By Corina Oliquino | FilAm Star Correspondent
MANILA — The Department of Justice (DoJ) confirmed on August 2, that the Bureau of Immigration (BI) is reviewing the visa upon arrival scheme extended to foreigners to either refine or cancel the policy even before Foreign Affairs Sec. Teodoro Locsin Jr.’s calls to end the policy due to concerns on the influx of Chinese nationals in the country.
On July 31, Locsin declared the need to “put an end to visas upon arrival,” citing all visas should be issued by consular offices after vetting.”
“…We must take extra care in outsourcing any part of the visa application process, picking only the most reputable worldwide,” Locsin (@teddyboylocsin) tweeted. “So we curtail visas on arrival which means: visitor not vetted in our consulates abroad; planes have passengers without visas thereby incurring US Homeland Security wrath. We have to stop stamping visas on slips of paper rather than foreign passports. We need a new visa stamp.”
In a press briefing, DoJ Undersec. Mark Perete said their department is just waiting for the formal recommendation of BI on the scheme.
“As early as about a month ago, there were already informal recommendations from the Bureau of Immigration so continuous ‘yung kanilang study pinpointing exactly what are the loopholes in the system so they can address it,” Perete said, noting they are also looking into the allowed period of stay for foreign nationals coming to the country.
“Supposedly, those who would avail of the visa upon arrival are tourists and limited lang ‘yung period within which they should be allowed to stay in the country,” Perete said.
“The review being undertaken by the BI covers the entire mechanism and processes for the visa upon arrival,” Perete added.
“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,” he concluded.
Meanwhile, DoJ Sec. Menardo Guevarra added the scheme was put in place during the term of former DoJ Sec. Vitaliano Aguirre II to promote tourism among Chinese nationals, claiming the visas may have been prone to abuse.
“Ang nagiging problema is kino-convert nila to something else like work visa, special work permit,” Guevarra told The Philippine Star, noting Immigration should intensify its monitoring to prevent such abuses.
Moreover, the report also noted the concern of National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr., who is considering the influx of Chinese nationals in the Philippines as a threat.
“I’m on the cautious side because when foreigners, regardless of nationality, come in and their intent is not clear or when some of them are undocumented or have wrong documentation, forged documentation meaning some of them would come in as tourists and yet end up as workers,” Esperon said last July 31.
Visa review risks tourism revenue
In another report by BusinessWorld, the former executive vice-president of the Tourism Congress of the Philippines and now President of Rajah Travel Corporation Aileen Clemente claimed the review may lead to lower tourist arrivals and cut revenue from travel spending.
“Definitely, there will be less interest in the Philippines on the part of the Chinese,” Clemente said.
“Travel companies whose main market is China will be greatly affected,” Clemente added, with the Philippines enjoying a 9.8 percent higher tourist arrival in the five months until May this year, with 733,769 Chinese nationals sharing part of the over-all total.”
Meanwhile, University of Santo Tomas Political Science Professor Marlon Villarin in a text message claimed national security is more important than the tourism cost.
“The cost might be detrimental to us in terms of tourism revenue but it’s worth the loss for the sake of national security,” Villarin said.