Reform in the visa application process

Kristine Bernadette F. Soriano

On 31 January 2024, the Bureau of Immigration (“BI”) issued Immigration Memorandum Circular No. 2024-002 (“Memorandum Circular”) which establishes a Visa Processing Center (VPC) and provides for its procedure for visa application processing. Through this recent Memorandum Circular, the BI seeks to improve the efficiency, probity, and quality in the processing of visa applications in accordance with our immigration laws.

The Memorandum Circular, which took effect on 15 February 2024, creates the VPC, a body within the BI, which is tasked to accept, process, assess, and evaluate visa applications. It shall handle applications for visa conversion, extension, amendment, and inclusion of dependents relating to immigrant, non-immigrant, and special non-immigrant visas under Commonwealth Act (CA) No. 613, as amended, special laws, and other issuances. The VPC replaces the now-abolished Visa and Special Permits Task Force created under Immigration Administrative Order No. SBM-2015-006 which used to act as the central processing body for all visa and special permit applications. The VPC is under the control and supervision of the BI Board of Commissioners (BoC).

Pursuant to the Memorandum Circular, the VPC is composed of immigration officers and personnel who are designated as Visa Processing Officers (VPOs). The VPOs are responsible for processing, evaluating, and assessing all visa applications. They are likewise in charge of verifying the completeness and authenticity of the supporting documents submitted, in accordance with existing laws, procedures, rules and regulations.

The Memorandum Circular also sheds light on the procedure in the processing of visa applications. It explicitly states that no pre-evaluation shall be done by any BI personnel on visa applications. This means that all visa applications shall be received by the BI on an “as-is, where-is” basis. Thus, visa applicants must ensure that their applications are in order and that their supporting documents are complete and authentic upon filing the same.

With respect to the process, it appears that the BI has retained its existing general procedures, albeit with some modifications. As before, the visa applicants must first check with the appropriate BI Assessor whether they have a derogatory record, and if so, clear and settle the same before the visa application may proceed. The BI Assessor shall assess the applicable fees on the visa application and issue the corresponding BI Clearance Certificate, if there are no derogatory records. After payment of fees, the visa application will be endorsed to the assigned VPO as determined by an automated raffling system.

As part of the processing and evaluation of visa applications, the VPO may now hear or interview the visa applicant, if necessary. To recall, the BI has resumed, as of November 2023, the face-to-face interview for applicants of spousal visas, such as the 13(a) visa, as provided under Section 13 of C.A. No. 613 or the temporary resident visa by virtue of marriage to a Filipino citizen as provided under existing immigration issuances.
If the visa application is in order and the documentary requirements are complete and authentic, the VPO shall recommend the visa application to the BoC for appropriate action and inclusion in the agenda. Meanwhile, for visa applications with incomplete and/or counterfeit documents, VPOs are expressly directed to outrightly deny the application and furnish the applicant with the Order citing the basis of denial.

As regards the implementation or stamping of the approved visa on the passport, the Memorandum Circular states that the implementation of the approved visa shall be completed within two (2) working days from receipt of the original passport by the BOC-Implementation Unit. It must be noted that unimplemented visas shall be endorsed back to the VPC after ninety (90) days from BoC approval for purposes of cancellation on the ground of abandonment. Hence, visa applicants must submit the original passports to the BI for implementation within 90 days from approval to prevent the automatic cancellation of the approved visa.

The Memorandum Circular emphasizes the submission of authentic documentary requirements. To illustrate, for the pre-arranged employment or 9(g) commercial work visa applications, the corporate documents of the petitioner/sponsor company must be duly issued by the Securities and Exchange Commission. For inclusion applications of dependents, the marriage and/or birth certificates which are issued abroad must be duly authenticated or apostilled by the appropriate office in the country where the certificate is issued. Visa applicants must take note that apart from outright denial of applications with incomplete requirements or inauthentic or counterfeit documents, approved visa applications may be cancelled upon post-audit should there be a finding of spuriousness, fraudulence, or falsity in the submitted documents. Such cancellation will come with an Order to Leave the country and inclusion in the Blacklist of the BI, as well as imposition of fines, penalties, and sanctions pursuant to existing laws, rules, and regulations.

With the implementation of the new Memorandum Circular, it is hoped that the BI, through the newly established VPC, will efficiently act on and dispose visa applications while promoting ease of doing business and ensuring national security and public safety. Meanwhile, visa applicants are reminded to ensure the completeness and authenticity of all documents submitted as part of their visa applications. This is to prove to the satisfaction of the BI that they possess the qualifications required for the visa applied for. After all, the issuance and grant of a visa is a matter of privilege, not a matter of right.

This article is only for general informational and educational purposes only. It is not offered as and does not constitute legal advice or opinion.

Kristine Bernadette F. Soriano is an Associate of the Immigration Department of the Angara Abello Concepcion Regala & Cruz Law Offices (ACCRALAW).

[email protected]
(632) 8830-8000

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