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Wednesday, July 8, 2015

PHL Embassy in Riyadh to issue machine readable visa stickers starting July 8

Starting July 8, the Philippine Embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, will start issuing Machine Readable Visa (MRV) stickers to modernize consular processes.

In a post on its website, the embassy said this is part of the Department of Foreign Affairs' efforts to modernize Philippine consular processes.

"The new Philippine visa stickers will mark the departure from a pre-printed label production with varying design layouts to a blank sheet production that complies with International Civil Aviation Authority (ICAO) standards for a 'machine-readable visa format-B' specification," it said.

New stickers will have a modern background design on a soft color scheme, with several security features, it added.

However, the embassy added those issued Philippine visas in the old format can still enter the Philippines provided their visas remain valid.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

South Korea waives visa fees to attract tourists amid MERS

South Korea on Wednesday said it would waive visa fees for visitors from China and Southeast Asia as it struggles to recover from the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (Mers) outbreak which has seen tourist numbers plummet.
The announcement came as the country reported no new cases for a fourth consecutive day in the outbreak of Mers which has infected 182 people, killing 33.

The justice ministry said visas which had been already issued would be extended for another three months as South Korea enters its peak tourist season of July and August.

“These measures are aimed to help boost the tourism industry, which has been affected by the Mers outbreak”, it said in a statement.

The outbreak has dealt a serious blow to the tourist industry, with the southern resort island of Jeju suffering a 46 percent fall in Chinese visitors in June compared with last year.

Vice tourism minister Kim Chong has warned the country’s earnings could be slashed by up to $2.3 billion if the number of foreign travelers drops by 50 percent.

South Korea will waive tourist visa fees, worth $15, from July 6 through to September 30 for those travelling in groups.

They include tourists from China, Cambodia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam, the ministry said.

The validity of one-off visas issued between March 1 and June 30 would be automatically extended from three months to six months.

More than a million tourists have been issued these visas.

Chinese tourists travelling in groups with Japanese visas will also be allowed to enter South Korea visa-free for stays of up to 15 days, it said.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

EU lifts ban on other PH airlines aside from PAL and Cebu Pacific

In an unprecedented move, the European Union (EU) lifted on Thursday its ban on Philippine commercial flights and allowed all of the country’s air carriers to fly over Europe’s skies.
Assured of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines’ (CAAP) oversight capability and the Philippine airline companies’ compliance with international air safety regulations, the EU removed all of the country’s carriers from the European Air Safety List.

In a press conference on Thursday organized by the CAAP and the EU, charge d’affaires Lubomir Frebort announced, “All airlines certified in the Philippines have been removed today from the European Air Safety List and are therefore allowed to operate in the European airspace.”

Frebort pointed out that it was the first time for the entire aviation sector of one country to be removed from the air safety list or the list of banned airlines in Europe.

The lifting of the ban will allow Air Asia Inc., Air Asia Zest, Air Philippines Corp., Island Aviation Inc., Magnum Air or Skyjet Inc., Southeast Asian Airlines International Inc., and Tiger Airways to have direct flights to European destinations.

Previously the EU only allowed flag carrier Philippine Airlines and budget airline firm Cebu Pacific in European skies.

The decision of the EU resulted from the positive review of a safety assessment team from the European states which conducted in April an evaluation of the aviation safety measures in the operations of the country’s airlines as well as the oversight function of the Caap.

It was further boosted by an invitation to the CAAP and airline representatives by the EU air safety committee in Brussels early this month. During the hearing, the aviation regulating body and the airline companies presented evidence on their ability to comply with international air safety regulations.

According to Frebort, “The air safety committee, which includes representatives of all 28 EU member-states, made a unanimous positive recommendation on the basis of the evidence it heard. The recommendation was endorsed by the full college of European commissioners that met earlier today (Thursday) in Europe.”

In a later interview Frebort told the Philippine Daily Inquirer that the EU committee decided to lift the ban on Philippine air carriers due to the change in the CAAP management, which proved to be a positive development for the regulating body and the country’s aviation industry.

