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MANILA, Philippines – Do you remember viral posts and reports of Filipino travelers getting offloaded from their flights due to lengthy interviews at immigration desks or being asked to present documents, such as birth certificates of several relatives and diplomas, to be able to board their flight?
Filipinos online fear this may happen more often after the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT) released the revised guidelines for Filipinos traveling abroad, which will take effect on September 3.
IACAT says the revised measures are meant to combat human trafficking, a crime that continues to evolve even as the United States has found the Philippine government to have done enough efforts to combat it.
Rappler asked social media users how presenting additional documents might affect their travel plans, but the Department of Justice (DOJ) clarified on Thursday, August 24, that the departure requirements were not new.
The IACAT guidelines are labeled “revised” because the requirements have actually been streamlined and organized into categories of travelers.
The DOJ also said the numerous documents are not absolute requirements but are lists of what immigration officials may ask for when further questioning becomes necessary. (LIST: Immigration requirements for different categories of Filipino travelers)
Following initial reports on the guidelines – before the DOJ issued clarifications – some Filipinos online likened them to applying for a visa a second time. (READ: Tips on getting a travel visa, 2023 edition)
Others said the requirements could give more room for immigration officers to “power trip” on travelers.
Even former Solicitor General Florin Hilbay weighed in on the issue, adding that the new policy could be used to harass government critics and lead to longer lines at airports.
The DOJ later clarified that the revised guidelines would mostly apply to first-time travelers, who may be traveling as tourists but are profiled to have intentions to seek work abroad.
It added that “more than 95%” of travelers would only need to present the basic requirements to immigration authorities: passport, boarding pass, confirmed return ticket, and visa.
Bureau of Immigration (BI) Commissioner Norman Tansingco likewise said tourists should not worry about the revised guidelines, clarifying that there was “no change in procedures.”
“This is the same procedure we have been previously implementing, but it has been streamlined by the IACAT so it is clearer for Filipinos,” Tansingco said in a statement on Friday. “There is no new policy for departing tourists being implemented by the BI.”
The BI also gave assurances that the new guidelines wouldn’t be the cause of “unnecessary interviews,” especially for departing passengers with no red flags.
Train immigration officers better
Other social media users, meanwhile, suggested other ways to fight human trafficking without legitimate travelers having to prepare numerous documents.
Instagram user @igdeguzman suggested that proper training and briefing be given to immigration authorities on distinguishing first-time travelers from trafficking victims. She added that requirements should not result in “wasting people’s money [by] making them rebook their missed flights.”
Another Instagram user expressed hoped that the government would improve the country’s airports before requiring more travel requirements.
The Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) was rated in November 2022 as the third most stressful airport in Asia and Oceania according to travel blog Hawaiian Islands. It was also cited as the eighth worst airport in Asia based on queuing times in a study by Casago.
X user Joel Cochico said that immigration authorities should ask travelers to secure “a travel clearance or exit visa a week before their flight” to prevent long lines at airports from power tripping from ground officers.
Challenges in securing documents
Some social media users shared their woes in securing documents needed to get past immigration authorities in the Philippines.
“Filipino families here don’t have much time to travel just to get [an affidavit of support for relatives they are inviting] because of work and [the nearest consulate is] too far,” says Gen Celada-Bongato, who resides in Canada.
Communications consultant Aly (not her real name), 33, shared that because she had to travel alone to different Asian countries that didn’t require visa for Filipinos over the past years, she had always carried envelopes of documents to prove she could afford to travel.
“It was tricky to prove that I have a stable income source, as technically I’m not employed full-time and cannot provide a certificate of employment. So, I brought additional documents, such as my BIR certificate of registration, and my recent annual and quarterly tax returns. I added in my current lease contract just to give additional proof that I had a reason to come back,” Aly told Rappler.
She added that it was much easier when she was working as a full-time employee as she only brought her company ID with her printed hotel bookings and travel itinerary.
In the end, Aly says it wouldn’t harm for international travelers to “overprepare.”
“Bring as many documents as you can. Come early, people aren’t kidding when they say you have to be there three to four hours before. The longest I’ve had to spend in line at immigration was a full hour and I almost missed my flight. Don’t panic, maybe skip the coffee until you’ve made it through immigration. Keep your answers short and simple,” she said. – with reports from Jairo Bolledo/Rappler.com