x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Fast-track system for Filipino exit permits

New head of overseas employment aims to ease 'undue burden'.

ABU DHABI // A new online system could soon let Filipinos leave their country or the UAE without having to queue for an exit permit.

"We are hoping to implement it this year," said Hans Cacdac, who took over as head of the Philippine overseas employment administration (POEA) on January 2.

"Fast-tracking the processing of overseas employment certificates (OECs) is one way of easing the undue burden caused to overseas Filipino workers (OFWs)."

There is still work to be done, though - the budget for the online system has still to be approved, as have other details.

"It requires scrutiny by stakeholders within the Department of Labour and Employment and computer experts in government," Mr Cacdac said. "We need to ensure that the online system will not be an opportunity for illegal recruiters to exploit it."

He also plans to reopen OEC processing kiosks in malls in Manila. The kiosks had previously been set up at shopping malls during Christmas 2010, but were scrapped due to low turnout.

New Filipino hires, and Filipino expatriates returning from visits home, need to secure an exit clearance certificate before they leave the country. It proves they have been hired legally.

At the moment, the certificates are available from the Philippine overseas labour office in Abu Dhabi or Dubai, and at the POEA's main office in Manila. These certificates then have to be verified at the airport.

And while there are verification counters at Manila's three main airport terminals, there have been complaints that the process there is time-consuming - adding up to half an hour before check-in - and inconvenient.

When Gloria Rose Radoc's relatives sent her off at the airport on January 3, she noticed that the verification process took many other passengers by surprise.

"The staff at the airport should inform them beforehand," said the 42-year-old business development manager, who lives and works in Dubai.

She used the verification counter at Terminal 1 of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport - but said the OFW lounge was awkwardly located.

"Why can't it be located inside the airport and closer to the airline check-in counters?" she said. "You need to use another entrance and it's such a hassle lugging around your bags inside the [overseas Filipino workers'] lounge."

Passengers have to leave their luggage unattended in one corner of the lounge to join a long queue to have their travel documents checked.

Then they have to take another trolley outside the airport, and queue again for a security check at the departure area.

"It's so disappointing," said Ms Radoc. "Our government regards us as modern-day heroes but we're not treated like one at our airport."

A 35-year-old Filipina web designer in Dubai said she had been about to check in when she was told she needed to leave the departure area to get her documents verified.

"Why do we have to endure another line at the airport?" she asked. "Haven't they been verified when we submitted our documents in Dubai?"

After verification, she was faced with a 20-minute wait for a security check to get back into the terminal building. "It's so inconvenient. Passengers with last boarding calls had no choice but to jump the queue."

In March 2008, Rosalinda Baldoz, the POEA administrator at the time and now the labour secretary, dropped the verification of the OECs after President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo ordered the streamlining of the procedure. But Carlos Cao Jr, after taking over from Ms Baldoz, revived it in March.

Mr Cacdac said he was "aware of the pros and cons of the OEC validation", and expects to visit the airport counters in Manila today to assess the situation.

"I will speak to the airport authorities and look at the possibility of moving them [the counters]," he said.

"We have to look at both sides of the issue. While the validation of OECs seeks to ensure that the departing passengers are legitimate OFWs, we also want to make sure that they are not inconvenienced."

rruiz@thenational.ae