By Ferdinand Patinio

BI spokesperson Dana Sandoval (File photo)

MANILA – The Inter-Agency Committee on Foreign Students (IACFS) has agreed to look into the security implications of providing student visas to foreigners amid a reported influx of Chinese students in Cagayan province, an official of the Bureau of Immigration (BI) said Tuesday.

In a phone interview, BI spokesperson Dana Sandoval said the committee, however, did not find any discrepancies in the process of visa issuance during its meeting on Monday.

“But we agreed na tingnan pa din ang security aspect of it (We still agree to look into the security aspect of it). Of course, they could have all the complete documents pero ‘yun ni-raise na national concern (but the national concern) on sleeper cells, that would be under the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA) already. But in terms of visa issue, wala naman nakikita na kakaiba (we did not find anything strange),” she said.

Sleeper cells are agents of a foreign country or organization on standby to conduct infiltration and intervention activities in another country or area.

“Kami naman (As for us) if they request data for them to work on it, we would gladly share the data as part of the inter-agency effort,” Sandoval said.

Created under Executive Order 285 signed by former president Joseph Estrada, the IACFS is chaired by the Commission on Higher Education (CHED), with the BI, NBI, NICA, Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), and Department of Education (DepEd) as members.

In a Bagong Pilipinas Ngayon briefing, Sandoval said the role of each agency in processing student visas and the need for the NBI and NICA’s security assessment on the procedure was discussed during the meeting.

She said the increasing number of Chinese students in the country was also tackled.

“For Chinese nationals in 2023, more than 16,000 student visas were issued. Ito ay naka-distribute (They are distributed) in several areas in the country, karamihan sa kanila, nasa (most of them are in the) National Capital Region and other areas like Cagayan and meron small number of distributions in all areas in the Philippines,” she added.

She said these Chinese nationals are among the 24,000 foreign students who were issued student visas, the remainder of whom are Indians, Nigerians, South Koreans, and Americans, among others.

Visa process

Sandoval said there are two ways for a foreigner to secure a student visa.

The first option is to secure it from the nearest Philippine embassy or consulate where applicants will be required to submit documents.

Meanwhile, another option is for foreigners with a tourist visa to have this converted into a student visa with the endorsement of the school where they intend to enroll.

Sandoval said these schools must be accredited by the CHED and the BI.

“Itong students na ito ay pini-petisyon ng paaralan sa (The students are petitioned by their schools to the) BI to get their visa and once all the documentation has been finalized already, tsaka papatawag ang student para sa kanyang biometrics (the students would be called for biometrics registration),” she said. (PNA)