$833 Million Visa Scam: 3,000 Chinese nationals expelled for violating stay conditions in Philippines

The immigration department in Philippines announced the deportation of nearly 3,000 “erring Chinese” nationals for violating the conditions of their stay.

The announcement is seen as an act of damage control after President Rodrigo Duterte administration officials were accused of selling visas in a multimillion-dollar scheme.

Earlier, opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros revealed that in 2017, Duterte-appointed officials amassed as much as US$ 833 million in bribes, mostly from Chinese nationals who wanted a seamless visa approval upon their arrival in the capital Manila.

On Tuesday, BI Commissioner Jaime Morente announced that a total of 2,736 Chinese citizens were ordered to leave the country immediately.

They were reportedly granted visas from January to October this year upon arrival, but failed to leave on their scheduled departure date.

Under Philippine law, those who were granted visas upon arrival are not allowed to extend their stay beyond 30 days.

“More than half of those who were ordered to leave were blacklisted from our country,” Morente said in a statement.

“While some were unable to leave due to circumstance – following the cancellation of many flights due to the pandemic – those who stayed without sufficient basis were included in our blacklist.”

The visa-on-arrival programme was launched by the Philippine government three years ago to attract Chinese tourists and tour groups as part of a push for closer economic and political ties with Beijing under the Duterte administration.

Morente did not say how many other nationals violated the rules in previous years and how many were deported since the programme was launched.

According to a May 2020 report, about 90,000 Chinese nationals work in the country’s online gambling industry alone, and many were suspected to have availed the programme, skirting the more complicated labour visa application process.

Online gambling operation is banned in China.

The Department of Tourism also reported that 1.74 million Chinese nationals arrived in the country in 2019, pumping as much as US$ 2.3bn into the local economy.

Morente said the programme accounts for “only around 5 percent” of total Chinese arrivals in the Philippines.

“Majority secured their visas from our foreign posts abroad,” he explained.

But opposition Senator Hontiveros said contrary to those claims, as many as 3.8 million Chinese nationals must have paid the US$ 208 bribe to immigration officials.

The BI suspended the visa programme around the time that the coronavirus pandemic flared up in China.

In a televised address on Tuesday, President Duterte promised to carry out an investigation into corruption in all government agencies.