By Angel Tesorero in Dubai / Raymund B. Villanueva in Manila
Dubai, UAE – A total of 152 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) were given an exit pass in the first three working days (August 1, 2 and 5) of the 90-day immigration amnesty program, Philippine consul-general to Dubai Paul Raymund Cortes said Tuesday.
An estimated hundreds of thousand dirhams of overstaying fines were waived by the UAE government while the Philippine Consulate paid for the exit permits, including the Dh221 for an outpass and Dh521 fee for lifting of the absconding case to clear the name of the overstaying expat from the immigration list and letting the person return to the UAE without travel ban.
The Philippine Consulate also booked one-way tickets (DXB-MNL) for the returning Filipinos.
“Out of the 152 amnesty-seekers, 93 were given free tickets; the rest were not aware that we are providing them with free tickets. Some of them have both tickets a month before. Unfortunately, we cannot refund the fare due to restrictions in the Philippine government auditing rules,” Cortes said.
He explained that booking should be done by the Philippine Consulate.
Cortes added that out of the 93 who were given free tickets, five are minors who will travel with their respective guardians and the travel expenses of the guardians will also be shouldered by the Philippine government.
The first batch of 88 returning Filipinos will fly out of Dubai on August 15 via Philippine Airlines flight PR 659 which will take off from DXB Terminal 1 at 7:35pm and arrive 8.15am the following day (Manila time) at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 2, where they will be met by officials from the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).
Cortes pegged the cost of sending home an overstaying Filipino at Dh2,200 each, including the cost of air fare and exit permits.
Dubai newspaper Khaleej Times earlier reported that, according to a source at the Philippine Consulate, around 5,000 overstaying Filipinos are expected to avail of the amnesty program and would probably go back home.
At a cost of Dh2,200 (fees and plane ticket) per person, the Philippine government is set to shell out at least Dh11m, which will be taken from the Assistance to Nationals (ATN) funds.
Cortes added that an undisclosed amount of welfare assistance will be provided to the returning Filipinos while the DFA officials in Manila will assist them in their travel from the airport to their respective hometowns or provinces.
“We are glad that the first of batch of Filipinos are finally going home and will be reunited with their loved ones and respective families. We are very happy that the UAE government has given them a chance to return to the Philippines through the amnesty program by waiving the overstaying fees. We at the Philippine Consulate are also happy to be part of bringing our kababayans (compatriots) back home through the DFA funding,” Cortes said.
He added: “We want to assure our kababayans that all assistance will be given to them to the fullest extent. And for those who will prefer to stay in the country and rectify their residency status, we will also provide them with utmost assistance in the documentation of their papers. But we would like to remind them to fulfill the necessary documents such as birth certificate to get a passport.”
PH government welcomes amnesty
In Manila, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) claimed 100,000 overseas Filipino workers would benefit from UAE’s amnesty declaration for overstaying foreign workers.
An expected 87,706 undocumented and overstaying Filipino workers are expected to apply for amnesty in Abu Dhabi and around 14,400 in Dubai, DOLE reported.
The amnesty program is effective from August to the end of October.
Those who wish to rectify their illegal status may be given assistance at the Philippine Embassy in the UAE as well as at Philippine Overseas Labor Offices in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, DOLE said.
DOLE said there are 646,258 documented OFWs in UAE, 224,572 of whom are in Abu Dhabi while 421,686 are in Dubai.
In light with this, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III called on overstaying as well as beleaguered OFWs to rectify their status in the Emirates or seek voluntary repatriation back to the Philippines.
“Our government is ready to help them if they wish to go back home,” Bello said.
OFWs who will seek voluntary repatriation will receive assistance from Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), including airport at cash assistance as well as overseas or local employment referral, livelihood assistance, legal at conciliation service, competency assessment at training assistance under DOLE’s Assist WELL (Welfare, Employment, Legal and Livelihood) Program. # (Photo by AL Tesorero)