Foreigners already in PH won't be forced to leave despite visa suspension policy, DFA clarifies

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The agency adds the temporary suspension of the visa-free privilege of foreign nationals will take effect on March 22, as the government gives leeway to international visitors already en route to the Philippines. (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 20)— Foreign nationals currently in the Philippines will not be forced to flee the country despite the government's directive to cancel existing visas, the Foreign Affairs Department said.

In an advisory Thursday night, DFA clarified that the newly-signed visa suspension policy "has no impact on foreign nationals that are already in the country or on holders of visas issued by other government agencies."

"Those foreigners currently in the country are allowed to stay until they depart. The BI (Bureau of Immigration) is currently addressing issues like expiring visas based on their directives," the department said in a message.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro “Teddyboy” Locsin Jr. revealed Thursday that all Philippine embassies and consulates will temporarily stop issuing visas to all foreign nationals— and that all previously approved entry documents are "deemed cancelled." Visas of foreign spouses and children of Filipino nations, however, will remain valid.

READ: Philippines suspends visa issuance as worldwide COVID-19 cases soar – Locsin

Apart from the issuance suspension, the newly-signed directive will also temporarily halt foreigners' visa-free privileges.

DFA, however, said this provision will only take effect starting Sunday, with the government giving leeway to international visitors already en route to the Philippines.

"The gap may be explained by the fact that there may be people currently traveling based on the visa-free arrangements who have yet to arrive," Foreign Assistant Secretary Ed Menez said in a message. "The gap will allow those en route to still enter subject to other BI and DOH/BOQ (Department of Health/Bureau of Quarantine) requirements."

Currently, nationals of over a hundred countries— including African, European, and South American nations— enjoy visa-free entry to the Philippines.

Locsin earlier said the DFA may "consider" the temporary visa suspension— at least for the month-long quarantine period in Luzon, where the country's main airport is located. The new order, however, did not mention a specific timeline for the policy's effectivity.

Tourism Secretary Berna Romulo-Puyat meanwhile said the specifics of the directive will still be discussed in Friday's inter-agency task force meeting.

The rapid rise of COVID-19 cases worldwide has also prompted the government to impose travel restrictions on visitors coming from Hong Kong, Macau and South Korea's North Gyeongsang province. The visa upon arrival scheme for Chinese nationals has also been temporarily stopped by the Immigration.

Globally, COVID-19 has infected over 240,000 individuals in 160 different countries including China, where the mysterious virus first spread. The Philippines has meanwhile recorded 217 confirmed cases of the infectious disease, including 17 fatalities.

CNN Philippines' Alyssa Rola and Tristan Nodalo contributed to this report.