HONG KONG – For using her passport as a collateral for a loan, a Filipina domestic worker ended up overstaying her visa for five days, and was forced to go home on May 7.
MC's problems began when her employer terminated their contract on Apr 17. She should have left Hong Kong on May 1 following immigration's two-week rule, but could not because she didn't have her passport with her.
She asked for help from the Consulate, and was issued a one-day travel document on May 4 after presenting a police report stating her passport had been lost.
But when she showed up at immigration the next day her application for an extension of stay was denied, and she was given until early the next day to show a return ticket.
Not having enough money for the return fare, the Filipina sought help from the Consulate but was not successful.
"Wala na po akong malalapitan, wala po akong pambili ng tiket," the distraught worker told The SUN following her second meeting with Consulate officials.
But by some stroke of luck she did manage to produce a ticket by her scheduled appointment the next day, and flew out the same evening.
The predicament of the 35-year-old helper spotlights a disturbing practice of OFWs in Hong Kong of hocking their passports so they could borrow money.
The practice has been roundly condemned by Philippine authorities since it has led to many Filipinos overstaying their visas or unable to go home during emergencies.
Under Philippine laws, the practice is deemed illegal as passports are considered to be the property of the government, and not of the individual. The Hong Kong government also banned the practice in the 1990s.
"Why did you use your passport as loan collateral? That is not right because it is a property of our government. We issue the document so you could travel," Consul Charles Macaspac lectured the Filipina when she approached them about her predicament.
"Now you see the danger of using your passport to secure a loan: you have overstayed in Hong Kong because your lender refuses to return your passport," Macaspac added.
According to the Filipina, she was forced to borrow HK$4,000 (P23,000) from a loan shark in North Point in September last year because her mother who is in the Philippines fell ill and had to be treated in a hospital.
The Filipina helper is single and had worked in Hong Kong for seven years, serving her first employer for four years. But she had no savings as most of her salary went to building a home for her mother and her jobless siblings, nephews and nieces.
She said she had paid the lender seven interest payments of HK$400 (P2,300) a month for the loan until she was terminated by her second employer, whom she had served for over three years.
Cruz's situation revealed a continuing malpractice more than two decades after the Hong Kong government outlawed the keeping of other people's passports, either by employers, lending institutions or other individuals.
Macaspac said the consulate is doing its part to help extricate OFWs from this kind of problem by canceling the travel documents once they are reported by the workers to have been taken by lenders as loan security.
"We have been telling our OFWs that if somebody demands them to hand over their passports as collateral for loans, they should report immediately to us so we could cancel those passports," Macaspac said. Once the passport is cancelled, it loses its purpose, as the indebted OFW can apply for a new travel document.
"The lesson here is, never dishonor your passport by using it to secure a loan. It is your country's property. Respect it because it represents your country. If you use it as a loan collateral, you disrespect your country," Macaspac said. – Rappler.com