POSTSCRIPT / April 14, 2002 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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BIR e-filing system isn’t quite ready yet

SCHEME NEEDS POLISHING: Ooops! Some income taxpayers who want to file and pay electronically through the Internet may not be able to do it yet. The Bureau of Internal Revenue has revised the rules and is still refining the system.

We asked in April last year how come the age of electronic-filing of income tax returns (ITR) had not dawned on this country when a big sector of the civilized world wired to the Internet has been routinely using such a system already.

Internal revenue officials assured us then that they had been working on it and that e-filing (electronic filing) would be workable before this year’s April 15 ITR-filing deadline. That’s tomorrow.

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PRIORITY TO LARGE FIRMS: We learned yesterday from Aida S. Simborio, chief of the BIR’s taxpayer assistance service, that 459 large firms have enrolled or registered for e-filing and that some BIR personnel have similarly enrolled for the system.

If you have the time, try enrolling or checking how the system works. Go to the BIR website www.bir.gov.ph and click the link for filing and paying electronically. You will be presented a form to fill out and submit electronically. Go ahead. The BIR will deal with you in confidence using a username and password that you alone know.

The few lucky ones who are able to e-file their ITRs will still have to deal with authorized banks for paying the tax due. Despite the pay-as-you-file rule, the system has no provision yet for your electronically paying the BIR directly.

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BUSINESSMEN WARY?: We also learned yesterday that many large firms enrolled for e-filing may not be able to file their ITRs by tomorrow’s deadline since BIR Form 1702 for corporations and partnerships has not been uploaded on the BIR website. These large payers may have to do it manually as before.

Revenue Regulations 2-2002 issued last March by Finance Secretary Jose Isidro N. Camacho on recommendation of BIR Commissioner Rene G. Banez make e-filing mandatory for firms classified by the BIR as “large” and meeting certain criteria.

If your firm is large (as in Top 1000) but is not yet enrolled, better check as you may be violating a law by not registering as required by regulations.

In addition to these large firms, the BIR has selected 200 “non-large” companies for optional e-filing starting July 1. Like other e-payers, they will have to enroll first through the BIR website. Responsible company officials specified by law will sign electronically for their firms.

Some businessmen have told us that despite the convenience of e-filing, they are wary of it. It is not easy fooling around with a computer. Once submitted, data of the firm are locked in and it will be difficult tampering with them. Data are gathered periodically and analyzed by computers bereft of the “human frailties” that revenue officers may be heir to, if you know what we mean.

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INNOVATION EASES CROWDING: The rest of us taxpayers not classified as “large” or grouped with the 200 “non-large” firms will have to wait till the rules and the system are ready. The only individuals we know who are e-filing their income tax return are some BIR personnel included in the test first wave of e-payers.

An innovation this year that has reduced the number of last-minute filers is the option not to file one’s ITR if he has only one employer, receives income only from one source and the tax withheld is equal to the tax due (meaning no tax to pay).

But if these exempted filers need an ITR for some transaction (such as when applying for a bank loan or a foreign visa), they can get a certification from their employer. They can also choose to manually file their returns so they can have a hard copy stamped “received.”

Until late last week, one of the common complaints of taxpayers was the refusal of some banks to accept ITRs if no payment was being made. Some banks required taxpayers to first open an account with them before entertaining them.

Some BIR officials want such complaints filed so sanctions can be imposed on the uncooperative banks. Banks actually make money on payments made through them by holding the funds for some time before forwarding them to the BIR.

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STUDENTS TARGETED: Still tightening the cordon keeping out unwanted aliens, the US Immigration and Naturalization Service is poised to change the rules governing visas issued to business visitors (B1) and tourists (B2) entering the US.

The focus this time is on aliens entering the US on B1/B2 visas and later converting their status to student. The new rule prohibits holders of B1/B2 visas from enrolling in an American school even before receiving INS approval of their request to change status to that of an F (academic) or an M (vocational) student.

Non-immigrant visitors who are already enrolled in the US (but are still applying for change of status) when the rule is published and made effective are not covered. For new applicants for change of status, the INS plans to speed up the processing to 30 days.

The rule will replace the current minimum six-month admission period for B2 visitors for pleasure with “a period of time that is fair and reasonable for the completion of the purpose of the visit.”

When B visa holders apply for entry, they will be required to explain to the immigration inspector the nature of their visit so the officer can determine the proper length of stay. The burden of proof rests with the alien. If the visitor cannot justify a longer stay, the INS will grant a 30-day period of admission, not the usual six months.

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STRICTER SCREENING: The INS will be stricter in granting extension of stay, and will reduce the maximum period that can be granted.

Extensions will be allowed only for “unexpected or compelling humanitarian reasons,” such as medical treatment or a delay in wrapping up some business. The alien must prove he or his hosts have enough money to finance his extended stay and that he/she is maintaining a residency abroad.

The rule also reduces the maximum extension that can be granted from one year to six months.

Individuals planning to study in the US normally obtain their student visas before entering the US, but there have been many cases where they change to student status when they are already there.

Under the new rule, persons admitted on B visas will still be able to change to student status, but only if they stated their intent to study in the US when they initially applied for admission and presented any I-20 forms they may have been issued. Immigration inspectors will note on the alien’s I-94 form (Arrival/Departure Record) that he/she is a prospective student.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of April 14, 2002)

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