UAE-based Filipino barred from travelling as tourist by Manila immigration officers, asked to ‘cancel’ residence visa first

A Dubai-based expert stressed that while ‘it is true that there are Filipinos who go to other countries and then fly to UAE to work, it may also be true that a passenger merely wants to have a vacation’

By Angel L. Tesorero / Khaleej Times

A 27-year-old Filipina expatriate who visited her home country recently was barred from going to Hong Kong by a Philippine immigration official, who told her she had to “cancel her UAE residence visa first” before she can leave the country as a tourist.

Nathaly Dumlao, 27, who works as an HR (human resources) executive in Abu Dhabi, said the incident happened on March 20. She and her partner had been planning for weeks to celebrate their anniversary and the latter’s birthday in Hong Kong.

They came to the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila with all the documents in hand — including return tickets, bank statement, hotel reservation, etc. — to prove they are tourists.

She narrated: “At the primary inspection, an immigration officer named Paola told me I could not leave the Philippines as a tourist because I have an existing UAE residence visa and my Emirates ID is still active.”

Dumlao said all her work documents are still active because she is going back to work in the UAE after the trip. “We are just going to relax, unwind and celebrate our anniversary in Hong Kong,” she added.

The Abu Dhabi resident also furnished a copy of her overseas employment certificate (OEC) — a mandatory travel document for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) – to prove that she is going back to her job in the UAE.

Secondary inspection

Dumlao said they went to a secondary inspection, where they furnished copies of their bank account and small business registration in their hometown.

“An immigration official asked: ‘Why do you carry this much money? – and I replied that is my savings from my salary,” said Dumlao, adding: “I was also planning to buy some luxury bags in Hong Kong.”

Dumlao’s partner, a former UAE resident who has relatives in Dubai, was also interviewed separately.

‘Go to UAE Embassy’

According to Dumlao, the tedious questioning, repeated explanation, argument, and waiting went on for over two hours, making them miss their flight.

“In the end, Paola (the immigration official) told me I will only be allowed to travel to Hong Kong if I cancel my UAE residence visa,” said Dumlao, adding: “I was told to go to the UAE Embassy in Manila to have my work visa cancelled before I can travel as a tourist.”

Here’s a note that the officer handed her:

Dumlao continued: “The immigration official added: ‘Have your OEC verified again by the POEA (Philippine Overseas Employment Administration). We cannot let you travel as a tourist because you are an OFW and you have an active working visa.”

“My partner, meanwhile, got the green light to travel,” Dumlao added.

Dumlao and her partner were not able to celebrate their anniversary in Hong Kong. Dumlao instead waited for her return flight to the UAE on March 23. She said she did not encounter any other problem but she met the same immigration official at the airport who wished her “to have a safe flight.”

Dumlao is now back in Abu Dhabi.

Hunting for jobs abroad

The Philippine Bureau of Immigration (BI) has earlier said they are implementing stringent screening as part of their task to combat human trafficking. They are looking out in particular for Filipinos travelling as tourists but are actually hunting for jobs abroad.

In the case of Dumlao, she admitted she left the Philippines via Singapore as a tourist way back in 2017 and was able to find suitable employment in the UAE. This was pointed out by the immigration officials who interviewed her.

Dumlao argued she has regularised her status since then. She’s now a documented OFW, who is registered with the POEA, and has paid her dues as an Owwa (Overseas Workers Welfare Administration) member.

After almost five years, she went home in October 2022 and went back to the UAE a month later with no hassle at the Manila airport. She only showed her OEC, also known as exit clearance/pass, a document presented to the immigration officer at the airport of exit in the Philippines, certifying the documentation of an OFW and proof of his/her registration with the POEA.

What the law says

According to Philippine Republic Act No. 9208 (Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003), and its Implementing Rules and Regulations, Republic Act No. 8042 (Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995), Filipino tourists need only to show a passport, visa (when required), and round trip ticket to travel.

“The Bureau of Immigration shall conduct a secondary inspection of a traveler, when deemed necessary, for the purpose of protecting vulnerable victims of human trafficking and illegal recruitment and other related offenses, through the assessment of the following circumstances: a) Age b) Educational attainment and c) Financial capability to travel.

