Teen gets Thai citizenship in time for US contest

Yonladee Phiyatat, who was born stateless in Thailand to migrant parents, received her national identity card on Friday.
Yonladee Phiyatat, who was born stateless in Thailand to migrant parents, received her national identity card on Friday.PHOTO: YONLADEE PHIYATAT/INSTAGRAM

BANGKOK • A 17-year-old stateless teen's plea for help to obtain Thai citizenship in order to fly to the United States to compete in the Genius Olympiad has finally been granted.

Yonladee Phiyatat, who was born stateless in Thailand to migrant parents, received her identity card last Friday, a document that lets her to apply for a passport and US visa.

Public sympathy poured in when the high school student from Satree Ranong School in southern Thailand's Ranong province lamented on Facebook that the lack of travel documents meant she was missing out on the chance to take part in the contest after getting an invitation, The Nation newspaper reported.

"I am stateless and according to law, cannot travel out of Thailand," Yonladee, nicknamed Ploy, wrote last week.

Yonladee won a competition to take part in the Genius Olympiad in New York next month, but had to miss the May 1 application deadline because she was stateless.

Her story caught the attention of the media and the Thai authorities.

Shortly after seeing her Facebook post, the Office of Basic Education Commission promised to coordinate with the Interior Ministry.

A Thai university lecturer offered to pay for her trip and be her guarantor for the US visa.

The Interior Ministry fast-tracked her case last week and on Friday, a beaming Yonladee, accompanied by her parents and a teacher, received her Thai identity card at the Muang Ranong District Office.

Ranong Governor Chatupoj Piyumputra and Muang Ranong district chief Boonchai Somjai showed up to facilitate Yonladee's case.

Genius Olympiad is an international high school competition about environmental issues founded by the non-profit Terra Science and Education and hosted by the State University of New York.

The competition from June 17 to 22 will attract about 1,400 participants from around the world.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 12, 2019, with the headline 'Teen gets Thai citizenship in time for US contest'. Print Edition | Subscribe