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Life Philippines

BI You’re Not Making Things Clear And That Can Be Bad For All Of Us.

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No matter how well-crafted legislation is, there will issues that require interpretation. However, I have to say “BI you’re not making things clear.”

That being said that is no reason for ignoring published facts in favour of some out of left field interpretation. In most cases, the immigration law and its amendments don’t need interpretation, by those with no expertise.

Just as concerning is the rising number of expats who operate on the basis of how much they can get away with. Those same expats are quickly into print when they perceive Filipinos flouting their laws. Doesn’t that seem ironic to you?

I suppose that if you want to make a personal statement, about a particular issue. And if you are prepared to take the consequences of your action to take the consequences for your actions. Then I can live with that.

However, to provide people with information that does not comply with what BI has published on its site is near criminal. You could be exposing folk to information that could cost them thousands in unexpected fees. Or conversely, rob them of thousands in savings.
The law to which I am referring is:

The Balikbayan Visa Free Privilege

I am not going to go through all the ins an outs of the Privilege. You can find all the details in our recent post.

What I want to focus on are the areas where confusion reigns. These are:

  • What benefits has a Balikbayan Visa Free Privilege For A Filipino Citizen?
  • What are the conditions for qualifying for the Privilege?
  • How often can you claim the Privilege?

I also want to shine a light on the ways in which BI is muddying the water and making clarification more difficult.

What Benefits Has A Balikbayan Visa Free Privilege For A Filipino Citizen?

This came up because of some people trying to assert that the Privilege has no benefits for Filipino citizens.

Rather than adhering to what the law clearly states in Republic Acts 6768 and 9174. They hinge their argument on that nonsensical position.

While the basic privilege does seem to favour former Filipinos over current ones. This is a case of misthinking. The net effect is to equalise the expenditure of the two parties. The Filipino is fee exempt for 12 months whether or not they claim the Privilege., the former Filipino because of the law arrives in the same place, of no fees for 12 months.

The Filipino citizen claiming the privilege does benefit from not having to pay Travel Tax. This is just the same as the Former Filipino Countryperson.
If you are a genuine OFW you can also claim exemption from the terminal tax.

Additional Privileges

There is also a raft of additional advantages available under the Privilege

  • You’re entitled to duty-free shopping privileges. Up to $2000 US dollars of goods subject to certain restrictions. This is double that allowed to other travellers. Both adults and children over 18 but under 21 are able to claim this amount while children under 18 can claim $500 USD
  • You can claim duty-free privileges on household items and personal effects. When returning to the Philippines permanently
  • Discounts and privileges on travel and flights offered by domestic airlines.

So you can see that there are worthwhile benefits for the Filipino citizen who has been away from the Philippines for twelve months.
This is quite apart from the biggest benefit of all. The huge savings in visa fees for their accompanying spouse and children.
The first argument is consigned to fallacy and misconjecture.

What Are The Conditions For Qualifying For The Privilege?

This definition is plastered all over the BI website and on the websites of Philippines Embassies around the world.
The term “balikbayan” shall mean: :

  • A Filipino citizen who has been continuously out of the Philippines for a period of at least one (1) year
  • A Filipino overseas worker
  • Or a former Filipino citizen and their family*, who had been naturalized in a foreign country and comes or returns to the Philippines

*The term “family” means the spouse and children of the balikbayan who are not balikbayan in their own right travelling with the latter to the Philippines.

Balikbayan or family members from Visa Required countries cannot take advantage of the Privilege.

The Incident Which Sparked the Silliness

A couple of incidents of seeming misspeaks by BI officials started it all. They bought forth a handful of people whose main aim seemed to be to undermine the Privilege.

The seeming misspeaks came after an incident at Ninoy Aquino Airport in early January when an incoming passenger became upset because he was not granted the Balikbayan Visa Free Privilege. In explaining why this happened BI staff seemed to contradict this definition in several statements made to the local media.

What Was Said?

