Jobless OFWs in Dubai in quandary about returning home

Jojo Dass
Some have no money for plane tickets, others worry about what awaits them in the Philippines

LIFE IN DUBAI. These Filipino workers are toughing it out in Dubai amid the coronavirus pandemic


DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – As there is still no end in sight for the COVID-19 pandemic, many overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in Dubai have been contemplating on whether it’s time to go.

Some OFWs who lost their job believe it would be better to fly home where they can be with family and would not have to worry about food and rent.

What’s holding them back, they said, is the uncertain situation arising from the government’s handling of the pandemic in the Philippines, along with quarantine issues affecting returning OFWs, and the cost of plane tickets because they have no money to spare after losing their jobs and living on their savings as they mulled over their future.

‘Tinutulog ko na lang ang gutom’

Cheryl Esteban Patalud of Malatana Tampakan, South Cotabato, is among those who have opted to stay. She had been in the hole since the pandemic started bearing down on Dubai around March.

BETTER LUCK THAN OTHERS. Cheryl Esteban Patalud lost her job as a restaurant employee in Dubai but managed to get a new job as a receptionist in another company. Photo courtesy of Cheryl Esteban Patalud


Patalud was terminated from work, evicted from her flat, and threatened by her new landlord of being thrown out for missing rent payment. She’s had to make do with a lunch of rice poured with coffee, while some of her friends even egged her to get a man who could help her overcome her financial miseries.

A Political Science undergrad, Patalud used to work as a restaurant employee in Dubai.

“Tinutulog ko na lang ang gutom (I just sleep off hunger),” she said.

Patalud added that she would often sulk in bed and would sometimes feel like she was going crazy to the point of contemplating about ending everything. But like many other similarly situated OFWs in Dubai, Patalud said she could not go home yet.  

“May sakit sina Mama at Papa ko. Kailangan ko pa ring magbakasakali.  Gusto ko ring mag-college ang mga anak ko (Mama and Papa are ill. I need to take my chances. I also want to send my kids to college),” she said. Her eldest is a 13-year-old boy, while her youngest is an 8-year-old girl.

She said much as she would like to go home, she knew that if she did, she’d have no source of income. (Patalud’s patience paid off as she eventually got a job as a receptionist at a business office.)


Kristelle Shane F. Calica, a pastry chef who arrived in Dubai just last October, is faced with a different quandary. 

“Undecided akong umuwi dahil sa sitwasyon ng mga OFWs sa Pilipinas pagdating sa quarantine procedure. Pero at the same time, naiisip ko din ‘yung pambayad ng monthly rent dito…kulang pa ‘yung sasahurin,” she said.

(I am undecided about going home because of the situation of returning OFWs when it comes to quarantine. At the same time, I am worried about my rent here. My salary won’t be enough.)

Pastry chef Kristelle Shane Calica. Photo courtesy of Kristelle Shane F. Calica

Calica said she doesn’t have enough for a plane ticket, which starts at Dh2,900 (P39,500) one-way. She said her salary is paid in installment, at around Dh1,000 a month, and after paying her rent, she only had Dh300 left for food expenses.

“Ever since ay delayed na po talaga kami sa suweldo…. Ang kaso ay cycle lang: utang-bayad, utang-bayad. Kaya wala nang naitatabi. Sinusubukan kong magbenta-benta para may pandagdag sa gastusin,” she added.

(Ever since, our salary is delayed…. It’s a continuing cycle: debt-payment, debt-payment. I don’t have any savings. I’m trying to sell things so I’ll have extra money for my expenses.)

The consulate has a repatriation program but it prioritizes terminated OFWs and those on visit visas. Calica has not been terminated and will have to shoulder her plane ticket if she wished to go home.

By law, employers are duty-bound to pay for their terminated employees’ plane ticket home but there have been cases where companies could not do so due to the current economic situation.

Consul General Paul Raymund Cortes said the consulate can provide assistance on a case-to-case basis. “There may be times when it is necessary to help those who really could not afford (plane tickets),” he told Rappler.

‘Sayang nandito na ‘ko sa Dubai’

Princess Aquino of Los Baños, Laguna, said it would be such to go home broke after working in Dubai. This is why she’s giving it a few more months, especially now that restrictions have been eased and the city is slowly gathering steam again.

“Balak kong maghanap muna ng trabaho. Sayang naman kasi. Nandito na ako sa Dubai. Hindi naman lahat nabibigyan ng opportunity na makapunta abroad. Kaya magtitiis po muna ako hanggang makahanap ng bagong work,” said Aquino, a restaurant employee who arrived in Dubai in 2018 and has been jobless for two months now. She is 3 months behind in her rent payment.

(I plan to look for a job. I already made it here in Dubai. Not everybody is given the opportunity to work abroad. So I’ll hang in here till I get a job.)

She said always thought of the kind of life that awaited her back home if she chose to return now. “Saan ka magtatrabaho? Saan kukuhanin ‘yung mga pambayad sa ilaw, tubig, pagkain? Paano ‘yung mga taong umaasa sa ‘yo?” Aquino said.

(Where will I get a job? Where will I get the money for utilities? How about those people relying on me?)

Wait and see

Yba Ognikob used to work in a public relations firm. Photo courtesy of Yba Ognikob

Meantime, Yba Ognikob, who was in a public relations firm when she lost her job two months ago, has tried rebranding herself after she got certification for digital marketing.  

Her option after her work permit was terminated was to go for a 3-month visit visa to buy time job-hunting, but she was not willing to do so. She was also worried about what awaited her back home.

“Nangangamba din ako dahil ang dadatnan sa Pilipinas ay ganoon din, baka mas mahirap pa. ‘Nga lang at least doon di na kami magbabayad ng bahay unlike dito bawat galaw may bayad. Hindi ko option ang mag-ubos ng konting ipon dito sa Dubai,” she said.

(I am concerned I’d be faced with a worse situation in the Philippines. But at least, I would not have to worry about paying the rent unlike here were you spend for everything. I don’t intend to use up all my savings here.)

‘Laban ako for my family’

Professional photographer Marvin Regis of Silang, Cavite, arrived in Dubai in October 2015 and has set aside an emergency fund since then. He said he has opted to stay.

“At least kahit papa’no dito sa Dubai, nakakabayad ako sa bahay, nakakakain at nakakapagpadala sa pamilya…. Basta lalaban ako para sa pamilya ko (At least here in Dubai, I can pay my rent, eat, and still send money to my family…. I will fight for my family),” he said.

Regis added that he can be more resourceful in Dubai than back home, even if he had to endure not getting a salary for two months under a no-work-no-pay setup. These days, he has been getting half his salary.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) recently repatriated 370 OFWs who have either been on visit visas or terminated by their employers due to the coronavirus pandemic.

UAE immigration policies require those with expired visit visas to have them renewed if they want to extend their stay; on the other hand, those whose employment/resident visas have been canceled have 30 days to either look for a new job or leave. –

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