THE HOUSE committees on Economic Affairs and Trade and Industry have approved a bill which seeks to remove restrictions on foreigners practicing their professions in the Philippines.

Three bills that propose to amend Republic Act No. 7042, or the Foreign Investments Act (FIA) of 1991, were filed in the 18th Congress. However, the version by Tarlac 2nd district Rep. Victor A. Yap or House Bill 300 will be elevated to the plenary for second reading.

“So the bill in the 17th Congress has only slight differences, but the three bills we have now are all the same, so we are basically approving the same version…there were no amendments in any of the bills,” House Economic Affairs committee chair Rep. Sharon S. Garin said Tuesday.

According to the bill’s explanatory note, the measure seeks to reduce to 15 from the present 50 direct local hires as the minimum employment requirement for small- and medium-sized enterprises.

“While the FIA (Foreign Investments Act) allows foreign investors to establish small and medium-sized enterprises with a minimum paid-in capital of $100,000, a small and medium sized enterprise cannot sustain a labor force of 50 employees,” said Mr. Yap in his bill.

The key provision in the bill is the exclusion of the “practice of professions” from the coverage of FIA.

“By allowing foreign professionals to practice in the Philippines, they would be able to bring in technology and know-how from abroad, and help create jobs for locals by attracting businesses that require highly skilled professionals in the country,” according to the bill.

A statement by the Joint Foreign Chambers of the Philippines dated Aug. 22 declared support for the removal of restrictions on foreign professionals.

“Having more foreign professionals practicing in the Philippines can bring new skills, ideas, connections, and integration into global networks of service providers, and support sunrise sectors including creative industries, R&D, medical travel, and retirement,” according to the statement.

However, the Professional Regulation Commission (PRC) said it supports the continued exercise of “national control” over the professions.

“While we understand the intent of the proposed amendment, the PRC is of the view that the practice of professions is still a partially nationalized activity… To remove it absolutely from the Negative List may not be be transparent on the limitation to professional practice by foreigners, and may engender the impression that there exists no restriction at all to their practice,” PRC said in its position paper. — Vince Angelo C. Ferreras