Bureau of Immigration

OFW group slams ‘arbitrary’ immigration restrictions on departing Filipinos

Michelle Abad

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OFW group slams ‘arbitrary’ immigration restrictions on departing Filipinos

IMMIGRATION. This file photo shows immigration desks at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 2 Departure area on April 9, 2023.

Bureau of Immigration

The Bureau of Immigration says fighting human trafficking must have a 'whole-of-government' approach

MANILA, Philippines – A group advocating for the rights of overseas Filipino workers slammed recent incidents of alleged “arbitrary” immigration restrictions imposed by Bureau of Immigration (BI) officers on OFWs and other Filipinos.

In a statement on Tuesday, April 11, Migrante International pointed to the experience of Filipina traveler Cham Tanteras, who claimed an immigration officer asked her “irrelevant” questions for her December 2022 trip to Israel that caused her to miss her flight. Another was OFW Nathaly Dumlao, who in March posted on Facebook about how she and her partner were denied to leave for Hong Kong unless she canceled her United Arab Emirates work visa.

Migrante also pointed to the case of an unnamed Filipino who was going to Dubai on a tourist visa to visit his sister, and was offloaded twice despite presenting the required documents.

“These incidents clearly show the arbitrary imposition of flight restrictions on OFWs who are about to depart the country. These restrictions violate OFWs’ right to travel and work abroad and are openings for bribery and corruption. This is no way to treat the country’s supposed ‘new heroes’ or bagong bayani, the lifesavers of the country’s economy,” Migrante said.

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After Tanteras’ case went viral on social media, the BI issued a public apology, and explained that the issue of human trafficking and illegal recruitment is “real and is happening every day.”

In the case of Dumlao, BI spokesperson Dana Sandoval said in a TV Patrol report that the immigration officers involved cited “inconsistencies” in Dumlao’s answers.

But Migrante said that the “arbitrary” restrictions do not show the government is “serious” in fighting human trafficking, rather, that “these actions show that they are a failure in this area.”

“If the goal is to combat, even stop, human trafficking…. They can increase their information and education efforts against human trafficking among prospective migrants and the public. They can look for and punish human traffickers, and not the suspected victims,” the group said.

Migrante also said that the government of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. should consider creating more decent jobs in the Philippines to deter human trafficking.

Migrante acknowledged the “many” immigration officers who do their jobs well, but noted that the Philippines “has some of the most disrespectful, if not outright rude, immigration officers in the world.”

Senator Raffy Tulfo had also responded to the controversy of Tanteras’ experience, filing on March 21 Senate Resolution No. 554 seeking a probe into rude government workers. Tulfo said the investigation will help craft the “anti-taray” bill which seeks to penalize rude public servants.

In recent months, the Senate had also investigated reports of trafficked OFWs slipping through immigration to work in cryptocurrency scams. Victims claimed they got through immigration easily by paying personnel up to P20,000.

‘Major overhaul’

In a statement on Wednesday, April 12, the BI released a statement highlighting the need for a “whole-of-government” approach in fighting human trafficking. BI Commissioner Norman Tansingco said that the BI is only able to intercept victims at formal ports, but noted that trafficking also happens in barangays, cities, and online platforms.

“We have recently implemented a major organizational overhaul following the deactivation of the BI’s port operations division (POD),” said Tansingco.

The BI had announced the deactivation of the POD following the Department of Justice’s green light to reorganize and streamline the operational structure of their airport services.

The bureau said that the POD’s deactivation effectively removed central authority over all airports, and would exact accountability on BI airport terminal heads who are directly responsible for management and operations of their respective terminals.

“This is a personal mission for me – to put into light the evils of trafficking, and allow all government agencies to address this serious problem,” said Tansingco. – 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.