This past couple of weeks has found a lot of email in my inbox, messages on Facebook and whatever kinds of communications are possible… I have been getting them. The vast majority have been on one topic… President Duterte and where Americans and other Western expats stand with him.
To be honest, Duterte has always been one to speak out first and then consider what he is saying later. In other words, you cannot always take his first statement on a topic to be the way things will end up, sometimes (most of the time?) he later adjusts his feelings or actions based on his re-thinking the issue. Is that good or bad? Well, I don’t know, I suppose it cuts both ways. He says what he thinks, sometimes he has to reconsider. That’s just the way he works.
Visas for Americans
This past week, President Duterte suggested that he will be moving toward requiring Visas for Americans to visit the Philippines. In the Philippines, usually “Americans” means all foreigners, so this may apply to any foreign visitors.
Currently, the vast majority of foreign visitors to the Philippines come here with no visa at all, under the Visa Waiver program. Not all countries are eligivle for the Visa Waiver Program, it is mostly limited to Western Countries. Places like India, African nations, etc, require a visa to visit the Philippines. The majority of readers of this website, though, are American, European, Australian, etc, and all of the citizens of these countries can come here to visit under the visa waiver program. When you come and avail of the Visa Waiver, you do not need to obtain a visa before traveling, after your flight lands in the Philippines you simply show your passport issued by a Visa Waiver eligible country, it is stamped with a 30 day Visa Waiver, and you are good to go! This Visa Waiver can be extended at the end of 30 days and you can actually stay in the Philippines for a total of 36 months without any visa at all.
This is a very liberal policy, there are not that many countries that will allow a person to live there for 3 years without any visa at all.
Duterte’s Past Experiences
Back in his college days, apparently Mr. Duterte wanted to go visit his girlfriend in the USA, and he was denied a visa. It is apparently because of this and possibly other visa experiences that Duterte wants Americans (and other foreigners?) to be required to apply for a visa before visiting the Philippines.
It is pretty common that Filipinos get denied when they apply for a visa to go to the USA and to other countries too. Many Filipinos complain that it is humiliating the way they are treated during visa interviews and such. I would say that 99% of Filipinos are unlikely to ever be able to get a visa to visit the United States. On the other hand, Americans are able to just jump on a plane and get carte blanche when it comes to entering the Philippines and can even stay here for up to 3 years, no (or very few) questions asked.
Many Filipinos (most?) consider this policy difference to be very unfair. I can see both sides of the issue. The apparent reason why most Filipinos are unable to visit the USA is because in the past so many Filipinos who have visited the USA have not left the country when their visa expires, they just stay illegally. Because of this, the USA limits how many Filipinos are allowed to go visit the USA. It makes sense. However, I have to say, I get emails every day from Americans (and other nationalities) who are doing the same thing here in the Philippines. I hear from people regularly who have been here for 20 years on a tourist visa that they never extended. So, it is a two way street… Filipinos overstay in the USA, and Americans overstay here.
Reciprocity of Visas
Visas are something that are usually handled on a reciprocal basis. If Country A requires a visa from Citizens of Country B, then Country B usually treats Country A in the same way. Whatever one country does, the other country follows suit. So, for the USA to be super tough on Filipinos wanting to visit the USA, and the Philippines to freely allow Americans to come to the Philippines, even for the long term, is out of the ordinary.
Because the USA requires Filipinos to go to the Embassy and apply for a visa before visiting, the norm would be for the Philippines to do the same for Americans.
Of course, America is a much bigger economic power than the Philippines, and because of this a lot more Filipinos want to go to the USA and end up wnating to stay there to take advantage of work opportunities. However, as I pointed out in the previous section of this article, there are lots of Americans who overstay in the Philippines too, just not as many as the number of overstaying Filipinos.
What Duterte is aiming for
It seems that what Duterte wants that Americans can still visit the Philippines, but that instead of just buying an airplane ticket and flying over, Americans will need to apply for a visa, and presumably will have to go to the Philippine Embassy or Consulate for a visa interview and such, before visiting the Philippines.
