(MENAFN- Khaleej Times) Published: Sat 25 Mar 2023, 6:00 AM
Last updated: Sat 25 Mar 2023, 6:22 AM
Travel and migration experts are calling for the review of the need for Filipino tourists to show an affidavit of support and guarantee (AoSG), and undergo stringent immigration screening, including presenting bank statements, graduation yearbook or diploma to prove that they are fit to go abroad.
This comes following a story published by Khaleej Times on Thursday about a Dubai-bound Filipino tourist who was offloaded at the Philippine airport twice after he failed to show an AoSG, a document obtained from Philippine missions in the UAE that proves a resident can sponsor a visiting relative's stay in the country.
Earlier, a Filipina tourist missed her flight to Israel after a Philippine immigration official allegedly asked her lengthy and 'unreasonable' questions, including a demand to present her 10-year-old graduation yearbook. Her sad fate went viral on social media and this prompted another Filipino traveller to bring her own college diploma to the airport, in case an immigration officer will ask for it.
The Philippine Bureau of Immigration (BI) has already issued a clarification that Filipino tourists don't need to bring their yearbooks to the airport. They also issued an apology and explained they were“constrained to implement strict measures to assess departing passengers” as part of their task to combat human trafficking. Barney Almazar.
Dubai-based migrant rights advocate Barney Almazar, however, disagrees. He told Khaleej Times:“There are so many ways to protect travellers from the dangers of human trafficking. Curtailing the right to travel is not one of them.
“The sad incidents at the Philippine immigration are not a surprise at all. In fact, we can expect worse things to happen,” he added. Outdated policy
Almazar, who is also director at Gulf Law in the UAE, Philippines, UK and Portugal, explained:“The system of exit pass started with the Travel Processing Centre that was created as a temporary measure to address the sudden increase of migrant workers to Hawaii more than half a century ago. Back then, it was difficult to track a person. But at this day and age of WhatsApp, FB and social media, this outdated policy should be overhauled and not institutionalised.”
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He noted:“Filipino tourists are burdened to prove that they will not seek employment abroad. But how do you prove that you don't have any intent to work to the immigration officer? A reasonable person may provide his return ticket, hotel booking and itinerary but immigration officers have unrestricted and arbitrary list of question they ask travellers.”
Almazar also noted many Filipinos come to the UAE to seek employment.“But why hassle the Filipino people with the bureaucracy when all they want to do is to look for work and have a better future?,” he underlined.
“There are complaints where travellers have been asked to surrender their phones so the messages can be examined by an officer. This is a blatant violation of their right to privacy of communication and correspondence,” he added. Better option
Almazar said there should be a shift from mandatory to voluntary registration of Filipino travellers.“The system of exit pass is merely a collection, exchange and verification of information. If the government will ensure that the rights of travellers are respected, they will have no fear of being offloaded and this will encourage full disclosure of their travel/work information, which the government can use to monitor and protect them abroad.
Migration expert Froilan Malit, Jr., a PhD political science candidate at University of Glasgow and managing director of Rights Corridor, shared the same observation. Froilan Malit, Jr
He said:“The Philippine government should first commission an independent study to examine the effectiveness and limitations of these restrictive immigration policies. Second, they should forge more bilateral and multilateral cooperation with host/ receiving states to curb cross-border human trafficking.
“The Philippine state should also maintain a strong level of cooperation with diverse range of non-governmental organisations to address cross-border trafficking and migration issues,” Malit added. Frustrating and financially draining
Dubai-based travel professional, Geoffrey Salatan, who is managing director at MRG Pinas Travel, said he had seen a lot of Filipinos who were denied from going abroad. Geoffrey Salatan
“Being offloaded from a flight is not only frustrating but also financially draining. Imagine how much time, money and effort these passengers have put into planning their journey, only to be stopped from boarding a plane?,” he added.
“There were passengers, who despite presenting AoSG and other documents, were still held at the airport. While there were tourists who came to the UAE with ease without the need to present an AoSG, which is not actually a requirement to enter the country.
“This begs the question: Is the AoSG really necessary? It is simply an additional expense for travellers, an unnecessary bureaucratic process that adds more inconvenience to their already challenging journey. It's understandable why many advocate for its abolition," he added. What is AoSG?
The affidavit of support and guarantee (AoSG) was first introduced in 2002 by the Philippine government to purportedly curb human trafficking. The document was rescinded following allegations of falsification and redundancy but was eventually reinstated.
AoSG is a document that proves that a UAE resident can sponsor a visiting relative's stay in the country. It can be easily obtained from the Philippine missions in the UAE but there is a prohibitive condition requiring expats who are single to show a proof of having a Dh10,000 monthly income before he or she can sponsor a relative to visit the UAE.
AoSG is also guarantee that the tourist is visiting the UAE entirely for tourism and recreational purposes and not to seek employment or to transit to another country where deployment of Filipino nationals is restricted.
According to the Philippine Bureau of Immigration, a total of 32,404 Filipinos were deferred from departure last year. Of these, however, only 472 were reported to be victims of human trafficking or illegal recruitment, while 873 had produced fraudulent documents, and 10 travellers were found to be minors who sought to work abroad.