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BI to cancel visas of 48,000 Chinese POGO workers

The Bureau of Immigration (BI) is set to cancel 48,782 alien visas of Chinese nationals employed by Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs) with canceled licenses.

According to the Department of Justice (DOJ), the cancellation of the alien visas would give the Chinese nationals 59 days to exit the Philippines, as a more “cost-efficient” and “humanitarian” option instead of deportation.

The BI is still in the process of verifying whether the nationals remain in the country or have already left.

Should they refuse to leave within the 59-day period, the Chinese nationals will be deported, in coordination with the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and the Philippine National Police (PNP).

“We must create a safe haven for the Filipino people to enjoy and be productive,” Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin “Boying” Remulla said in an emailed statement.

The Philippine government last month announced plans to deport at least 2,000 POGO workers by October, in line with the crackdown on undocumented foreign workers in the country.

Estimates of the DOJ indicate that there are some 40,000 POGO workers in the country, despite the termination of the license to operate of 175 POGO firms.

The DOJ on Sunday said there are 372 Chinese nationals in custody set to be deported, after being arrested by the NBI or PNP.

“The Department is aware of the effects this operation may have on the economy. However, given the many reports of murder, kidnapping and other criminal activities, the social cost of keeping illegal aliens heavily outweighs the projected effect it will have on the affected industries,” it said.

“Even so, the Department will be sure to coordinate with the National Economic team to counter any negative effects on the country,” it added.

Finance Secretary Benjamin Diokno last month said the country should do away with POGOs, citing “social” and “reputational” risks.

Diokno said that revenues from POGOs have already started to decrease, estimated at P3.9 billion in 2021 from P7.2 billion in the previous year.

The DOF in September 2019 already threatened to shut down POGOs with tax liabilities, with uncollected withholding income taxes then estimated at P21.62 billion. A number of POGOs have since been closed.

Records of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (PAGCOR) show that there were 120,976 POGO workers in the country as of 2020, with over half accounted for by Chinese.

PAGCOR has since maintained that the recent arrests of foreign nationals said to be involved in illegal online gaming are not related to legitimate POGO firms. — BM, GMA News