overseas Filipinos

21-day quarantine for OFWs in Hong Kong may ‘dissuade’ employers – group

Michelle Abad

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21-day quarantine for OFWs in Hong Kong may ‘dissuade’ employers – group

HONG KONG. A general view of skyline buildings, in Hong Kong on July 13, 2021.

Tyrone Siu/Reuters

(1st UPDATE) Hong Kong-bound overseas Filipino workers also want to be exempted from paying a P370 fee for a Bureau of Quarantine-issued vaccination card required to enter Hong Kong

An overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) rights group on Tuesday, August 24, raised concern over how the new Hong Kong policy of a three-week quarantine for travelers from the Philippines could “dissuade” employers from hiring helpers from abroad.

After its initial non-acceptance of Philippine vaccination cards, the Hong Kong government will now allow vaccinated Filipinos to enter the city beginning August 30, provided they can present vaccine cards issued by the Philippines Bureau of Quarantine (BOQ).

As per Hong Kong policy, travelers must also undergo a mandatory 21-day quarantine period once they get there. The Department of Labor and Employment said quarantine expenses will be shouldered by the OFWs’ employers.

On Tuesday, OFW rights group Migrante International said the policy “could dissuade employers from hiring helpers from abroad, aside from the high cost in hotel quarantine.”

“Stranded HK-bound OFWs have struggled to comply with the requirements for their gainful employment after years of waiting and burying themselves in debt,” Migrante said.

In addition, the BOQ “International Certificates of Vaccination” are only issued if applied for and have fees totaling P370. Migrante called the fee “outrageous,” considering the stranded OFWs from provinces already spent for food, transport, and other basic needs in Metro Manila.

Migrante said the OFWs’ personal expenses reached an average of P20,000, and they’ve incurred debt to process their papers and work visas.

The group said Hong Kong-bound workers are campaigning for the scrapping of the P370 fee and the immediate release of financial aid while they await departure for the city.

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said the new agreement with Hong Kong should benefit some 3,000 workers waiting to be deployed to the special administrative region. The Philippines is on Hong Kong’s Group A or “high risk” countries.

Striking a balance

In a press conference on Tuesday, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said the entry of workers needed to be controlled in the name of safety against COVID-19. 

If the government would let thousands of foreign domestic helpers come in every week, this “would overload the Hong Kong public hospital system,” she said.

“I would ask the employers of foreign domestic helpers to be more patient with the system because they will not be able to welcome their foreign domestic helpers back in a very short period,” Lam said.

“It’s the balance that we are always trying to strike – on the one hand, to meet the essential needs of the Hong Kong residents, but, on the other hand, to keep COVID-19 at bay, that is to reduce as much as possible the chance of importing COVID-19 cases from abroad,” she added.

Hong Kong was one of the most common destinations for OFWs in 2019, according to data from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration. – Rappler.com

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Michelle Abad

Michelle Abad is a multimedia reporter at Rappler. She covers the rights of women and children, migrant Filipinos, and labor.