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Coronavirus effect: Hundreds of Filipinos in the UAE want to go back home

By Angel L. Tesorero

Dubai: A few hundred Filipino expats are seeking to be repatriated soon, a source within the Filipino diplomatic community said Saturday, March 11.

Flights to Manila from this city, however, are still suspended, following the Philippine government’s directive on extending the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in Luzon.

Philippine Airlines (PAL) and budget airline, Cebu Pacific – have also extended the suspension of all flight operations between Dubai and Manila until April 30.

Moreover, the decision to suspend passenger and transit flights to and from the UAE – as a preventive measure to curb the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) – is still in effect.

Meanwhile, around 200 seafarers have been repatriated to the Philippines on Saturday.

The repatriation of the stranded Filipino crew members, who are not UAE residents, was coordinated with UAE authorities who allowed them to disembark and take a chartered flight arranged by their employers through local manning agencies.

In an earlier Gulf News report, Marford Angeles, Consul-General and Deputy Head of Mission at the Philippine Embassy, said they have been working on the repatriation of Filipino crew members stranded in various ports in the UAE.

The Filipino diplomat also clarified, as per POLO-OWWA (Philippine Overseas Labor Office – Overseas Workers Welfare Administration), “employers are responsible for their employees’ repatriation, based on their contract.”

Angeles added the Philippine Embassy in Abu Dhabi has been closely coordinating with the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs on cases of stranded Filipino nationals. “These cases are subject to compliance with both Philippine and UAE laws and regulations, including a mandatory 14-day quarantine period upon arrival in the Philippines being coordinated with the Philippine Department of Health and OWWA,” he earlier told Gulf News.

Angeles also clarified the Embassy’s programme of repatriating those with visa problems and immigration offences and victims illegal recruitment is still on hold due to the suspension of exit pass processing and suspension of UAE flights.

“This programme is also subject to availability of funds. Those who need help with their exit pass processing may call +971508584968 or +971508963089, or email atn.abudhabi@gmail.com for proper advice,” he added. #

(This article originally appeared on Gulf News.)

152 OFWs get Dubai exit pass; 88 home by August 15

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.

OFW Fernando Pacheho holding his UAE exit pass. (Photo by Angel L. Tesorero)

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)

Changing face, fortunes of Filipinos in the UAE

By Angel L. Tesorero of Khaleej Times for Kodao Productions

DUBAI, UAE—Filipinos have helped shape the UAE for years now. A vital force in nation-building, their presence can be found across almost all industries – from the service sector to construction, health, education, media, entertainment, and so on.

As of last year, around 620,000 Filipinos were living and working in the UAE, up from 525,000 at the end of 2013. According to official figures provided by the Philippines Consulate in Dubai, around 12 to 15 per cent of Filipinos in Dubai and the northern emirates belong to the professional sectors. These include doctors, nurses, architects, engineers, accountants, and others.

Some 45 to 50 per cent are semi-skilled, working as office and administrative assistants, sales and retail personnel, hotel staff and in other related industries. The rest of the OFWs (overseas Filipino workers) in the UAE belong to the low-skilled category, such as household service workers, nannies, and cleaning personnel.

But the image of a migrant Filipino is constantly changing – from doing household chores to making their marks as competent professionals. Moreover, an increasing number of Filipinos are now running their own businesses. “A growing number of Filipinos are into the creative industries business. These include fashion designers, artists, musicians, web designers, animators, and the like,” Philippine Consul-General Paul Raymund Cortes said.

“The growing number of Filipino professionals in the UAE is definitely a reflection of the trust and confidence of the UAE business community in their skills and expertise. Construction companies, trading offices, financial operations, and many other Dubai-based companies increasingly rely on the expertise and work ethic of the Filipino,” he adds.

Another growing segment is human resources professionals. The Filipino talent and skill in managing human resources is legendary, Cortes notes.

However, despite their large numbers here and their famous hardworking image, big establishments owned by Filipinos are a rarity in the UAE.

Filipino education consultant Dr Rex Bacarra says: “It is unfortunate that despite our talents and potential, we (Filipinos) are mostly related to and known for only the hospitality/service sectors. We are capable of becoming captains of the industry.”

One Filipino tech entrepreneur has shown that Filipinos are not only labour exporters. Mannix Pabalan, CEO of Hashtag Digital FZ LLC is a pioneer in digital commerce, one of fastest rising industries in the world, particularly in the Middle East.

He says: “There is an unprecedented growth of digital marketing in the region, but there are only a few professionals who can claim expertise in the wide spectrum of digital commerce, so we decided to penetrate the GCC market in 2014 and put up our digital marketing firm.”

Another burgeoning industry that Filipinos are making their mark in is education, according to Bacarra. “The Filipino diaspora make up a sizeable number of teachers and professors in the UAE,” he says.

“I can think of three reasons why Filipino educators are – or strive to be – excellent. Firstly, there is the drive to succeed. An innate desire to prove that being away from our own country means avoiding failure at all costs. As professors, we look at the classroom as the core and an extension of this desire to succeed, so we innovate in our teaching styles and find ways to connect with students.

“Secondly, we have very good foundations in the Philippines. We were taught that teaching is not just a profession, but a vocation. As educators, we went through rigorous trainings on the philosophy and principles of genuine education. We were taught that we are forming the young and we need heart to understand the full extent of that responsibility. Money is secondary; the genuine love for the future of the young generation is a priority.

“Thirdly, we are Filipinos, and we proudly wear that badge which we swore to uphold. We have values that we impart. In the Philippines, we consider students as our own children, and we impart to them the same values we give our own kids.”

Filipinos also love food. In fact, they have helped changed the gustatory landscape in Dubai, where we see many Filipino restaurants sprouting left and right.

One ‘hot’ Filipino restaurant right now is Hot Palayok in Karama, an area once dominated by Indian and Pakistani restaurants. It’s just one of the many Filipino restaurants in the area that are doing well.

“I think it’s not just for tastes of home or nostalgia that people come here, because we have customers from other nationalities as well,” says Hot Palayok chef de cuisine Michael delos Santos. “In fact, we have customers coming in from all over the UAE – from Abu Dhabi, Fujairah and Al Ain.

“Other nationalities are also now being introduced to Filipino cuisine and this is a big market,” he adds. # (Originally published in The Khaleej Times)