-- February 2014 ~ Travel and Immigration 101
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Monday, February 24, 2014

Maasin City, Southern Leyte's Town with Glorious Past

In an unruffled rural setting in Southern Leyte, lies a city draped by remnants of its glorious past. Maasin, the capital of the province blissfully sits on the western coast and is largely not a tourist favorite. Not much is written about the points of interest in this tranquil metropolis, but intrepid travelers curious to explore this part of the country will be rewarded with interesting treks, immaculate waterfalls and uncharted caverns.
 Getting here requires extra stamina since the closest airport is located in Ormoc roughly 3 hour drive or you may also reach Maasin via Tacloban in approximately 4 hours by land. Alternatively, you can ride a ferry from Cebu or if coming from Mindanao, you can take the route I took which also entails a degree of travel discomfort – board a ferry at Lipata Port in Surigao City to Liloan, Southern Leyte and hop on a bus bound to Maasin.
 At the downtown area, the modest streets are clad by forgotten colonial-era houses. The massive 17th century Maasin Cathedral looms over the central square fringed by buildings important to city life including the Municipal Hall. Adjacent to it is the age-old school of St. Joseph College established way back in 1928 and ruins of an old Spanish balaurte (watchtower).

The cathedral’s interior is enhanced by a beautifully painted ceiling showing images of saints; however the modern altar seems to contradict the archaic elegance of the entire edifice. Its ochre colored walls were built out of coral stones. The Maasin Cathedral began its constructions during the time of Jesuit priest Fr. Serapio Gonzalez and continued from 1839 to 1852 under the guidance of Fr. Jose Paco. Unfortunately in 1884, the church was devastated by fire but was later restored.

Maasin beckons Catholic devotees because of a number of pilgrimage sites scattered around the city. The most accessible is the Shrine of Mother Mary that provides a tranquil refuge to weary visitors. It is believed to be the tallest privately owned shrine in the country. The colossal statue crowns Jaleca Hills and offers a scenic view of Maasin shoreline.

If you have the luxury of time, pay a visit to the lovely Monte Cueva Asuncion de la Virgen Shrine (Shrine of Our Lady of the Assumption and Precious Blood of Jesus), a cave perched on top of a hill transformed into a humble chapel.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Canada Immigration Closed for Parents and Grandparents

The Parent and Grandparent sponsorship programme has reached the maximum number of applications that will be accepted this year, Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) announced last week.
It was a short-lived moment of euphoria for those families who had been waiting to reunite through the immigration programme that allows Canadian residents to sponsor their parents or grandparents.

As the programme re-opened this January, with much fanfare after two years, it reached the 5,000 intake cap within one month.

Now, the programme has been closed again, for at least one year.

On January 2, the CIC re-opened the Parents and Grandparents sponsorship programme for application, promising to accept 5,000 new applications this year.

In general, the Canadian government committed to welcoming 20,000 new parents and grandparents to Canada, drawing the remaining 15,000 candidates from the existing backlog of applicants.

Due to a backlog of applications and long processing times Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) had stopped accepting applications for the immigration stream on November 5, 2011.

Since then, CIC has been pursuing the Action Plan for Faster Family Reunification, aiming to reduce the backlog.

In 2012-2013 it admitted approximately 50,000 parents and grandparents as Canadian permanent residents.

It also made permanent the Super Visa Programme, which allows parents and grandparents to enter Canada as long-term visitors.

In addition, it developed a renewed Parents and Grandparents stream, with the promise of faster processing times and a number of new requirements. Among some of these requirements were the increase of the minimum necessary income (MNI)  by 30 per cent, an extended period of demonstrating funds from one year to three, an extended sponsorship undertaking period to 20 years instead of 10, and reduction in the maximum age of accompanying dependents to 18 years or younger.

Commenting on the closure of the programme, the CIC said: “As the CIC has now received 5,000 complete applications, new intake into the Parent and Grandparent programme will again pause until next year, as we devote our energy to reuniting more families.

“By the end of 2014, we expect to welcome an additional 20,000 parents and grandparents to Canada, marking a substantial reduction in wait times for all applicants.”

Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander said: “Our government understands the importance of spending time with family and loved ones and we committed to improving the immigration system so that families can be reunited more quickly.

“Canada has the most generous family reunification programme in the developed world.

Complementing this programme, the new Super Visa remains a convenient option with a high approval rate for those who wish to visit their families in Canada for up to two years at a time.”

The CIC encourages applicants who were unable to apply for the 2014 programme to consider the option of the Super Visa, which provides parents and grandparents of Canadian citizens and permanent residents with a visitor visa that can be renewed for two years at a time, for a period of up to 10 years.

Around 1,000 applications are accepted every month, and 87 per cent of the applications on average are approved.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Working Holiday Scheme (WHS) Visa Allows Filipinos to Study and Work in NZ for 1 year

Filipinos and New Zealanders between 18 and 30 can now go to New Zealand and the Philippines and stay for a year through a Working Holiday Scheme (WHS) visa that allows them to work and stay for holiday and leisure, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) reported on Monday.
Starting Feb. 5, Filipinos and New Zealanders can apply for the special visa, which allows both citizens to train or study for a maximum period of three months, or work for one year with a limit of three months per employer. Visa holders will have to leave the host country after 12 months and only 100 visas per year per country will be issued to successful applicants, DFA said.

The arrangement on the special visa was signed between Secretary of Foreign Affairs Albert Del Rosario and Minister of Foreign Affairs Murray McCully and witnessed by President Benigno S. Aquino III and Prime Minister John Key in Wellington last October 23.

Implementation of the WHS is expected to foster closer understanding between citizens of both nations through tourism, cultural and educational exchanges and short-term employment.

Interested applicants from the Philippines may contact the Embassy of New Zealand in Makati (http://www.nzembassy.com/philippines) while those from New Zealand can get in touch with the Embassy of the Philippines in Wellington (http://www.philembassy.org.nz/) for the requirements and relevant details of the WHS arrangement.

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