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Dubai OFWs urged to fight extortion at NAIA

DUBAI – The Philippine Consulate is urging overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) victimized by unscrupulous immigration officers in Philippine airports to file a complaint, vowing support and willingness to seek help from the Philippine National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) against these erring state employees.

“File a complaint if there really is a valid ground. If they (victims) are willing to file it with us, we will send it to Manila so that these corrupt people are removed from public service,” Frank R. Cimafranca, consul general of the Philippines in the UAE, told The Filipino Times. (READ: Top 5 problems OFWs face in Dubai

He said a sting operation by the NBI would “even be more effective.”

“Normally, we refer the matter to the Bureau of Immigration (BI) for them to handle the problem of their own people. Now, if we think it involves a big operation, we can seek NBI cooperation,” he said.

Cimafranca explained the Philippine government has a “very elaborate” body named the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT) organized to address these concerns. IACAT is headed jointly by the Departments of Justice, and Social Welfare and Development. The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), NBI and BI are among its members.

“If these immigration officers are letting visit visa holders go in exchange for a bribe, then that is trafficking. They can be held liable,” Cimafranca said.

He said voluntarily submitting to a bribe may weaken the case against the officer “but if you were coerced and intimidated, then that is extortion.”

Visit visa

Filipino jobseekers who want to take their chances in the UAE may obtain a visit visa from a UAE-based travel agency through a contact operating in the country. Upon departing at Philippine airports however, immigration officers manning booths, where passports are stamped, allegedly coerce them into paying extortion money so as not to be offloaded.

Some reports allege that up to 7 out of 10 jobseekers leaving the Ninoy Aquino International Airport for UAE on visit visas are subject to extortion by immigration officers, where money amounting from P2,000 to P5,000 ($57 to $115*) is slipped into filled-up immigration forms given to the officer on duty, on his instruction.

According to reliable sources, a visit visa holder is allegedly asked at the immigration counter, following “questioning,” to return to the stands where the forms are, fill-up a new one, insert the money there, then come back and submit the “loaded” form, where the waiting officer unfolds it such that the money falls into an open table drawer. This is apparently done to keep the act of bribery from being captured by CCTVs.

“Escort” services are also reportedly rampant at NAIA where a UAE visit visa holder pays up to P30,000 ($700) to avoid scrutiny at the immigration counter.

“That happens,” Cimafranca said. “There are a lot of corrupt immigration officers. But what could we do? There are corrupt government workers and, at the same time, people willing to corrupt them. There are people who deliberately use visit visas with the main purpose of finding work. They bribe the immigration officers, they violate the process.”

Immigration officers are mandated to question visit visa holders and stop them from leaving the country if they believe there are sufficient grounds to do so, to save them from becoming victims of abuse abroad.

Economics

A visit visa costs approximately AED2,900 ($807) including a one-way plane ticket to UAE, and covers a 30-day period. It can be extended for another 30 days for about AED1,000 (P12,000) after which the holder has to stay out of the country for one month before being granted a new visit visa.

According to consulate officials, most visit visa holders with expired papers  choose to wait it out at border towns in Oman or on Iran’s neighboring islands, thereby incurring more expenses on top of those already spent during the first two months looking for jobs.

Bedspace and utilities alone in Dubai could run up to AED1,000  $272) a month. Accommodation in Oman and Iran runs at AED35 ($9.50) a day, excluding food.

Those who manage to get jobs during their stay on visit status also risk being abandoned by would-be employers while on their “visa run” in Oman or Iran, waiting for their visit visas to be converted to employment visas by their employers.  There had been several cases where would-be employers have decided at the last minute to hire another person instead, or fold up their business.

It is estimated that a Filipino jobseeker leaving home to take a chance in UAE on a visit visa would have at least P50,000 ($1,153) to cover the first month’s expenses during job hunting, money which is usually borrowed from relatives and friends, officials said. They added that NAIA immigration officers are aware of this.

It is not uncommon to see Filipinos soliciting money at places frequented by their compatriots in Dubai after running short of funds.
 Cimafranca has cautioned Filipino jobseekers back home against using visit visas to enter Dubai in the hope of getting one of the estimated 277,000 jobs to be made available in the run up to Expo 2020, a world fair that the city will be hosting. – Rappler.com

*($1 = P43.33)

This story was republished with permission from The Filipino Times of the United Arab Emirates