The Bureau of Immigration (BI) will be adopting the suggestion of former Special Assistant to the President Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go to open pre-screening desks in all the country’s international airport terminals. The measure is a response to reports of unjust offloading of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) traveling as tourists and of increasing numbers of deferred passengers.
Reports of a particular incident where an immigration official unjustly unloaded an OFW who was traveling as a tourist have been circulating, prompting Go to raise concern for the OFW community. At Immigration forward counters, OFWs traveling as tourists may encounter problems as their documents could be classified as incomplete, despite the purpose of their travels.
Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente thanked Go for his suggestion.
“Kaya nagpapasalamat kami kay SAP Bong Go for raising this concern to us at nabigyan natin ng solusyon (That is why we are grateful to SAP Bong Go for raising this concern to us and BI is able to find solution to this concern),” Morente told reporters in a sideline interview during Wednesday’s unveiling of the newly installed E-Gates at Francisco Bangoy International Airport in Davao City.
Normal immigration procedures require all Philippine passport holders to pass through immigration forward counters as part of departure formalities. Should an immigration officer find a problem or discrepancy with the traveler’s document or itinerary which the passenger cannot explain, they will be forwarded to another screening following 45 seconds. After this, they may finally be cleared to travel.
“Sa secondary screening doon magtatagal kaya hahaba ang pila (The secondary screening will take some time that’s why the lines will be longer),” said Morente. He confirmed that many OFWs are offloaded after the assessment of their documents and other requirements necessary for travel and work abroad. OFWs traveling for the first time as tourists who fail to adequately the purpose of their travel are affected by this.
Go began raising concerns after receiving reports of deferred or offloaded passengers and seeing the long lines awaiting travelers at immigration counters. The current procedure for departure formalities takes a long time, resulting in a build up at the counters.
“Ito po ang naging suggestion ko noong nasa gobyerno pa ako para po sa mga OFWs na parating umaalis ng bansa. Hindi lang OFWs kundi sa ibang pasahero (This was my suggestion when I was in the government for our OFWs. Not only for the OFWs but other passengers),” said Go.
Go’s suggestion is that OFWs traveling as tourists to other countries would be excused from having to secure an Oversees Employment Contract (OEC) for the trip. OECs are issued by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA). For leisure or vacation travel, it would be difficult for an OFW to secure this when he or she may have no intention of working during the trip.
The BI had previously implemented another of Go’s suggestions under the Balik Manggagawa for Philippine passport holders with valid visa and existing work contract with their employers.
Providing pre-screening counters for OFWs traveling as tourists would decongest the overloaded immigration counters and prevent wrongful unloading, according to Go. International-bound passengers as a result would be able to enjoy faster and smoother departure procedures.
BI will initially set up two pre-screening desks at NAIA 3. According to Morente, the pre-screening desks are expected to cater to a daily estimate of as much as 2,000 travelers.
“But this will be cascaded to all international airport terminals,” said Morente.
Guidelines for the pre-screening desks have already been issued by Morente, pursuant to Republic Act 9208 of the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003, as amended by Republic Act 10364 or the Expanded Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2012 and its Implementing Rules and Regulations on departure formalities.
The guideline clarifies that a “Balik Manggagawa OFW with valid visa and existing work contract with his/her current employer who intends to go to other countries while on vacation is considered a tourist.” Under this, OFWs traveling as tourists will need to proceed in accordance with the guidelines for tourist passengers and would not be required special documents such as an OEC.
“Ang kagandahan dito nabigyan tayo ng additional recruitment quota. Marami na tayong immigration officers (What is good here we were given additional recruitment quota. We have many immigration officers),” said Morente.