“Any passenger/traveler who will be subjected to secondary inspection shall be required to accomplish the Bureau of Immigration Border Control Questionnaire (BCQ) to be furnished by the immigration officer.”

‘Clear violation’

Dubai-based migrant rights advocate Barney Almazar said there was a violation of Dumlao’s human rights.

Almazar, who is also director at Gulf Law in the UAE, Philippines, UK and Portugal, explained: “Requiring a traveler to cancel a valid UAE residency as a condition to visit another country for a vacation is a clear violation of the guidelines on departure formalities for international-bound passengers in all airports and seaports in the Philippines.

“OFWs on vacation but visiting other countries before returning to original worksite/destination need not get a POEA travel exit clearance/OEC. Hence, the traveler is considered a tourist and is not exempt from travel tax and terminal fee, but shall be allowed to travel,” he underlined.

Almazar noted: “It is true that a lot of passengers will go to Hong Kong or other Asian countries and then fly to UAE or elsework to work, to avoid OEC. But it may be also true that the passenger merely wants to have a vacation. OFWs also have the right to go on vacation.”

“The immigration officer noted Dumlao’s previous travel record to Singapore, a destination frequently used as a jump-off point to work in Dubai. Dumlao may have violated the law then when she posed as a tourist in Singapore to avoid securing OEC, but her status was already cured by the subsequent act of registration with POLO in Dubai,” Almazar underlined.

Right to travel

The case of Dumlao is not isolated. Last week, Khaleej Times reported the story of a Dubai-bound Filipino tourist who was offloaded at the Philippine airport twice after he failed to show an affidavit of support and guarantee (AoSG).

Earlier, a Filipina tourist missed her flight to Israel after a Philippine immigration official allegedly asked her lengthy and ‘unreasonable’ questions, including a demand to present her 10-year-old graduation yearbook. Her sad fate went viral on social media and this prompted another Filipino traveler to bring her own college diploma to the airport, in case an immigration officer will ask for it.

Another tourist, a 25-year-old vlogger, arrived at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila wearing a toga or academic regalia worn in graduation ceremonies. “It was not meant to ridicule immigration officials but to highlight the fact that some Filipino tourists were held unreasonably at the airport and barred from leaving the country,” Jim Morales told Khaleej Times.

These incidents prompted the call from travel and migration experts to review the stringent immigration screening, including presenting bank statements, graduation yearbook, or diploma to prove that they are fit to go abroad.

Almazar noted: “There is a constitutional safeguard guaranteeing the right to travel, which shall not be impaired except in the interest of national security, public safety, or public health. The liberty to travel has been repeatedly abridged, impaired and violated by no less than the immigration officers. Passengers are being offloaded despite absence of proof that the travel is inimical to national security, public health and public safety.”

Scrap OEC

In particular, Almazar is calling for the abrogation of the OEC. He noted: “It is an antiquated system. Its mandatory application has never been efficient to serve a legitimate public purpose. A voluntary system of registration is a less burdensome measure that would suffice to achieve the government’s purpose of curtailing human trafficking.”

“The advantages of giving immigration officers unbridled power on the premise of protecting passengers are outweighed by its disadvantages. The Philippine Congress must correct these lapses soon, lest we see more Filipino travelers being abused,” he said. #

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This March 28, 2023 report is original to Khaleej Times, republished with permission from the author.

‘Bring Mary Jane home,’ advocates urge Marcos

Groups say President should make Veloso’s release a priority in first-ever state visit

Migrant rights advocates urged President Ferdinand Marcos Jr to appeal for clemency for jailed Filipina Mary Jane Veloso when he meets with Indonesian counterpart Joko Widodo next week.

On the occasion of Marcos Jr’s first ever state visit to a foreign country, Migrante International (MI) and the Church Task Force to Save the Life of Mary Jane Veloso (CTFSLMJV) said the new president should take the opportunity to bring Veloso home.

“[We urge] President Marcos to prioritize the case of Mary Jane Veloso, a victim of human trafficking who has been imprisoned and in death row in Indonesia,” both groups said in a statement Friday, September 2.

