The Bureau of Immigration (BI) is hiring more than 200 new immigration officers to help address perennial queues at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) immigration counters brought about by manpower shortage and abolition of payment of overtime fees of its employees from the Express Lane Fund (ELF).
“We have started the process of selecting these new personnel by administering written tests and interviewing thousands of applicants who hail from different places, including the Visayas and Mindanao,” Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente said on Tuesday.
Morente pointed out though that the hiring of the new immigration officers would only provide relief to passenger congestion at the premier airport but would not totally address the problem.
He said only the enactment of a new immigration law can provide a feasible and lasting solution to the decades-old problem of lack of manpower in the BI and the low salary of its workers.
Morente added that several lawmakers have assured the bureau that a new Philippine immigration law will be passed during the current Congress.
The BI recently deployed 37 newly-hired immigration officers to augment the bureau’s workforce at the NAIA Terminals I, II and III after completing their training on immigration laws, rules and procedures.
Passenger queues at the NAIA’s immigration counter became a subject of controversy in recent months as some immigration officers resigned or went on indefinite leave as a result of the discontinuance of their overtime pay from the Express Lane Fund.
This had forced the BI management to reassign to the NAIA immigration employees stationed at its main office in Manila and other field offices in the provinces.
According to Morente, the queues lessened in recent days as fewer immigration officers have been skipping work since the Palace assured that steps will be undertaken to upgrade the take-home pay of BI employees.
Effective last month, the bureau cut down its office hours from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily instead of 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. as a result of the discontinuance of the payment of overtime fees of its employees from the ELF.
Express lane charges are additional cost being paid by foreigners who want to fast-track processing of their documents.
They are the source of funding to pay for the services of the bureau’s confidential agents, contractual employees and other job orders and for overtime fees.
President Rodrigo Duterte, however, vetoed the use of the ELF even as the Department of Budget and Management provided P235 million for the overtime pay of BI employees in the General Appropriations Act or national budget.