MANILA • The Philippines is stepping up its screening of incoming foreigners after the discovery of an alleged syndicate trafficking Vietnamese workers to the Philippines.
The Bureau of Immigration (BI) recently interviewed scores of overstaying Vietnamese who had said they were illegally recruited by an agency to work as house helpers in the Philippines.
BI spokesman Tonette Mangrobang said it was the first time the agency had heard of the Philippines as a destination for human trafficking victims.
"We interviewed the Vietnamese nationals. We were surprised that we are not just a source of trafficking victims, but we are also becoming a destination," she said in a phone interview.
The BI made the discovery after a group of 69 Vietnamese nationals turned themselves in to the agency, wanting to legalise their immigration status.
The overstaying foreigners admitted to BI intelligence personnel that they all came to the Philippines to work as house helpers, vendors, porters and carpenters in the provinces, earning 5,000 pesos (S$143) a month.
They reportedly arrived three years ago and did not secure an extension of their visas.
"They did not travel in groups but in one, two or three persons per flight," Ms Mangrobang said.
She added that it was unusual for foreigners to be employed as blue-collar or domestic workers.
"For a foreigner, this is the first time that we heard that they are employed in these jobs. Usually we encounter them as owners, businessmen and investors, not as labourers," she said.
Ms Mangrobang said the 69 Vietnamese nationals were allowed to leave the country last Sunday.
But they would be placed on the BI's blacklist and cannot return to the Philippines until they have paid their outstanding immigration arrears for overstaying.
"The Vietnamese Embassy sought our help in having these people declared as indigent. They are really scared that the BI will crack down on illegal aliens, that's why they came forward," Ms Mangrobang said.
PHILIPPINE DAILY INQUIRER/ASIA NEWS NETWORK