Dubai: Although unable to get an online appointment, UAE-based Filipino expatriates Mark and Phillip (names changed upon request) survived the summer heat and went to the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) in Dubai to validate their employment contracts and obtain an overseas employment certificate (OEC) – a mandatory travel document for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).
They were not lucky because POLO Dubai executes “strictly by-appointment only” transactions. Both Mark and Phillip have already booked their tickets to visit their respective families in the Philippines later this month.
According to the POLO Dubai advisory: “All applicants (contract verification, Overseas Workers Welfare Administration membership/Return of Workers-OEC, Social Security System, Home Development Mutual Fund/Pag-ibig membership) are required to present a confirmed appointment to be granted entry (at POLO Dubai), except for OFWs with a confirmed flight tomorrow. ”
“In such cases and in the presentation of complete documentary requirements, they should be provided with contract verification services. If confirmed flights fall on weekends and/or legal holidays, they must be accepted on the nearest working day, “it added.
“POLO verified contracts and OECs are not required when returning to the Philippines,” noted POLO Dubai, adding: “(documents) are required when the OFW returns to his place of work (in this case, the UAE).”
For Mark and Phillip, the problem is they can’t get an appointment before their flight. Both had not seen their family for two years.
The case of Mark and Phillip is not isolated. In April, POLO Dubai experienced an “unprecedented number of clients for more than a week”, resulting in long queues of Filipinos seeking employment contract verification.
Filipino expatriates took to social media to express their “outrage at the long wait”. They also shared photos of people queuing outside the POLO office at Al Qusais 3 (next to the Philippine Consulate General) at 4am to get an OEC.
Gulf News Earlier, the feelings of Filipinos who vented their anger were reported through social media posts. Rein Angelo Ramoz called for the OEC to be scrapped. His compatriot, Renzi, posted a message on Gulf News The Facebook page is addressed to POLO-Dubai, which says: “Don’t let the Filipino people suffer (because of) the OEC and employment contract verification. I don’t think it makes sense to wait in long queues in the sun for more than 12 hours. Please be generous. I saw them patiently waiting outside. I don’t think they deserve this. “
There is no longer a long queue at POLO Dubai, following the implementation of a strict appointment system, but for Mark and Phillip and other OFWs, getting an online appointment is a big challenge.
Why OFWs need OEC
Verification of the employment contract is a prerequisite for the issuance of an OEC. Under the directive of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), all OFWs (overseas Filipino workers) are required to have an OEC in order to return to work abroad. The OEC, also known as exit clearance/pass, is a document certifying the regularity of recruitment and documentation of an OFW and a proof of his/her registration with the POEA.
The OEC is presented to the immigration officer at the airport of exit in the Philippines. An OFW holding an OEC may have the following privileges: Travel tax exemption, airport terminal fee exemption and reduced travel tax for spouse or dependents.
An OFW leaving the Philippines without an OEC can be prevented by the immigration officer from leaving the country.
Philippine Labor Attache John Rio Aceveda Bautista reiterated that the OEC is mandated by law. “The system is maintained by the POEA and scrapping it is a policy issue that only management can address.”
‘OEC scrapping for any country not ratified’
“As long as it (OEC) is required under POEA regulation, we will implement it,” Bautista said, adding: “Scrapping the OEC only for the UAE or a country will not be ratified because it is required for all destination countries. That is why we strongly encourage them to go through the legal channel. “
Bautista underlined: “OEC is the exit clearance, recognized by immigration officials for OFWs to leave from the Philippines. The OEC also exempts OFWs from airport terminal fee and travel tax. The issuance of the OEC is mandated by POEA rules and is considered valid until declared unconstitutional by a court of law.
Scrap OEC now
Filipino expat Rica Turay pleaded: “Please remove this OEC requirement. This OEC gave us a lot of stress. We just want to go home to see our family. “
Filipino vlogger and social media influencer Ion Gonzaga told Gulf News: “OEC presents [people with] more frustration than benefit. “He insisted:” Our UAE employment visa should be enough to validate our work. We need the right help instead of just a ‘certificate’. “
Gonzaga also criticized the “poor appointment system”, adding: “The website is poorly designed; online booking is difficult; data verification is inaccurate. POLO-Dubai does not accept cards or digital payment.
Gonzaga continued: “The tax on travel to the Philippines at the airport is approximately Dh115. We will actually pay more for OEC and contract verification. They cost Dh92 and Dh40, respectively, and you add the money spent on going to POLO-Dubai and the time wasted on processing the request-it’s very inconvenient and more expensive. ”
No empirical data
“There is no empirical data that the act of contract verification conducted by POEA can justify the reduction of the basic rights of the traveler. Freedom of movement is a constitutional right, which cannot be deprived of a citizen without due process of law and on the clear and compelling basis of national security, public health and public safety, ”said Barney Almazar, director in the corporate-commercial department.of Gulf Law.
“The requirement to obtain an exit pass or OEC is a violation of a Filipino’s right to travel,” he added.
Duties of OFWs
Almazar is also pushing for the abolition of the OEC. He explained: “The government’s duty to protect its citizens must be balanced with the people’s right to travel and seek employment abroad. Human trafficking is not prevented simply by stamping an employment contract. Criminals are not dumb to give a contract that they know will be rejected. The government must crack down on illegal recruiters and not punish those who want to work abroad for their families. “
He added: “The best way is to offer support to OFWs and channel resources to agencies based in host countries, rather than spending on useless paperwork and bureaucracy.”