Retirement visas on hold over security concerns
Foreigners wishing to retire in the Philippines may have to put their plans on hold.
The board of the Philippine Retirement Authority (PRA) on Friday suspended the granting of retirement visas to foreigners after several senators raised security concerns over the presence in the country of nearly 28,000 Chinese “retirees,” some of whom were only in their 30s.
An attached agency of the Department of Tourism, PRA was authorized by law to process and issue a retirement visa, which is a special non-immigrant visa given to aliens who “like to make the Philippines their second home or investment destination.”
The PRA board, chaired by Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat, also directed the agency’s officials to evaluate existing requirements for the issuance of special retirees residence visa (SRRV), which provides several privileges to its holders.
“In a special meeting, the board directed the PRA to review its policies on the minimum age and dollar deposit requirements, and the conversion of these deposits into allowable investments,” the PRA said in a statement.
“Pursuant to its current policy, which had been implemented since 1993, the PRA accepts retirees (who) are at least 35 years old,” it said.
The board said all applications and processing of SRRV would be temporarily suspended as it would discuss possible changes in the policies during their next meeting on Nov. 6.
It directed the PRA to closely coordinate with the Bureau of Immigration (BI), the Department of Justice and the Department of Labor and Employment, and improve its program to “regularly monitor the profile and activities” of foreign retirees.
“The PRA was also directed to coordinate with the Tourism Promotions Board for the formulation and review of PRA’s marketing and product development plans, and the benchmarking of its retirement program with other countries,” the board added.
Among the privileges enjoyed by holders of SRRV are indefinite stay in the Philippines, exemption from the filing of annual immigration card to the BI and from the payment of travel tax and customs duties for the one-time importation of household and personal items worth up to $7,000.
During a Senate budget hearing on Monday, Sen. Richard Gordon quizzed Puyat on why Chinese nationals who were only 35 years old allowed to live in the country as foreign retirees.
Created by an executive order issued by dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1985, PRA currently grants retirement visas to foreigners aged at least 35 who have a minimum of US $50,000 (P2.5 million) cash on hand.
Gordon, who had previously warned that Chinese-owned Philippine offshore gaming operators could just be fronting for China’s intelligence agencies to snoop in the country, said the number of Chinese retirees posed a “national security concern” since 35 is considered “soldier’s age.”
“Their number is equal to 27 (Army) regiments. That’s dangerous. Why would they retire here at 35?” Gordon said at the hearing.
The Philippines and China have for decades been embroiled in a maritime dispute over parts of the South China Sea. Beijing has been insisting on its sole ownership of nearly the entire water way, including the West Philippine Sea, which is part of the country’s 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone.
In 2016, China’s claim was dismissed by an international arbitral tribunal in favor of the Philippine government, who challenged Beijing’s so-called “nine-dash line” maritime boundaries.
Multiple visa dangerous
Gordon said that the Chinese could have chosen the Philippines as their supposed retirement destination “because they can go back and forth without visa.”
“With a retirement visa, they can have multiple visa. That is dangerous. I didn’t know that. I’m disturbed by it,” Gordon said. “Retirees, as you know, retire at the average of 56 to 60, to 65 years old.”
According to the PRA, around 28,000 Chinese had already been granted retirement visas. They account for about 40 percent of all foreign retirees living in the country.
At far second are Koreans with 14,200, followed by Indians (6,100), Taiwanese (4,850), Japanese (4,000), Americans (3,700), Hong Kongers (1,870), British (1,600), Germans (800) and Australians (750).
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