In October 2022, the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) revoked the licenses of 176 Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGO) in view of rampant immigration violations, tax evasion, and the commission of heinous crimes within the industry. As a result, the Bureau of Immigration (BI) cancelled the visas of 48,782 foreign nationals who were working for these companies and included them in the Alert List to monitor their whereabouts and ensure their immediate departure from the Philippines.
To provide context, foreign nationals may be included in the alert list if their visas have been cancelled (i.e., the foreign national is no longer connected with the visa sponsor but has failed to formally apply for visa downgrading before leaving the country for good), among other reasons. In the case of POGOs with revoked licenses, it appears that the BI cancelled their foreign personnel’s visas and issued alert list orders as they no longer have a legitimate visa sponsor.
Thus, on 16 November 2022, the BI issued Operations Order No. 2022-004, or the Guidelines in the Implementation of Alertlist Order No. 2022-001-POGO at the Main Office, Satellite Offices and Sub-Port Offices (the “Guidelines”), which provided systematic rules on the implementation and enforcement of these foreign nationals’ alert list orders.
Pursuant to the Guidelines, a foreign national who intends to extend his 9(a)/temporary visitor visa but is found to have been included in the BI’s alert list will only be allowed the extension if his latest arrival in the Philippines was under a 9(a)/temporary visitor visa. In these cases, the Tourist Visa Section (TVS) and the assigned Alien Control Officer (ACO) shall prepare a report to the Legal Division and the Office of the BI Commissioner for the appropriate lifting of the alert list order.
If the foreign national’s application for 9(a)/temporary visitor visa extension was pursuant to a visa downgrading order, and the petitioner of the previous visa is included in the list of revoked POGO licenses, then the TVS and ACO shall refer the application to the Legal Division for the appropriate issuance of an Order to Leave (OTL) and the foreign national’s inclusion in the Blacklist. On this note, a foreign national who seeks to downgrade a work visa that was sponsored by these POGOs shall likewise be issued with an OTL and will be included in the Blacklist.
On the other hand, a foreign national who intends to convert his 9(a)/temporary visitor visa to another visa category but is found to have an active alert list order shall be subject to the following rules:
The Legal Division will only allow the foreign national’s application for visa conversion if: (i) the applicant’s latest departure from the Philippines is prior to 19 September 2022; (ii) the applicant’s latest arrival in the country is under a 9(a)/temporary visitor visa; and (iii) the applicant did not previously apply for a Special Work Permit (SWP) or Provisional Work Permit (PWP) that was sponsored by a POGO with a revoked license.
The BI will accept visa conversion applications of foreign nationals who recently downgraded their work visas, provided that the petitioner of the previously downgraded visa is not among the list of PAGCOR-cancelled licenses.
On requests for visa implementation, the Office of the Board Secretary will only allow the stamping of an approved visa if the foreign national’s present or previous visa sponsor is not included in the said list. Otherwise, these foreign nationals will be issued with OTLs and will also be blacklisted.
Subsequently, on 17 November 2022, the BI issued Operations Order No. 2022-005, which serves as an Addendum to the Guidelines. The BI clarified that requests to remove the alert list is unnecessary and will only be processed if the foreign applicants are leaving the country for good and/or applying for their respective exit clearances. The BI also confirmed that the alert lists shall only be effective until 31 December 2022 or upon the complete verification of their immigration records, whichever comes earlier.
Amidst the ongoing debate on whether the consequences of online gambling outweigh the POGO industry’s contributions to national income, their foreign personnel must nonetheless comply with existing immigration rules of the Philippines. Immigration authorities, on the other hand, must also guarantee that their records are accurate, in order to ensure a strict and impartial implementation of their regulations.
This article is only for general informational and educational purposes and is not offered as and does not constitute legal advice or opinion.
Napoleon L. Gonzales III is a Senior Associate of the Immigration Department of the Angara Abello Concepcion Regala & Cruz Law Offices (ACCRALAW).