Dubai: The Philippine Overseas Labour Office (POLO) in Dubai has been receiving an “unprecedented number of clients for more than a week”, resulting in long queues of Filipinos seeking employment contract verification, which is a pre-requisite for the issuance of an overseas employment certificate (OEC) – a mandatory travel document for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) travelling back home.
Filipino expats took to social media to express their “exasperation at having to wait for long hours”. They also shared photos of people lining up outside the POLO office in Al Qusais 3 (next to the Philippine Consulate General) as early as 5am.
Philippine Labour Attaché John Rio Aceveda Bautista told Gulf News: “For more than a week now, we are receiving unprecedented number of clients because of Ramadan. More OFWs are going home for vacation after more than two years since the pandemic started, and they are taking advantage of the no quarantine rule in the Philippines as well as cheaper airfare as compared with last Christmas.”
He underlined: “We are doing our best to address their [OFWs] concerns and assist them with their transactions. We have a system starting from the gate and people are given a number for orderly transaction inside. We have to limit the number of persons because it’s Ramadan and we do not want our attention to be called by the UAE government not observing the timings during the holy month.”
Limited staff and space
Bautista continued: “Rest assured we are doing our best to provide them our service despite our limited manpower. We have extended working hours. For several days we have been working past 7pm to accommodate all. By May, we will have more appointment slots.”
Some people who managed to secure an online appointment did not have to endure the long queue. Bautista said most of the clients were walk-in. “We are receiving 600-700 clients daily but we have limited staff and space. From POLO evaluator team, there are four staff with support personnel, and four also from OWWA [Overseas Workers Welfare Administration]. I even assist in the stamping, collecting and release of papers,” he explained.
To ease the backlog, Bautista said POLO is open on Saturday.
“Clients are encouraged to get online appointments from POLO Dubai portal. OFWs are strongly advised to have their contract verification and do other transactions with POLO way before their travel dates.
“They [OFWs] could have their employment contracts verified earlier – the validity is the same with their contract period and visa – yet they came to POLO, when their flight was near,” Bautista pointed out.
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 exiting from the Philippines without OEC may be prevented by the immigration officer from leaving the country. An OFW who holds OEC, meanwhile, enjoys the following privileges: travel tax exemption, airport terminal fee exemption, and reduced travel tax for spouse or dependents.
Filipinos working in Dubai and the Northern Emirates get their employment contract certified at the Philippine Overseas Labour Office (POLO) Dubai.
Online appointment only
In a statement, POLO said it has “consolidated contract verification and OWWA membership application or renewal as one appointment with 250 appointment slots per day while the OEC will have 150 slots per day.”
It added: “Online appointments will be strictly followed. It is also encouraged that OFWs process their documents before their travel date and POLO Dubai will not issue an OEC to workers who have entered the UAE on a visit/tourist visa and then converted to an employment visa. OFWs can also avail of their OWWA and OEC in the Philippines.
“POLO Dubai reiterates the advisory of POEA for all workers not to leave the Philippines with tourist/visit visa but to undergo the legal channel and have their documents processed with POEA.
More information is available through the OWWA hotline number 050-5585536 and firstname.lastname@example.org; and POLO employment verification number 050-652-6626 and email@example.com.
Meanwhile, calls for the scrapping of the OEC has resurfaced following the long queues at POLO Dubai. Filipino vlogger and social media influencer Ion Gonzaga posted an open letter saying: “I thought there was a plan to completely abolish OEC? Whatever happened to the idea to build a database for OFWs so we can completely get rid of this useless requirement?”
Barney Almazar, finance expert and director at the corporate-commercial department of Gulf Law, earlier pushed for the scrapping of OEC, which he called “a curtailment of one’s constitutional right to travel”. He told Gulf News the OEC was unnecessary as “an OFW ID programme has been introduced way back in 2017”.