DOLE, BI admit Chinese laborers spotted at Manila construction site working illegally

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 4) — The Labor department and the Immigration bureau admitted that some Chinese laborers spotted at a construction site in Manila are working illegally, only possessing special working permits which do not allow them to do construction work.

"For this particular incident, we were able to find that some of them are actually construction workers, but they are not holders of alien employment permits (AEP)," Labor Assistant Secretary Benjo Benavidez told CNN Philippines' The Source on Thursday. "What we found out is that they are workers of special working permit (SWP)."

An AEP allows foreigners to work in the Philippines from one to three years, while an SWP allows them to work here for three to six months. However, both permits would not allow them to work as construction workers.

"According to our guidelines for the issuance of permits, manual labor and other kinds of blue collar work are not allowed," Immigration bureau spokesperson Dana Sandoval told The Source.

The Immigration department's supplemental guidelines for SWP and provisional work permit state that special and provisional work permits will not be granted to foreigners who are seeking work as construction workers, cashiers, waiters, janitors, household help, carpenters, garbage collectors, security guards, warehouse caretakers and other jobs involving manual non-technical labor.

Foreigners who are seeking to work in a profession regulated by the Professional Regulation Commission would also not be granted special work permits, unless the regulatory body issues them a special temporary permit.

Easier to get SWPs

The Labor department said it has referred the case to the Immigration bureau, which said that it is still looking into the case, particularly on why the Chinese workers were issued SWPs in the first place.

Sandoval said it is possible that the workers "misrepresented" themselves. This act and their violation of the Philippines' labor and immigration laws may get them deported and blacklisted, she said.

Despite already flagging a violation, the Labor department admits that it can only impose a ₱10,000 fine as the power to arrest and deport illegal foreign workers rest on the Immigration bureau.

Chinese envoy to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua called on Philippine officials to deal with illegal Chinese workers "professionally" and "humanely," saying their "humanitarian needs" should also be considered, just like what China is doing to illegal Filipino workers there.

SWPs have been blamed for the apparent influx of Chinese workers in the Philippines, with some senators wanting to strip the Immigration bureau the power to issue these permits.

Benavidez explained that this power of the Immigration bureau stemmed from a 2005 memorandum that allowed it to issue work permits for foreigners who intend to work in the Philippines for less than six months.

But the requirements for an SWP are less stringent than what is needed for an AEP. For one, there is no need for foreign workers to have their application published to get an SWP, but this is needed to obtain an AEP. SWPs can be issued in just three days.

Application fees for SWPs are also cheaper compared to AEPs.

Benavidez said the Labor department is already reviewing its guidelines on the issuance of AEPs and is coming up with new guidelines on the issuance of SWPs with the Immigration department.

The Labor department said it will issue new guidelines for foreign workers soon.