New travel guidelines violate rights, OFWs say

Migrant Filipinos are opposing the government’s new travel guidelines, saying the additional requirements violate the people’s right to travel.

In a statement, Migrante International (MI) said the new policy imposed by the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT) requiring Filipinos going abroad to present more documents to immigration officials is misguided and should be junked immediately.

The policy adds to the already considerable state exactions that have been imposed on overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and all migrant Filipinos, MI chairperson Joanna Concepcion said in a statement.

In its announcement of the new policy, the IACAT said that it does not intend “to encroach upon the fundamental right to travel” but to combat human trafficking.

IACAT explained that it has revised the departure protocols to “combat the grave menace of human trafficking.”


But Concepcion said the imposition of so many documentary requirements for travel violates the Filipinos’ right to travel and may increase the element of arbitrariness in immigration officials’ decisions.

Intention is one thing and effect is another,” Concepcion said, adding “the fight against human trafficking does not justify this violation.”

READ: ‘Yearbook requirement’ at Manila airport? Filipino tourist wears full graduation attire instead

MI said that the IACAT did not seem to take into account that the Philippines is a top labor exporter and the new policy is sure to fail a rights-based examination.

It added that the IACAT came up with the policy unilaterally as no consultation with the vibrant and vocal community of migrant organizations and civil society organizations has been reported.

“We seriously doubt the IACAT’s optimism that the new policy will cause a palpable reduction, if not outright elimination, of human trafficking incidents,” Concepcion said.

“The new policy puts the burden of fighting human trafficking on individual Filipinos, not on the government or human traffickers and their syndicates,” she added.

Concepcion said the IACT should concentrate on swift government action on human trafficking cases, such as the student visa scam for travel to Canada, the US, New Zealand and Australia.

“The new policy leaves unaddressed the material conditions enabling human trafficking — widespread joblessness, landlessness and poverty in the Philippines,” Concepcion said.

“In fact, the Bongbong Marcos regime has intensified the government’s labor export program and has done nothing to provide immediate relief — from soaring prices of basic goods and services for example — to Filipinos, let alone create the foundations for job creation at home,” the OFW leader added. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Arbitrary rules show immigration bureau is ‘disrespectful, rude’—Migrante International

A migrant group condemned what it called arbitrary restrictions imposed by the Bureau of Immigration (BI) against Filipino travelers its agents suspect may be victims of human trafficking.

Following reports of several passengers barred from travelling in March alone, Migrante International (MI) said the BI may have violated the right to travel of migrant workers and other overseas bound Filipinos.

Mi cited the case of Abu Dhabi-based expatriate Natalie dumlao who was not allowed to board her flight to Hong Kong last March 20 despite presenting all the required travel documents.

The immigration officer told her to cancel her United Arab Emirate residence visa first before being allowed to proceed with her pleasure trip with her partner.

MI said there is no such rule in the books.

The group also cited a Dubai-bound Filipino off to visit his sister who was offloaded twice last month despite carrying travel documents.

An Israel-bound Filipina was also asked unreasonable questions and asked to present a graduation yearbook at the immigration counter in the same time period.

Social media lit up with more stories of travelers prevented from boarding their flights after Dumlao’s complaint became viral.

“These incidents clearly show the arbitrary imposition of flight restrictions on OFWs who are about to depart the country. These restrictions violate OFWs’ right to travel and work abroad and are openings for bribery and corruption. This is no way to treat the country’s supposed new heroes, the lifesavers of the country’s economy,” MI said.

The group added that the arbitrary restrictions show that the BI and the Marcos government are not serious in fighting human trafficking.

“On the contrary, these actions show that they are a failure in this area,” MI said.

MI said that if the goal is to combat or stop human trafficking, the BI and the Marcos government can increase their information and education efforts against human trafficking among prospective migrants and the public.

“They can look for and punish human traffickers, and not the suspected victims,” MI said.

Disrespectful immigration officers

While saying many are doing their job well, MI also accused the immigration bureau of having some of the most disrespectful, if not outright rude, immigration officers in the world.

“We blame this on the orientation given to them; they should not be playing their present role in fighting human trafficking,” MI said.

The BI has since apologized to the victims.

MI added that if the Marcos government is really serious in fighting human trafficking, it should create decent jobs in the Philippines.

“So far, it is an utter failure in this respect, as unemployment continues to increase and no palpable efforts are seen with regard to job generation efforts that are led by the government,” it said.

The group reiterated its call for the junking of exorbitant and money-making restrictions on OFWs to travel, such as the Overseas Employment Certificate, which is just an added burden, another state exaction on OFWs. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

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.

Rights agency opposes ‘no vax, no ride’ measure

The impending prohibition of unvaccinated individuals from public transport assaults the people’s fundamental rights, the government’s human rights agency said.

Commission on Human Rights (CHR) spokesperson Atty. Jacqueline Ann de Guia said in a statement that the plan by the Department of Transportation (DoTr) to ban unvaccinated persons from taking public transport is in danger of being sweeping and overly broad.

“CHR fears that, while there is no direct prohibition on the right to travel with the ‘no vaccine, no ride’ policy in public transport for the unvaccinated, this policy effectively restricts the exercise and enjoyment of fundamental rights,” de Guia said.

DoTr Undersecretary Artemio Tuazon Jr. announced Wednesday that the agency orders that only fully vaccinated individuals, with some exceptions, will be allowed to take public transportation beginning January 17, Monday.

DoTr’s Department Order No. 2022 – 001 shall cover public transportation for individuals who reside, work and travel to and from the National Capital Region, Tuazon said.

