Thursday, January 26, 2012

It's All In The I-Cards

I guess with my luck it would be too much to expect  that two successive annual trips to the Bureau of Immigration to pay the annual report, (a P310  yearly "head tax" required of resident alien residents), would go off without a hitch.. On two such treks, one in 2009 and the other in 2010, I was robbed and pickpocketed respectively en route. Fortunately I had no such incidents in 2011.

This year, I did not wind up a crime victim when I went to the satellite office in Makati a few weeks ago. But almost as bad was the news from that office. They would be unable to process the annual report for my wife Lydia because unbeknownst to us, her ACR-ICR I-card had expired. This biometric piece of plastic with an embedded computer chip serves mainly as a form of identity and streamlines many of the cardholder's B.I. dealings. All foreign permanent residents in the Philippines are required to have one. Unfortunately, Lydia's and my cards don't show an expiration date which we learned is 5 years from the date of issue. According to Immigration, the newer "models" now display this ending date.

Obtaining a replacement requires a trip to the main B.I. headquarters in Manila (Intramuros district). It was with  extreme trepidation that I faced the prospect of going to that office.  I recalled from years past how decrepit and poorly maintained the facilities were, with a matching attitude of its employees.  But at least Lydia wouldn't have to endure  this hassle.  As a senior, she is exempted by Immigration from such appearances . As her spouse, I could do that for her.

My last visit to B.I. headquarters was about four years ago. So when I arrived there yesterday, I was pleasantly surprised at how much the place had improved. The exterior had been given a facelift, but more importantly, the inside given a complete renovation, including the C.R's.(restrooms) which previously could only have been  described as abominable, and that's putting it nicely.  The customer service also seems friendlier, and there are roving information reps to answer questions and direct applicants to the appropriate areas.

When  I arrived at about 6:30 a.m, there were already people seated waiting for the service windows to open at 7:00. Within a few hours the place was packed. (Unfortunately, the interior makeover didn't include adding more space).   Woe unto those who arrive late.  Not only will there be fewer or no seats left  but their waiting time for service will be much longer. This is why it's essential to arrive as early as possible; You snooze, you lose.  Yet, even though I was among the first batch of people to be serviced, the entire process still took about 3 1/2 hours. (Note: B.I. transactions differ in complexity. Your time may vary. So take along something to pass the hour(s). And due to the above mentioned  physical space limitations and seating,  it's advisable to limit the number of your companions.)

Speaking of batches, one reason for the long wait is that when applicants turn in their forms to the clerks at the service windows for processing, as the forms are completed, they are placed in a pile.  A department worker then emerges  with the stack and calls out the names of and distributes these forms to those who are awaiting them.Obviously, it's important to stand by and not to miss such a "call out" announcement.  The next one may not be for another 45 minutes or so   Then it's on  the next window to start the process all over again.   

Finally I was finished.  It was such a feeling of relief knowing that not only had I completed this task  but also that Lydia's annual report fee was also automatically collected upon payment for the card. I was given a claim check to present when picking up the new card, which should be available in about three weeks.

Right about that time, my own I-card will near its expiration date, so when I retrieve Lydia's card. I can also renew mine as well. Hopefully, it will take less time to go through the mill the second time around.  For despite the improvement in service, there were a few missteps including procedural miscommunications that I now know to avoid.  I wouldn't say that I'm looking forward to going back there, but with the Bureau of Immigration's new look and feel, at least I no longer dread it.

10 comments:

Christopher Salazar said...

I've been reading all of your posts, and I find them very insightful for living in the Philippines.

I am considering moving to the Philippines several years from now; it is mainly to try a business venture with my father and to be with my family there. I visited several months ago for the first time since childhood, and I absolutely loved it. I was there for a couple of months; I wish I could have stayed longer, but due to my schedule it wasn't possible. I want to at least in the future live there for a longer period of time.

Anyway, I am just blabbing on. I just wanted to say that I enjoy your posts and I am looking forward to more of writing.

-A fan

Secular Guy said...

Christopher,

Thanks for your kind words. I hope that you're able to start your business with your dad and join your family here sooner than later.

As you may many Filipinos who leave the country in their early years wind up coming back home when they retire. The condominium industry here in Eastwood City has many such units that are now or will be occupied by these folks.

Christopher Salazar said...

That is very good to know. Currently, I am working on finishing my undergrad and then possibly pursing on getting my MBA. The GI Bill is covering my education, so I might as well try to get as much as I can. After that it is up in the air; I will either jump right in with my father, or play the safe route and pick up a career here in the states for retirement. I know my unit is really trying to push me to go the Officer route in the Army, but I am not thoroughly convinced to want to commit that much more time with the military.

