-- March 2015 ~ Travel and Immigration 101

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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