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China's tourists are "illegal workers," according to a Senate panel



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ALARMADO Senator Joel Villanueva pressures for tougher regulations for foreign workers. -JAN BONDOC

ALARMADO Senator Joel Villanueva pressures for tougher regulations for foreign workers. -JAN BONDOC

Tens of thousands of mainland Chinese have been entering the Philippines as tourists before obtaining special short-term permits to work in online gaming operations, according to a Senate panel.

In a Senate Labor Commission hearing, Senator Joel Villanueva expressed alarm and outrage after the immigration and labor authorities admitted that more than 119,000 "tourists," most of them from mainland China, were able to evade labor regulations. obtain temporary employment in the country.

These holders of tourist visas technically remain tourists even during the three to six months of their work assignment in the country.

Therefore, your employers do not need to prove that locals can not do the work, which is the usual policy for foreign workers.

"Theft" jobs

"It's very clear." Chinese citizens have been stealing our jobs, taking away our homes and stealing opportunities from Filipinos, "said Villanueva.

He called for strict regulation of foreign workers in the country.

The Senate panel is studying the proliferation of alleged illegal workers from China, whose number has increased in Metro Manila to a point that does not match the official employment numbers of the Department of Labor and Employment (Dole).

Dole's figures show that since 2015, about 116,000 foreigners have received a foreign employment permit (AEP), which allows them to work legally in the Philippines.

Dole will issue an AEP only if there is no Filipino willing or competent enough to do the work offered to a foreigner.

Requirement for the visa

The permit is one of the main requirements for the issuance of a work visa for foreigners, but officials recognize that virtually all AEP holders have been able to obtain work visas.

Chinese citizens represent the majority of foreign workers who own AEP, totaling almost 52,000, or approximately 45 percent of the total, who work mainly in manufacturing, information and communications, and administrative and support services.

But the undersecretary of labor, Ciriaco Lagunzad III, told the Senate committee that there was another way in which the Chinese could get a job, even without an AEP, by obtaining special work permits from the Immigration Office.

"This is beyond the AEP … because it is destined for short-term assignments for six months … or three months that can be extended for another three months," he said.

Lagunzad explained that the status of these permit holders was still tourists. "Is it covered by an AEP? The answer is no," he said.

He said there were more than 119,000 such permits issued by the immigration office from 2017 to 2018. But the actual number could be higher, considering that approximately 1.6 million tourist visas were issued to Chinese citizens in 2018 only by the Department. of Foreign Affairs, and Only 18 pre-employment visas.

Massive presence in the metro.

Villanueva also described the anecdotal evidence of China's massive presence in the main real estate developments in Metro Manila, especially in the south.

The demand for offices and homes by Chinese workers has boosted the real estate market in Metro Manila, increasing rents in many condo buildings.

Reports of the undisciplined behavior of these workers in residential buildings have also increased.

"There's definitely more than the official numbers," said Villanueva.

Homer Arellano, head of the Processing and Legal Assistance Section of the immigration office, said that special work permits were generally granted to foreign basketball players to play in the local league and to international artists who offered a concert.

Offshore gaming operators

But when Villanueva noted that there could not be 119,000 such workers, Arellano said: "Most of them are Chinese and work in firms run by Pogos (Philippine offshore gaming operators)."

To which Senator Grace Poe reacted: "Should not that be a red flag for us? They should not enter here on false pretexts."

Poe also wondered if the immigration authorities had kept a record of the background of these permit holders and if they had a criminal record in their countries of origin.

Mandarin

Arellano said that one factor that put Filipinos at a disadvantage with the Chinese for this type of work was the lack of fluency to speak Mandarin.

This led Poe to retort that the Filipinos could be hired as substitutes to learn from the Chinese in the works of Pogo.

Villanueva went on to suggest that the language skills training of Tesda (Technical Education and Skills Development Authority) should focus on teaching Mandarin to Filipinos.

Speaking to reporters after the hearing, Villanueva said it was not his intention to spread anti-Chinese sentiment, but only to make sure that Filipino jobs were protected.

"It's unfortunate, but we're not trying to point out any nationality, but we're talking about illegal workers stealing jobs from Filipinos," he said.

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