Free passage for deserving Filipino workers proposed

Free passage for deserving Filipino workers proposed

Philippine Consul General Imelda M. Panolong

By Irfan Mohammed
Saudi Gazette

JEDDAH — The Philippine Consulate General has proposed a plan to provide free passage to deserving Filipino workers who want return home taking advantage of the three-month general amnesty announced by the Saudi government, according to the country’s top diplomat in Jeddah.

Imelda M. Panolong, Philippine consul general, said the proposal along with quotations from local travel agents had been forwarded to Manila for approval.

She said the direct flight between Jeddah and Manila launched by the national flag carrier recently greatly reduced the travel time for returning Filipino workers.

Panolong said residency and employment law violations were relatively less in the Filipino community in the Kingdom thanks to the effective mechanism for redressing grievances and monitoring of contractual obligations. Yet the Philippine government is leaving no stone unturned to assist it nationals during the amnesty period, she said.

Consular teams from the country’s diplomatic missions in Jeddah and Riyadh not only visit faraway places to issue travel documents to Filipinos but are also stationed at passport offices there to complete the exit procedures, said Panolong.

The teams collect applications for travel documents and extending validity of passports and ensure smooth exit procedures at Saudi passport offices in Tabuk, Madinah, Abha, Najran, Jazan, Baha and other areas, she told Saudi Gazette.

“The Philippine consulate has opened a help desk on its premises for amnesty seekers three days prior to the beginning of the grace period and it was visited by hundreds of applicants,” she said.

Panolong said applications for travel documents would be processed and issued the same day.

The consul general said Filipino domestic helps who escaped from their employers, in addition to women who arrived on Umrah or Haj visas and then joined their husbands working in the Kingdom, are expected to avail of the amnesty. She said some children and infants were also among the applicants.

Panolong said the consulate expected an equal number of men and women to avail of the amnesty.

Last year 1,608 Filipino workers, the majority of whom men, were deported through the Shumaisy deportation center, the diplomat said.

She said a group of Filipino workers from the Saudi Oger company approached the consulate seeking help to return home during the amnesty. She told them that they were considered stranded workers whose residency permits were expired and would not be able to return home taking advantage of the amnesty.

The workers gave the consulate the power of attorney for collecting salary arrears from their employer.

The consul general said the Philippine government was making efforts to reintegrate all contract workers laid off by construction companies in Saudi Arabia.

A special team is expected to arrive shortly from Manila to take stock of the situation and rehabilitate workers wishing to return home during the amnesty.