Thousands of undocumented OFWs to avail of 90-day Saudi amnesty

Estrada Cabanding and Jaypee Aleta, ABS-CBN Middle East Bureau

Posted at Mar 24 2017 01:38 AM

JEDDAH — Thousands of undocumented overseas Filipino workers in Saudi Arabia are expected to fly home in the coming months, as the Saudi government announced on Sunday a 90-day amnesty period for all residence violators that will take effect next Wednesday.

In 2016, about 1,600 undocumented Filipinos were repatriated through the deportation centers in Jeddah. This year, a huge number is expected to be repatriated in the next 3 months, after the Saudi government announced the amnesty. 
 
More than 5,000 undocumented OFWs in Jeddah alone are expected to avail of the amnesty. The number could rise with the other undocumented OFWs in Riyadh and other places in the central and eastern regions.

“This year kasi puro ito uwi, wala itong legalization. We are expecting maximum of 5,000 Filipinos who will avail themselves of the amnesty . . . What is nice about this amnesty now, uuwi kayo, you will not be paying your penalties and makakabalik kayo ng legally at maayos dito sa kingdom," consul-general Imelda Panolong said.

(This year is about going home, not legalization. What is nice about the amnesty now, they go home, they will not be paying penalties and they can come back legally in the kingdom.)
 
Although deportation officials did not yet give the guidelines, the Philippine Consulate General in Jeddah said it is preparing to ensure smooth and efficient processing of travel documents.

“We already met actually with the officials of the immigration office here, the rehab district, deportation officials in Shumaisy. Sinabi nila sa atin na wala pang guidelines but they are going to issue the guidelines sometime next week, before the commencement of amnesty,” Panolong said.
 
The amnesty will cover overstayers of Umrah, Hajj and visit visa holders; OFWs with expired iqamas (residence permits), or have never been issued an iqama; Huroob cases or the ones who escaped from their employers; and OFWs who were abandoned by their employers, including their dependents.
 
All of these cases will be processed free of penalties and will be exempted from the usual “deportee fingerprint system” and will be able to return to the kingdom legally. Undocumented OFWs who have police cases, traffic violations and bank obligations are not allowed to take advantage of the amnesty.

Panolong said her office accepts walk-in amnesty applicants.

“Those who have the documents with them kagaya ng copies of their passports, copies of their iqamas, que valid pa ito or expired na, we will accept that . . . any Philippine government-issued ID, just so to identify or establish their identity, magdala na din sila ng litrato nila for their travel document,” she said.

“At doon sa mga may anak, dalhin ang birth certificate kung available. Kung wala, hospital notification, tatanggapin din natin ang vaccination records, at kung walang wala talaga, we need an affidavit of competent 2 disinterested persons.”

A required travel document form, in addition to other necessary documents, can be downloaded via the consulate’s website.

Starting on Sunday, the consulate will accept walk-in registrations. Those who opt to submit online may send their documents to [email protected]

The consulate will also inform the public of hotline numbers that they can call for amnesty inquiries only.

“About the tickets, definitely walang tickets from the Saudi government . . . We will try to secure funding from our government for the purchase of the tickets, pero doon sa mga gusto ng mapadali ung kanilang pag-uwi, they can purchase their tickets . . . They can do so,” Panolong said.

Consulate official teams will also be designated in the regions of Madina, Assir, Jizan, Tabuk, and Najran to reach out to Filipinos who want to avail of the amnesty.

The Philippine Consulate General will be issuing an official advisory in the next few days.
 
OFWs WELCOME AMNESTY

Ricardo Guiral hopes to go home soon, after staying in the Middle East for years, awaiting the resolution of his case. Photo by ABS-CBN Middle East Bureau

Meanwhile, in Riyadh, the male wards at the POLO-OWWA Shelter welcomed the news on the amnesty for all residence violators. 

Ricardo Guiral, 57, a native of Surigao del Sur who has been in the shelter since February 2014, hopes to get home soon. He has been at the POLO-OWWA Shelter since he escaped from his employer due to non-payment of salaries. 

Guiral, the longest-staying ward among the 130 distressed male OFWs in the shelter, is still awaiting the resolution of his case.

“Nanghingi lang sana ako ng cash advance na $500 dahil malilit pa mga anak ko, yun sana ipadala ko sa kanila. Halos iyakan ko sila para makakuha ng $500 sa mga anak ko pero wala. Hanggang ngayon, nandito pa ako, tatlong taon mahigit na ako dito sa esterha,” lamented Guiral.
 
Just like Guiral, Dionisio Lintag from Cavite, has been staying in the shelter for almost three years now. He also sought refuge at the shelter after his employer failed to pay him his salary for nine months.

Dionisio Lintag looks forward to going home to the Philippines. Photo by ABS-CBN Middle East Bureau

“Nakakadala na po dito sa Saudi. Kung change employer na naman po, nakakadala. Kaka mangyari iyong nangyari sa amin na hindi pinapasweldo, minamaltrato, sinasaktan. Nagpapasalamat po kami sa mahal na hari ng Saudi Arabia kung may amnesty man po kung totoo man po,” said Lintag, who hopes to be home soon.
 
The last amnesty that Saudi granted to residence violators was in 2013. According to Saudi Ministry of Interior Spokesperson Maj. Gen. Mansour Al Turki, about 2.5 million foreign workers who were residence violators were repatriated at that time.

The Philippine Embassy in Riyadh has advised all undocumented OFWs in the country to closely monitor the upcoming advisory on the amnesty.