x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Filipinos to gain easier path to UAE

Clearer rules will help those intending to leave their country.

ABU DHABI // Filipinos travelling to the UAE on tourist visas will no longer have to worry when they present an affidavit of support and guarantee at their country's airports.

The document will be notarised by the Philippine embassy or consulate in the UAE, and shows proof that a relative in the country is financing the trip.

This month, an anti-human trafficking body came up with clearer rules for Filipinos going abroad, including the presentation of affidavits for those intending to leave the country as tourists.

Previously, officials had the discretion to turn away travellers away even if they had the correct documents.

Since August 2010, immigration officers in Manila gave no assurances that passengers carrying proper documentation would be able to board their flights. Officers based their judgement on travellers' appearance and demeanour.

As a result, many passengers had been forced to give in to extortion attempts by some immigration officers.

The new guidelines by the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (Iacat) refined the system of "offloading", or preventing victims of trafficking from leaving the country.

According to a January 3 memo sent out by Leila De Lima, the Philippine justice secretary, the Bureau of Immigration was to implement guidelines that "highlight the duty of immigration officers to adhere to the principles of courtesy, accountability, responsibility, efficiency and service".

Officers will assess passengers who are classified as tourists, overseas Filipino workers, and immigrants and permanent residents.

Travellers on tourist visas will face a second round of inspections to protect them from human trafficking and illegal recruitment. They will also be asked to fill out a Bureau of Immigration border control questionnaire.

The guidelines are to "ensure transparency and consistency in the implementation of the offloading policy and remove any room for the exercise of personal discretion", according to Jejomar Binay, the Philippine vice president who also serves as Iacat's chairman emeritus.

Jenny Cristobal, a 41-year-old Filipina who works at a nursery in Dubai, said the new guidelines could help clear up any confusion over the affidavit of support and guarantee. In September 2010, her son-in-law was stopped at the airport despite presenting the document.

"We hope that immigration officials will now be more courteous and fair when dealing with travellers with tourist visas," she said.

But Migrante-UAE said the second round of inspections by immigration remained a cause for concern.

"It's now clear that the affidavit of support is now being recognised at the airport," said Nhel Morona, the group's secretary-general. "But what if a passenger, especially one who is desperate to leave the country, is still forced to offer a bribe to an immigration officer?"

Joey Salgado, the spokesman for Mr Binay, said the vice president had called on Iacat to devise "a clear-cut and comprehensive" system and guidelines after many passengers complained of "undue discretion by immigration officers" last year.

"The vice-president has given the assurance that if complaints persist despite the guidelines, a review will be ordered," he said.

rruiz@thenational.ae