Filipinos lining up before dawn at Philippine Overseas Labour Office (POLO) in Dubai
Filipinos lining up before dawn at Philippine Overseas Labour Office in Dubai last month. Image Credit: Courtesy: Jan Michael T.

Dubai: The Philippine Overseas Labour Office (POLO) in Dubai started implementing on Wednesday “a strict by-appointment only” transaction for those seeking employment contract verification and overseas employment certificate (OEC) — a mandatory travel document for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

The move comes after POLO-Dubai received an unprecedented number of Filipinos who were planning to travel back home, that resulted in daily long queues outside its premises last month. Some people who managed to secure an online appointment, however, were saved from the long queues.

POLO said it had allocated 250 appointment slots daily for consolidated contract verification and OWWA (Overseas Workers Welfare Administration) membership application or renewal; while 150 slots per day were allotted for OEC.

The regulation has controlled the number of clients at POLO-Dubai, but the call for scrapping of OEC is once again in the spotlight.

Overseas Employment certificate. Image Credit: Supplied

‘Don’t let us suffer’

Scores of Filipinos have vented their ire on social media. Rein Angelo Ramoz called for the scrapping of the OEC. His compatriot, Renzi, posted a message on the Gulf News Facebook page addressed to POLO-Dubai: “Please don’t let the Filipino people suffer (because) of OEC and employment contract verification. I don’t think waiting in a long line under the sun for more than 12 hours is justifiable. Please be considerate. I saw them patiently waiting outside. I don’t think they deserve this.”

Filipino vlogger and social media influencer Ion Gonzaga also said the OEC “has presented [people with] more frustrations than benefits”.

Rica Turay added: “Please remove this OEC requirement. We only want to go home to see our family, but this OEC has given us a lot of stress.”

Mandated by law

John Rio Aceveda Bautista

Speaking to Gulf News, John Rio Aceveda Bautista, the Philippine Labour Attache, reiterated: “OEC is the exit clearance, recognised by immigration officials for OFWs to depart from the Philippines. OEC also exempts the OFW from airport terminal fee and travel tax. OEC issuance is mandated by the POEA rules and considered valid until declared unconstitutional by court of law,” he underlined. The OEC, worth Dh10 (on top of the OWWA membership fee costing Dh92), also known as exit pass, is a document certifying the regularity of recruitment and documentation of an OFW and a proof of his/her registration with the POEA. It is presented to the immigration officer at the airport of exit in the Philippines. An OFW exiting from the Philippines without an OEC may be prevented by the immigration officer from leaving the country.

Before acquiring an OEC, Filipinos working in Dubai and the Northern Emirates must get their employment contract verified at POLO-Dubai or at Philippine Overseas Employment Administration offices back home.

Upholding right to travel

Barney Almazar

Barney Almazar, director at the corporate-commercial department of Gulf Law, commented: “The requirement to secure an exit pass or OEC is an infringement on a Filipino’s right to travel. Under Philippine regulations, a Filipino is not allowed to work abroad or simply look for overseas work without the approval of the POEA. A lot of Filipinos hold valid travel documents to UAE, but are prohibited from exiting the country.”

Almazar has earlier pushed for the scrapping of OEC. He underlined: “There is a need to balance the government’s duty to protect its people and the citizens’ right to travel and look for jobs abroad. Human trafficking is not prevented by a mere act of rubber stamping an employment contract. Criminals are not dumb to provide a contract that they know will be rejected. The government should crack down on illegal recruiters and not punish those who simply want to work abroad for their families,” he said.

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Almazar, who provides legal assistance to Filipinos expatriates, noted: “There is no empirical data that the act of contract verification being done by the POEA can justify the curtailment of the fundamental right to travel. The freedom of movement is a constitutional right, which a citizen cannot be deprived of without due process of law and only on clear and compelling grounds of national security, public health and public safety.”

He added: “The best way is to offer support to OFWs and channel resources to agencies based in the host countries, rather than spending on useless paperwork and bureaucracy.”