By noontime of June 30, 2022, a new set of national leaders will start their six-year terms. The transition has begun and all government agencies are already facing high expectations from the public. The new officials who are starting to fill in different government positions are expected to implement changes, introduce new plans, continue or scrap existing projects and address or ignore pressing national issues. The Bureau of Immigration (BI) is certainly not exempted from these pressures. Ahead of the inauguration, let us turn the spotlight on one of the agencies that is at the forefront of the country, almost literally.
The BI is the primary enforcement arm of the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the President of the Philippines in ensuring that all foreigners within its territorial jurisdiction comply with existing laws. It is responsible for the administration and enforcement of immigration, citizenship, and alien admission and registration laws in accordance with the provisions of the Philippine Immigration Act of 1940.
The annual report published by the DOJ from 2016 to 2020 notes that the BI continuously aims for the enhancement of its regulations and processes both on the administrative and operational level. It was consistent in its goal to implement technology improvements including online platforms for internal processes and port of entry procedures and incorporate those with infrastructure projects and improvements.
True to its mission, among the accomplishments of the BI in the past six years were focused on technology advancement and innovation of processes including the Bureau of Immigration Information System (BIIS), Fixed Interpol Network Database (FIND), and E-Gates Project, all of which were successfully installed in 2018. These projects were aimed to make assessments faster and more efficient and strengthen the border control system of the country. On the same year, the BI was awarded an ISO certification for quality standards in conducting entry and exit formalities for arriving and departing foreign nationals at the Ninoy Aquino International Airports, and for extension of stay for Temporary Visitor’s Visa of the Tourist Visa Section. In 2019 to 2021, it was among the recipients of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Compliant Award as the top requested and performing agencies in the eFOI Portal.
Moreover, the BI continues to contribute substantial revenue to the government collection from immigration fees, taxes, fines and penalties. The BI always surpassed their collection target from 2016 to 2019 based on the DOJ’s annual reports for those years.
The BI focused on implementing its projects and meeting its objectives. However, like most government agencies, it was never away from challenges and public scrutiny. On 2020, the agency was under fire for the ‘pastillas’ bribery scheme and the alleged abuses in the visa-upon-arrival system (VUA) for Chinese travelers that resulted in the suspension of the VUA. Its frontline officers were also entangled with different issues on corruption. While going through these corruption issues, the pandemic and the lockdowns added to the challenges of the BI. As one of the frontline agencies of the government, the BI had to be on top of the pandemic response from implementation of lockdowns until the reopening of the country’s international borders. It had to, and continues to, consistently issue advisories on the entry and exit requirements and implement alternative procedures to not disrupt its operations.
Driven by the pandemic, the BI introduced the Online-Appointment System and significantly increased their presence in different social media platforms. However, the pressure on implementing a fully online application process is mounting as more government agencies adopt contactless application procedures. The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) is already using an online submission and payment process for Alien Employment Permit application. Likewise, the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) has started utilizing email communication in their assessment process for PEZA visa applications. The anticipation for the BI to step up their system and processes is a real challenge for the next administration.
The visa application procedure under IATF Resolution 131-A that required foreign nationals to process their visa application while outside the country is also worth revisiting. Many countries follow offshore visa processing and require foreign nationals to secure a visa or work permit before entering their country. This can be an alternative process for foreign nationals and Philippine employers in planning deployments to the Philippines.
The improvements and changes that have been implemented in the past years were mostly patches on the lapses in our immigration laws. The provisions in the eight-decade old Philippine Immigration Act of 1940 are outdated and require immediate amendments. It has been 10 years since the proposed Philippine Immigration Act of 2013 was filed in Congress, and early this year, the Senate conducted a hearing on the proposed law putting it back in the spotlight. Hopefully, it does not lose momentum and would now be on top of the next Congress’ long list of reforms that need to be addressed and finally passed into law.
The public, foreign travelers, and employers should carefully assess the impact of anticipated changes in the immigration landscape and continue to provide feedback to improve immigration processes.
The BI plays an important role in the justice system, administration, and revenue collection of the country. Like any agency of the government, the BI will remain a work in progress. They have and will continue to have feats and failures.
Armin Joyce de Chavez is a manager from the Tax Group of KPMG R.G. Manabat & Co. (RGM&Co.), the Philippine member firm of KPMG International. The firm has been recognized in 2021 as a Tier 1 in Transfer Pricing Practice and in General Corporate Tax Practice by the International Tax Review.
This article is for general information purposes only and should not be considered as professional advice to a specific issue or entity. The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily represent KPMG International or KPMG RGM&Co.
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