Senator Joel Villanueva has pushed for the inclusion of a special provision that requires the Bureau of Immigration (BI) to coordinate with the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) before it issues special working permits to foreigners who intend to work in the Philippines for less than six months.
According to Villanueva, this is consistent with Article 12, Section 12 of the Constitution which accords preferential use of Filipino labor.
During the interpellation of the BI’s budget on Wednesday afternoon, Villanueva questioned the bureau’s authority to issue permits to foreign workers, explaining that the agency lacked the technical capability to vet the entry of foreign workers.
“Only the DOLE has the capability to assess whether foreigners seeking to work in the Philippines could be allowed to do so,” Villanueva said in a statement. “Clearly, the BI went a step too far in issuing its special working permits.”
The senator explained that while he understood the necessity of the permit, which is normally issued to artists holding concerts, and basketball imports, it appeared that the bureau haphazardly released these to workers whose jobs can be done by the Filipino labor force.
Citing statistics from the BI, the bureau issued 185,009 special working permits from January to November 2018, a stark contrast from the 115,652 alien employment permits (AEP) issued by the DOLE from 2015-2017.
DOLE issues AEPs to foreigners who take on jobs that require a higher level of expertise which are currently unavailable in the local labor market.
Villanueva pointed out that BI data showed special working permits were issued to foreigners whose roles can easily be filled by Filipino workers.
“Meron pong nabibigyan ng SWPs na mismo ang DOLE nagugulat bakit mabibigyan ang isang construction worker, ang call center agent, and this data came from BI, from Office of Deputy Commissioner Javier,” Villanueva said at the interpellation. “Call center agent, chef, mechanic helper, mechanic feeder, di po ba yan kayang punan ng ating mga kababayan?”
He also reiterated an exposé he uncovered last year concerning expedited special working permits, which BI staff at its satellite office in Taguig were charging P5,000 “without receipt” to guarantee its release within the day.
“If you multiply the number of special working permits with the supposed ‘expedite fee’ being charged there, that’s already around P925 million from January to November 2018. Where did this money go?” Villanueva said.
“Even if 40 percent of the applicants sought to have their permits expedited, malaking pera pa rin ito. Saan ito napunta?” the senator lamented.
“I’m not against foreign workers coming to our shores because the expertise they bring benefit our country. What I’m advocating against is the proliferation of illegal workers who are taking jobs away from our countrymen,” Villanueva continued.
After Villanueva’s interpellation, senators agreed to insert the special provision that would improve the coordination between the BI and DOLE in the release of special working permits, leading to the passage of the bureau’s 2019 budget.