education in the Philippines

Inter-agency body to convene amid security concerns on influx of Chinese students

Bonz Magsambol

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Inter-agency body to convene amid security concerns on influx of Chinese students

IMMIGRATION CHIEF. In this photo, Bureau of Immigration Commissioner Norman Tansingco attends the Senate investigation of human trafficking involving immigration officers, on November 29, 2022.

Angie de Silva/Rappler

Immigration Commissioner Norman Tansingco says it is 'high time' that the Inter-Agency Committee on Foreign Students 'be active in matters of national security by including security assessment as a regular agenda in meetings'

MANILA, Philippines – The Inter-Agency Committee on Foreign Students (IACFS) will convene on Monday, May 13, amid security concerns over the influx of Chinese students in the country, the Bureau of Immigration (BI) said on Sunday, May 12.

The BI said in a statement that it had requested the Commission on Higher Education (CHED), which chairs the IAFCS, “to call for a high-level meeting for members to clarify the role of each agency in permitting foreigners to study in the country.”

“We have requested the high-level meeting to reiterate our previous requests for immediate joint inspections, and for it to become a regular conduct by the IACFS given new developments in national security concerns,” said BI Commissioner Norman Tansingco.

“We also believe that it is high time that the inter-agency be active in matters of national security by including security assessment as a regular agenda in meetings,” he added.

The BI said Tansingo made the request to CHED following “recent concerns on the number of Chinese nationals studying in Tuguegarao, resulting in a call for probe by both House of Representatives and Senate.”

A ”degree-for-sale” scheme was earlier reported in Cagayan, where Chinese students allegedly paid up to P2 million to get a degree. Lawmakers sounded the alarm amid growing tension between the Philippines and China in the West Philippine Sea.

Tansingco said that of the 1,516 Chinese who were granted student visas in Cagayan, only 485 are currently enrolled with only 96 onsite with student visas.

Cagayan hosts two of the new military sites in under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement between the Philippines and the United States – the Naval Base Camilo Osias in Santa Ana and Lal-lo Airport.

Then-president Joseph Estrada created the IAFCS through Executive Order 285 in 2000. The committee is chaired by CHED and has as members the BI, National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA), Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), and the Department of Education (DepEd).

The BI said that it issued a total of 24,189 student visas to various nationalities in 2023, and of this number, more than half or 16,190 were issued to Chinese nationals all over the Philippines, mostly in the National Capital Region.

Tansingco said that the BI has provided data on student distribution to IACFS members for mapping, to be utilized by security agencies for their investigations into suspicious activities of foreign nationals.

He said that activities of foreign students that might be “inimical to the security of the State is worth looking into by government intelligence agencies, as it is necessary in ensuring national security.”

In April, senators Sherwin Gatchalian and Joel Villanueva urged CHED to probe the degree for sale scheme in Cagayan. At the time, De Vera said that while there was “significant number” of Chinese students enrolled in Saint Paul University Philippines (SPUP) in Tuguegarao City, CHED had not received any complaints, and if it does, they will forward the complaints to IACFS for “appropriate action.”

The BI said that China is a top source of foreign students in “most countries” and cited the US, which gave student visas to 289,526 Chinese nationals, and Malaysia, where around 130,000 Chinese nationals got student visas in 2022. The BI said over 20,000 Chinese students were enrolled in Thailand that same year. –

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Bonz Magsambol

Bonz Magsambol covers the Philippine Senate for Rappler.