Friday, March 21, 2014

Dad's Review - Offloading of Filipino tourists by immigration officers

The new Clark Airport

This is the current buzz in Philippine's travel world after the missing Malaysian Airlines due to an earlier statement by the chief of Philippine Immigration Authority that a financial capacity is required before any Filipino tourist would be allowed to leave. However, due to confusion and countless posts of irate Netizens, the statement was later retracted and clarified that financial capacity is not a requirement at all for any Filipino to travel abroad.

According to Philippine Immigration website, any Filipino who wishes to travel abroad simply needs a valid passport, plane tickets and visa. However, it is a known fact that aside from these travel documents an immigration officer usually asks for other supporting documents depending on the country a Filipino tourist intends to visit.

It is also stated on their website that they're mandated to check the documents of any Filipino tourist to prevent him or her to become a victim of human trafficking. But for all their intent and so-called mission, there is no getting away from the fact that countless of Filipino tourists have been offloaded and suffered financial loss even if they are brandishing complete travel documents on the face of the immigration officer. These people behind those glass counters don't care whether a passenger will lose hard-earned money or everything he has once they find loophole in the passenger's reason for traveling.

As an OFW and as a Filipino Dad, I would like to share my point of view regarding tourist worker.

In October 2012, I was invited by a government owned Gas Company in Abu Dhabi, UAE to attend an interview. The company provided me a visit visa, RT tickets and a 3D/2N accommodation in a 5-star hotel in Abu Dhabi City aside from reimbursement for any incidental expenses incurred during traveling. Upon presenting the visit visa to the immigration officer at NAIA T1, the old lady at the immigration counter ushered me to another immigration desk for an interview. After 30 minutes of discussion with the young lady interviewer I was allowed to travel to Abu Dhabi City.

In addition, my sister and brother who have been jobless for quite sometime left Philippines as tourists a few years back. They are now gainfully employed in UAE and corrected their status in our embassy.

Our Immigration Authority should be made aware of the reality of highly competitive world of global labor market. Gone are the days that companies abroad would lined-up at our doors to hire us. Overseas job hunting through weekend newspaper can now be considered as a thing of the past for social media and internet have taken over the arduous old-school task of connecting the employers to suitable applicants.

These days, the softcopy of your employment documents are requested by your prospective employer or its agent for a thorough review; a telephone interview sometimes follows. In case they find you qualified for the job, it is cheaper for the employer to send visit visa and RT tickets for face-to-face interview, inspection of documents and possibly medical exams rather than conducting the actual selection in the Philippines. By doing this, the employer or company is assured that it can select from a roster of highly qualified individuals from different countries aside from reducing the cost of hiring. If you are fortunate enough to be selected after a battery of exams and interviews then contract signing or an offer letter will follow. Oftentimes you need to go back to your country and wait for their call or offer; in this case another visit visa will be issued for your final mobilization. I got my previous jobs through these hiring procedures thus I knew how difficult it was to compete with other nationalities vying for the same position. Not to mention the edge of these "other nationalities" since they are not being restricted by their government to travel abroad.

With regards to my siblings, my sister was recruited through an agency in Philippines; she was deployed using a tourist visa in UAE. After completing her contract she left her employer in search of better opportunity. She was fortunate enough to find a higher paying and stable job. Soon afterwards our younger brother followed. Both of them are now working under the same company and enjoy all legal benefits under UAE labor law.

According to a recent press release on Philippine Immigration Facebook page which was taken down perhaps due to numerous negative comments from Netizens, offloading is a result of implementation of their guidelines. Yet, numerous individuals have been offloaded even if they have presented all requirements to the immigration officer.

To minimize unnecessary offloading, I would like to recommend the following to our immigration authority. Thus I consider this post as an open letter to Philippine Immigration Authority.

1. Professionalize their ranks. Hire and train younger or newly graduate as immigration officers because they have not yet been exposed to corrupt practices of those veteran immigration officers. Moreover, assign polite and courteous staff as interviewer whose main objective is to clearly check and validate the travel documents and not to intimidate the passenger.
2. Information campaign that will emphasize all requirements (not guidelines) needed by a Filipino tourist before he can visit a particular country. This can easily be done through the social media. I mentioned requirements and not guidelines in order to be very specific. Any imaginative immigration officer can easily play around those guidelines since they are too generic. It is better to call a spade as spade.
3. Stick to the requirements. Incomplete requirement means a passenger can be offloaded. On the other hand, any Filipino tourist should be allowed to leave without any further interview once complete travel requirements have been presented. Do not demand other supporting or annoying documents such as pictures, birth certificate, recommendations, health insurance, etc. which are not included on the list of requirements.
4. Never ask for show money. I have personal knowledge that some of my friends and colleagues have been asked by immigration officers to show money before they were allowed to leave.
5. Immigration officer should provide an offloaded passenger an official document indicating the list of requirements needed by the passenger or the cause of being offloaded. There should be a legal and official way to inform the affected passenger regarding the reason of his/her offloading.
6. Put-up a complaint desk inside the airport so a further and final analysis of the situation can be done in case an offloaded passenger felt that a mistake was committed by the immigration officer. This is a check and balance procedure to prevent any immigration officer in offloading a passenger by sudden whim. There were even instances that an offloaded passenger who fell in line again was allowed by another immigration officer upon seeing that the passenger has complete travel documents.
8. Lastly, don't treat tourist workers as law transgressor. Truth be told, they are simply searching for greener pasture and willing to take risk just to achieve their objective. Hence, offloading can be considered as trampling on one's right to find better opportunity, if I may say so. It makes me wonder why the Commission on Human Rights is never making a fuzz about this matter.

To sum it all, it can't be denied that there is a general sentiment that a Filipino tourist worker searching for a gainful employment abroad through internet or personal application is usually treated/assumed/profiled by Philippine Immigration Authority as victim of illegal recruitment or human trafficking. Nevertheless, in case a Filipino tourist worker has been exploited abroad then our government is legally and morally bound to assist its citizen whether he is a documented worker or not. This situation shouldn't be used by our government as reason to restrict the movement of all Filipino tourist workers. Otherwise, it goes without saying that it is better for our government to be lazy than to be tired in protecting its poor citizens abroad.

Furthermore, numerous reports have emphasized that even documented workers can be exploited and abused abroad while obviously not all undocumented workers would suffer terrible fate.

In fairness, there are recent improvements regarding the immigration services in our airports such as having a single queue in front of departure immigration counters to prevent connivance between passengers and immigration officer, additional personnel and desks at the arrival area of NAIA T1 for faster processing and conducting interviews in an open area to avoid the old practice of bribery and extortion. I noticed too that many immigration officers appear respectful and courteous unlike before. Faster service is noticeable as well except at Clark Airport arrival area where an immigration queue sometimes reaches 45 minutes.

See related post: Practical tips for Filipino tourist workers to avoid getting offloaded


My family and I have never been offloaded in any of our many trips abroad be it from Clark Airport, or NAIA T1, T2 and T3. My wife also underwent an immigration interview once but eventually allowed to leave upon verification of her travel documents. We always make sure that we have RT tickets and hotel booking.