Scrap or tighten? DOJ, Immigration bureau review visa-upon-arrival scheme

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 03 2019 03:31 PM | Updated as of Aug 03 2019 03:32 PM

MANILA – Authorities are considering to either scrap or tighten the visa-upon-arrival (VUA) program, a justice official said Friday, after a Cabinet member said the cancellation of the scheme could temper the influx of Chinese nationals in the country.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. earlier suggested to remove the VUA program after National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said he saw the rise of the number of Chinese nationals in the country as a security threat.

"There are a number of options. One of them is the cancellation of the mechanism. The other is tightening the requirements to make sure na hindi siya ma-abuse (that it won’t be abused)," Justice Department spokesperson Undersecretary Markk Perete told reporters.

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The VUA program allows Chinese tourists to apply for a visa upon arrival in the country, instead of applying beforehand at the Philippine Embassy and consulates in China. 

First implemented during the time of former Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II in 2017, the move was initiated by the Department of Tourism (DOT), then led by Wanda Teo, to lure more Chinese tourists and investors from China. 

Aside from Chinese tourists, other nationals may also avail themselves of the program if they are foreign investors endorsed by relevant organizations, delegates to sports competitions and international conventions, and officials of the World Bank, Asian Development Bank and other development partners.

But according to Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, the program is prone to abuse.

"Na-abuse 'yan in a sense kasi andito na mag-aapply ‘yan ng visa, tourist visa... Kino-convert nila to something else like work visa, special work permit," Guevarra said. 

(It gets abused in the sense that once they’re here, they’ll apply for tourist visa. But they convert that to something else like work visa, special work permit.)

But scrapping the VUA program might result in congestion at Philippine consular offices abroad, Guevarra said.
"If we cancel, that means to say that all visas for all tourists will have to be processed at consular offices in China," he said.

"DFA will have the primary responsibility there. So kung may enough manpower, may enough consular offices ang DFA in China, then that would be welcome," he said.

(So if they have enough manpower, they have enough consular offices in China, then that would be welcome.)

In June 2019 alone, 6,000 Chinese nationals received visas upon arrival in the Philippines, the Bureau of Immigration (BI) earlier said in a statement.

Traveling to the Philippines has become a "trend" for Chinese people due to the emergence of the online gaming industry, BI Commissioner Jaime Morente said.

"This is the trend now - 'yung usong industry - hence the rise [in numbers]. We've seen this before, when there was a sudden spike in Koreans in the Philippines during the boom of the English language institutions,” he said in a statement.

While the BI respects the views of Locsin, changes on the policy is on the department level, he said. The BI is an attached agency of the justice department. 

The Immigration office will follow direction from Malacañang ang the Department of Justice, he said.

Guevarra said he would bring up the issue of the VUA program in the next Cabinet meeting.