x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Trafficking safeguards frustrate Filipinos

Stricter departure measures to protect against the exploitation of workers disrupt travel as a result of a lack of co-ordination and clarity.

The confusion over documents has led to long waiting times at the Philippine consulate in Dubai.
The confusion over documents has led to long waiting times at the Philippine consulate in Dubai.

DUBAI // Increased vigilance to prevent human trafficking from the Philippines has led to confusion over what documents are needed from sponsors before friends and relatives can visit them in the UAE and elsewhere.

Filipinos are continuing to queue for an affidavit of support and guarantee, even though the consulate in Dubai and the Bureau of Immigration in Manila both confirmed this week that the documents are not needed to visit the UAE. At the same time, visitors are sometimes failing to submit other salary-related documents that are required.

When Jenny Cristobal invited her son-in-law to visit from the Philippines, she thought she had done everything possible to ensure the trip went smoothly.

She paid Dh100 to have an affidavit of support and guarantee notarised at the consulate after learning from staff there in September about the document, a new travel requirement imposed by the Bureau of Immigration in Manila for Filipinos sponsoring relatives travelling to some destinations on tourist visas.

After securing his boarding pass, Mark Anthony Lasian, 21, showed his passport, visa, airline ticket and the affidavit of support at Manila airport's immigration counter on October 16.

"When the officer saw my UAE tourist visa, he asked me who would be paying for my stay in Dubai," he said. "I told him that it would be my mother-in-law. Although her company had sponsored my visa, they wanted a copy of her salary certificate."

The affidavit of support turned out to be "useless", said Mrs Cristobal, 40, who works at a creche in Dubai.

"The immigration officer asked him to present more documents," she said. "He didn't have my salary certificate, so he was barred from boarding his flight from Manila last month."

Mrs Cristobal re-booked her son-in-law's flight, sending over both her salary certificate and that of her husband, including their tenancy contract, just to be sure. Mr Lasian was cleared by immigration to fly out of the country on October 18. The problem could have been cleared up if proper information had been given at the consulate, Mrs Cristobal said.

"I had to visit the consulate three times to get this document all sorted out," she said. "What is the purpose of the affidavit of support when Filipino travellers are not allowed to leave the country?"

Yesterday in Dubai, at a Kapihan sa UAE, a meeting to discuss local issues, the conversation centred on frustration over the affidavit of support and guarantee. Initially introduced as one measure to curb human trafficking, officials from the consulate told those gathered that it is not actually required by the Bureau of Immigration in Manila for travel to the UAE.

Last week Arvin Santos, the bureau's airport operations division chief in Manila, also confirmed the documents are not mandatory.

"It's not a particular requirement," he said. "They [travellers] can produce that document, but they need to show proof of their relationship with the sponsor and the capacity of the sponsor to undertake the costs [overseas]."

The immigration bureau has received many reports of Filipino tourists leaving the country to work when they should go through the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, he said.

As a result, the office of migrant workers affairs at the Department of Foreign Affairs formally requested that the bureau impose stricter departure measures. Since August, immigration officers have been ordered to be on the lookout for suspected victims of human trafficking and prevent their departure from the Philippines.

"We have imposed strict departure formalities for Filipinos who may be detected to be in the trafficking situation," said Mr Santos. "These are tourists travelling to critical areas."

Luis Portugal, a 49-year-old IT engineer in Dubai who sponsored the visit of three Filipino professionals, said yesterday a lack of information and co-ordination between the consulate and the Bureau of Immigration had contributed to confusion among the community.

He said it was "imperative for the consulate in Dubai and the immigration bureau in Manila to issue clearer guidelines and make this information available on its website and at the consulate premises".

So far, Migrante-UAE, an organisation created to protect Filipino migrants overseas, has received 20 complaints from Filipinos in the Emirates over the affidavits, the majority of whom had relatives prevented from boarding flights. However, none of them has been prepared to go so far as make a formal appeal to authorities.

Benito Valeriano, the consul general in Dubai, last week said the documents should be done away with.

The consulate has been getting a lot of criticism from those who were refused boarding in the Philippines, he said.

"They're blaming us; our role here is to notarise, or check the signature of the person who signed the document to make sure he or she is not a fictitious person," he said. "The final say lies with the Bureau of Immigration."