The laws of the Philippines are not a challenge or a joke to be worked around or ridiculed when that doesn’t work.
Please read this carefully. The Bureau of Immigration is not there to make your life more difficult, it is there to uphold the laws of the Republic of the Philippines for which it is responsible.
Philippines Immigration Myths
1. Visitors and Expats Are Faced With Extremely High Charges, Avoiding Them Is Legitimate
In this country as in most, the Bureau of Immigration aims to self fund its visa compliance operations. The fact that it doesn’t is not unusual either as many jurisdictions suffer from high numbers of illegals. Not the poor immigrant but those who use high costs as an excuse to not paying their dues.
If you compare the charges with other Asian countries you will find in fact that they are slightly below the average. Read a Backpackers Guide to South East Asian Visas
Yet to hear some of the chatter on Facebook and other sites you would think that they are gouging expats mercilessly.
If you want to experience high charges for crossing a border, try to enter North America and Europe, as Filipino national.
2. Bureau Of Immigration Staff Are All Corrupt
It has been a long time since fixers ruled the agency and its officers turned a blind eye to expired Visa’s or ACR documentation.
Some corruption does exist and some of it occurs with a few BI officers suspected of charging illegal immigrants (Overstayers) sums of money for their silence.
The belief, still held by many, that you can buy your way out of the country should you need to leave is a fallacy you should be wary of perpetrating.
3. Bureau Of Immigration Has Few Resources To Monitor Aliens
However even more concerning is the belief held, even more widely, that you can live in this country undetected, without renewing visas or associated documentation, until you die.
The narrative goes something like this.
- Resources to monitor your compliance are sparse.
- Your anonymity is assured because of the fiscal benefit you bring to the area in which you live.
- Filipino’s don’t really care who is in their country
Trust me when I tell you that believing those statements rarely ends well for those spinning the story. Certainly never with the fairytale endings of folklore.
Who Knows And How They Find Out?
While it is true that most Filipinos will not know your immigration status. There are those who will and either knowingly or inadvertently they will share that information. However the first source of information usually comes from the foreigner themselves.
How often have you read posts by people on social media that boast openly about their errant immigration status. As well as indicating to me naivete of extraordinary proportions, almost the bulletproof attitude of the immature. It shows failure to recognise they have compromised any security by anonymity they may have had.
That post has already netted you hundreds who have heard your declaration, among them:
- Law abiding visitors and expats, who consider that your actions give the 80% a bad name.
- Those who use it as an example of apparently successful lawbreaking. Bolstering their negative attitude to Philippines development.
- In the telling of the story, Filipino friends and acquaintances will be hear it. Among them public servants, businessmen and politicians.
- These people will often have a sense of duty, or even act in their own interest. Reporting the possibility of law breaking by foreigners to the PNP or the Bureau itself.
You may be thinking to yourself that you don’t do that kind of “Stupid”.
Just take a minute to think of all those that do know your situation. Girl friends, drinking buddies, life long friends.
Even the tightest lipped will have four or five people who know they are an overstayer. The math says that over time that group of people who “Know” will grow considerably. Once you tell one person the “cat is out of the bag”.
“If you reveal your secrets to the wind, you should not blame the wind for revealing them to the trees.” – Khalil Gibran
or perhaps the words of Benjamin Franklin resonate more clearly. “Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead.”
― Poor Richard’s Almanack
I’m Not Telling Anyone
So perhaps the answer to successful overstaying, is to tell no one. It may gain the person a little more time but that is all, because the biggest barriers to beating the system, are:
- The growing interconnectedness of digital information archives.
- The growing cooperation between government departments having similar goals. The DFA, The PNP, and BI.
The increased number of arrests for overstaying owes much to these two advances.
An Allegory Based on Facts
The following is a composite story about how this cooperation is working. Subject1-4 does not really exist but his circumstances and the outcome reflect aspects from a number of cases reviewed in 2014-15.
These cases are about ordinary folk, overstayers for sure but not sexual predators, wife beaters, murderers, drug dealers etc, on the run for more serious crimes. Their days are numbered anyway and I doubt they would be reading this.
S1-4 was an Australian citizen who came to the Philippines in 2013, he paid to keep his visa up to date until early 2014, when he stopped doing that.
Lack Of Overt Action Does Not Mean No Action
The Bureau noted his failure to renew his visa and the fact that there was no record of him leaving the country and flagged his name.
PNP BI Cooperation
In 2016 S1-4 was involved in accident and was hospitalised, PNP investigating the accident, in which he was the victim, asked if was known to police in his Barangay and if they had noted the details on his ACR card. S1-4 said no they hadn’t as he was a relative newcomer to that area. So the PNP officer asked him for the card; S1-4 said he hadn’t seen it since the accident and the PNP officer appeared to take it no further.
However on returning to his base he made contact with the Bureau and asked if they could trace the details of S1–4’s ACR, providing them with information from hospital records.
BI In Action
Several days later Bureau officers arrived at the hospital to question S1-4 as they had reason to believe he was in the country illegally.
He was arrested, taken to The Bureau of Immigration detention centre in Bicutan, and at the end of 2016 deported from the Philippines, never to return, after paying considerable fines to enable his release.
S1-4 leaves behind a girlfriend and two children with a third on the way.
You may think the response was harsh, and it was, mainly because S1-4 continued to deny his status even while incarcerated.
The Reality For Illegal Aliens
You Are Breaking The Law – That Makes You A Criminal
Failure to abide by the conditions of your visa; to obtain and renew at appropriate intervals your ACR Card, and to report annually to the local authorised office of the Bureau of Immigration, are offences under Philippines law.
You Will Be Apprehended Eventually
As I hope I have shown above, most of what you hear about in terms of successfully avoiding apprehension is urban legend.
The Recommended Course Of Action For Offenders, Not Yet Caught
If you are an offender and thus an illegal alien, your best course of action is to contact the nearest BI office and outline your offence. Tell them you wish to surrender.
Talking on the phone to BI may give you an idea of their likely response before you surrender yourself, physically.
Depending on the response you receive on phoning BI, you may wish to employ the services of an attorney.
Don’t get phased if the BI phone call does not go well, you are one step ahead of everyone else in your situation, you are surrendering.
If you employ an attorney make sure you can get the funds to pay him or her plus any fines and fees imposed by BI.
There is a proposal being considered by President Duterte to extend an amnesty to overstayers. Read the details of the proposal HERE.
I cannot find any response from the President over the last 3 months, so I am assuming no decision has been made to date.
Shorter Term Offenders
For shorter term offenders there are prescribed schedules of fines and back payment of fees. The officer you talk to at BI will explain those ones appropriate to the visa or process you defaulted on.
For The 80% please challenge the reality of those who would try to beat the system, it isn’t worth it in the long run and does make us all tainted by association.
Just as those who say one thing and do another give onlookers pause for thought
Remember the 3rd March is fast approaching if you haven’t done your annual report yet