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Applying for a Special Work Permit (SWP) in the Philippines

If you are a foreign national who will provide services or execute an engagement in the Philippines within a short period of time, and will not necessarily work here as a foreign worker, then you are eligible to apply for a Special Work Permit (“SWP”) with the Bureau of Immigration (“BI”).


SWP allows foreign nationals to engage in work outside of an employment arrangement. This type of work permit is meant to cater to the short-term visits of consultants, specialists, service contractors, secondees, visiting professionals, international artists and performers, and similar engagements that do not necessarily involve an employment relationship between the foreign national and a Filipino employer, or a Philippine-based employer.


What is an SWP and what is the benefit of applying for an SWP?


Non-Filipino nationals who will render work or provide services in the Philippines: (1) outside of an employment relationship, and (2) for a short period of time, or for a period not exceeding 6 months, are eligible to apply for SWP.


It is very important to note that SWP is not a visa. As the name suggests, it is a special work permit that allows a foreign national to perform certain services in the Philippines while under a tourist visa under Section 9(a) of the Philippine Immigration Act (“PIA”) [“9(a) tourist visa”]. Understanding the distinction between a work visa and work permit is essential under Philippine immigration law.


A foreign worker engaged in regular employment in the Philippines is required to obtain both a work visa and work permit (also known as an Alien Employment Permit or “AEP”) to legally commence work in the Philippines. This generally applies to foreign workers whose employment duration exceeds 6 months.


However, if the foreign national will render services in the Philippines pursuant to a contract or arrangement other than employment (i.e., as an independent contractor, specialist, or consultant), then that foreign national is not considered a “foreign worker” or “employee”, and the general rule requiring a foreign national to secure both a work visa and work permit would not apply. In such cases, the BI would require the SWP in lieu of the regular work authorizations (i.e., (1) a regular work permit or AEP, and (2) a work visa, which may be in the form of a commercial/employment visa under Section 9(g) of the PIA [“9(g) visa”]).


Note that SWP is only applicable to foreign nationals whose duration of stay in the Philippines will not exceed 6 months, and whose activities are expressly enumerated under BI Operations Order JHM-2019-008, as discussed below.


How long is the processing time for an SWP?


Generally, an SWP may be issued within 4 to 8 weeks from the date of filing the application. This timeline is shorter than the usual processing time for regular work permit and visa applications which generally takes around 3 to 6 months to complete.


Who are eligible to apply for an SWP?


SWP is applicable to foreign nationals:


1. whose duration of stay in the Philippines will not exceed 3 to 6 months;

2. who will perform services outside of an employment arrangement; and

3. whose activities are expressly listed under BI Operations Order JHM-2019-008.


A foreign “employee” of a Filipino employer or a Philippine-based entity is not eligible to apply for an SWP. Under BI Operations Order JHM-2019-008, SWP entitlement has been limited to following:


1. Service suppliers coming to the Philippines primarily to perform temporary services and who do not receive salary or other remuneration from a Philippine source other than expenses incidental to their temporary stay;

2. Lecturers, researchers, trainers and others pursuing academic work who are assigned to the Philippine entity;

3. Professional athletes, coaches, trainers and assistants;

4. International performers with exceptional abilities;

5. Artists, performers and their staff, who perform before an audience for a fee, subject to compliance with the requirements of the concerned agency, office or body;

6. Treasure hunters authorized to search for hidden treasure with permit from the concerned government agencies and instrumentalities;

7. Movie and television crews authorized to film in the country by the relevant regulatory office, body or agency;

8. Foreign journalists practicing their profession or cover, ng a specific event in the country;

9. Trainee/s assigned in government instrumentalities, government owned and controlled corporations (GOCC) and private entities;

10. Religious missionaries and preachers;.

11. Commercial models and talents;

12. Culinary specialists/Chefs;

13. Professionals; and

14. Consultants or specialists who must: (1) be at least 25 years old, (2) possess relevant degree in their field and (3) have at least 2 years of experience in their respective fields or industry. (See BI Operations Order JMH 2020-003).


Can a prospective “foreign workers” of a Filipino or Philippine-based employer apply for SWP?


No. BI Operations Order JHM-2019-008 expressly disqualifies foreign nationals engaged as employees by a Filipino or Philippine-based employer from applying for SWP.


It is important to note that SWP does not apply to foreign nationals who will be engaged as “employees” in the Philippines. SWP is only applicable to foreign nationals who will render work or services in a capacity outside of an employment relationship with a Filipino or Philippine-based employer. The purpose of the exclusion is to prevent the circumvention of the rule requiring all foreign employees of Filipino employers or Philippine-based entities to secure both an AEP and work visa.


This basically means that SWP holders may not perform services as employees of a Filipino or Philippine-based employer. Their engagement must be based on some other capacity or contract other than employments such as a consultancy arrangement, or as an independent contractor, specialist or professional.


For how long is the SWP valid?


SWP is initially valid for three (3) months. It is extendible for another three (3) months if the contract of service, letter of appointment or secondment agreement is also extended.

No further extension is allowed upon expiration of the 6-month authorization under the SWP and the SWP extension because the SWP is only authorizes work not exceeding 6-months.


I already have an SWP. Do I need to extend my 9(a) tourist visa?


Yes, a valid 9(a) tourist visa is mandatory throughout your stay in the Philippines.

A work permit is not a visa. A work permit in the Philippines authorizes a foreign national to work. On the other hand, a visa authorizes a foreign national to stay in the Philippines. These two legal requirements serve different purposes.


That said, please be reminded that while an SWP exempts you from obtaining an AEP and a work visa, you are still required to maintain a valid 9(a) tourist visa as your proof of authority to stay in the Philippines. The SWP only authorizes you to work, but it is not proof of your authority to stay in the Philippines.


You must ensure that your 9(a) tourist visa is updated and valid for the entire duration of your stay in the Philippines.


The requirements for processing a Special Work Permit in the Philippines may seem daunting, given the tedious requirements and processes delineated above. In order to seamlessly handle your SWP application it is best to consult and be assisted by a Philippine immigration lawyer.


*Arceo and Irasusta Law Firm is an immigration law office in Quezon City that serves clients anywhere in the Philippines and abroad. Its immigration lawyers have extensive experience in preparing, compiling, and processing the requirements for a Special Work Permit in the Philippines. Should you wish to seek assistance of an Philippine immigration law firm for visa application, citizenship, residency, and other immigration-related matters, you may contact us at lawfirm@arceotandoc.com to get in touch with any of our immigration attorneys.