House OKs Bureau of Immigration modernization bill

The House of Representatives has approved on second reading the proposed new legislation that would enable the Bureau of Immigration (BI) to embark on an aggressive plan to modernize its systems and professionalize its staff.

The House approved without any objections House Bill No. 8203, or the proposed BI Modernization Act, which was among the priority measures earlier adopted by the Legislative Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC).

“We are counting on the full automation and digitization of the BI’s processes and services to reinforce border security and improve travel experience,” House Minority Leader Marcelino “Nonoy” Libanan, one of the bill’s principal authors, said.

Libanan originally introduced the BI modernization bill in 2004, when he was representative of the lone district of Eastern Samar in Congress. He refiled the bill last year upon his election as 4Ps party-list representative.

The bill authorizes the BI to retain in a trust fund “no more than P1.2 billion” of its annual income from fees, fines, and penalties.

The money would then be used to bankroll the BI’s information technology (IT) projects, among other modernization plans, and to build up the capabilities of immigration officers.

Under the bill, the salary grades assigned to junior immigration officers would also be bumped up by two notches to allow the BI to attract qualified staff.

At present, due to low pay, 742 of the BI’s 2,795 authorized permanent positions remain unfilled, translating to a 26 percent vacancy rate.

Attached to the Department of Justice, the BI enforces the country’s immigration, citizenship, and alien admission and registration laws.

Libanan served as BI Commissioner for three years during the Arroyo administration.

The reforms that Libanan introduced during his stint at the BI became the subject of an Asian Institute of Management (AIM) graduate program case study, entitled “Transforming the Bureau of Immigration.”

The study recognized Libanan’s innovations at the BI that “resulted to unprecedented revenue collection, enhancement of the country’s climate for investment and employment generation, improved service due to procedures simplification and systems computerization and capability enhancement and moral transformation of BI personnel.”