A top Philippine official had issued an order on Wednesday, February 14, clarifying exemptions to the "total ban" on the deployment of Filipino workers to Kuwait.
Administrative Order No. 54-A, signed by Secretary Silvestre Bello III, is addressed to "all concerned" to observe the new guidelines and exemptions on the imposed total deployment ban of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) to the Gulf country.
On Monday, February 12, immigration authorities in the Philippines started enforcing a travel ban of Kuwait-bound OFWs.
The move came as a result of a series of incidents that led to the deaths and injuries of a number of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), mostly domestic workers, in the Gulf state.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the ban.
Bello was earlier quoted as saying that not all OFWs in Kuwait will be mandated to pack up and leave. He added that Philippine authorities will also review whether or not the ban should include Filipino expats who are currently on vacation, or those under the Balik Manggagawa (exit clearance) programme.
The move, however, had caused confusion among workers, diplomats and even airport authorities in Manila.
On Monday, hundreds of workers were initially denied clearances from the immigration and Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA).
Bello has clarified in the February 14 order, an adendum to the earlier Executive Order No. 54 (2018), the following exceptions to the ban:
The administrative order signed by Philippine Labour Secretary Silvestre Bello III. - Facebook
"a) workers who are vacationing in the Philippines and will be returniung tot he same employer to finish their contracts and at the end of his/her vacation.
b) Balik Manggagawa workers who are returning to Kuwait on a new contract with the same employer; and
c) Seafarers who will be transitting through or boarding in Kuwait to join their principals."
Moreover, the order stipulated a "counter-checking process" prior to the issuance of an exit pass for overseas Filipino workers.
"The issuance of Overseas Employment Certificate (OEC) to be issued by POEA/Philippine Overseas Labour Office to Balik-Manggagawa workers exempted from the ban as specified above, shall require prior clearance from the Overseas Workers Welface Administration (OWWA)."
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Ellene Sana, executive director of the Center for Migrant Advocacy, however, said the ban is a "knee-jerk" reaction that in the past proved unproductive.
"Our experience has shown us that bans do not work," she said.
The Philippines had previously instituted deployment bans to Lebanon, Libya and Iraq during war-time periods in these countries.
But as Sana said: "Workers still went there. Workers will go to where the jobs are."
An estimated 10 million Filipinos live overseas as guest workers or as immigrants, of which more than 1 million are in the Middle East.
OFWs remit about $25 billion a year, some 10 per cent the Southeast Asian nation's GDP.
According to Kuwait's Foreign Ministry, there are 170,000 Filipino living decent lives in Kuwait.
The majority of Filipinos working in Kuwait are housemaids.
On Wednedsay, Duterte met about 250 Filipino workers who arrived in Manila from Kuwait and personally handed over 5,000 pesos ($100) to each of them.
Moreover, the returning workers would also soon get another 10,000 pesos ($200) from Department of Foreign Affairs and Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), according to a senior government official.
Meanwhile, returning workers who want to avail of skills and livelihood training will be referred to a Technical Education and Skilleds Development Authority centre closest to the hometown of the returning worker, the official added.
OFW benefits from OWWA
Temporary shelter (temporary shelter before going to home region)
Cash assistance (5,000 pesos)
By the numbers
170,000 - Estimated number of Filipinos in Kuwait
10,000 - Estimated number of Filipino workers overstaying in Kuwait, according to Philippine Ambassador to Kuwait Renato Pedro Villa
8,000 - number of Filipina domestic workers (80%) who are illegally overstaying in Kuwait. The majority have claimed their employers abuse them
400 - number of Filipinos brought back to the Philippines on Monday as part of the government's mass repatriation program
150 - number of OFWs who arrived on Tuesday
250 - number of OFWs from Kuwait expected to arrive in Manila on Wednesday
7 - cases of Filipino household workers who died in Kuwait being investigated by Kuwaiti authorities, according to CNN