It is a great thing that there are blogs such as yours to give me perspective, since living there would be a complete lifestyle change. I want to make sure I have the knowledge of what I am getting myself into; it is daunting and exciting all at the same time. It helps that I am full blooded Filipino and that I understand the language (although it is fairly difficult for me to speak Tagalog.)

Thank you for responding back to me. Again, I am a great fan of your writing; any advice that you give is greatly appreciated.

-Chris

Secular Guy said...

Christopher,

As for advice, I agree that getting your college diploma is is essential. If you decide to got for an advanced degree, also consider other fields such as the social sciences and education (Sorry, my academic bias is showing. lol).

It sounds as though you have a good head on shoulders. Whichever career choice that you make, I know that you will give it due consideration first. If and when you migrate to the Philippines, I hope that this place will have cleaned up its act by then and that it will recognize whatever contributions that you make.

And thanks again for your support for my site. You made my day.

Anonymous said...

Hello Rick,

It was nice to read your experience with your and your wife's I-Card. We must already have a newer version of the I-Card, as it stipulates the expery date, thank God for this, yes?

We just recenly also went to the BI in Intramuros for our annual reporting. As you wrote, you went to a satelite office of BI in Makati, this we will try next year, for sure.

Yes, the inside and outside of the BI in Intramuros has had a facelift, but it's still very disorganized inside. Not enough seats and space for all the people that occupy the building every day there. Still many line-ups all the time. An very slow employees at the desks, but how would you feel after working there for a day, all that noice and disorganization.

We never like going there, but we have a car (unlike you and your wife), you guys have to settle with the taxi or MRT, and luckily, this time, you were not robbed there (even from a taxi driver) :).

We had to get a little number (right away) at the BI - Intramuros and then were standing in line (max 2 people in front) for about 3 minutes. The lady there put the I-Card in a slot for identification and was able to print out a paper slip for us to go and pay. This was then a longer line-up for about 10 minutes and then, it was finaleeee, we were out. So, all in all, 15 minutes.

But for getting a new I-Card, this may indeed take longer, we experienced this, too. Also, getting a Entrance Clearance for a year is already troublesome, as you will then have to wait with the massa people who go from one window to the other.

Everything is again quiet for one year.

Ralph

Secular Guy said...

Hi Ralph,

Thanks for sharing your BI experience.

I was so relieved with the (relative)improvements at the BI compared to my previous trip there, that I was "tolerant" (but not that much) of the lines, etc. BTW what time did you arrive there?

As for not getting robbed by the taxi driver, that's a matter of opinion (lol).

I'm not aware of the need for an entrance clearance. Maybe that approval is required for a different type of visa is required with a different kind of visa than the 13g that my wife has.

In re the satellite office in Makati, if you arrive there around 7:15 a.m. you will likely beat the crowd. Sometimes the cashier hasn't even arrived yet.

Kano said...

Hello Rick,

We arrived there at about 11am, and we were served quite fast, but we did not have to go into the massa of people in the main BI hall on your right side where everyone is requesting for something else, but we only had to venture straight ahead of the main doors at the BI.

We also have a 13G I-Card, and still need to pay a yearly Entrance Permit Fee when we need to fly back into Manila after a trip abroad. If you have been told otherwise that this is not to be paid with a 13G visa on your I-Card, just let me know, so I can clarify with the authorities there at BI when it comes again that far that we will travel abroad.

Ralph

Secular Guy said...

I know the area that you're referring to at the BI. It's good that there's that special section set aside for annual reports only. As I recall that started about 3 years ago.

As for the entrance permit fee, Lydia and I were not hit with such an assessment last year when we returned from abroad on our first trip out of the country since we've been here. BUT we each had to pay an exit fee when we left. Either way, Immigration nails us residents coming or going.

Kano said...

The Entrance Permit Fee is a heavier hit, about P4,500 per head, but only once per year. So, if you travel every month out of the country, you usually need to pay the Exit Fee only, and that is about 1,670 pesos plus the never ending 500 pesos for EXPRESS LANE FEE, that DOES NOT exist anymore, either at the airport or at the BI. Who are they kidding, again. Old customs die not so fast here.

So, when the anniversary date comes that you need to travel again abroad, you will have to pay the Entrance Permit Fee again, and that is yearly.

Well, I am a little of topic here, as this was once touched on an earlier subject from you in your Blog list.

Regards,
Ralph

Secular Guy said...

Ralph,

Don't worry about being off-topic. You've provided some important information here. I don't know how Lydia and I dodged the EPF, but if on the slim chance that we travel abroad again, we'll be ready if we're assessed.

Right on about the "express lane fee". That's a highway to nowhere.