MANILA - Government is tightening up rules for the issuance of visas upon arrival for visiting Chinese nationals, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said Saturday, weeks after several officials expressed concern over the influx of travelers here from China.
In a statement, Guevarra said the Department of Justice and its attached agency the Bureau of Immigration "are tightening up the rules on the issuance of visa upon arrival (VUA)."
"We intend to limit the maximum permissible period to 30 days, blacklist overstaying aliens, ensure non-convertibility to work visas, and impose sanctions on travel agencies breaking the rules," he said.
Under current rules, the VUA is good for 30 days but may be extended for up to 6 months.
Guevarra added that the VUA was supposed to have been "non-convertible ever since."
"But if it’s a regular tourist visa issued by our consular offices abroad, it may be converted to a work visa upon compliance with all legal requirements," the justice chief said.
The VUA program allows Chinese tourists to apply for 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 tourism department to lure more Chinese tourists and investors.
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.
On July 31, Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. called for an end to the issuance of the VUA to Chinese tourists, saying they should undergo a vetting process before being issued visas and allowed to enter the Philippines.
This, after National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr.'s expressed concern over the influx of Chinese nationals in the Philippines, saying they were a security risk.
Arrivals of Chinese nationals in the Philippines have been on the rise, with many employed in off-shore gaming operations. Authorities earlier said some were staying in the country illegally.
On Friday, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the presence of Chinese-run off-shore gaming facilities near military bases was "very concerning," saying such may be used for surveillance purposes.
Amid improved trade ties under the Duterte administration, the Philippines and China remain locked in disputes over the South China Sea. Defense and military officials have also flagged Chinese ship passages without Philippine clearance at the Sibutu Strait in Tawi-Tawi.
Meanwhile, the arrival of Chinese tourists continue. In the first few months of 2019, China was the second top source of tourists for the Philippines, with 733,766 arrivals from January to May, a 30.96 percent jump year-on-year.
Some Chinese nationals have been involved in crime, particularly loan shark abductions of their compatriots.
Others have been caught in misbehavior, including a student who threw a cup of taho (soybean curd drink) at a police officer at the metro train station.