The groups added that Marcos should heed Veloso’s family’s ongoing petition for the Philippine government to appeal to Widodo to grant her clemency and release her on humanitarian grounds.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) announced on September 2 that Marcos chose Indonesia and Singapore as the first countries he would visit as president to “strengthen ties” with two of the Philippines’ geographically closes neighbors.

“As close neighbors and founding members of ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations), the Philippines enjoys active engagement with Indonesia and Singapore in (a) myriad of areas including security and defense, trade and investment, people-to-people exchanges, and more,” DFA spokesperson Ambassador Teresita Daza said in a briefing.

In the case of Indonesia, Daza pointed out that both the Philippines and its closest neighbor are both archipelagic states that share an extensive, porous border and are close partners in maritime cooperation, a priority issue to be discussed by Marcos and Widodo.

Marcos is scheduled to meet Widodo from September 4 to 5 in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta for a series of discussions, including the renewal of a defense and security agreement between the two countries first signed in 1997.

Marcos’ chance

Both MI and CTFSLMJV however said Marcos should not forget about Veloso who had been on Indonesia’s death row in the last 12 years.

Arrested and convicted in April 2010 for smuggling 2.6 kilos of heroin into Indonesia in a suitcase, Veloso maintained she was unaware of the contraband and was only a victim of human trafficking.

Veloso’s execution by firing squad was stayed in 2015 pending the resolution of her appeal.

Meanwhile, her traffickers Maria Kristina Sergio and Julius Lacanilao were found guilty of illegal recruitment and estafa by a Nueva Ecija court in January 2020 and are sentence to life imprisonment.

Bringing Veloso home would foster a message of hope to all overseas Filipinos who have fallen victims to human traffickers, Rev. Homar Distajo of the CTFSLMJV said.

“We continue to appeal for clemency or any other appropriate remedies that will allow Mary Jane to come home to the Philippines. Mary Jane can bring hope that there can be rescue for those used and abused through the trickery of traffickers, while also amplifying a strong message for migrant workers to be careful,” Distajo said.

MI meanwhile pointed out that Marcos mentioned about his government’s campaign against human trafficking in his first State of the Nation Address last July.

“If he is truly genuine in his commitment to combat the problem of human trafficking, he should exert all efforts to appeal to President Widodo to release Mary Jane under humanitarian grounds,” MI chairperson Joanna Concepcion said.

“As President Marcos journeys to Indonesia, we truly pray that the case of Mary will be a priority issue. It is now time to bring Mary Jane home,” Concepcion added. # (Raymund B. Villanueva) 

Pahayag ng Migrante International kaugnay sa kaso ni Mary Jane Veloso

Nagbigay-pahayag si Joanna Concepcion, tagapangulo ng Migrante International kaugnay sa naging pinal na desisyon ng Korte Suprema na payagang makapagbigay testimonya si Mary Jane Veloso sa pamamagitan ng written deposition.

Tuluyang ibinasura ng Korte Suprema noong Agosto 15 ang apela ng mga rekruter ni Veloso na sina Ma. Cristina Sergio at Julius Lacanilao. Ito ay kaugnay sa kasong illegal recruitment, human trafficking at estafa.

Si Veloso ay kasalukuyang pa ring nakakulong sa Indonesia simula 2010 dahil sa kasong ilegal na droga.

Kaanak at tagasuporta, nanawagang payagang mag-testimonya si Mary Jane Veloso

Nagsagawa ng press conference ang mga kaanak, abugado at taga-suporta ni Mary Jane Veloso para magbigay ng update kaugnay sa deposition testimony niya sa Indonesia.

Kamakailan ay pinayagan ng Korte Suprema na magbigay ng deposition si Veloso mula sa kanyang piitan sa Indonesia. Ayon sa kanyang abugado, malaking bagay ang desisyon ng Korte Suprema para mapatunayang biktima ng human trafficiking si Veloso.

Nagpasalamat ang ama ni Mary Jane na si Cesar sa mga abugado at grupong patuloy na tumutulong sa kanyang anak. Hangad niya na makalaya na si Mary Jane at makapiling ang kanyang mga anak.

