The Duterte administration is pulling together visa rules for visiting Chinese nationals, permitting the arrivals to a maximum of 30 days and blacklist overstaying aliens, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said Saturday.
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“We intend to limit the maximum permissible period to 30 days, blacklist overstaying aliens, ensure non-convertibility to work visas, and impose sanctions on travel agencies breaking the rules,” he said.
Under current rules, the Visa Upon Arrival or VUA is good for 30 days but may be extended for up to six months.
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In a statement, Guevarra said the Department of Justice and its attached agency the Bureau of Immigration “are tightening up the rules on the issuance of VUA”—just weeks after officials raised concern over the influx of travelers from China, with National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. saying the arrivals were a security risk.
Guevarra added the VUA was supposed to have been “non-convertible ever since.”
“But if it’s a regular tourist visa issued by our consular offices abroad, it may be converted to a work visa upon compliance with all legal requirements,” he said.
The VUA program allows Chinese tourists to apply for visa upon arrival in the country, instead of applying beforehand at the Philippine embassy and consulates in China.
First implemented during the time of then Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II in 2017, the move was initiated by the Tourism department to lure in more Chinese tourists and investors.
Aside from Chinese tourists, other nationals may also avail themselves of the program if they are foreign investors endorsed by relevant organizations, delegates to sports competitions and international conventions and officials of the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, and other development partners.
On July 31, Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. called for an end to the issuance of the VUA to Chinese tourists, saying they should undergo a vetting process before being issued visas and allowed to enter the Philippines.
Diplomatic observers noted Chinese arrivals in the country have been on the rise, with many employed in off-shore gaming operations.
On Friday, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the presence of Chinese-run off-shore gaming facilities near military bases was “very concerning,” saying such may be used for surveillance purposes.
Despite improved bilateral trade between Manila and Beijing, the two countries remain locked in disputes over the South China Sea.
Defense and military officials have also flagged Chinese ship passages without Philippine clearance at the Sibutu Strait in Tawi-Tawi.
Earlier on Thursday, China expressed “grave concern” over a proposal to transfer Chinese working in offshore gaming operators to self-contained communities or hubs, saying this might infringe on their basic legal rights.
In a statement, China urged the Philippine government to effectively protect the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese citizens in the Philippines.
Earlier, the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) said the proposal to confine the Chinese workers to designated areas was intended to limit their interactions with locals amid complaints of their unruly behavior.
But the embassy said it had always reminded Chinese citizens overseas to abide by local laws and regulations and not to work illegally in foreign countries.
It said a large number of Chinese citizens had been illegally recruited and hired for Philippine Offshore Gaming Operations (POGOs) and casinos.
“In many cases, the employers of Philippine casinos, POGOs and other forms of gambling entities do not apply necessary legal work permits for their Chinese employees. Some Chinese citizens are even lured into and cheated to work illegally with only tourist visas,” the embassy said.
The statement also emphasized that any form of gambling by Chinese citizens, including online-gambling, gambling overseas, opening and operating casinos overseas to attract citizens of China as primary customers, is illegal.
“Many of the Chinese citizens working illegally in Philippine casinos or POGOs and other forms of gambling entities are subjected to what media described as ‘modern slavery’ due to severe limitation of their personal freedom,” the embassy said.
“Their passports are taken away or confiscated by the Philippine employers. They are confined to live and work in certain designated places and some of them have been subjected to extortion, physical abuse and torture as well as other ill-treatments,” it added.
The embassy also said there were dozens of kidnappings and torture cases of Chinese citizens who gamble or work illegally in gambling entities in the Philippines.
“Some Chinese citizens were physically tortured, injured or even murdered,” it said.
The embassy also expressed alarm that offshore gambling has resulted in cross-border crimes, such as money laundering, which undermines China’s financial supervision and financial security.
According to the embassy, offshore gaming for Chinese has also contributed to China’s increasing social problems and crime rate.
“The Chinese side hopes and urges relevant departments of the Philippine government to pay more attention to China’s position and concerns and take concrete and effective measures to prevent and punish the Philippine casinos, POGOs and other forms of gambling entities for their illegal employment of Chinese citizens and crack down related crimes that hurt the Chinese citizens,” the statement said.
The Chinese government vowed it would carry out more operations to prevent and combat cross-border gambling as it sought cooperation with Philippine law enforcement agencies to curb such illegal activities.
It warned Chinese companies or individuals in the Philippines to “immediately stop relevant illegal activities, otherwise they will be punished in accordance with Chinese law.”
Malacañang also on Thursday urged exploited Chinese workers to file charges against their employers following China’s statement.
Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said the government would not allow any abuse of foreign visitors and vowed that laws will be observed.
“We will not allow any violation of their rights as visitors or working nationals in this country. We certainly have the Constitution to guide government authorities in dealing with them,” he said.
Earlier, the Chinese embassy in Manila said some workers were abused and subjected to “modern slavery” dure to severe limitation of their personal freedom.
“They are confined to live and work in certain designated places and some of them have been subjected to extortion, physical abuse and torture as well as other ill-treatments,” the statement read.
The embassy in Manila also alleged that Chinese workers’ passports were taken away by employers.
“At the same time, dozens of kidnappings and tortured cases of Chinese citizens who gamble or work illegally in gambling entities in the Philippines have taken place. Some Chinese citizens were physically tortured, injured or even murdered,” the embassy said.
Panelo said the government could not act without the filing of formal complaint,.
The government said it would continue to issue tax identification numbers of TINS to foreign workers despite the Chinese statement.
In a statement to reporters, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez said he has not yet seen the statement from the Chinese embassy but said the economic team would issue a statement once they have studied the Chinese statement.
“We will not suspend the issuance of TINs to foreign workers,” Dominguez said.
“As for the BIR, we are simply implementing the Tax Code, and requiring those earning Philippine-sourced income to pay income tax,” Dominguez added.
Earlier, Pagcor Chairman Andrea Domingo said the hubs would have all the basic needs of foreign POGO employees, such as office and residential spaces, food establishments, wellness and recreational activities, and service shops.
She said the hubs were in fact being established for the protection of foreign workers.”They are no longer exposed to crimes being committed against them on streets, they are assured of good working conditions and decent living quarters, and will be given their proper visas as there will also be other relevant government agencies setting up offices at the hubs,” she said.
Earlier, the Labor department said foreign nationals working for POGOs numbered about 138,000.
In their report to Dominguez during a meeting held recently, DOLE and the Bureau of Immigration came up with a reconciled list of 138,001 workers, of which 54,241 were issued alien employment permits (AEPs) and another 83,760, who were granted special working permits.
Dominguez said assuming that each foreign national was earning an average of $1,500 a month and taxed at 25 percent of his or her gross income, he came up with a rough calculation of P32 billion a year in income taxes to be collected from these workers.
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