Don’t be surprised to hear immigration officers at the airport chatting with Chinese passengers in Mandarin.
The Bureau of Immigration (BI) will let its officers learn basic Mandarin to help them communicate clearer with Chinese travelers visiting the Philippines.
The agency has partnered with the University of the Philippines-Diliman, which will provide professors who will teach the language to more than 50 immigration officers.
“We hope to address the language barrier by teaching our immigration officers the basics of conversational Chinese,” said Grifton Medina, the BI’s personnel section chief.
Foreigners may be excluded or not allowed from entering the country if they cannot satisfactorily answer questions such as one’s travel itinerary, the intended length of stay, and purpose of travel.
They may also be barred from entering the Philippines if they are deemed undesirable aliens and would end up as a public charge or a burden to the state.
But Chinese tourists, though ranking second in the BI’s records of tourist arrivals, face the problem of language barrier as some Chinese visitors do not speak or understand English.
“They only speak Chinese. So when we ask them the purpose of their travel and other questions, there’s a misunderstanding with our immigration officers. We want to address that,” Medina said.
The BI tried to address this issue in 2016 by hiring 12 Chinese-speaking interpreters. However, Medina said this would not be enough since the interpreters would be working 24/7.
“It’s better for the immigration officers to be equipped in Mandarin so they could communicate better with our Chinese nationals,” he said.
He recalled instances of Chinese tourists who were excluded due to their failure to answer the immigration officer’s questions satisfactorily because of the language barrier.
They would later return to the Philippines with complete documents in tow to prove the legality of their travel to the country.
“We want to prevent these instances of misunderstanding due to the language barrier,” Medina stressed.
The BI signed a memorandum of agreement with UP officials in October, with the training of around 50 immigration officers to begin in January.
Immigration officers will be taught how to speak conversational Mandarin, and how to ask question pertaining to immigration formalities.
First to undergo the training are the immigration officers assigned at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport. Immigration officers from other international airports across the country would undergo the same training later on.
Medina added that a basic Mandarin course will be also included in the curriculum of the Philippine Immigration Academy, which trains the BI’s new recruits.
The BI is also considering the possibility of teaching their immigration officers other languages such as Korean and Japanese, since there are many Japanese and Korean tourists visiting the country.
“If the Mandarin lessons are a success, we may consider teaching them other languages that our immigration officers need in communicating with our passengers,” Medina said. /kga