Yes, that will be a hassle for those who want to visit the Philippines, but no more hassle than Filipinos who want to visit the USA, in fact, still less hassle. I would assume that the vast majority of Americans wishing to come to the Philippines would be approved for visas, while the vast majority of Filipinos are denied any possibility of visiting the USA.
As an example of the way things are now for Filipinos, with my heart condition and coming surgery that I am facing, a lot of people have been urging me to go to the USA for treatment. I am the type that really wants and needs to be around my family Especially when I am going through somethign stressful like heart surgery. For myself, my wife and our 3 sons, we can all easily go to the States, we are all US citizens (Feyma and our 3 sons are Dual Citizens of the USA and the Philippines). However, we have two “daughters” who are both really nieces, but have been living with us for many years. We consider them to be daughters, and they are as close to me as our sons are. These girls would not ba allowed to enter the USA, because they are not citizens. It is very unlikely that they would be allowed visas to go to the USA. I could not leave them behind permanently, and even if I were there for a few months to get medical treatment, I would not like that. I feel I would recover better if they were around to care for and comfort me. But, it is more or less impossible. Is this fair?
So, based on the US policy, I think that what President Duterte has in mind is that “turnaround is fair play”.
Is US Immigration Policy fair?
Another way to look at this is that under current US Immigration policy, basically people can illegally cross the US border and be illegally in the USA, and they face few if any consequences for doing so. Thousands of people cross the soutnern US border each and every day. The US government does little about it. So, is it then fair to be so stringent on Filipinos who want to do the same thing? Lots of Filipinos want to go to the USA and even stay illegally, which people from other countries are doing.
I feel that enforcement of the borders is an important job of the government, but when they are applying the law in a way that is not equal for different coutnries, that seems to be unfair. For me, I think they should apply immgiration policy equally to all foreign countries that are friends.
Expats have to be flexible
We are guests here. We have no right to vote or to dictate foreign policy. We have to basically roll with the punches. I have heard from a lot of foreigners living here that they are considering leaving the Philippines because of changes in the countriy’s foreign policy under Duterte (he has not made any changes yet, but has indicated possible changes that he would like to institute). I have also heard from a lot of people who plan to move to the Philippines in the future, and tell me that “Duterte has ruined their retirement plans.” Well, if a few statements from a new President can ruin your plans, you probably are not well suited to live in a foreign country anyway.
To have a successful and happy life in a foreign country, you have to be able to not worry much about the politics and just enjoy your life. If every little scuffle between your home coutnry and your adopted country will send you scrambling for the next plane back home, well.. you are probably best to just stay home to begin with.
I have lived in the Philippines for nearly 17 years. There have been 4 different presidents of the Philippines over that time:
- Joseph Estrada
- Gloria Macapagal Arroyo
- Benigno Aquino
- Rodrigo Duterte
Also, suring that time there have been 3 Presidents of the United States
- William Clinton
- George Bush
- Barack Obama
Of the 4 Philippine Presidents, I have felt that 2 of them were either pretty good or had the potential to be pretty good. I have felt that 2 of them were not really very good choices. But, I have never really voiced an opinion or railed against those that I did not like. I never thought I would leave the Philippines because I did not like a President’s policies here. I just went on living my life here and enjoying it. I feel that I have been pretty successful with my life here living it in that way.
On the other hand, when it comes to US Presidents, of the 3 Presidents since I have been gone, I felt that one of them was marginally OK, one was pretty good and one was a miserable failure. So, both the Philippines and the USA have had Presidents that I like and that I dislike. No country is perfect, and no Presidnet of any country is perfect. That is why we have to learn to roll with the punches and just enjoy life. There are lots of things in life that you cannot change, no matter what country you live in.
In addition to the things that I have talked about in this article (immigration mostly), a lot of expats and potential expats are very worried about President Duterte’s shift or pivot in diplomatic relations with China. We are not talking about that today. It is an important topic that deserves an article of its own, and I will be addressing that on Friday. So, please hold your comments about China until Friday’s article is published.