THE GOVERNMENT on Wednesday tightened rules on permits for foreigners to work in the country, amid reports of thousands of such nationals illegally hired in the gaming industry and even in construction who could be depriving the state of more than P30 billion in income tax each year.

The Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE), the Department of Justice (DoJ), the Bureau of Immigration (BI) and the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) signed the joint “Guidelines on the Issuance of Work and Employment Permits to Foreign Nationals” at an event in San Fernando, Pampanga.

The guidelines were issued to “to clarify and harmonize existing regulations on the issuance of appropriate permits to all foreign nationals who intend to work, perform specific activities, and/or render services in the Philippines, whether in the context of an employment arrangement or otherwise.”

Two foreign business leaders said they were generally open to the new rules, provided they will not make it harder to do business.

Among others, foreigners seeking work permits will now have to indicate their Taxpayer Identification Number in their application. “Ang bago diyan ay… kailangan mag-submit ng foreigner ng tax identification number. ‘Yan ay isang paraan para matiyak natin na pag nagtatrabaho ang foreigner natin ay nagbabayad ng buwis (In that way, we can make sure that foreign workers will pay tax),” Labor Secretary Silvestre H. Bello III told reporters in a briefing after signing ceremonies.

The new requirements cover those applying for alien employment permits (AEPs), special working permits (SWPs) and provisional working permits (PWPs), but not those seeking special temporary permits (STPs).

DoLE issues AEPs to foreigners under contract with a Philippine-based business after it is determined that the job cannot be done by a Filipino, while the BI issues PWPs to foreigners waiting for issuance of AEPs and SWPs for foreigners to engage in work outside of an employment contract.

STPs are issued by the Professional Regulation Commission to foreign professionals to practice in the Philippines for a limited period, subject to limitations and conditions under law.

The same guidelines also listed occupations covered by SWPs, namely: professional athletes, coaches, trainers and assistants; international performers with exceptional abilities; artists, performers and their staff who perform before an audience for a fee; service suppliers coming primarily to perform temporary services and who do not receive salary or other remuneration from a Philippine source other than expenses connected to their temporary stay; treasure hunters authorized by relevant government offices to search for hidden treasure; movie and television crews authorized by relevant government offices to film in the country; foreign journalists practicing their profession or covering a specific event in the country; trainees assigned in government institutions, government-owned and -controlled corporations, and private entities; lecturers, researchers, trainers and others pursuing academic work who are assigned in schools, universities, educational and research institutions, government agencies and other entities (with or without compensation); religious missionaries and preachers; commercial models and talents; culinary specialists and chefs; professionals; as well as consultants or specialists.

“Initially kasi wala tayong (we did not have) restrictions on type of employment, ng work na pwedeng ibigay sa (that can be given to) foreign nationals para sa (under) special work permit, so any type could be given a special work permit,” BI spokesperson Dana Krizia M. Sandoval explained in a mobile phone message.

“But because we saw that there is a need to tighten our procedure following the increase of the number of foreign nationals in the Philippines, we coordinated with DoLE; so we discussed this in several meetings and we came up with these 14 professions na pwede nating bigyan ng (for which we can issue) special working permit.”

John D. Forbes, senior adviser of American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, Inc., said by phone: “I think there is an expectation that… whatever the guidelines are, [they] will result in faster processing of applications by regulatory agencies.”

British Chamber of Commerce Philippines Chairperson Chris Nelson said, also by phone: “I’ve read the announcements myself and what they (government) said was they want to… make the guidelines easier and support ease of doing business. So, if that’s the case… we support any measures that would support the ease of doing business.” — Gillian M. Cortez and Vann Marlo M. Villegas