BI Reforms-A Boost to Tourism

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Congress can pass a meaningful immigration reform bill – a legislation that promises not only to improve national security, but could also boost our economy due to its positive impact on local communities that rely on travel.

Since early 2010, the travel industry has been a significant source of employment growth for the economy by adding almost a half-million jobs. Moreover, the increase in travel industry jobs has outpaced the rest of the economy. Congress can help improve on this progress by passing an immigration bill with provisions that make our borders more secure, while also encouraging more international travelers to visit our country to enjoy our cities and scenic wonders and conduct business with Philippine companies.

One reform policymakers should consider is the addition of more immigration officers to facilitate travelers upon arrival to our country and speed them on their way safely and securely. In other words, immigration reforms can increase travel to the Philippines at the same time enhance our security.

In the discharge of its broad functions, the Bureau of Immigration through its Board of Commissioners, exercises administrative and quasi-judicial powers over the regulation of the entry (arrival), stay (sojourn), and exit (departure) of foreign nationals in the country; and monitoring of the entry and exit of Filipino citizens in compliance with Philippine laws and other legal procedures.

In view of BI’s function to monitor the entry and exit of Filipino citizens, the new Commissioner of the Bureau of Immigration Siegfred Mison emphasizes that although the right to travel is enshrined in the Constitution and enjoyed by every Filipino, those who want to travel abroad should have their documents in order, particularly their passport and other documents issued by a foreign country such as a tourist or working visa (where applicable), before they are allowed to leave.

Tourists must prove their financial capability for the trip, present proof of work or support in the Philippines, or submit an affidavit of support if they are visiting relatives overseas, to prevent being offloaded from flights. Also, those who do not have the financial capacity to travel or who are accompanied by a foreigner will automatically by subjected to secondary inspection.

The Inter-Agency Council against Trafficking (IACAT) created the necessary measures to protect Filipinos from becoming victims of human trafficking. The “Guidelines on Departure Formalities for Internationally Bound Passengers,” in accordance with Republic Act 9208 or the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003, which was subsequently approved by the Department of Justice (DOJ) is one such measure. It took effect last January 2012.

Mison pointed out that offloading “is not a policy but a consequence of the implementation of the guidelines.”

The Immigration’s “strict” memorandum is aimed to curb the exodus of undocumented OFWs abroad as well as protect victims of human trafficking. Mison said immigration has the mandate to “offload” – meaning disallow a traveler to board a plane – but it is not the government’s policy. The BI said offloading, or barring passengers from leaving the country, is not an official government policy but a consequence of the implementation of the guidelines.

The Constitution guarantees the right to travel of every citizen, however, it may only be impaired for the interest of national security, public safety or public health, as may be provided by law, the bureau said.

 

Meanwhile, the Bureau of Immigration (BI) again clarified that showing proof of financial capacity is not a requirement for Filipinos who want to travel abroad. Those who have complete travel documents, such as a valid passport and tourist or working visas, are allowed to leave the country.

He also said the bureau is more stringent in screening those who fit certain “tourist worker profiles”:

  • First time travelers who are going to destinations that are not popular among tourists
  • Tourists with no steady source of income in the Philippines and no benefactors in their country of destination

Mison said the implementation of the guidelines contributed to a decline in the incidents of human trafficking and illegal recruitment.

Under the guidelines, the bureau will automatically subject the following to secondary inspection:

  • Travelers without financial capacity to travel escorted/accompanied by a foreigner who is not related to them
  • Minor traveling alone or unaccompanied by either parent or legal guardian without the required travel clearance from the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD)
  • Previously repatriated irregular workers, in which case, travel may not be allowed without the clearance from the IACAT
  • Partners and spouses of foreign nationals intending to depart to meet and/or marry his/her fiancé without the CFO Guidance and Counseling Certificate
  • Passengers traveling to countries with existing deployment bans, alert levels, and travel advisories and those in possession of a visa to the said countries
  • Passengers who stayed abroad for more than one year during a previous departure from the country as a tourist/temporary visitor, intending to depart for the second and/or subsequent time

Section 6, Article III, of the 1987 Constitution guarantees Filipinos’ right to travel, but it is not absolute. The Constitution states this right may be curtailed for the interest of national security, public safety, or public health.

In a related story, nearly 4.7 million foreigners visited the Philippines in 2013. The Department of Tourism (DOT) said foreign visitor arrivals jumped 9.56% to 4.68 million in 2013.

South Korea remained the biggest source of tourists, rising 13% to 1.16 million in 2013. South Koreans accounted for 25% of the country’s visitor arrivals last year.

The number of tourists from the United States, which make up 15% of the total tourist arrivals, reached 652,626 in 2013, a 3.3% increase from the previous year.

Japan was the Philippines’ third biggest source market with 412,474 arrivals in 2013, followed closely by China with 426,352 arrivals. The number of Chinese tourists surged 69% in 2013, despite tension between the Philippine and Chinese governments over disputed islands.

The DOT expects more foreign visitors to the Philippines this year. The immigration reform bill can provide the tools to make travel to the Philippines easier. Given travel’s increasingly important role as a driver of economic growth, making international travel to the Philippines easier and more secure will pay big dividends in terms of stronger growth and more jobs. By the exercise of its administrative and quasi-judicial powers over the regulation of the entry (arrival), stay (sojourn), and exit (departure) of foreign nationals in the country, the Bureau of Immigration can help immensely our tourist trade.

 

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