'Upward trend' in Chinese workers in PH – Labor Department

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 26) — The Labor Department on Monday confirmed there is an influx of foreign tourists — particularly Chinese nationals — who ended up as workers in the country.

It was revealed during the first Senate committee hearing on the influx of foreign workers that the government has issued 115,652 Alien Employment Permits (AEPs) to foreigners from 2015 to 2017. Of the total, 51,000 permits were issued to Chinese nationals. Some 2,000 Chinese were also given jobs in construction in the past three years.

The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) said 21,320 AEPs were issued within the first three months of 2018.

"There is indeed an upward trend," DOLE Undersecretary Ciriaco Lagunzad noted.

Under the Labor Code, an AEP can only be issued to foreign workers if there are no interested or competent Filipinos to perform the job. DOLE said the permit can only be issued for jobs that require a highly-specialized technical, supervisorial, and managerial work. Once a foreigner secures the permit, the Bureau of Immigration (BI) and Department of Justice can give that foreigner a working visa. But the BI revealed it also issued special working permits even without AEP from DOLE.

The Immigration Bureau said only 20,000 foreigners were given working visas from 2017 to 2018.

Senate Committee on Labor Chairperson Joel Villanueva, however, questioned the process of issuing the work permits. He noted that the flood of Chinese workers in the country is disproportionate to the number of permits issued.

"Glaring na ang record, ang konti ng inissue na AEPs, pero it's clear bumabaha ng illegal workers," he said.

The senator also questioned the 1.6 million tourist visas given to Chinese nationals this year. DOLE said most of those tourists later applied for work permits.

"A lot come in as tourists then later on convert their visas for work," Lagunzad said.

Senator Grace Poe warned DOLE and the BI against issuing extensions for those who are in the country though a limited tourist visa.

"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 'yon. Kung turista ka tapos humingi ka ng work permit para mag-extend, wag na nating payagan 'yon. At marami sa kanila wala talagang lehitimong work permit pagpasok dito," she said.

She said aside from the 115,000 AEPs, 119,000 have been given special working permits, most of whom are working as Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs), excluding illegal workers. The senators also said they will probe the liability of involved agencies in the rising number of Chinese workers.

Chinese arrivals in PH.jpg

Villanueva said the Senate inquiry hopes to shed light on the alarming increase in foreign workers who take residency in the country and get jobs that should go to Filipinos. He added, they seek to amend the Labor Code to compel employers to ensure their workforce would be composed of at least 80 percent Filipino workers.

Poe said there will be a crackdown against illegal workers in the country, adding some senators volunteered to personally check the workers' permits. She added the high number of Chinese workers buying condominium units, particularly in the south of Metro Manila, is causing rent to rocket.

"Nagkakaroon ng superficial market conditions. Ibig sabihin nakadepende sa  iisang partikular na grupo dahil sa dami nila; nakakabili sila ng floor by floor, natural nagmamahal, may demand dito. Ang nangyayari, ang ating mga kababayan, na ang kinikita ay sapat lamang, hindi nakakapag kumpetensiya dahil tumataas ang value ng lupa at ng presyo ng mga condominiums at presyo ng mga renta dahil sa kanila," she said.