MANILA - The Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) is now studying the possibility of allowing foreigners under certain conditions back in the Philippines for work purposes amid eased coronavirus restrictions.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, a senior IATF member, confirmed this on Wednesday, 2 days after Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said Monday that it was Guevarra who brought up the idea, following a request from an embassy.
"A foreign embassy requested our government to allow the entry of its nationals with permanent or long-term visas issued by the Bureau of Immigration. As any action on this request may affect nationals of other countries, the IATF referred the matter to a technical working group to determine how many such foreign nationals are involved and to make a recommendation to the IATF," he told reporters in a text message.
As justice chief, Guevarra oversees the Bureau of Immigration, an attached agency of the Department of Justice.
The Philippine government in March suspended visa-free privileges of foreigners in a bid to stop the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
Not covered by the restriction are accredited foreign government and international organization officials and their dependents as well as foreign spouses and children of Filipino nationals.
Guevarra clarified that the review involves two items: one is a request to allow holders of permanent resident visas and other long-term visas such as retirees’ and commercial visas to enter, which covers foreign nationals who may have businesses in the Philippines.
The other is to allow entry of foreign technical workers involved in Philippine flagship projects.
"The matter of allowing foreign technical workers to return and resume work on flagship projects was brought up by the DPWH (Department of Public Works and Highways). It is likewise being studied by the aforementioned technical working group. The IATF may decide on the matter next week," he said.
"It was not Secretary Mark Villar who raised it. But it was someone from the DPWH. It came across to me as an expression of the need for these foreign consultants and other technical workers due to their expertise. But then again, the DPWH is leaving it to the IATF," he explained.
The justice secretary, who oversees operations in the Immigration bureau, said they are studying the matter "very carefully."
"We have to deal with the repatriation of thousands of [overseas Filipino workers] and we do not want them to be crowded out by foreign nationals who will likewise have to be tested and quarantined upon arrival," he said, pointing out that OFWs remain the priority.
"But we also have to see how many foreign nationals are really involved. If they comprise a manageable number, the IATF may consider to allow them to re-enter. Note that many of them are already here; it’s only those who were abroad and caught by the lockdown who wish to re-enter our country," he explained.