Balikbayans comprise 1 of 5 Philippine tourists

Buena Bernal
In the eyes of the tourism department and the immigration bureau, these Filipinos are foreign nationals who have a 'predisposition to visit' the Philippines


MANILA, Philippines – Among tourists visiting the Philippines in the past two years, more than a 5th were Filipinos returning from abroad, the Bureau of Immigration (BI) said Tuesday, December 16. 

Government data showed that of the total 3,208,203 tourists who visited the country from January 1 until November 30 this year, at least 23.4% or 750,935 were Filipinos already residing abroad. 

In 2013, there were 837,729 balikbayans who visited the country. This is 21.8% of the total 3,837,809 tourists that year.

Colloquially known as balikbayan – a play on Filipino words for “return” (balik) and “motherland” (bayan) – these Filipinos are naturalized or have acquired citizenship in a foreign country, making them part of the tourism count essentially as foreigners.

Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez said this does not undermine the Philippines’ tourism data, as the same count applies to all other countries.

“Our data counts only those traveling on a foreign visa like all other countries in the world. If a Filipino-American travels on his/her US passport, he/she arrives as an American tourist,” he explained. 

The Philippines is a known migrant-sending country, with over 10 million Filipinos abroad.

Latest government data showed that of the 10.49 million Filipinos overseas:

  • 4.22 million are temporary migrants or those whose stay overseas is employment-related
  • 4.93 million are permanent migrants or those whose stay does not depend on employment
  • 1.34 million are irregular migrants or those without the proper travel documents

There were 779,389 permanent Filipino migrants from 2004 to 2013, mostly in the United States.

The US is the single major destination country for permanent Filipino migrants, receiving 53% of all these permanent migrants. This is a share bigger than all other countries combined.

Included in the count of the Commission on Filipinos Overseas for permanent Filipino migrants are naturalized Filipinos in foreign countries.

No need to delineate?

Luther Calderon, president of pro-OFW advocacy group KAMPI, said the number of balikbayans visiting the Philippines speaks volumes on the need to capitalize on tourism.

“It is important to distinguish actual tourists from balikbayans,” he said. “Doing so will determine how attractive our country is to foreigners and not just to Filipinos who visit for sentimental reasons.”

“It may also serve as a gauge as to how successful our tourism campaigns are in attracting foreigners,” he added.

Jimenez, however, said the delineation is “not needed since, in principle, a Fil-Am is a foreign tourist.”

He said a balikbayan‘s “predisposition to visit” the Philippines “is a plus for us.”

He added that the country’s gains remain regardless of the tourist’s status given his or her purchasing power. 

“Filipino-Americans spend the same kind of US dollars as Italian-Americans when they arrive in the Philippines,” the tourism chief said.

Jimenez added that the United Nations World Tourism Organization accepts the inclusion of citizens naturalized abroad in the count for tourist arrivals, since the distance from the Philippines is still the main barrier for tourism.

BI Commissioner Siegfred Mison also said balikbayans are still foreign nationals in the eyes of the immigration bureau and are thus subject to immigration laws. – Rappler.com