By Filane Mikee Cervantes

ILLEGAL WORKERS. Seven Chinese nationals are arrested by Philippine immigration authorities for illegally working at a quarry in Taysan, Batangas on May 29, 2024. Bicol Saro Party-list Representative Brian Raymund Yamsuan on Tuesday (June 11, 2024) pushed for the passage of a measure imposing tougher penalties for illegal foreign workers and their employers. (Photo courtesy of BI)

MANILA – A lawmaker on Tuesday pushed for the passage of a measure to toughen penalties for the illegal employment of foreign workers.

Bicol Saro Party-list Representative Brian Raymund Yamsuan made the call following the arrest of 37 Chinese nationals last week for allegedly running illicit retail and restaurant operations in Parañaque City.

Under House No. Bill 1279, Yamsuan proposed harsher penalties for illegal foreign workers, including imprisonment of up to six years, and a substantial increase on the fine imposed on them from the current PHP10,000 to PHP50,000 for every year of unlawful employment.

“We certainly welcome foreign nationals in our country if they have valid employment permits (EPs) and if they do not compete with our equally, and at most times better-skilled workforce. But we should draw the line when it comes to foreigners who not only work here illegally, but also pose a threat to the peace and order in our communities,” Yamsuan said.

Yamsuan said the current PHPP10,000 fine imposed on foreigners found illegally working in the country is “too paltry.”

Under HB 1279, nonresident foreign nationals who have secured EPs but chose to transfer to another job or employer without notice to, and approval of, the Secretary of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), shall be penalized with a fine ranging from PHP50,000 to PHP100,000.

Upon the discretion of the court, the erring foreign worker shall also be punished with imprisonment of not less than six months, but not more than six years.

The same penalties will also be imposed on the foreign worker’s employer.

Moreover, the foreign worker shall be deported after completing his or her jail term, according to the bill.

The bill further states that an employer or any of his or her authorized representative found to have hired nonresident foreign nationals to illegally work in the country shall be fined from PHP100,000 to PHP200,000.

The punishment may also include an order by the DOLE to suspend or order the closure of the employer’s business operations.

“In all cases, the fines imposed herein shall be without prejudice to other administrative, civil or criminal liability that may incur by reason of such act or omission,” the bill read.

The bill also provides for a labor market test to ensure that foreign workers are given EPs only after the determination of the non-availability of qualified Filipinos willing to perform the job required of these foreign workers.

The DOLE is authorized to grant exemptions to the labor market test if the professional expertise of the foreign worker-applicant cannot be met by the existing labor supply.

Foreign nationals with EPs shall be required to transfer relevant skills and knowledge to at least two Filipino understudies in the enterprise where they are employed within a period prescribed by the DOLE.

Failure to abide by this provision under the bill penalizes the foreign national with a fine of not less than PHP100,000 for every year of non-compliance, without prejudice to the non-renewal of his or her work permit, and the blacklisting of the local employer.

The measure also mandates DOLE to maintain a registry of foreign nationals indicating their respective status of employment and the issuance of EPs to them. (PNA)