House panel tackles bill on 'digital nomad visa'; DFA raises concern

Vivienne Gulla, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 20 2023 02:39 PM

This photo taken on June 2, 2021 shows digital nomad, Carlo Almendral, the chief executive of an artificial intelligence start-up, sitting on the beach in the town of San Juan, La Union. Maria Tan, AFP
This photo taken on June 2, 2021 shows digital nomad, Carlo Almendral, the chief executive of an artificial intelligence start-up, sitting on the beach in the town of San Juan, La Union. Maria Tan, AFP

MANILA — A bill seeking to grant a 12-month visa to digital nomads—foreigners employed abroad but work remotely using digital technologies—was tackled by the House Committee on Justice on Monday. 

The visa is proposed to be renewable for another 12 months.

Under House Bill 8165, to qualify for the proposed digital nomad visa, a foreigner must be at least 18 years old, can show proof of sufficient income generated outside the Philippines, holds a valid health insurance, must have no criminal record in his home country, and will pay the processing, visa, entry and exit fees, which will be determined by the Bureau of Immigration.
The bill’s author, Surigao del Norte 1st District Representative Francisco Jose “Bingo” Matugas II, said granting digital nomad visas will be beneficial to the country’s tourism and economy. 

He noted that there are already 54 countries offering the same type of visa, as the population of digital nomads globally grew following the COVID-19 pandemic-induced lockdowns.
“After the lockdown, many employees have chosen to not just work from home, but from tourist destinations where they can work while exploring the beauty of the place. In a 2020 study, it was noted that the population of digital nomads in the US alone, rose dramatically, with an increase of 50 percent from 2019,” Matugas said during Monday’s hearing.
“The digital nomad visa has come about because governments at all levels realize that nomads spend more money than tourists, don’t put much strain on public services, create jobs for locals, even start local businesses… The provision of a digital nomad visa can help jumpstart local economy affected by the pandemic, especially tourism, by allowing digital nomads to stay longer, spend more in the country,” he added.
Bukidnon 2nd District Representative Jonathan Keith Flores and Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Director Leilani Feliciano however raised concerns on the “broad” definition of digital nomads and proposed to refine it.
“Can it be used by anyone to circumvent the other requirements that we may have as far as the entry of foreign workers is concerned, specifically on the danger of the increase of POGO employees coming in using this as a channel to get in?” Flores asked.
“Part of our observation of this House bill is its ambiguity and lack of scope and limitation... Masyado pong malawak ang definition… and we want this to be reconsidered and reformulated to allow for a more specific definition of digital nomad visas… Of course we always support the tourism objectives of the country… But we are also very concerned about the security elements, POGOs and criminal elements coming inside and this digital nomad visa can be used as another way for them to enter,” Feliciano agreed.
“We also are already thinking of very specific documentary requirements that will really prove that they are digital nomads and it will have to be stringent. Because they will be coming in to work. Their salaries are not even taxable. So we have to have very definite stringent criteria and documentary requirements,” she added.
The Department of Justice, for its part, recommended to include a provision in the bill, which explicitly prohibits digital nomad visa holders from working in local POGOs.
The DFA also proposed that the House panel get inputs from the country’s security agencies on the bill. It further asked the committee to reconsider the proposed designation of the Bureau of Immigration as the issuing agency for digital nomad visas, adding that Philippine laws task the DFA to process and issue entry visas from abroad.
The panel created a technical working group to refine the definition of digital nomad workers, and incorporate the comments and additional safeguards proposed by government agencies.