Filipinos in UAE confused, worried over 'new travel rules' back home

Legal expert suggests other ways to address human trafficking without making overseas trips complicated for others

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File photo

Angel Tesorero

Published: Sat 26 Aug 2023, 3:38 PM

Last updated: Sun 27 Aug 2023, 9:24 PM

Filipino expatriates, who are planning to go home for the first time, are worried they might face problems when they return to the UAE because of the “new travel guidelines” released by the Philippines' Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (Iacat).

Based on the Iacat guidelines that will take effect on September 3, overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) returning to their country of work will be asked —“if necessary" — to show other documents such as certificate of employment, job contract, or pay slip. This is aside from the OEC (overseas employment certificate) that is mandatory for all OFWs to produce at the Philippine immigration.

The guidelines are aimed at curbing illegal recruitment and human trafficking, according to Philippine authorities. Dubai-based Maricris (who requested not to give her full name), however, sees otherwise. She told Khaleej Times: “The term 'if necessary' would actually bring confusion to travellers.”

“As an OFW, I’m already required to secure an OEC whenever I travel back home. To get an OEC, I have to submit my employment contract and get it verified. So, why then do I need to show it again to our immigration officials when it’s already part of getting an exit pass?” Maricris added.

Excessive regulations

Barney Almazar, director at Gulf Law in the UAE, Philippines, UK and Portugal, noted: “The regulations are overly restrictive considering that there are non-intrusive alternatives available that could achieve the same objective of preventing human trafficking.”

He underscored: “The Philippine authorities should strike a balance between the collective welfare of the community and the individual rights and freedoms of Filipinos. The government must respect one's fundamental right to travel and any restrictions placed on these rights should be narrowly tailored to achieve the public purpose, safeguarding individual rights, and preventing potential abuse of power.”

Almazar, who is also a member of the Philippine Bar and holder of a UAE legal consultancy licence, noted that “travellers should not be deprived of their rights due to the criminal acts of traffickers. Government action must be geared towards the criminals and not to the travellers whose rights are constitutionally protected.”

He shared the following remedies that can be taken:

  • Illegal recruiters are rampant on social media and authorities must strengthen law enforcement. The government should focus efforts on investigating and prosecuting traffickers to put them behind bars.
  • Provide adequate protection and develop victim-centred approaches that prioritise the safety and well-being of trafficking victims. These include access to healthcare, legal assistance, and psychosocial support.
  • Conduct intensive awareness campaigns and use evidence-based research to inform policy decisions and allocation of resources.
  • Implement voluntary registration as this can build trust with the travellers so they can share crucial information rather than resorting to lies to avoid being offloaded at the immigration.

‘Old rules’

Philippine government officials have issued an apology and explained that the revised guidelines are actually just a "clarification of existing rules”.

Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla said: "More than 95 per cent of departing Filipinos would not need to present more documents apart from the basic ones.”

The Bureau of Immigration (BI) also assured travellers that "it will not require more travel documents" aside from the basic papers: A valid passport, valid visa, boarding pass, and confirmed return or roundtrip ticket, if necessary. OFWs still have to secure an exit clearance or OEC.


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