Over the past few decades, the UAE has opened its doors to Filipinos, and developments in the region this year have made the country even more attractive to jobseekers, a Philippine official explains.

“The recent deployment ban on Filipinos wishing to work in Kuwait has made the UAE a more attractive destination for Filipino jobseekers,” says Philippine Ambassador Constancio R. Vingno Jr.

The Philippines imposed a total ban in February on Filipinos wanting to work in Kuwait following reports of abuse of Filipino workers in Kuwait, including the graphic news about Joanna Demafelis, the 29-year-old Filipina maid who was murdered in Kuwait.

The Philippines has since lifted the ban last month after the two countries signed a deal to protect the rights of Filipino workers in Kuwait. 

“The recent improvement of relations between the Philippines and Kuwait will definitely affect that trend,” Vingno says, referring to the influx of Filipino workers in the UAE.

There are approximately 645,000 Filipino expatriates in the UAE, according to 2017 figures from the Ministry of Interior.  

High-profile visits

Last September, Philippine Secretary of Labour and Employment Silvestre Bello III was in the UAE for the signing of a labour cooperation deal for Filipino household workers in the UAE. The memorandum of understanding was signed by Bello and UAE Minister of Labour Saqr Ghobash.

There is yet no information on high-profile visits of Philippine officials to the UAE, which includes reports of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s purported visit to the country, says Vingno. He points out that the past 12 months have been busy for Philippine missions in the UAE, with programmes meant to highlight Filipino culture, trade, labour protection and halal food.

Growing trade ties

Philippine trade delegations were in Abu Dhabi last year to promote halal-certified Philippine food and health and wellness products. In Dubai, a recent Philippine product launch showcased Filipino cuisine that was uniquely halal.

“It served as a gateway for trade opportunities between the Philippines and the UAE, allowing the formation of strategic partnerships with the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment, ESMA, The International Halal Accreditation Forum, and other major trading companies in the UAE,” Vingno says. The promotion of Philippine halal food is still relatively new, but authorities are hoping it will attract more tourists from the region. 

The Philippines is one of the UAE’s top exporters of bananas as well as refined copper, metal furniture and storage units. The UAE ranks as the Philippines’ 17th trading partner, with $1.31 billion (Dh4.81 billion) in total trade, according to the Philippine Trade and Investment Centre in Dubai.

Paul Raymund Cortes, Philippine Consul General in the UAE, says consular programmes are pushing for tighter relations with importers of Filipino food products into the UAE in hopes of trying to increase the number of Philippine products sold in the mainstream market in the emirates.

Promoting ecotourism

“The Philippines is eyeing more promotion activities that would aid its marketing goal of pushing the Philippines as a wellness and health and ecotourism destination,” says Cortes.

The Philippines’ high-traffic ecotourism destinations include El Nido and Coron in Palawan, Puerto Galera in Oriental Mindoro and Panglao Island in Bohol, but the country has thousands more islands waiting to be explored. 

Cortes also says that Philippine missions in the UAE will continue to support leadership and social entrepreneurship programmes for Filipino expats to “build a Filipino community that is more geared into entrepreneurial services”.

The consul general is aggressively tapping social media to reach more Filipino expats in the emirate quickly as well. 

“I try to do Facebook live as regularly as possible, every two months. This is an opportunity for me to respond to all the inquiries that the Filipino community may have on consular procedures, requirements, new developments and other concerns,” Cortes says. 

The consulate also has a vlog called History Hour that allows Filipino students to discuss Philippine culture and heritage. The Philippine Consulate General in Dubai was recently recognised as the best organisation in the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs.

“It is a recognition of the mission’s efforts on economic diplomacy, cultural diplomacy, community and stakeholder development, assistance to nationals and consul services,” Cortes says.