A Dawn of a New Era in Philippine Immigration Law

Since its passage on 26 August 1940, Commonwealth Act. No. 613, or the “Philippine Immigration Act of 1940,” has been the definitive guide on the issuance of Philippine visas, exclusion and deportation proceedings, the powers and structure of the Bureau of Immigration (“BI”), and other reportorial requirements that a foreign national must comply with in order to legally stay in the Philippines.

Over the past 80 years, the BI passed various issuances to complement the Philippine Immigration Act. However, it cannot be doubted that these amendments, notably made on a piecemeal basis, must necessarily be woven together to form a comprehensive and updated national immigration policy.

Thus, the 19th Congress of the Philippines, through the House of Representatives, proposed and approved on final reading House Bill (“H.B.”) No. 8203, also known as the “Immigration Modernization Act,” which aims to update the seemingly outdated law, and revamp and modernize the existing legal framework for immigration policies in the country. As the bill has now been passed at the House of Representatives, a counterpart bill shall also be proposed and approved by the Senate. Once approved, these bills shall be consolidated and endorsed to the Office of the President for final approval.

Under H.B. No. 8203, the BI Commissioner and his Deputy Commissioners must now be holders of a college degree, with proven capacity for administration; that at least one (1) of them must be a member of the Philippine Bar in good standing for at least five (5) years prior to the appointment; and that at least one (1) member must come from the ranks of the BI. Under the current law, the Commissioner and Deputy Commissioners must only be natural-born citizens and be at least thirty years of age.

H.B. No. 8203 also defined the functions of the various divisions of the BI which include the Administrative Division, the Alien Registration Division, the Finance and Logistics Division, the Human Resource Management and Development Division, the Immigration Regulation Division, the Information and Communications Technology Division, the Immigration Intelligence Division, the Immigration Law Enforcement Division, the Legal Affairs Division, and the Planning and Research Division.

The proposed legislation also provided more clarity on the various visas which are available to foreign nationals. Under H.B. No. 8203, the current 9(a)/Temporary Visitor Visas are now classified as “A Visas”, which are further subdivided into three categories, namely: the “A-1 Visa,” which is available to aliens who come to the Philippines for temporary business activities, the “A-2 Visa,” which is granted to aliens coming for leisure, and the “A-3 Visa” which is for foreign nationals seeking entry for medical and health purposes.

H.B. No. 8203 also reintroduced the current 9(g) visas as “G Visas” which are available to foreign nationals coming to the Philippines on pre-arranged employment, intra-corporate assignments, and to professionals, performing artists, athletes, and cultural exchange workers. The bill also creates a separate visa category for missionaries, religious ministers, and their dependents, who may now be issued with an “H Visa.” There are also new types of visas such as the “J Visa” which is available to foreign media workers, the “K Visa” which is available to foreign exchange visitors, and the “L-1″ and “L-2 Visas” which are available to refugees and stateless persons, respectively.

On immigrant visas, H.B. No. 8203 notably increased the allotment for quota immigrants per nationality from 50 to 200.

The proposed legislation also introduced a process called “Adjustment of Status,” whereby a non-immigrant foreign national may be granted permanent resident status if: (a) the foreign national makes an application for such adjustment; (b) the foreign national is eligible to receive a quota or non-quota immigrant visa and is admissible to the Philippines as a permanent resident; and (c) a quota immigrant visa is immediately available to the foreign national at the time of application, without need of departing from the Philippines.

H.B. No. 8203 also updated the grounds for a foreign national’s deportation from the Philippines. Aliens may now be deported from the country if they engage, abet, aid or finance any terrorist activity; if they are charged of a crime involving acts or omissions punishable under Philippine penal laws cognizable by the Regional Trial Courts and the Sandiganbayan; if they violated Philippine labor and taxation laws, rules and regulations; if they are found to be undesirable such that their further stay in the Philippines is inimical to public welfare or the dignity of Filipinos or the Republic of the Philippines as a sovereign nation; and if their presence or activities in the country may result in adverse consequences to Philippine foreign policies as determined by the Secretary of Foreign Affairs.

In summary, the prospect of passing H.B. No. 8203 into law is indeed a welcome development. Initiatives to update the Philippine Immigration Act are necessary in order to reform and streamline our local immigration policies. We must nonetheless ensure that the implementation of the new law, once passed, will strike a balance between strict regulations on entry and a welcoming framework for foreign nationals to stay in the Philippines. Ultimately, the eventual passage of the proposed law must also translate to a more efficient and transparent immigration bureau.

This article is for general information and educational purposes only and not offered as legal advice or opinion.

Christianna Manami Y. Salud is an Associate of the Immigration Department of Angara Abello Concepcion Regala & Cruz Law Offices (ACCRALAW).

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