I’ve been in and out immigrations offices in the Philippines a few times now, and every time I’m impressed with the incredible patience of the immigration officers handling the numerous request from demanding visitors. Sometimes I felt ashamed I was one of the visitors when watching people behave very badly and very rude towards the officers in charge.
More often I read on the internet that the fees you need to pay are a scam, officers are not to be trusted and Visa fees are more than shady. I can tell you now: that is not true. It might have been in the past, in the era of the ‘fixers’ but the Government of this country is working very dedicated to get the fixers out of the system and work a proper office.
Applying for a visa is not demanding one, you are granted a visa. And the Philippine Government, presented by the immigration officers are more than willing to do so. So here is my plee to be respectful when visiting an immigration office.
So here are a few (real life) examples of how NOT to behave when visiting the Bureau of Immigration.
Walking in as Mr. Know-It-All and tell openly the Bureau of Immigration has it all wrong and is a scam.
It happen at the Iloilo Bureau of Immigration office. I was waiting for my 6 months renewal to be granted while an American walked in, seeking eye contact and immediately starting showing off that he knew it all since he had been here several times before.
Marching in, ignoring the guard at the door and the employee that asked if he could help him he marched right into the second half of the office were the applications are processed and you pay your fees.
He was send back to the front part to wait in line for his turn. When he was asked for his forms, he handed over a form with passport photo and the lady told him he didn’t need one. He argued with here on that. I had the same issue, handing over two photos but was told the rules on passport photos had changed. You only need them when issuing an ACR I-card and renewal after 59 days stay.
The visitor in question, claiming he had been to this office several times before and boasting about businesses in the Philippines he owned, was due for his first renewal: 29 days after your first initial 30 days upon arrival.
When he was allowed to go to the cashiers part to pay his fees he told me bluntly that all Immigration Offices get it wrong and they are all liars and scammers. And I got so mad at him: I told him he was wrong, impolite and very rude in his behaviour.
Needless to say he didn’t speak to me at all after that and I’m honestly glad about that because I was going to lecture him on his attitude towards the officers in charge if he had.
The total arrogance of this guy was breathtaking. Probably he was just feeling insecure about the whole process and boasting his way through it, but his behaviour was so unfair and so far from reality.
The officer helping him was very upset by his attitude I could tell. But she stayed calm and friendly, not as friendly as she was to others though.
Walk in at the last day with holding information and demanding miracles to happen
I was an eye witness to this incident at the Dumaguete Office. I young guy walked in, not shaven, bad smell of lack of showers all over him, refusing to tell were he was staying. He came up with so many excuses that the officer got very annoyed with him and handed him over to another officer in order to keep the peace. Within a few minutes the whole office was helping him to remember where he was staying. Finally he gave an answer, but we all had the uneasy feeling he was not telling the truth.
But the bonus was that he demanded his passport back immediately for he was going on a trip.
When the officer told him that was not possible and he could collect it at the end of the day the soonest, he got very angry with the system, scolding it and being very rude and impolite.
The rules on how to dress and how to behave are clear: Dress properly, make sure you are clean, and do not look like some homeless person or coming straight out of the bar after a night of heavy drinking.
I’ve entered Immigration offices that clearly stated there were no flip flops allowed and no shorts. I guess got away with it, because for the rest I looked clean and because I was polite but more so because the Filipino people are very forgiving and very friendly people.
Willing to help you the best they can. At least, that’s the kind of people I meet here.
The application process also is clearly explained: either on the website of the Bureau of Immigration that you ought to check before applying to make sure you know the latest requirements, or at the office in a flow chart on the wall clearly visible for everybody to see.
You admit your application form and xerox copies, if they have any questions you answer them truthfully (after all this is legal business you are dealing with) they do the maths, you pay your fees and than you wait while they check the system and the watch lists. In either in one day, or if you are lucky a little while, you to receive your passport with granted visa, you sign the form one more time and out you go.
No need to be aggressive about it, scolding people, going around insulting officers and starting a discussion on corruption.
Offering to pay extra if they bend a rule for you
I can be short about this one: you risk a refusal by doing so. The stories about people telling you you can slip a few hundred pesos over the counter are bullshit. The Filipino Government is successfully fighting corruption and I have never ran into an officer at the Bureau of Immigration that whispered to me he could rush things through without checking the watch list if I just pay him.
Do not believe the stories if you are told otherwise. I do have hear one story if a small immigration office being closed down because the officer running it was a s called fixer, but that was hear say and I have no actual confirmation of that being true.
The systems are computerised, lists of granted visas are published on the website of the BOI, the visa seal has a serial number on it and I really do not believe stories bout corruption. As a matter of fact: I only came across those stories on American Message boards and I believe people there are telling bullshit about these procedures.
More so often, once you have an ACR i-Card, which you need to have after staying longer than 59 days in this country on a tourist visa, you have a unique identity number that comes up every visa application.
So do not fool yourself by thinking you can beat the system.
A few tips on how to behave properly when applying for a visa:
- be polite and respectful
- be honest you are dealing with legal matters
- be clean and wear proper clean clothing
- be patience
- come in time, you can apply for your visa renewal from 14 days prior to your due date onward, so do not wait till the last day.
Disclaimer: If by any change you recognise yourself in one of the examples given, go shame yourself and change your behaviour towards people and the country that welcomes you as a guest.