Friday, July 25, 2014

Dad's Review - Practical tips for Filipino tourist workers to avoid getting offloaded

Photo credit: GMA Network News
It pains me whenever I see fellow Filipinos waiting for an interview at immigration departure area especially when they look worried since I know they need to convince the interviewer to allow them to catch their flights. I underwent the same procedure a few years back and fortunately I was able to persuade the interviewer to allow me to proceed with my job interview in Abu Dhabi city.

After spending money and resources I couldn't imagine the anguish and disappointment of those passengers offloaded by immigration officers due to one reason or another. Sometimes, a sudden whim by an immigration officer can spell disaster to any unprepared passenger.

Having worked for many years in a country where travel ban has been imposed several times in the past, my colleagues and I learned how to go around these travel restrictions. More so, being a regular traveler to Bangkok when sourcing our online shop products and previous family trips abroad has made me aware of the ins and outs of some of our immigration policies.

To my knowledge, an immigration officer can prevent you from leaving the country due to following reasons:

1. You have a "Hold Departure Order."
2. You have bogus travel documents such as passport and/or visa.
3. You are an undocumented worker or in other words a "tourist worker."

Plenty of Filipinos who have been asked to undergo for interview fall under category 3. It is not illegal to become a tourist worker per se; our immigration authority would not send you to jail even if they caught you red-handed. In my case, I got several valid job offers in the past and left our country as tourist several times without ado. Let me share some tips and advice to all Filipino tourist workers to minimize the possibility of getting offloaded.

Aside from passport that is valid for at least 6 months, I recommend the following steps to be followed by any Filipino tourist worker:

1. As much as possible do not indicate or divulge to the interviewer that you have a relative or friend residing in the country you plan to visit. Chances are they will demand for other supporting and sometimes annoying documents such as affidavit of support, marriage contract, birth certificate, pictures, etc. They normally demand these from tourists who have relatives or friends in Singapore and Dubai. They might even try to coerce you to call your relative or friend abroad during the interview. Hence, it is better for the interviewer to have an impression that you simply want to visit the place and you don't know anybody in that country thereby reducing the possibility of overstaying.

2. Buy your own round-trip tickets. If the interviewer detects that your tickets have been bought by other people then you have given him a reason to expound his investigation. It means there is a probability that your future employer or your recruiter is the one who has provided these tickets. One of the basic arguments being used by our immigration officers is that a tourist should have the capacity to buy his/her own plane tickets.

Update about this matter (17 Feb 2015)

I have been told that the immigration authority have access to airlines flight manifest/database thus they will know if you have connecting flight. Hence, if your final destination is different from the place you wanted to visit then make sure that your connecting flight is booked with different carrier to avoid detection by our IO.

3. Prepare hotel/hostel booking; this is essential for any legitimate tourist. Without this, don't be surprised if the immigration officer assume that you have another destination and you will use your stated destination as transit point only. Trust me, you'll find it pretty difficult to explain during the interview how you are going to spend your vacation without any proper hotel/hostel booking.

In case you don't really need to stay in the hotel/hostel then it is preferable to have hotel booking that you can show to the immigration officer. You can do this if you have a credit card; you can book your room several weeks before your flight through internet then cancel it few days before your flight. Just make sure that there is no cancellation fee for the room you have booked. By doing this, you can have a hotel/hostel booking that you can show to the interviewer.

4. If possible bring your spouse or kids with you if you plan to transit in another country. It is a common notion that a tourist worker won't spend extra money if he/she is fishing for a job abroad. Once you arrive in your stated destination then enjoy your visit with your spouse/kids. They can return back to Philippines without you while you continue your journey to your final destination. This worked with me and my other colleagues when we were trapped in Philippines during the travel ban to the country where we were working. One of my colleagues even got married and was able to leave with his new wife pretending they were going for honeymoon; the interviewer simply looked at their wedding pictures. It was a gamble on our part because if by chance we were stopped from leaving then we would suffer financial loss. Nonetheless, most of us were successful in leaving our country this way. A good place to visit is Hong Kong, Bangkok, Vietnam and Cambodia while avoid as much as possible Singapore and Malaysia as transit points since many tourists workers are leaving to find work on these places already.

In fact my wife was interviewed by an immigration officer a few years back before her flight to Kuala Lumpur with our youngest kid. She was honest with the interviewer and his supervisor, she informed them that I couldn't go home for vacation since I won't be able to return to my job due to travel ban to the country where I was working thus she and my youngest kid would meet me in Kuala Lumpur. She showed them their RT tickets and hotel booking. The immigration supervisor upon confirming all my previous flight details on their record or database finally allowed my wife and kid to catch their flight to Kuala Lumpur.

