Relief for foreign nationals with expired visas
To address numerous pleas and requests for reconsideration from foreign nationals, the Bureau of Immigration (BI) recently issued an Advisory, allowing a six-month non-extendible grace period to file applications for renewal/extension of their working, student, or resident visas, which expired from March 16, 2020 up to July 4, 2021. The filing period of the extension applications is until Nov. 30; otherwise, those illegally staying in the country will be subject to deportation proceedings. This Advisory does not, however, apply to expired tourist visas without an extension request.
This new Advisory is a welcome development to foreign nationals, who were stranded, or opted to stay in the country to continue their assignment or work but, for one reason or another, failed to get an extension of their visas.
THE PARADOX OF AN EXPIRED VISA
Prior to this BI Advisory, a foreign national who failed to apply for an extension of his working, student, or permanent resident visa before its expiry would need to request for its downgrading or cancellation to be able to apply for a new one. Paradoxically, the foreign national, who has been holding this visa for five years or more, may find himself in a Catch-22 situation. He may be required to leave the country after the downgrading order is released pursuant to the provisions of BI Administrative Order No. RAGE-2016-004. Under this Administrative Order, non-immigrant visa holders (e.g., 9[g] visa holders) who have held their non-immigrant visas for a total or cumulative period of five years, will be ordered to leave due to the downgrading application. In compliance, the foreign national must either depart the Philippines, or alternatively, file a letter seeking reconsideration from the order to leave.
Prior to March 19, 2020, or before the issuance by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) of Foreign Service Circular No. 29-2020, which suspended visa-free privileges to non-restricted nationals, complying with the Administrative Order was simple. A foreign national could easily book a flight to his home country or any nearby country with a return ticket to the Philippines. Then, a new entry stamp will be issued to the foreign national, who may then proceed to apply for a new working or student visa.
WEATHERING THE PANDEMIC
However, with the pandemic, some borders remain closed for travelers coming from the Philippines. Here, the problem sets in as travel restrictions imposed by various countries make it more difficult for foreign nationals stranded in the Philippines to return to their home countries. While the opening of global borders may be in the offing, the BI’s current mandate to leave the country is, however, time-bound and pressing. More often than not, a foreign national has only 30 days (now extended to 60 days) to comply with the order to leave.
In recourse, a foreign national may opt to travel to other neighboring Asian countries that remain open for travelers coming from the Philippines. As part of health protocols, other Asian countries may admit foreign nationals from the Philippines on tourist status, subject to compliance with quarantine arrival requirements. For re-entry into the country, the foreign national must apply for an entry exemption document (EED) and an entry visa from our Philippine Embassies overseas. Currently, with the pandemic, foreign nationals are still prohibited entry into the Philippines, except for those that fall under the specified categories of exemption (i.e., diplomats, Filipino-dual citizenship, holders of valid 9[c]/long term visa, those under the Balikbayan Program, and those with Filipino spouses/minor children). Only those who qualify may request an EED. For other foreign nationals seeking an entry exemption, a request for an EED should show the essentiality or necessity of the return by the foreign national to the Philippines. In other words, the EED is issued if the travel is for emergency or meritorious situations; otherwise, traveling as a tourist to the country is still not allowed.
The request for an EED and its supporting requirements shall be pre-evaluated by a government agency with which the local employer is registered (e.g., Philippine Economic Zone Authority, Board of Investments, etc.) for issuance of an endorsement. The endorsement will be forwarded for subsequent approval by the DFA in Manila. Once the EED is approved, the embassy can then issue an entry visa. However, one concern to date is that not all Philippine embassies will issue a visa if a foreign national cannot show proof of residency in that foreign country where the applicant is currently at. It’s a situation that needs to be addressed by the DFA, given the extraordinary circumstances of the pandemic.
Whether it’s the country’s low cost of living, warm climate, tropical scenery, hospitality, or English-speaking locals that attracted foreigners to this country, a number have chosen to settle here, if even just temporarily. Pre-pandemic statistics show that there were over 10,000 overseas students enrolled in undergraduate and postgraduate courses in the country (Bureau of Immigration, 2018), 148,000 resident foreigners in 2019 (ABS-CBN News, 2019), and 54,241 foreign workers in 2018 (Ople, 2019). By providing a grace period for the renewal/extension of expired visas, we commiserate with foreign nationals in these uncertain times, recognizing their valuable contribution to our economy and our development in the global community.
The views or opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Isla Lipana & Co. The content is for general information purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for specific advice.
Larissa C. Dalistan-Levosada is a senior manager at the Tax Services Department of Isla Lipana & Co., the Philippine member firm of the PwC network.