Nakatakda sa Oktubre 28 sa Cabanatuan RTC ang huling pagdinig ng prosekusyon laban sa mga illegal recruiter ni Veloso na sina Maria Kristina Sergio at Julius Lacanilao.

Si Veloso ay nakakulong sa Indonesia nang mahigit siyam na taon sa kasong pagpuslit ng ilegal na droga at nahatulan ng death penalty. Subalit noong 2015 ay ipinatigil ng gobyerno ng Indonesia ang pagbitay sa kanya matapos mahuli sa Pilipinas ang mga recruiter ni Veloso. (Music: News Background Bidyo ni: Joseph Cuevas/ Kodao)

Trafficked Pinoys hope for more protection in UAE

Dubai, UAE–Thirty-three-year old Filipina Sheila Endong heard stories of happy lives in the UAE and was lured by a friend to come here to work as a domestic worker. She arrived in the country in November last year but it was not the promised life that greeted her.

Sheila was a victim of human trafficking. Her case has been told many times over. Her ordeal started from her country of origin and when she was offered a free airline ticket and paid-for tourist visa.

Sheila said she left Zamboanga Sibugay in Southern Philippines to find a job and provide a good life for her 10-year-old son. Her friend told her that a job was waiting for her in the UAE and her travel papers were immediately processed. She did not pay anything except for her medical test.

She said she breezed through the immigration check-in from Manila because she was ‘escorted’ by a Philippine immigration staff. A kabayan (compatriot) picked her up at the Dubai International Airport and she was immediately brought to an accommodation in Ajman.

She was not allowed to leave the flat and she learned she was offered to prospective employers at a cost of Dh17,000. Employers had to bite the bullet because of the dearth in the supply of available household service workers.

With no regulation and proper monitoring in place, Sheila had at least three different employers in the past 10 months. At one point, she suffered physical abuse from her employer which prompted her to run away.

Philippine labour officials in the UAE said Sheila’s case is just one of the many cases they’ve handled because of the lack of transparency in recruitment and because many Filipinos come to the UAE using a tourist visa to find work.

This will soon come to an end, according to Philippine Labour Secretary Silvestre Bello, who recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on Labour Cooperation with UAE Minister of Human Resources and Emiratisation (MoHRE) Saqr bin Ghobash Saeed Ghobash.

“The MoU enhances existing friendly relations between the UAE and the Philippines, through labour cooperation to promote mutual benefits and provide adequate protection to overseas Filipino workers (OFWs),” he said.

The MoU is a result of many consultations, which began when the UAE Cabinet tasked the ministry to oversee the domestic workers sector in the country, he added.

Human trafficking will be curbed because, under the MoU, the recruitment office is tasked with sending the job offer to the employee in their home country and listing the obligations of the labour contract. The contract will be signed by the employer and employee upon the arrival of the latter to the UAE Only recruitment agencies registered with the MoHRE are able to offer recruitment and employment applications for domestic workers that have been submitted by employers.

Awareness and guidance programmes will also be organised for the employer, and the employee before exiting the Philippines. Moreover, the programmes will inform contractual parties about their rights and obligations towards each other.

Bello also noted that the MoU on Labour Cooperation includes an annex called Protocol on Domestic Workers. He said the Protocol highlights recruitment and admission of Filipino domestic workers to the UAE in accordance with the protective Philippine and UAE laws.

The Philippine Labour Secretary said: “Among the rights to be guaranteed under the Protocol, through a standard employment contract under the newly-approved UAE Law on Domestic Workers, are the following: a) Treatment of the worker that preserves personal dignity and physical safety; b) Due payment and non-withholding of wages; c) Twelve hours of daily rest; d) One full day of weekly rest; e) Decent accommodation; f) Medical treatment; g) Retention of identity documents, such as passports; h) Non-payment of costs and fees on recruitment and deployment; and i) Non-payment of costs for repatriation.

At a recent town hall meeting with Filipino community leaders in Abu Dhabi, Bello praised the MoU as a big step for the protection of OFWs. Sheila, who was in the audience, is optimistic that her rights are now protected. # (Angel L. Tesorero / Khaleej Times)

This story was first published here.