-- 2015 ~ Travel and Immigration 101

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.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Seair, Skyjet Airlines operator certificates suspended by CAAP

MANILA, PHILIPPINES- The Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) on Monday ordered the suspension of the Air Operator Certificates (AOC) of low-cost carrier SEAIR International Inc. and leisure airline MAGNUM AIR (Skyjet) Inc. effective May 18 for various safety "observations" based on a report by the European Union Assessment Team relative to their recent inspection visit held last month.
AOC is the approval granted by CAAP to aircraft operators allow them to use their aircraft for commercial purposes.

In a letter address to Mr. Avelino Zapanta of SEAIR and Capt. Teodoro Fojas of Magnum Air, CAAP informed the two airline officers of the suspension order due to various safety shortcomings that apparently did not meet prescribed rules and standards under the Philippine Civil Aviation Regulations (PCAR).

The letter was signed Friday, May 15, 2015 by CAAP Director-General William K. Hotchkiss lll, who said that the results of the assessment visit and investigation requires that the issue be given immediate corrective actions.

CAAP said that the suspension order took effect Monday, and will remain in effect until CAAP is assured that the necessary corrective actions and compliance with aviation safety standards have been undertaken by the respective airline operators.

Seair mounts flights to and from Manila to Basco in Batanes, several flights daily from Manila to Caticlan and Manila to Tablas Island in Romblon, while Magnum Air (Skyjet) operates to and from Manila to Basco, and Manila to Busuanga in Palawan.

Source: Interaksyon

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Australia Announced New International Immigration Partnership

Australia has signed a new partnership agreement with the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), it has been announced.
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said it will further strengthen Australia’s important relationship with the organisation.

‘We both commit to cooperating strategically on key shared migration priorities, establishing structured dialogue to enhance governance arrangements and to develop and implement programmes that make substantial positive difference to migrants,’ he explained.

Since its founding in 1951, Australia and IOM have shared a close collaborative working relationship. Australia was one of the 16 countries that formed the original membership of IOM, and Australia continues to value the important role this organisation plays,” Mr Dutton said.

IOM has shown commitment to the principle that humane and orderly migration benefits migrants and society. This has defined it as the leading organisation for international migration,’ Dutton added.

Meanwhile, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service and the Queensland Police Service have detained more people found illegally working in the construction industry in Brisbane.

Some 13 people from China and four from Malaysia were detained. Seven of the Chinese men were unlawful non-citizens and six were working in breach of their visa conditions. Three Malaysians were unlawful non-citizens and one was working in breach of his visa conditions.

‘Australians can be assured that we committed to being as tough on those who seek to rort our migration programmes as we are on those who arrive illegally by boat. We will devote the same resolve, resources and commitment that is necessary to get the job done,’ Dutton said.

Maximum penalties per illegal worker include infringements from $3,060 for individuals and $15,300 for corporates and up to $51,000 and/or five years imprisonment for individuals and $255,000 for corporates for aggravated criminal offences.

Dutton pointed out that the Department of Immigration and Border Protection works closely with employers who want to do the right things by assisting them to complying with their obligations. Employers can easily check visas and work rights through the Visa Entitlement Verification Online (VEVO) tool, free of charge on the Department’s website.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Philippines targets more 'high-spending' tourists

Tourist arrivals in the Philippines may be among the lowest in Southeast Asia, but a ranking official doesn’t mind, as long as the country attracts “high-value” visitors.
“Our numbers may seem low compared to Malaysia, for example, but we must take intra-ASEAN visitors into account,” Tourism Promotions Board chief operating officer Domingo Ramon Enerio said Thursday.

In 2012, the Philippines attracted 4.3 million tourists, lower than Malaysia (25 million), Thailand (22.4 million), and Singapore (14.5 million), ASEAN data showed.

But unlike its neighbors whose visitors were mostly from within the region, about 80 percent of tourists in the Philippines were from other high-income countries.

“We are targeting high-value tourists, who tend to stay longer and spend more,” Enerio said at the sidelines of the Philippine Tourism Exchange at the SM Mall of Asia.

Assistant Secretary for International Tourism Promotions Benito Bengzon, Jr. agreed, noting that in 2013, tourists spent some $4.5 billion in the Philippines.

“This meant that every foreigner spent around $1,000 in the country, excluding air fare. We want to increase that to around $1,500 per visitor,” Bengzon said.

He added that the government aims to boost tourist expenditure by offering more attractions and enhancing tourism offers such as travel packages.

Both Enerio and Bengzon nonetheless admitted that the boost in tourism spending should still be accompanied by an increase in the number of tourists visiting the country.

The government is targeting 6.8 million visitors this year, up from 4.7 million in 2013. President Benigno Aquino III is pushing for 10 million arrivals by 2016.

The Tourism officials also recognize the urgent need to address hurdles in the tourism industry, particularly the longstanding problem on infrastructure.

Philippine infrastructure, specifically in terms of airports and seaports, was among the areas the World Economic Forum tagged in its latest Global Competitiveness Report.

But Bohol Rep. Rene Relampagos, who is also House Tourism Committee chairman, is optimistic that Aquino’s “ambitious” tourism goal by the end of his term is achievable.

“The Philippines has emerged not only as an alternative destination but a necessary part of international travelers’ itinerary,” he said in his speech during the MOA event.

The congressman cited as proof how PHITEX attracted more than 200 foreign delegates this year, up from the 170 in 2013. This is the 13th PHITEX so far.

