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New Visas, Courtesy of BI and PLRA

(Article published in the Jun 30,2003 issue of TODAY, Business Section)

Cross-border estate planning just might get an unexpected boost from the new initiative of the Philippine Leisure and Retirement Authority (PLRA) to attract retirees to come for an extended stay in the Philippines to make an informed decision to take up or not take up residence in the country.  If through the program enough foreigners come to our sunny isles and like what they see, then there just might be a thriving niche for estate planning practitioners who specialize on foreigners who choose the Philippines as their retirement home.

Recently, the PLRA and the Bureau of Immigration (BI) entered into a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) that put in place the very first requirement needed to attract foreign retirees to visit the country to see for themselves whether they would like to come and settle here --a visa that entitles them to stay long enough to learn and like the place.  Two visas, in fact, were designed for this purpose: first, a Special Visitor’s Visa (SVV); and second, a Special Retiree Visitor’s Visa (SRVV).  Since the main purpose is to give the visitor ample time to make up his or her mind, they are referred to as the “Look-see Visas”.

The Look-see Visas are granted to foreign nationals (natural persons, of course) who have contracted, directly or indirectly, to stay for not less than a continuous four week (28 calendar days) period at one, or at a series of, resorts, hotels and establishments that are accredited by either the Department of Tourism (DOT) or by the PLRA and are currently certified by the American Association of Foreign Retirement Resorts (AAFRR) as suitable for accommodating extended stay foreign retirees. 

The SVV confers on the holder the same privileges and duties as an ordinary visitor’s visa --free mobility within the country during the period of the authorized stay, for pleasure or for investment prospecting, and for reasons of health ; but cannot engage in gainful employment or do business.  But, instead of the usual twenty-one (21) day period, he is given all of thirty-one (31) calendar days.  In effect, he is awarded with an automatic extension of ten (10) days.

The automatic extension, is not to be scoffed at.  While for many an extension is something that is routinely granted, strictly speaking, an extension is not a matter of right.  A temporary visitor acquires no right to remain in the Philippines beyond his authorized period.  Extensions of stay are a matter of grace which are strictly interpreted.  Just as the entry and admission of an alien are matters of privilege, an extension of stay is discretionary on part of the Commissioner of Immigration who is under no ministerial duty to grant it 

Thus, the SVV, which is costs the program participant only Php 500 for the additional ten (10) days, not only frees the visitor from the hassle of a trip to the BI seeking as extension, but also removes the risk, no matter how small in the eyes of many aliens, that the extension will not be granted.  It also gives him more lee-way and opportunities to plan his out-of-town trips to see the countryside.

For those who are not content with the opportunity to go looking around and would like to actually try out life in the Philippines for a longer period, the appropriate visa is the SRVV which comes at the cost of Php 8,500 visa fee.  Participants with this visa are given up to one (1) year of authorized stay from date of arrival.  They, like the SVV holders, are also expected to have contracted to stay at places accredited by the DOT or by the PLRA and certified by the AAFRR.

A program participant need not choose between the two new products being offered to him by the PLRA and the BI. One can initially ask for the SVV and then, should he wish to continue staying to try things out, apply for the SRVV.  All he has to do is to apply in writing for conversion of his status from SVV to SRVV holder at least ten (10) days prior to the expiration of the thirty-one (31) day period initially given to him.  It is important, however, that the program participant files his application for conversion with the PLRA, which will forward it to the BI within the ten (10) day period because the BI will not entertain any request for conversion unless endorsed by the PLRA.

Because the SVV and SRVV are marketing tools,--they are expected to increase the patronage of the accredited institutions as well as of the country’s tourist facilities in general, not to mention bring in the visitor’s spending dollars, and eventually convince the visitor to settle in the country that would then consequently reap the benefits promised by the concept behind the formation of the PLRA,--the visitors are met with the red carpet upon their arrival. Five days prior to their arrival. The PLRA will give the details of their coming to the BI which is bound to forward the relevant list to its officials at the designated points of entry and provide representatives of the PLRA with the necessary passes they may need to meet the incoming participants at deplaning point.

Program participants are to be met at their designated ports of entry by duly accredited persons to promote the extended stay program, called “Marketers” and, if the participants come as a group of more than ten (10) at a time, by an authorized PLRA representative whose function is to help gather them together for ease of processing and assist them comply fully with BI entry procedures and requirements.

Both for purposes of control and monitoring, to see to it that the program participants are duly taken care of as well as to insure continued compliance with the requirements of the program (after all, not all the intending retirees are angels and both the BI and the PLRA were not born yesterday), the PLRA and the participating resorts, hotels and establishments are at all times to account for and be responsible for monitoring the visitors’ compliance with the conditions of their SVV or SRVV status.  Violations are to be reported immediately to the BI which will take the appropriate action under the Philippine Immigration Act of 1940 (C.A. No. 613), as amended.

Upon expiration of the respective periods of their SVV or SRVV status, both of which are non-extendible, the visitors are to promptly leave the country and those who fail to depart at that time are to be reported by the PLRA and/or the participating resorts, hotels and establishments to the BI.

Leaving without deciding to stay does not foreclose the possibility of a retiree eventually wanting to settle here.  Thus, program participants are given the opportunity, in good faith, to return and further look and see.  Thus, if after the first visit, the foreign retiree thinks that he has to go home and think things over, or, his trip is unexpectedly cut short due to a death in the family or unforeseen twist of fortune in his home country, he could leave the Philippines and be assured that he is welcome to return under the program.  Should he decide to resume his look-see visit, the previous periods used during his first and prior visits are not counted against him.  Each entry is treated as new and the retiree is accorded the same privileges every time he visits under the program as if he is doing it the first time.

The rest of the extended stay program is still sketchy, particularly in the area of what special amenities are to be given to address as it were the needs, particularly informational, of these retirement site “window shoppers”.  I assume the MOA of the PLRA with the BI will be followed by a counterpart and supplementary MOA with the DOT specifically addressing the requirements of the program participants who are here on a very definite and time-bounded objective, both on the part of the visitors as well as on the part of the country.  It would be a abject pity if all the work that went into the design of the SVV and the SRVV and the setting up of welcome procedures all go to waste simply because the visitors, seniors and most likely with some physical debility hindering their mobility, upon stepping out into the streets, are left to fend for themselves.