Persons with medical conditions that prevent full Covid-19 vaccination shall be asked to present a medical certificate while other unvaccinated individuals out to buy essential goods and services such as food, water, and medicine shall be asked to present barangay health passes or other proofs before boarding public transport, the DoTr said.

The CHR however expressed fear that even with such exemptions, persons may be restricted in accessing essential goods and services for having no or limited access to private vehicles.

The human rights commission explained that ordinary Filipinos continue to rely on public transportation in attaining basic needs, such as for food, work, and accessing health services, including unvaccinated individuals.

“It is not sufficient that the restrictions serve the permissible purposes; they must also be necessary to protect them. Restrictive measures must conform to the principle of proportionality; they must be appropriate to achieve their protective function; they must be the least intrusive instrument amongst those which might achieve the desired result; and they must be proportionate to the interest to be protected,” the CHR said.

In a radio interview Wednesday, a leader of one of the country’s biggest transport groups also opposed the measure, saying public transport were not consulted before DoTr issued the measure.

Pinagkaisang Samahan ng mga Tsuper at Opereytor Nationwide chairperson Mody Florida told DZRH that jeepney drivers will find it very difficult to check each and every passenger’s eligibility to take public transport. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Filipinos in UAE concerned about new travel rule by Philippines immigration

By Angel L. Tesorero

DUBAI/ ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (UAE): Filipino expats expressed their concerns after the salary threshold for securing a supplementary travel document mandated by Philippine Immigration for a Filipino to bring a family member over to the UAE was revised.

The minimum salary required to acquire an Affidavit of Support and Guarantee (AoS), an attested letter issued to Filipino tourists as a proof that they have the support of their family during their stay in the UAE, was raised from Dh3,500 to Dh10,000 with effect from August 24, 2020.

The AoS is presented to Philippine immigration officials before travelers can fly to the UAE. It is, however, not required by UAE immigration authorities upon entry to the Emirates.

Revised policy

The Philippine missions in the UAE announced the new requirements for AoS on their website.

The Philippine Embassy in Abu Dhabi and the Philippine Consulate in Dubai have yet to respond to requests for additional clarifications on the revised rule.

According to the revised policy, a Filipino residing in the UAE can execute an affidavit to sponsor a relative only within the first and second degree of consanguinity or affinity.

Aside from the proof of relationship, an expat who is single must show proof of having a Dh10,000 monthly income before he or she can sponsor a relative to visit the UAE.

Married couples or a family of two (either husband and wife or single parent and child) should have a combined income of Dh14,000; while a family of four (either a husband and wife with two children or a single parent with three children) should have a total income of Dh18,000.

The AoS stipulates that a Filipino sponsor is “gainfully employed or engaged in business” and holder of a valid UAE residence visa.

Other documentary requirements include sponsor’s employment contract duly issued by the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation or employment contract verified by the Philippines Overseas Labour Office showing monthly income and salary pay slip issued during the last six months.

The Filipino sponsor should also submit a tenancy contract from the municipality under his/her name; or if tenancy contract is not under the name of the sponsor, a hotel booking duly stamped by the hotel or travel agency is needed.

Manila’s main gateway, the Ninoy Aquino International Airport. (Image is for illustration purposes only.) Image Credit: File photo

What is AoS?

The document was introduced in 2002 by Philippine authorities to curb human trafficking. But it has been removed and reinstated several times following allegations of falsification and redundancy.

As per the AoS, a Filipino expat who is planning to bring a family member to the UAE is tendering a “guarantee that (he/she) shall provide all financial support to pay for the food, accommodation and travel, including airfare for the return journey, medication and hospitalization and other expenses, debts and obligations incurred including but not limited to immigration fines and penalties of the (visitor).”

Moreover, the AoS is a “guarantee that the (visitor) is visiting the UAE entirely for tourism and recreational purposes and is not visiting the UAE for (1) employment (2) seek employment (3) to transit via the UAE to another country where deployment of Filipino nationals is restricted or where deployment requires clearance or endorsement of relevant government departments and agencies in the Philippines.”

According to Sid Rivera, marketing manager at Al Qadi Tourism in Dubai, Philippines immigration officials routinely check the AoS of anyone travelling to the UAE. “But based on our experience, if you travel with a family member who is a UAE resident or you travel as a family, you need not show the AoS, which would cost the sponsor around Dh100,” he noted.

Rivera said they facilitate tourist visas for those who don’t have relatives in the UAE and those who earn less than Dh10,000. “Visitors like doctors and lawyers can travel even without AoS,” he added.

Travel infringement

Barney Almazar, director at the corporate-commercial department of Gulf Law and an expert on Filipino migration, said that “the AoS is an infringement on a Filipino’s right to travel.”

“The only valid requirements to travel outside Philippines are passport and visa. It is up to the host country if they need proof that you have capacity to travel — like the United States does, which is very strict when it comes to issuing a visa,” Almazar pointed out.

Malou Prado, managing director of MPQ Travel & Tourism, said the revised requirement for AoS would affect her business.

“The salary requirement is very high and not many Filipinos will qualify for the threshold,” said Malou, adding: “But I also understand why our officials implemented it (AoS). Some Filipinos come here not for tourism, but to look for jobs and if they fail to find one, they would end up being stranded and it would become the responsibility of the Philippines government to bring them home.”

“But my business will definitely be affected as 90 per cent of my clients are Filipinos. So, I hope it (AoS) will be removed,” she added.

Meanwhile, Filipino expat Carlo Santos, who works as an office clerk, said: “Based on my salary, which is Dh5,000, I’m qualified to sponsor my wife who is in the Philippines, but the stipulation for AoS has now made it difficult for me to bring her over.” #


This report is original to Gulf News.