Senators want crackdown vs illegal Chinese workers

MANILA, Philippines – Policy gaps and discrepancies in numbers were enough red flags for a Senate panel to recommend a crackdown on illegal Chinese workers, especially in the online gambling industry.

During the hearing of the Senate committee on labor, employment, and human resources on Monday, November 26, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) admitted that Chinese enter the Philippines using tourist visas, but process work documents during their stay. (READ: Drilon questions DOLE statistics on foreigners working in PH)

DOLE also said it issued almost 52,000 alien employment permits (AEPs) for Chinese workers – a figure which Senator Joel Villanueva, the panel's chairperson, finds much less than what he observed in business districts like Makati City or the Bay Area in Pasay City. (READ: How China's online gambling addiction is reshaping Manila)

It was also raised in the Senate hearing that the Bureau of Immigration (BI) can issue special employment visas for foreign workers, without the need for AEPs. The agency issued some 119,000 special visas in 2018.

Villanueva said the BI is not the appropriate agency to assess whether foreigners can be employed in the Philippines.

"Hindi nag-uusap ang ating mga ahensya para protektahan ang ating kababayan at para gawin ang responsibility bilang agencies of the government," the senator said.

(The agencies are not coordinating with each other to protect Filipinos and are not fulfilling their responsibilities as agencies of the government.)

Due to the mounting concerns, Villanueva urged DOLE, the BI, and the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor) to conduct surprise visits at online gaming companies and thoroughly check the documents of Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs).

Labor Undersecretary Ciriaco Lagunzad III defended DOLE, saying that 99.8% of foreign workers in the country possess legal papers.

Jobs and real estate bubble

Senator Grace Poe disagreed with DOLE and insisted that many foreigners are able to skirt the law using tourist visas. This, she said, results in fewer jobs for Filipinos.

Poe added that she received reports that the Chinese are also doing construction work, a task that Filipinos can also do.

"Obviously niloloko lang tayo. Sabi nila turista sila, 'yun pala may balak naman pala sila ditong magtrabaho. Sa umpisa pa lang dapat tinitigil na natin 'yun. Kung turista ka tapos humingi ka ng work permit para mag-extend, 'wag na nating payagan 'yun," Poe said.

(Obviously they're fooling us. They say they're tourists, but they want to work here. We should stop the practice of workers coming in as tourists then asking for work permits to extend.)

Poe also warned that the dependence of the real estate sector on the Chinese influx may have negative consequences.

"Nakakatakot rin ito dahil kung sabay-sabay silang nawala ay malulugi rin mismo ang mga may-ari nitong pasilidad nito," she added.

(This is alarming because if they all leave, the owners of the facilities would lose money.) – Rappler.com

Ralf Rivas

A sociologist by heart, a journalist by profession. Ralf is Rappler's business reporter, covering macroeconomy, government finance, companies, and agriculture.

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