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BI to open pre-screening desks to reduce OFW offloading

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MANILA – The Bureau of Immigration (BI) will open pre-screening desks in all international airport terminals amid reports of increasing number of deferred passengers and unjust offloading of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) traveling as tourists.

The move was considered by the BI after former Special Assistant to President Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go suggested to open pre-screening counters for international-bound passengers especially OFWs.

Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente was grateful to Go for raising the concerns of the OFWs who are offloaded due to incomplete documents upon assessment at the immigration forward counters.

There was also an alarming incident regarding a certain immigration official involved in alleged unjust offloading of an OFW departing as tourist.

“Kaya nagpapasalamat kami kay SAP Bong Go for raising this concern to us at nabigyan natin ng solusyon (That is why we are grateful to SAP Bong Go for raising this concern to us and BI is able to find solution to this concern),” he told reporters in an interview on the sidelines of the unveiling of E-Gates at the Francisco Bangoy International Airport on Wednesday afternoon.

Under normal procedures, all Philippine passport holders pass through the immigration forward counters for departure formalities. If the immigration officer finds a problem and the passenger cannot explain the purpose of travel, he or she will be referred to another screening after 45 seconds before they are finally cleared to travel.

Sa secondary screening doon magtatagal kaya hahaba ang pila (The secondary screening will take some time that’s why the lines will be longer),” Morente said as he confirmed there are many offloaded OFWs after an assessment of their travel and other requirements necessary for their travel and work abroad.

Sometimes, Morente said, it affects OFWs who travel for the first time as tourists but could not explain the purpose of their travel.

In an interview, Go said he raised such concern to BI after receiving information of deferred passengers and seeing long lines at the immigration counters because departure formalities take a long time.

“Ito po ang naging suggestion ko noong nasa gobyerno pa ako para po sa mga OFWs na parating umaalis ng bansa. Hindi lang OFWs kundi sa ibang pasahero (This was my suggestion when I was in the government for our OFWs. Not only for the OFWs but other passengers),” he said.

Go said those OFWs who will travel as tourists to other countries would no longer need to secure an Overseas Employment Contract (OEC) for such trip. OECs are issued by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA).

The former presidential top aide also thanked BI for acting on his suggestion under the Balik Manggagawa for Philippine passport holders with valid visa and existing work contract with their employers.

Go said the pre-screening of documents of OFWs would contribute to the smooth and faster departure procedures for international-bound passengers. BI will initially set up two pre-screening desks at NAIA 3.

“But this will be cascaded to all international airport terminals,” he said.

Morente has already issued guidelines for the pre-screening process of passengers pursuant to Republic Act 9208 or the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003, as amended by Republic Act 10364 or the Expanded Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2012 and its Implementing Rules and Regulations on departure formalities.

In the guideline, a “Balik Manggagawa OFW with valid visa and existing work contract with his/her current employer who intends to go to other countries while on vacation is considered a tourist.”

OFWs traveling as tourists will be allowed to travel in accordance with the guidelines for tourist passengers.

Morente said the passengers will be assisted by immigration officers.

Ang kagandahan dito nabigyan tayo ng additional recruitment quota. Marami na tayong immigration officers (What is good here we were given additional recruitment quota. We have many immigration officers),” he added.

Morenre said the pre-screening desks will cater daily to an estimated 2,000 international-bound passengers. (PNA / Lilian Mellejor )

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