Based on the safety audit of EU assessors, he said, the CAAP has become “well-positioned” to ensure international air safety standards would be met by Philippine airline firms.

CAAP director general William Hotchkiss III said that the development was favorable, not only to airline companies and the aviation industry, but was “Good news for all of the Philippines.”

He pointed out that it was a certification of the CAAP’s capability to act as the country’s aviation regulator.

The challenge for all members of the aviation industry, Hotchkiss said, would be to sustain this capacity to meet international aviation standards.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Worldwide Delay in Issuing US Passports and Visas

There has been a worldwide delay in issuing US passports and visas due to technical problems for some time. It is not specific to any particular country, the US embassy clarified on today, while apologizing for the delay.
"The department of state's bureau of consular affairs is currently experiencing technical problems with our overseas passport and visa systems," the embassy said in a statement here.

Apologizing for the inconvenience caused, the embassy said: "This issue is not specific to any particular country, citizenship document, or visa category." 

"We apologize for the inconvenience and are working urgently to correct the problem and restore full operability. This issue is affecting our operations across the embassy and consulates in India," it added.

Passport applications accepted overseas on or after May 26, 2015 are affected by this delay, it said. 

"If you applied for a US passport overseas during this time frame and have travel plans within the next 10 business days, please consider requesting an emergency passport at the US embassy or consulate at which you originally applied," it said.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Changes to the UK Investor Visa

Tier 1 (Investor) visas were introduced in 2008 to allow individuals with at least £1m available to invest to remain in the UK on a long-term basis. They are seen as a shortcut for wealthy foreign nationals to become British citizens. Surprisingly, Chinese nationals accounted for 43% of all Tier 1 visas issued last year. Of the minimum £1m capital invested, no less than £750,000 must be invested in UK government bonds, share capital or loan capital in active and trading UK registered companies. The remaining £250,000 can be invested in other UK assets such as un-mortgaged UK property or cash held in a UK bank account. One challenging condition is that if the value of the investor’s overall investment drops below the £1m threshold at any point during the visa application period, it must be ‘topped up’ by the next reporting period and as such, the portfolio should be cognisant of changes in market movements.
A temptation would be to invest entirely in low risk assets such as UK government bonds but that might not necessarily be the ‘risk-free’ option in the current macro-economic environment, with the requirements for keeping the portfolio’s book value above the £1m threshold. However on February 26th, 2015, the Home Office announced significant changes to the Tier 1 visa immigration rules and these changes will come into effect on November 6th of this year.

Changes include raising the minimum investment threshold from £1m to £2m whilst the full investment sum must be invested in permissible investments rather than 75% of the total as under the previous rules. It is also no longer acceptable to source the investment sum by loan. Most interestingly, the ‘topping up’ requirement has been removed and instead, investors will need to purchase new qualifying investments only if they sell part of their portfolios. The increase in threshold from £1m to £2m is substantial but investors are afforded a higher degree of freedom, likely meaning that this scheme will remain attractive for high net worth individuals seeking to gain a foothold in the UK.

Any visa applications submitted before November 6th, 2014, will be considered in accordance with current rules and clients who have already held a Tier 1 visa would not be affected by the new rules, since they do not have a retrospective effect. Nonetheless, the increase in flexibility has allowed new Chinese Tier 1 clients to adjust the risk levels of their portfolios more freely.

The removal of the requirement for portfolio top up will lead to many investors building a portfolio wholly made up of UK government bonds, due to the principle being safely retained whilst earning a coupon payment on the bonds. This scheme offers a lower opportunity cost than taking investment risk for higher returns, given that the primary purpose of the investment is to achieve British Citizenship. Amid the uncertainty surrounding the 2017 Brexit referendum, a growing number of multi-asset fund and wealth managers are reducing their holdings of UK equities. Many Chinese Tier 1 clients will opt to invest heavily in UK government bonds despite the all-time high reached by the FTSE 100 this week.

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