x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Filipinos fight the need for contentious travel papers

Even with the document some officials in the Philippines bar travellers from leaving for UAE.

ABU DHABI // A rights group wants the Philippine government to scrap a controversial immigration document that many Filipinos wrongly believe is needed to fly out of the Philippines for the UAE.

Emirati authorities do not request the document upon Filipinos’ arrival in the Emirates. Yet the document, an affidavit of support and guarantee from a sponsor, is often presented to officials in the Philippines by travellers who believe it will support their claim to visit relatives.

To complicate matters, the document is easily faked and difficult to  authenticate and and as such is not regarded an adequate proof that  a “tourist” does indeed have a sponsor in the UAE. Yet they still  remain available, with the Philippine Embassy and consulate in the UAE preparing them on request - for a Dh100 fee.

Now, Migrante-UAE, a group created to protect the rights and welfare of Filipinos overseas, is planning a UAE-wide petition calling for the purposeless affidavits to be scrapped.

It will submit the signatures to the Philippine Consulate in Dubai, with copies sent to the Philippine president and members of congress.

On Sunday, a Filipina who presented an affidavit in Manila was barred from catching her Gulf Air flight to Abu Dhabi.

“I was at the immigration counter two hours before my flight, but I missed it,” said the 32-year-old woman. “The female immigration officer said my affidavit had a different format and it would take three to five days for the anti-fraud department to verify it.”

The officer warned her that Filipinos could end up in a UAE jail if they presented fake documents. “But I’m not new to the UAE and I know that the document is genuine,” she said by phone from Manila.

The Filipina worked as an administrative assistant in Abu Dhabi from 2008 until July. Her cousin, who lives in Abu Dhabi, applied for a tourist visa from a travel agency in Dubai and had the document attested at the Philippine Embassy in the capital.

“The officer also asked for a proof of our relationship,” she said. “I had to secure another document to prove that he’s my third-degree cousin.”

Jose Jacob, the consul at the embassy who is responsible for attesting the affidavit of support, said the embassy had not been informed by Manila about any new verification procedure.

“We respect the authority of the Bureau of Immigration but how can they verify its authenticity?” he said. “It should send the document to the authentication department of the Department of Foreign Affairs.”

The embassy has been on the receiving end of complaints from UAE-bound travellers. “Some boarded the aircraft but were later asked to disembark,” Mr Jacob said.

To further confuse matters, different airport immigration officers apply different standards.

According to a memo sent to the Philippine Embassy and consulate in October last year, immigration officers in the Philippines have the discretion to assess the documentation presented by anyone with a temporary visitor or tourist visa.

“We also received complaints against immigration officers who ask passengers to have their UAE tourist visas authenticated,” Mr Jacob said. “But the only way to determine whether it’s genuine or not is if the passenger is allowed to enter the UAE.”

Benito Valeriano, the Philippine consul general in Dubai, has tried to stamp out the practice, asking for permission from Manila to refuse to sign the affidavits.

“They said I can’t,” said Mr Valeriano, who is duty-bound to sign them.

Nhel Morona, the secretary general of Migrante-UAE, said the group views it as “a form of state exaction” because they charge money for the process.

“The consulate officers who attended last year’s forum said it may be one of the documents that can be presented but it doesn’t guarantee that passengers will be allowed to depart.”

In November last year, Migrante organised a public forum where Filipinos called on their consulate in Dubai to issue clearer guidelines on the issue.

“Migrante is a member of the governing council and I will give them a chance to present it,” said Alan Bacason, the newly elected president of the council. “We will listen and provide our own recommendations as a governing council.”

rruiz@thenational.ae