The Bureau of Immigration will reopen e-gates in all international airports in the country in time for the Christmas holiday break when an influx of international travelers is anticipated.
BI Commissioner Jaime Morente said he wanted the electronic gates revived to assure returning Filipinos of faster immigration processing, saying the e-gates cut the processing time for passengers “from the present 45 seconds to just eight seconds.”
Launched in August 2018, the BI’s e-gates were in operation until March last year when the COVID-19 pandemic prompted the bureau to suspend the scheme.
The suspension was prompted by fears of possible exposure to COVID-19 by passengers whenever they have their fingers biometrically scanned by machines when passing the e-gates.
Frontline personnel have been disallowed from filing vacation leaves during the holiday season.
Additional immigration officers have also been hired to augment manpower, and a rapid response team—officers deployed in back-end offices—was activated to serve as added manpower should the need arise.
Morente expressed optimism in increased arrivals for the holiday season despite the travel restrictions implemented due to the Omicron variant of COVID-19.
“We see that domestic travel is, little by little, bouncing back, and we see the same coming soon for the international travel sector,” Morente said.
During the first day of the month, 85 percent of arrivals were Filipinos returning for the holidays.
“Of the more than 6,000 arrivals during the first day of December, the majority are Filipinos. While the numbers remain relatively low, we expect it to slowly rise as we near Christmas and New Year,” he added.
In December last year, only around 152,000 passengers entered the country.
Meanwhile, the presidential adviser for entrepreneurship, Joey Concepcion, appealed to the government to revert the mandatory quarantine in accredited facilities or hotels to three days as many overseas Filipinos plan to spend their Christmas back home.
Amid the threat of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, the government extended the mandatory quarantine in accredited facilities or hotels for inbound travelers to five days for vaccinated ones, and seven days for unvaccinated visitors.
“Our kababayans should spend Christmas at home, not in a foreign land and definitely not at a quarantine facility,” Concepcion said in a statement Monday.
“I personally think the risk is low since we will require PCR tests to be done 72 hours before departure and then again upon arrival, and then three days stay in quarantine. This should be time enough; in all, it will be a total of six days already,” he added.
Also on Monday, the US embassy said the United States will now require one-day COVID-19 testing for incoming travelers regardless of their vaccination status or nationality.
Travelers must give their negative results to the airline before they board their flight, the embassy said.
If the traveler has recovered from COVID-19, they must instead travel with documentation of recovery from COVID-19.
This documentation includes their positive COVID-19 viral test result on a sample taken no more than 90 days before the flight’s departure from a foreign country and a letter from a licensed healthcare provider or a public health official stating that you were cleared to travel.
The stricter test requirement for travelers came after that the Omicron variant was detected in 15 states.