worker - apparently obtaining a multiple entry 'permit' is in addition to the visa, it requires a separate queue ticket and trip through the hullabaloo, which you CAN do on the same day - but which they will not grant without first having the visa - so huzzah, yet another trip through the madness. Oh joy.
A few asides on this topic before I wrap the post up: two of my colleagues had to go to Laos to re-apply for their Non-B Visa. Thankfully I'm already on a Non-B, so fingers crossed that I don't have to (though there are PLENTY of reputable and non-reputable companies that handle border runs for visas) - applications for Non-B must be made from outside the country - so if you started off on a tourist or spouse visa as was their case, you've got to hop the border to apply for your visa. In all honesty the worst repercussions I would face in my current situation are fines, not immigration detention, jail or deportation (that's reserved for other visa violations and persons who've also committed crimes beyond overstaying, or overstayed a very, very long time). So the day before expiration, here's to hoping everything falls into place. One of my co-workers relayed the story of his first visa/work permit, complete with three trips to Immigration and Labour and one jaunt to Laos (he was on the spouse visa) - and how everything fell into place on the exact day his visa expired. Otherwise, I look forward to blogging the experience of bussing to Laos with a border run agency.