Surigao del Sur Rep. Johnny Pimentel has backed calls for parity in administrative travel conditions between the Philippines and the United States.
“There are two ways we can achieve parity. Either we obligate Americans traveling to Manila to first secure a Philippine visa, or the US removes the requirement for Filipinos to get hold of a US visa before they can travel to America,” Pimentel said.
The lawmaker said requiring Americans to obtain a Philippine visa could generate $125 million (P6 billion) in revenues.
“This is assuming we ask each visiting American to pay a $160 visa application fee – the same amount the US Embassy in Manila asks from every Filipino seeking a US visa,” Pimentel said.
Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez earlier supported President Rodrigo Duterte’s call for “reciprocity” in travel rights between the Philippines and the US.
Pimentel said parity could mean additional good-paying jobs for college-educated Filipinos trying to enter the Philippine foreign service.
“We could use some of the P6 billion annual income to employ a large number of young Filipinos as vice consuls, and deploy them to Philippine consular offices in the US. so they can process the Philippine visa applications of American citizens,” he said.
Filipinos traveling to America, regardless of purpose, have to apply for a US visa, pay a $160 to $265 non-refundable fee, and show up for a personal interview with a vice consul, who may or may not issue a visa.
In contrast, Americans traveling to Manila enjoy visa-free entry to the Philippines for stays less than 30 days.
“There is nothing anti-American about seeking parity in travel stipulations. This is all about equality in treatment. Our people-to-people, business-to-business as well as government-to-government relations with the US remain sound,” Pimentel said.
He said requiring Americans to apply for a Philippine visa would also help weed out criminal offenders attempting to enter Manila.
Americans comprise the second-largest group of foreigners visiting the Philippines every year, next only to South Koreans, according to the Department of Tourism.
In 2015, 779,217 Americans visited the Philippines, up 7.81 percent from the 722,750 in 2014.
From January to August this year, 584,149 Americans visited the Philippines, up 9.96 percent from last year’s figure of 531,217.
Citizens of 38 countries are allowed to travel to America for tourism, business, or while in transit for up to 90 days, without having to obtain a US visa. These countries are Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Chile, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan and the United Kingdom.