On visas, again
COUNTING my columns written about immigration laws on this paper over the past five years, this should be my fifth. And I again call on our congessional representatives to heed this call.
This is for the immediate amendment of our immigration law, the Immigration Act of 1940.
For those not in the know, our immigration law was enacted before World War II and was never amended nor revised. Thus, it has not come up with the growth and the competitive demands of world immigration. Either in the world tourism or in international terrorism demands for our country’s security, the Philippines immigration law is obsolete, to say the least.
As a result, by way of statiscal comparison, let me take the organized territory of Guam in the west Pacific Ocean. Guam has a land area only of 540 square kilometers. Guam’s land area is about twice that of Camiguin Island’s 236 square kilometers but much smaller than the area of Dinagat Islands with about 802 square kilometers.
By contrast, the Philippine land area is about 301,780 square kilometers. Thus, Guam is not even one percent of the Philippines’ land area. But their tourist arrivals is relatively much higher than ours.
The expected arrival of tourists in Guam is about 1,600,000 in 2017 while the Philippines is about 6,000,000. That’s only a difference of about 4.4 million tourists while the land area is more than 100 times bigger.
So what is the cause of this huge difference in percentage of tourist arrivals? The analysis does not require a rocket scientist or of an Actuarial mathematician. Our immigration laws is one huge factor.
We have so much restrictions and too many fees that are required of foreigners to pay, and to stay that they discourage tourists in general.
To be specific, our Arrival Stamps of all tourists is 21 days or 30 days, renewable for a first total of 60 days. Then renewable every 59 days thereafter for tourists but not exceeding a total of one year. Yet, my Arrival Stamp in Guam last week was immediately six months of authorized stay. Automatic, straight for six months if I choose to. No added immigration fees.
On our part, the first stay is only 21 days, extendible for another 39 days, with immigration fees(!), for a total of 60 days, and extendible every 59 days but not exceeding one year total. Every 59 days extension requires thousands of pesos in fees. Government money-making from tourists in a very wrong way. This law should be amended.
Another problem is the limited Visa Waiver. Everyone knows that citizens of Asean member countries enjoy Visa Waivers just like Americans, Australians and most European Union-member countries.
Yet, we require strict visa requirements for tourists from South Korea, China, Taiwan and India, among many other progressive countries. These Philippine Tourist Visa requirements should be scrapped outrightly, and the primary entry stamps should be increased to six months, renewable for another year so tourists can stay as long as they like and spend all their vacation money here for as long as they can afford.
The Koreans and Chinese and Taiwanese have much money to spend in the Philippines but we unreasonably restrict their coming in through visa requirements. They all should be included in the Visa Waivers.
And when they are already in, we require them Visa Extensions every two months, just like every other foreigners here. Again, these extensions with huge fees every 59 days for all tourists should be revoked to one year as primary stay period.
Extensions with huge fees discourage many tourists from staying here longer.
Of course, when a tourist decides to stay many more years, then their visas should be converted to immigrant visas or investors visas or retiree visas with very minimal fees and requirements so that foreigners will stay, and spend, more in the Philippines as long as they like. These are income sources for our country!
Even the Retiree Programs of the Philippine Retirement Authority require a deposit of at least US$10,000 to as high as $40,000. That’s from P500,000 to P2,000,000 of deposited money that the foreigner retiree cannot withdraw and spend into the Philippine economy. And this is a stupid and idiotic policy.
If we have 1,000 retirees who can spend their P2,000,000 unwithdrawable deposit into the Philippine economy, then that is at least P2 trillion each year that helps propel the local economic activity. So why the unwithdrawable deposit to the PRA?
Really, these are only the tips of several icebergs of the immigration law that we have to reconsider for proper legislation.
Our immigration laws should be more open, more lax and more attractive for tourists to come in and stay longest.
An American or British retiree who has a monthly pension of US$2,000 can easily contribute P100,000 a month to our domestic economy. If there are only 10,000 of them in the Philippines, that amounts to P1,000,000,000 or P1 billion a month or 12 billion pesos a year of cash inflow. But what is our immigration law doing? Restricting these inflows with difficult and complex requirements.
And that is only for retirees.
If we have six million tourists a year who are allowed to stay at least six months straight and they spend an additional 100,000 for the next two to six months more, then that’s an additional cash inflow again of another P600,000,000,000 — or P600 trillion more!
One does not realize the huge income that tourism brings to the 7,100 islands, more than 36,289 kilometers of awesome beaches and natural wonders, that the Philippines is endowed with.
In fine, we do not realize the tourism potential that we have. Worse than this, our immigration law is killing these immigration income potentials.
So as the next session of Congress resumes, I ardently hope that our congressmen and senators will take heed of this column and do something drastic to amend our Immigration Act which is older than Gen. Douglas McArthur.
Only then will the millions of tourists say to themselves of the Philippines: “I shall return!”