Movement of the people

A GREAT BRITISH VIEW - Asif Ahmad - The Philippine Star

The accepted view of anthropologists traces the movement of people out of Africa to the rest of the world. Migration is a powerful natural human instinct which has been curbed and controlled ever since we became territorial settlers and nation states. Today, immigration controls are a reality with consequences for individuals, their families and livelihoods.

In 1579, Sir Francis Drake sighted the Philippines but he was not tempted to settle here. In fact, the first migrants of British origin were the soldiers who defied the order to return to British India after the brief two- year sojourn in Manila in 1762. To this day, there are people living in Cainta, Rizal, who can trace their roots to British history. From the 1840s, the sugar and spice trade brought the first wave of British businessmen who made the Philippines their home. Today, some 17,000 immigrants from Great Britain have settled here, with communities spread throughout the islands. Having heard that it is more fun in the Philippines, 150,000 Britons visit as tourists each year, the largest contingent from the EU.

The decision by Britons to migrate should not be made lightly. What may look like a sensible move when earnings, health and family circumstances are good can turn into a nightmare, particularly for the elderly. A house on a hill in Bohol may offer a great view but it can also become inaccessible by wheel chair. Failure to integrate, speak the local language or adapt to local custom can create pockets of isolated foreign communities or loneliness. In rare but not unknown situations, our citizens can be victims of hostility or crime.

The first rule for an immigrant is to obey the rules. 99% of Britons who come to the British embassy in Manila for help are in the country illegally. They enter the country as tourists and then stay on. The strategy of staying below the radar unravels when illness, shortage of funds or a compelling need to travel arises. The Bureau of Immigration and the NBI work together to enforce the rules and apply appropriate penalties. Whilst improvements in processes are always welcome, it is the sovereign right of every country to set its own rules. Detention centres in many parts of the world, not just in the Philippines, can be a very unpleasant experience. Our advice is that it is always better to regularise immigration status than to risk financial and physical difficulties.

In the UK, there is no excuse for breaking the law. So there is no basis for immigrants seeking exemption in the Philippines. Land ownership, certain types of business and carrying firearms are restricted or prohibited for foreigners in the Philippines. Workarounds are risky and can lead, at the very least to loss of money and at worst, imprisonment.

With more than 250,000 Filipinos living in the UK and an ever increasing number of tourists and students, we are familiar with the positive contribution they make to our country and also some of the challenges. Almost 90% of visit visa applications are successful. Those who take the risk of becoming‘TNT’ over-stayers are vulnerable to trafficking and are living on borrowed time.

We have set out five easy steps to a UK Visa. The first is to check if you need one. The next step is to go online and make the application. The third is to take all relevant documentation for the appointment. We then let you have the decision and return your passport and papers to you to collect or sent by courier. The final step is the journey itself and presenting your passport and visa to immigration in the UK whose role is to check that the purpose of the visit matches the category of visa granted to you. We have optional, fee based, services that can expedite decision making and offer applicants choices on when they can come for their appointment. All are afforded the comfort of a modern facility. No one has to wait outside in the heat and rain.

Governments can create the rules and terms under which movement of people take place. They can take steps to make the measures effective. More fundamentally, migration is about people and their attitudes. Those who plan ahead and adapt, thrive. The UK remains open to tourists from the Philippines. We want more students to choose our great universities for further study.

Both the UK and the Philippines want people to abide by the rules that apply to visitors and long term settlers.

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(Asif Ahmad is the British Ambassador to the Philippines.)

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