THE House of Representatives on Monday endorsed for Senate approval the proposed new legislation enabling the Bureau of Immigration (BI) to embark on an aggressive plan to modernize its systems and professionalize its staff.
This, after the House—voting 287 affirmative and 0 negative—approved on third and final reading House Bill 8203, or the proposed BI Modernization Act, which was among the priority measures earlier adopted by the Legislative Executive Development Advisory Council (Ledac).
“This bill’s importance cannot be overstated, being one of the listed Ledac bills. It is two-pronged in that it will improve travel experience and at the same time tighten up our border security,” House Speaker Ferdinand Martin G. Romualdez said.
“This measure is also a long time coming, as it has been filed and re-filed for around 20 years. A lot of technologies have changed in that span of time and this bill ushers the BI into the digital age,” Romualdez said.
The bill authorizes the BI to retain in a trust fund “no more than P1.2 billion” of its annual income from fees, fines, and penalties.
The money would then be used to bankroll the BI’s information technology (IT) projects, among other modernization plans, and build up the capabilities of immigration officers.
The bill bumps up by two notches the salary grades assigned to junior immigration officers to allow the BI to attract qualified staff.
At present, due to low pay, 742 of the BI’s 2,795 authorized permanent positions remain unfilled, translating to a 26-percent vacancy rate.
Attached to the Department of Justice, the BI enforces the country’s immigration, citizenship, and alien admission and registration laws.
“We are counting on the full automation and digitization of the BI’s processes and services to reinforce border security and improve travel experience,” House Minority Leader Marcelino “Nonoy” Libanan, one of the bill’s principal authors, said.
Libanan served as BI Commissioner for three years during the Arroyo administration.
The reforms that Libanan introduced during his stint at the BI became the subject of an Asian Institute of Management (AIM) graduate program case study, entitled “Transforming the Bureau of Immigration.”
The study recognized Libanan’s innovations at the BI that “resulted in unprecedented revenue collection, enhancement of the country’s climate for investment and employment generation, improved service due to procedures simplification and systems computerization and capability enhancement and moral transformation of BI personnel.”
A person appointed to the position of immigration officer must meet the qualification standards set by the BI and approved by the Civil Service Commission (CSC) under the bill.
The BI is attached to the Department of Justice (DOJ) and implements local immigration, citizenship, and alien admission and registration laws.
In addition to international airports and seaports, the bill establishes border control checkpoints to be manned by immigration officers appointed as border control officers by the BI commissioner. The border control checkpoints shall be placed in specific areas.
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