Virginia, US
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| Clarence Sy

A Very Long Engagement? Getting Work Authorized in the Philippines

For many foreigners, the Philippines immigration process is akin to entering a serious relationship: it requires the investment of time, presence and effort. Unfortunately, not everyone is prepared for the stress and demands of such an enterprise and some feel, even in the end, that the entire ordeal was not worth it.

Explaining Philippines work visa process

Foreigners often bemoan the complicated and tortuous “courtship” to get a work visa. First of all, the Philippines follows an in-country process, which means that the applicant must arrive in the country before they can start their immigration journey. Many foreigners make the mistake of thinking they can begin working as soon as they get off the plane, but such notions are doomed to result in heartbreak. In 2015 alone, the Bureau of Immigration (BI) reported the apprehension of 507 illegal aliens, a majority of whom were deported for working without the proper documentation.

Those who opt to comply with the immigration process soon realize that they must deal with two separate government entities, namely the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) and the above mentioned BI to acquire their much-coveted work visa. Like overprotective parents, each agency has its own set of requirements to assess the qualifications of the applicant. Success will result in the issuance of the Alien Employment Permit (AEP) from the DOLE and the work visa from the BI.

The processing times are often enough to dishearten the uncommitted. It takes 3 to 4 weeks alone to obtain the AEP. Thereafter, applicants can expect to wait for another 2 to 3 months to get the work visa approval. They can only start working once the visa has been issued (unless they apply for a separate Provisional Work Permit which takes around 3 weeks to process).

To make things more cumbersome, certain stages of the process require the foreigner to remain in the Philippines. An example is upon approval of the visa, the applicant will need to wait until his Alien Certificate of Registration Identification Card (ACR i-card) is issued before he or she may travel. This can take up to 4 weeks to complete. Indeed, it is difficult for even the most devoted applicant to not feel smothered by these numerous restrictions that need careful and advanced planning to overcome.

And finally, once the assignment in the Philippines has ended, a new round of challenges emerges. The work visa will have to be downgraded and this requires the applicant to stay in the country for a 3 week period and apply for an exit clearance certificate before the foreigner may finally depart and terminate the relationship (employer-employee, that is!).

However, like in life, not all relationships require commitment. In some instances (such as immigration compliance), a short-term union may even be desirable. Let me explain.

Special Work Permit vs. Work Visa

The BI offers the Special Work Permit (SWP) which is another type of work authorization. Its main feature is that it is not a visa such that merely holding a SWP does not entitle the holder to stay in the country. The holder must still maintain a valid visitor’s visa during the life of the SWP.

Despite this, the SWP is quickly becoming a favorite among foreigners and businesses. Its procurement, unlike its more demanding cousin, the work visa, is uncomplicated. The applicant only needs to be in the Philippines during the application submission which takes around 2 working days to complete. He or she does not need to stay in the country devotedly waiting for the BI’s sweet approval.

Even better, a SWP application does not require the personal appearance of the applicant before the authorities. There is no interview or hearing required, unlike the work visa, and the application is evaluated based on the supporting documents submitted. Best of all, it usually takes only 2 weeks for the BI to arrive at a decision.

Alas, as “flings” are not meant to last, so too are SWPs. A SWP can only be valid for a maximum duration of 6 months. If the parties want to take things further, the long-term visa option is the logical next step.

However, for those who feel that the relationship had run its course before the lapse of 6 months, the SWP holder is free to walk away anytime. He or she can exit the country without any other formality and just let the SWP expire naturally.

With the above, it is certainly worthwhile for businesses to consider applying a SWP for their foreign employees. This option ensures that the employees are compliant to go about their work in the Philippines in the fastest way possible while avoiding the hassle, stress, and commitment of a full-blown work visa application.