The Athlete-OFW: Protecting the Pro Filipino Athlete Abroad

by: Mickey Ingles (Article originally published by Spin.ph)

FILIPINO athletes are world-class.

Case in point: Thirdy Ravena. Recruited to play in the Japanese B.League and finally landing in Japan to join San-En NeoPhoenix today, Thirdy serves as an exemplar for athletes who are looking to play professionally abroad.

He also sets a good template for Filipino professional athletes who wish to use Philippine law to protect them in their stints abroad.

Registering as an Overseas Foreign Worker (OFW) with the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA) is a must for Filipinos who will serve as imports for foreign employers. And Thirdy is, in fact, a registered OFW.

Philippine law grants OFWs certain legal protections and advantages. For one, it keeps whatever income they earned abroad free from the taxing powers of our Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR). Under BIR Revenue Regulations No. 01-2011, wages or income of OFWs earned from outside the Philippines are exempt from income tax.

To avail of said tax exemption though, the Filipino must be registered with the POEA and have a valid overseas employment certificate (OEC) from the POEA.

So, how do you register with the POEA as an OFW?

First: Secure the Necessary Visa

The first step is securing a work or entertainer’s visa from the embassy of the country the athlete will be working in. Visa requirements will differ from country to country, but one general requirement is an endorsement letter from the foreign employer addressed to the embassy.

This endorsement letter will be termed differently depending on the embassy — for example, a Certificate of Eligibility is required for Japan — but in general, it should attest that the Filipino athlete has been given a contract to play with the foreign team and that any visa given to him or her is for that specific purpose only.

Can an athlete signed professionally by a foreign team travel play on a tourist visa? I would advise against it, for two reasons.

First, tourist visas usually do not allow tourists recourse to any income-earning activities in the foreign country. Second, tourist visa holders will generally not be able to get the tax exemptions granted to registered OFWs.

In addition, because of COVID-19, it is difficult for Filipinos with tourist visas to travel abroad — a restriction which has been lifted to those holding work visas.

Second: Get POLO-verified

The second step is getting verified by the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) in the relevant country.

In Japan, there are two POLOs: one in Tokyo and the other in Osaka. The foreign employer must coordinate closely with the respective POLO because it will have to submit documentary requirements to show that the athlete-OFW will be protected in his or her place of employment.

The foreign employer must also present a copy of the athlete-OFW’s valid visa.

The POLO will verify the employment contract between the team and the player to make sure that it complies with Philippine law and POEA regulations. Sports contracts (like your typical uniform player contract) between foreign teams and Filipino athletes will sometimes lack POEA-required provisions, but this can be remedied by including an addendum signed and notarized by both parties.

The employment contract and any addendum thereto must also be notarized and apostilled.

As athlete-OFWs are mostly likely direct hires — as they are recruited by their respective employers and not by recruitment agencies — the foreign employer must also ask the POLO to issue an endorsement letter to the POEA requesting an exemption for the ban on direct hires.

Third(y): Secure the OEC from the POEA

The third step is registering with the POEA.

POEA registration starts by setting an appointment with their Direct Hire Division via email. Athlete-OFWs must ensure that their documents are all in order for their personal appearance with the POEA, particularly the POLO-verified employment contract and the endorsement letter.

The POEA will also require the athlete-OFW to secure life insurance that will cover repatriation costs in case anything happens to him or her while playing abroad. The athlete-OFW must also attend a Pre-Departure Orientation Seminar (PDOS) by the POEA. The checklist of other requirements can be found in the POEA website.

Once the athlete-OFW clears all the registration requirements of the POEA, he or she will receive his or her OEC. The OEC must be presented along with the work or entertainer’s visa and the PDOS certificate to the immigration officials in the airport. Immigration officials will not allow work visa- or entertainer’s visa-holders to leave the country without an OEC.

These may seem like a lot of work just to play professionally abroad. But it’s always better to be safe in order to protect the athlete-OFW from foreseeable legal issues in order to keep the athlete-OFW focused on playing and representing the country well.

Good luck, Thirds! Ganbatte!

Mickey Ingles is the editor-in-chief of Batas Sportiva. He, along with Enrico Ingles and Alexa Dabao of the Law Firm of Ingles, Laurel, and Calderon, assisted Thirdy and San En Phoenix in securing Thirdy’s paperwork to allow him to leave during the pandemic.

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