Over 8,000 foreign POGO workers lack permits – DOLE

MANILA, Philippines – Over 8,000 foreign nationals so far were found to be working in online gaming operations without proper permits as of June 2019, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) said on Tuesday, September 17.

DOLE Bureau of Local Employment Director Dominique Tutay disclosed the figures during the labor department's budget hearing at the Senate, saying inspections carried out by the agency on 177 of the 218 Philippine offshore gaming officers (POGO) service providers found 8,337 foreigners working without the required alien working permit (AEP).

Tutay said this represents about 20% of the 41,742 foreign workers employed by the 177 POGO service providers. Some 88% of this, or 61,878, were Chinese nationals, with the rest from Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand, she said.

Under the law, work permits can only be issued to foreigners if no Filipinos are able and willing to do the job the foreigner is applying for. An AEP is a requirement for applying for a work visa in the Philippines, but economic zones can also issue a worker's visa which is equivalent to an AEP.

Following their findings, Tulay said DOLE summoned from May to June 2019 a total of 120 companies that employed the over 8,000 workers without permits to explain their non-compliance. After being given time to obtain AEPs, Tulay said 1,693 applied for permits as of August 15, 2019.

Meanwhile, the list of the remaining 6,678 foreigners without AEPs has been forwarded to the Bureau of Immigration (BI) "either for deportation or to check kung nandito pa ba talaga sila sa Pilipinas (if they are still in the Philippines)." Tulay said, though, that the BI was having difficulty locating the foreign workers.

"When we checked with BI they said they were having difficult locating all of them. Why? They're supposed to be in their database. If they enter the country, they should automatically be in the database but but it turned out they're having a hard time locating," Tutay told reporters in an ambush interview.

Asked why foreigners without AEPs were not immediately deported, Tutay said that under the existing policy of foreign nationals working in the Philippines, foreigners have remedies to comply with requirements as long as they paid necessary penalties. (READ: Online gambling: Good for whose business?)

China earlier asked the Philippine government to ban all forms of online gambling, calling it the "most dangerous tumor in modern society." Despite this, the Philippine government insisted that online gambling is "perfectly legal" in the country. (READ: Duterte won't ban POGOs: 'We need it')

Meanwhile, DOLE requested additional funds of some P209 million which it said were needed to upgrade systems, train labor inspectors, and fund administrative support, among others. DOLE has yet to inspect some 41 more POGO service providers. – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs, the overseas Filipino workers, and elections. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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