PH 'refining' visa on arrival for Chinese due to overstaying issues

MANILA, Philippines – The Bureau of Immigration (BI) is reviewing the visas upon arrival  privilege granted mainly to Chinese nationals due to the reported overstaying of some of the grantees, the Department of Justice (DOJ) said on Friday, August 2.

"One of the concerns of BI is some of those who obtained visas upon arrival may possibly be working here already, and they need to get  a work permit to be able to work here. That's one area that the BI needs to correct," Justice Undersecretary Markk Perete said on Friday.

The BI is under the supervision of the DOJ.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said scrapping the system altogether is also a possibility, especially after Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr said that "we need to put an end to visas upon arrival."

The concern was triggered by National Security Advisor Hermogenes Esperson Jr, who raised the alarm on the influx of illegal Chinese workers in the Philippines. 

"The BI has already been studying on how to refine the visa upon arrival to prevent abuses in the use of the mechanism," Perete said. But Locsin's statement has created the option of scrapping it altogether, said Perete. 

"We will have to see, we will have to balance the differing interests, and differing demands from the sectors," said Perete.

The Philippines grants visas upon arrival mainly to Chinese tourists according to Perete. But the mechanism is open to other nationalities if they are accredited foreign investors, athletes, or conference delegates.

"The review being undertaken by the BI covers the entire mechanism and processes for the VUA. Whether their recommendation will be limited to Chinese tourists or to others is uncertain. We will have to await the conclusion of BI’s review," said Perete.

The Department of Tourism (DOT) said in a statement that it is “open to review and reevaluate” the issuance of visa upon arrival (VUA) to foreigners.

“We agree that prime importance should be placed on security and safety of our guests and locals. The grant of visas is to ensure entry of desirable visitors,” the DOT said.

What will happen? Perete said that the major point of review of the BI is the problem of overstaying.

Visas upon arrival to Chinese tourists are effective for only 3 months, but extendible to another 3 months, bringing their maximum stay to 6 months.

Implemented under the term of then-justice secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II in August 2017 – upon the recommendation of then-tourism secretary Wanda Teo – visas upon arrival cover a broad segment of Chinese nationals, making it effectively available to everyone: 

Perete said the qualifications of those who might avail of the visa upon arrival will also be reviewed, but that the length of stay aspect will be  the principal issue of the immigration reevaluation.

Perete said they cannot provide a timetable for BI's recommendations. 

Malacañang earlier said President Rodrigo Duterte was "considering" Locsin's proposal.

What are the considerations? The visas upon arrival was granted to Chinese nationals on the recommendation of the DOT, said Perete.

There were 736,000 Chinese arrivals to the country in 2016. The number hit 1.09 million in 2017, and climbed to 1.37 million last year – credited to the Philippines' warmer ties with China under the Duterte administration.

Thousands of these arrivals are suspected to be illegal workers.

"From the security sector, there is concern on undocumented Chinese nationals coming over, or documented but doing something else, so that is something we should also take into account," said Guevarra.

Guevarra said another point of consideration is if there is enough manpower in consular offices in China to handle visa applications from their end. If visas upon arrival is scrapped, consular offices in China would have to do all the processing.

"If the DFA says we can do it, we have been doing that before, well and good, no problem with us," said Guevarra. – Rappler.com 

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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