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Philippines changes visa rules for Chinese travellers ahead of Lunar New Year after spike in crime blamed on mainlanders


The Philippines has scrapped a special six-month visa for Chinese travellers ahead of the Lunar New Year celebrations in a bid to clamp down on a crime wave blamed on visitors from the mainland.

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The decision, which comes as millions of Chinese prepare to travel in what is often termed the “world’s biggest migration”, comes amid a spike in crime that President Rodrigo Duterte last week blamed on the rise of offshore gambling operators employing Chinese nationals. In one widely reported incident this weekend, four Chinese nationals were arrested and jailed on suspicion of trying to abduct an 18-year-old Filipino woman in Makati City.


Rather than the six-month “Temporary Visitor-Visa Upon Arrival”, which could be converted into a work visa, Chinese nationals will now be eligible for a non-extendable 30-day visa that cannot be converted.

Under the new rules, applicants will have to submit inbound and outbound flight details and proof of booked accommodation. The visa will still be available on arrival.

Duterte last week said legal and illegal Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs) were to blame for a sudden rise in crime. The industry in the Philippines has grown mostly to cater to clients in mainland China, where gambling is illegal, and most Pogo employees are migrant workers from China.


“It’s a game for the overseas Chinese, but the thing is [gambling] breeds so many things: corruption, an increase in the crimes of extortion and kidnapping,” said Duterte.

However, he resisted calls to close down the industry, saying he would only restrict the number of Pogos. He said Pogos were still “good for the country” because they generated local jobs and boosted government revenues, earning 23 billion pesos (US$500 million) from January to September last year.

The president also disclosed that Beijing had adopted a hands-off stance insofar as the Philippine government policy on Pogos was concerned, quoting from a dinner he held with Huang Xilian, China’s envoy to Manila, on January 8.


“The ambassador said ‘if you must do it, do it, because the law is the law. You have the prerogative to do what you want to enforce the law’,” Duterte recounted.

“In fairness to the Chinese government, they understand,” he added.

The rise of the Pogo industry has caused friction between the two countries. In August last year, China’s foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang urged the Philippines to “ban all online gambling”. And when Duterte met Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing in August, presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said Xi had told Duterte that China would “appreciate” a total ban.


Panelo said Xi had explained that “gambling is illegal in China and most of the players [gambling with Pogos] are Chinese nationals. And also, crimes are committed with respect to things like money laundering.”

However, he did not say what the limit would be. At present, the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor) has licensed 59 POGOs. Another 23 online gaming companies are licensed through the Cagayan Economic Zone Authority.

Henry Lim Bon Liong, president of the Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chamber of Commerce, welcomed the president’s move. “I think the government is trying to balance both tourism and the fact that we want to prevent really bad people from coming over,” he told the South China Morning Post.


The immigration bureau has never disclosed the exact number of visas upon arrival it has issued to mainland Chinese. The Department of Tourism said arrivals from China between January and September last year reached 1,359,817, second only to South Korea’s 1,450,792.

Pagcor has claimed only 93,697 Chinese nationals work for Pogos. But Leechiu Property Consultants told Congress up to 800,000 mainland Chinese could be working for Pogos, based on leasing arrangements.

In an unusual announcement, Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente said recently that 63 Chinese had been blocked from entering the country last year for “bad behaviour” that included being drunk, rowdy, “arrogant or discourteous”. His staff had also arrested and deported 1,577 Chinese nationals, including 324 fugitives, he said.


In a recent forum on the topic of Chinese in the Philippines, Reynard Hing of Kaisa, a Filipino-Chinese NGO that promotes integration, said there had been various problems associated with a new wave of migration from China.

He said that while anti-Chinese sentiment had historical roots, recent criminal cases involving Chinese people coupled with territorial disputes between the two countries in the South China Sea had “created a perfect storm of negative impressions of China and the Chinese”.

Hing said, “the collateral damage is of course the Chinoys [Filipino-Chinese] because often when people are emotional, everyone is lumped in the same pot.”


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This article first appeared on South China Morning Post.

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