China stops processing visas of PHL tour groups

By Ma. Stella F. Arnaldo / Special to the BusinessMirror

THE People’s Republic of China has stopped the processing of visa applications by tour groups from the Philippines, prompting calls from local tourism stakeholders for the Philippine government to reciprocate in a similar fashion.

In a letter to its partner travel agents in the Philippines received on Wednesday, China Tee International Travel Service Ltd. said, “We were informed by China government Immigration Department that China Group Visa processing was terminated at 16:25p.m., 24th December 2018.”

The travel agency said, the termination of group visas for Filipinos “is because, on 22nd December 2018, there were five Filipino tourists who hold China group visa, disappeared right after arriving Shanghai PVG airport, via a unprofessional operation by a no license travel agent here in China. This tour operator catered this group without checking passengers background and charging guarantee deposit .”

Apparently, this was the second time the unnamed Chinese tour operator did this. China Tee said they had no information when Filipino tour groups could start applying for visas again. China Tee’s letter was contained in a circular released by the Philippine Travel Agencies Association (PTAA) to its members.   

Jose C. Clemente III, president of the Tourism Congress of the Philippines, expressed disappointment over the recent action of the Beijing government and said “there should be reciprocity on the part of the Philippine government,” with a ban on the processing of group visa applications from China, as well.

He pointed out that the Philippine government has already confirmed that thousands of Chinese tourists work in Philippine online gambling operations (Pogos), “and yet these are only five Filipino tourists who had gone missing, but they stop the processing of group visas?”

He suggested that Beijing “crack down on illegal travel agents and tour operators on their end, instead of suspending the processing visa applications from Filipino tour groups. Seems like the problem is on their side, not ours.” He confirmed, though, that Beijing would still continue to process individual visa applications from Filipinos, “but most who go there are in tour groups.”

From January to October 2018, about 1.06 million Chinese tourists arrived in the Philippines. The increase in Chinese visitors has been attributed to the relaxation of visa requirements, with the warming of diplomatic ties between Manila and Beijing. However, lawmakers worry that the visa-upon-arrival privilege extended to China was being abused, as some Chinese citizens arriving in the country as tourists actually work in online gaming centers.

Gaming analysts estimate Chinese workers in Pogo at some 300,000, and yet the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) has said it issued only 25,000 work permits to Chinese citizens this year. “This can only mean the rest are here on tourist visas,” said one analyst.

The DOLE, together with other agencies, will form a special task force to check on the operations of Pogo enterprises, to start operations in December or January at the latest, according to Bureau of Local Employment (BLE) Director Dominique Tutay. (See, “Government task force formed to check ‘Pogo’ workers,” in the BusinessMirror, November 26, 2018.)

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro L. Locsin Jr. and Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo Puyat could not be reached for comment as of press time. Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Elmer G. Cato, messaging from New York, said “the Department will first have to validate the information provided by Business Mirror,” before issuing a statement on the matter. 


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