House OKs modernization of Bureau of Immigration

RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 29 2023 10:01 PM

Overseas workers sign forms as they arrive at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) in Pasay City on May 2, 2023. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News
Overseas workers sign forms as they arrive at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) in Pasay City on May 2, 2023. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

MANILA — Voting 287-0, the House of Representatives has approved House Bill 8203 or the "Bureau of Immigration Modernization Act," on third and final reading.

"This bill's importance cannot be overstated, being one of the listed Legislative Executive Development Advisory Council (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 in a statement.

"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 also said.

The Speaker's office explained that the bill states that no person shall be appointed to the position of immigration officer unless such person meets the qualification standards set by the BI and approved by the Civil Service Commission (CSC).

It also mandates that the BI is attached to the Department of Justice (DOJ) and implements local immigration, citizenship, and alien admission and registration laws.

Aside from international airports and seaports, the bill mandates border control checkpoints which shall be manned by immigration officers appointed as border control officers by the BI commissioner. The bill states that these border control checkpoints shall be placed in specific areas.

The Speaker's office also explained that HB 8203 gives the agency the ability to keep an Immigration Trust Fund (ITF) of no more than P1.2 billion from its annual income sourced from fees, fines, and penalties. The fund will be tapped to fund the BI’s information technology (IT) projects, among other modernization plans, and to build up the capabilities of immigration officers.

The bill also elevates the salary grades assigned to junior immigration officers would also be elevated by two notches in order to attract qualified staff.

The bill also provides additional benefits to its employees, such as 1) night shift differential, which shall be subject to Republic Act (RA) No. 11701; and 2) overtime pay for actual work rendered in accordance with the existing rules and regulations.

"It is high time that we modernize the Bureau of Immigration, and all other laws relating to immigration in our country. In fact. this bill has been identified as a LEDAC priority measure in the 19th Congress," House Justice Committee Chair, Negros Occidental 4th District rep. Juliet Marie de Leon Ferrer said in her sponsorship speech last week.

"More over, the passage of this bill is in line with the economic agenda of the President. The improvement and modernization of our immigration system, making it more efficient and effective, will boost economic growth, attract more foreign investments, encourage tourism and create more jobs," Ferrer also said.

As explained in the congressional fact sheet, the bill will comply with obligations and standards set by international law in the admission or exclusion of foreign nationals and promote international order and justice by denying the use of Philippine territory to persons who are engaged or likely to engage in terrorism, human smuggling and trafficking, criminal and other nefarious activities.

It will modernize structures and mechanisms necessary for the administration of immigration laws in keeping with the changing demands Of the country's role in the global community.

It will also professionalize the immigration service by instituting a rigid system of screening and selection of immigration officials and employees and promoting their development.

The bill creates a Board of Commissioners composed of the Commissioner as Chairperson and two Deputy Commissioners as members.

It also authorizes the Board to retain and use every year 30 percent of its collections from immigration fees, fines and penalties, and other income that may be collected by the Bureau, not to exceed P1.2 billion every year.

It also establishes an Immigration Trust Fund (ITF) which shall be sourced from the 30 percent retained income which shall be administered by the Board in accordance with existing government auditing rules and regulations, and shall be used exclusively as follows:

  1. 50 percent for the modernization of equipment, facilities and offices used by employees of the Bureau, including capital outlay for the establishment of new buildings and field offices for the effective implementation of this Act;
  2. 30 percent for the payment of employee benefits provided in this Act, and as may be hereafter provided by the Board with the approval of the Secretary of Justice; and,
  3. 20 percent for the further professionalization of the employees of the Bureau through trainings, seminars and other career advancement programs.

It also provides for the creation of an express lane system or the rendition of services performed for individuals and entities upon payment of fees that may be prescribed, and mandates the Commissioner to deposit in an authorized government depository bank such fees received under a trust fund subject to auditing and accounting rules, fifty percent (50%) of which shall be made available for the augmentation of the salaries of the employees of the Bureau and 50 percent of which shall be remitted to the national treasury.

It raises the salary grades of Immigration Officer-I (from SGII to SG13), Immigration Officer-2 (from SGI 3 to SG15), Immigration Officer-3 (from SG16 to SG18) and Senior Immigration Officer (from SG19 to SG20)

It also harmonizes existing immigration rules and regulations pertaining to issuance of visas to foreign nationals.

The House will submit the bill to the Senate for action.