PHITEX is organized by the government and private sector to encourage tourism buyers—tour operators and other industry players—to promote Philippine destinations.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Immigration expert: If I were to come to Canada to become terrorist, I would apply for "pretty easy" student visa

An immigration expert says the student visa process in Canada is "pretty easy." 
"If that was my goal, to come into Canada and either stay illegally, work illegally, or yes, become a terrorist, I would probably apply for a student visa," says Arne Kislenko, a professor at Ryerson University and the University of Toronto who specializes in immigration and national security. 

We told you earlier this week that a 33-year-old Pakistani man is accused of plotting to bomb the U.S. Consulate in Toronto and other buildings in the Financial District. The federal government is trying to get him deported. 

Jahanzeb Malik first came to Canada in 2004 on a student visa to study at York University. 

"Generally speaking, (the student visa) would rank as probably the easiest of the visas, in my opinion, to get," Kislenko says.  

Kislenko was an immigration officer for 12 years. 

"I'd come as an ESL student, where the threshold is much less (than university)," he says of the simplest way to get into the country. 

Kislenko says that Canada's immigration process, as a whole, is one of the most Liberal in the world. 

"I really get nervous when I hear in the media how onerous the immigration system in general is... that's ludicrous," he says. 

But Kislenko adds that he doesn't think the student visa process needs to change. 

"There are processes in place, whether it's immigration law, or criminal law, or even anti-terror law, which are abundantly adequate to do the job that they need to do."

He says that "we need and want" people to come and study here in Canada. 

"From a revenue-generating perspective, universities want it, the public wants it."

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Portugal's 'Golden Visa' Trade for Rich Immigrants

Portugal is selling EU residency permits to any rich foreigners willing to pay. The opposition calls them corrupt deals that encourage organized crime, but the government simply wants to lower the prices.
Portugal's Deputy Prime Minister Paulo Portas has at least been honest about what's important to him. "The golden visa has brought Portugal 1.27 billion euros [$1.38 billion] of investment in two years," he said. "So it would be stupid if we shut up shop and other countries earned that money."

Even if the special residency permits for non-EU millionaires have already cost the head of the immigration authorities his job, and even if the criticism of "visa dispensation by wealth" has grown louder, Portugal seems determined to carry on stamping the passports of rich Chinese, Brazilians, Angolans, and Russians so that they can live anywhere they like in the European Union's Schengen Area.
The condition is that anyone who wants one of the much-prized EU residency permits has to invest 500,000 euros in Portuguese property. In expensive Lisbon that's more or less a bargain - many Chinese are used to much higher prices and are grasping the opportunities. Many luxury apartments in the Portuguese capital and at the beaches of the exclusive suburb Estoril are now owned by Chinese people. The fact that some of these high-end immigrants may not have earned their fortunes honestly was illustrated by the arrest of a "gold visa" owner wanted in China for fraud and other serious offences. He is now awaiting extradition.

Criminal sources
"We are offering residency permits to people when we don't know where their fortunes are coming from," warns Joao Semedo, parliamentarian for the left-wing alliance "Bloco da Esquerda," which, like the Socialist Party, is against the government's generous visa policies. Ana Gomes, MEP for the Socialists, also believes that the "golden visa" is a backdoor to criminal organizations and international money launderers, and is calling for it to end.

The visa was temporarily interrupted after the director responsible at the immigration authorities was arrested last year, along with a dozen senior state officials, on suspicion of corruption. It is still unclear who may have taken money to stamp a passport, but the scandal did force the resignation of then-Interior Minister Miguel Macedo.

Chinese customers
Altogether, more than 1,500 golden visas were handed out in 2014, and by far the most of them went to Chinese applicants. Second and third place were Brazilians and Russians. But most of them did not invest anything to build up small businesses. Instead they bought luxury apartments, said Sergio Alves, general secretary of the Portuguese-Chinese Chamber of Commerce. "The golden visas have not led to any investments in the economy," he said. "It is being used exclusively to buy real estate. Most of the Chinese who buy don't even live here on a permanent basis."

Meanwhile, the luxury property market is booming. Portuguese and Chinese firms are now specializing in rich customers, offering complete packages including a visa application and a Portuguese cleaner. Real estate agent Nuno Durao, who has an expensive office next to the fashionable casino in Estoril, is happy enough. "The government's golden visa law was one of the best ever for helping Portugal," he says. "It is uncomplicated and brought investments immediately."
Durao specializes in anything expensive - from the palace to the penthouse. Portugal was never an industry country anyway, he argues, in fact - it was always dependent on tourism. Accordingly, the property boom made the country attractive to rich tourists and helped out the ailing, crisis-hit construction industry.

Lowering the price
Ana Gomes says that the urge to make quick money is leaving ethics by the wayside, which is why she insists that the golden visa needs to be cancelled. Portuguese MP Joao Semedo also warns that the visa offers a backdoor for criminal money to the EU. For that reason, his left-wing alliance has called for an end to the program and an investigation into the money that has already entered the country. "It could have come from economic crimes, or out of international money-laundering centers," he says.

Deputy Prime Minister Portas is not impressed by any of these arguments. He even wants to lower the price for the new golden visas. If he has his way, a pledge to invest 350,000 euros in building renovation or art or science projects will be enough to get a residency permit. Those investing in underdeveloped regions can even expect a discount of 20 percent. The competition to win over rich foreigners has got tougher, says Portas: "After all, we're competing with 13 other countries."
Instead of scaring potential applicants away with tough conditions, Portas would rather offer them gifts. As for the accusations of corruption and other crimes in connection with the golden visa, Portas has just this to say: "Anyone who is guilty should be hit by the full weight of the law." What he fails to mention is that Portugal's police, state prosecutors, and judges are now hopelessly overburdened thanks to the austerity measures imposed by his government.

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