5. Research the place where you intend to visit as transit point. Example, tell them that there is an on-going celebration in Hong Kong Disneyland and you don't want your kids to miss it or it is summer vacation thus you are bringing the entire family to Bangkok for shopping. You are not lying since you and your spouse/kids will definitely visit those places and enjoy those events. You are simply withholding from the interviewer your plan to proceed and work in another country. More so, having a good travel plan or itinerary and knowledge about the place you intend to visit could sometimes turn the tide against the interviewer.

6. Secure all your work/school credentials and other related documents such as visa and another set of tickets to your final destination by placing them inside your check-in baggage. It is not uncommon for the interviewer to bluff their way in checking your hand carry bag. Once they find any of these documents then you might as well bid goodbye to your travel plan.

7. Practice what you will say during the interview and anticipate their questions since these people are trained to find loopholes in your travel plan. During my interview I was able to give convincing answers to her questions and inquiries thus she didn't have any choice but to allow me to proceed to Abu Dhabi city. Stick to your plan and if you need to raise your voice then don't be afraid to do so. You are not breaking any law but raising your voice to emphasize your points is totally different from shouting invective to the immigration officer. We need to respect these guys too since they are simply doing their job though sometimes they go beyond their limit.

8. Dress and act appropriately. These guys even without admitting it are trained to profile people. Most of the times they can easily detect whether you are indeed tourist or otherwise by simply analyzing the way you dress, act and talk. How can you expect them to believe that you'll go to Hong Kong as tourist when you're sporting an obviously cheap shoulder bag bought from "tiangge"or wearing an imitation t-shirt or worst being nervous during the interview. Relax and try to control yourself during the interview. To add, I understand that many tourist workers are indeed in need of money but there are ways to make it look that you have plenty of it. Visit a parlor where you can have your hair arranged before your flight. A powder and lipstick can do wonders to your face if properly applied. Borrow nice looking bags, dress and shoes. Believe me, I have seen plenty of well or smartly dressed Filipinas leaving as tourists without getting interviewed because they know how to talk, act and dress appropriately. I know because I sometimes hear them talking at the boarding area and some of them even posted their experience in many travel forums such as Pinoy Exchange.

9. Even if you have passed the interview and allowed to catch your flight be aware that there is another group of immigration officers scouting the waiting area for tourist or undocumented workers. You are leaving the Philippines as tourist then act like one while waiting for your flight. Don't talk with your mobile phone bragging to your family at home that you were able to fool the interviewer or talk loudly about your future job. Don't wear long faces or shed tears either. Real tourists wouldn't be doing those things. Hence, after passing the immigration departure area it is better to proceed immediately to the boarding gate since only those with boarding passes are allowed to enter the boarding area. I can confidently say that once you are inside this area you can now assume that you are on your way to your destination.

10. In case you have been prevented to leave by an immigration officer while on queue at departure area then do not argue to avoid getting the attention of other immigration officers manning the other immigration counters. Leave the queue and try to mingle with other incoming passengers and fall in line again discreetly. Make sure to queue on a different immigration counter. I have a couple of colleagues who did this and were able to leave.

11. Finally and most important, you need to convince the interviewer that you will come back to Philippines after your travel period abroad. Hence, bring company ID or business papers in case you are running your own business. You need to prove as well that you have financial capacity to travel abroad. One way of doing this is to make a deposit to your account then request for a bank certificate; you may then withdraw the amount after getting hold of the certificate. You may use this to show the immigration authority that you have money in the bank. You may also request a certificate of employment from your company stating your position and salary; you may show this to the immigration officer in case they are in doubt of your company ID. There are instances too that they would even try to confirm your company ID by calling your office.

All told, even if you follow my tips above they are not sure fire that you can leave the Philippines as tourist worker. They are only tips and guides. Be aware also that once you have been offloaded in any NAIA Terminals and Clark airport it will appear on their database and the next time you try to leave having the same status then you will be subjected to a more thorough interview and less chance to proceed to your destination unless you have acquired proper documents or use a different strategy like getting married and pretending to leave for your honeymoon, LOL.

To build your confidence, always bear in mind that you have the right to travel thus the Philippine government can't prosecute you even if you have been caught trying to leave as "tourist worker."

Good luck and may the force be with you :-)

See related post: Offloading of Filipino tourists by immigration officers

I have been busy with my new job hence; I have stopped entertaining comments/inquiries about this post. However, I am sure you will get valuable info from the previous comments - 06 Aug 2015

Nothing beats a properly documented worker when traveling abroad thus I am also discouraging those "tourist workers" from leaving if you belong to those so-called "unskilled workers" such as DH, construction workers, service crew, etc.. The risk of getting exploited abroad is very high for these kind of workers.