Visa-upon-arrival scheme for Chinese to be ‘tightened,’ not scrapped

MANILA, Philippines – The Duterte Cabinet decided not to scrap the visa-upon-arrival (VUA) privilege for Chinese nationals, choosing to tighten the system instead to prevent abuse.

Two sources at the Cabinet meeting on Monday, August 5, confirmed this to Rappler. This was also confirmed by Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra on Tuesday.

One proposal for making the process stricter is to limit the validity of visas issued upon arrival to a maximum of 30 days, with "absolutely no extension," said a source.

The current VUA policy is to allow the Chinese national to stay up to 30 days with the possibility of an extension for up to 6 months.

Along with the proposal to impose the limit is a proposal to blacklist violators.

"Overstaying will result in automatic blacklisting," said the source. A second source confirmed this.

The decision to just be stricter with the VUA scheme instead of scrapping it was reached after Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra explained that Chinese nationals making use of the VUA scheme account for only 8% of Chinese tourist arrivals.

"The bulk of these (the 8%) are accounted for by cruise line passengers who stay here for less than 48 hours only. The influx is in the POGO (Philippine Online Gaming Operations) sector. Their visas are processed in our consulates in China," Guevarra told Rappler.

Guevarra, as justice chief, oversees the Bureau of Immigration (BI).

Insiders estimate that there are "easily" around 100,000 to 250,000 Chinese employed in POGOs. POGOs are supposed to be regulated by the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor). (READ: How China’s online gambling addiction is reshaping Manila)

It was Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr who proposed removing the VUA privilege for certain Chinese nationals after National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr said he sees the influx of illegal Chinese workers in the Philippines as a "threat."

But other government officials have called for caution since removing the VUA privilege could discourage Chinese tourists from coming to the Philippines.

The Department of Tourism is targeting 200,000 Chinese tourists by the end of 2019, a target that could be adversely impacted by removing the VUA privilege.

According to BI data, 733,769 Chinese nationals arrived in the Philippines as tourists and benefited from the VUA scheme from January to May 2019.

Tourist arrivals from China have been on the uptick since Duterte assumed the presidency and took on a friendlier stance towards the Asian giant.

From 736,960 in 2016, the number of Chinese tourists rose to 1,375,508 in 2018. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.

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