The offending statement was: “The privilege is for former Filipinos and their immediate family members who are travelling with them only” Which does at first glance seem to exclude returning Filipino citizens.
But this is patently incorrect for two reasons:

  • It contradicts the law as stated in the Acts There has been no administrative amendment on the site, indicating a change of policy. In fact to change the law to exclude returning Filipinos would require a congressional amendment to it.
  • The next sentence in the statement seems to contradict the first: “If these family members are not travelling with the Filipino or former Filipino, they are not qualified for the one-year visa-free privilege.”
    It is not rocket science to conclude that both current and former Filipinos are eligible for the privilege as well as their immediate family travelling with them.

Why It Wasn’t Really A Misspeak

I did say this was a seeming misspeak, because in the eyes of BI there are four classes of Filipino, returning to the Philippines on any one day.

  • The Filipino who has gone abroad for a visit of under one year.
  • Those termed Balikbayan:
  • A Filipino citizen who has been continuously out of the Philippines for a period of at least one (1) year
  • A Filipino overseas worker
  • Or a former Filipino citizen and his family*, who had been naturalized in a foreign country and comes or returns to the Philippines

So, in fact, Filipino Citizens returning after a period of absence of one year or more are a different classification than Former Filipinos returning. In essence, the spokesperson was correct, but the delivery obviously confused some. It would have helped if they had followed up the statement given in a specific context with a statement encompassing the whole law.

How Often Can You Claim The Privilege?

This is the hardest to resolve because both practice and documentation could be construed to support my position as well as that of those who think I am dingbats.

My position is that the Balikbayan Visa Free Privilege can only be claimed after a Balikbayan has been out of the country for 12 months. This is in line with the definitions in the Act and on the BI website and which we have quoted above.

The alternative position is that the practice, in general, is to allow the stamp even if the absence is only a few days and therefore that must be the law.

While not discounting the practice, it is a poor precedent to assume that poor practice will become the law.

It is also dangerous to assume that your experience of current practice is the same as everyone else. I read stories every day about people getting a Balikbayan privilege and others being refused.

Very few explicitly state what were the reasons behind a Privilege being granted or refused.

Further Confusion

Further searching of the DFA and some Philippines Embassy sites revealed the following. The Commissioner of Immigration Andrea D. Domingo informed the Department of Foreign Affairs on 4 June 2001 that: “All Immigration Officers at authorized ports of entry shall grant the benefits and privileges to all Balikbayan and former Filipinos included every time they enter the country to visit, regardless of their frequent travel”. This means that the above categories of persons could now claim the privilege regardless of the number of entries.

Searching for the original memo has proved fruitless.

The further one goes the muddier the waters become.

We have a situation where some officers and embassies are disseminating information based on a memo that is not part of the public record. While others are following the law as enacted by the Philippines Congress.

There is no provision in the Acts from which the law is formed for anyone but Congress to change such a central pillar of the legislation.

The changed rules will also reduce the Bureau’s income and I read in Chan Robles that Administrative changes cannot knowingly reduce the income expected from provisions of an Act.

The Final Appeal

So I did what any decent researcher would do, I went to the horse’s mouth. The BI Helpline has always, in my experience been a source of accurate information, that is until recently when we appear to be talking past each other on some issues.

Here is the conversation I had with them, it is in three parts only because of its length not because I have doctored it.


The document they refer me to is the same one I wrote my original post from and which I have referred to throughout this post.

Does that seal it. One would hope so but because I can understand how confusing this is for everyone, I will say this.

Regarding the third point, only our site will advise people that until we have clarification that:

We concede that practices not supported by the current legislation are common and that there is a good chance that if you enter the Philippines prior to the passing of 12 months, that you are could be granted a Balikbayan stamp.

This application of the law is far from being agreed by all and you could also find that you are not granted the privilege.

The bottom line is you lose nothing by asking, you are not committing any crime by checking out your eligibility, but please remember this is not the current law and do not lose your cool if it is not granted.

In the meanwhile, we will be trying to get the definitive answers for you as always. When we do we will be making sure that those are conveyed to as many people as possible.

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