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No more OEC for OFWs, but...

16 August 2016

Will a temporary outpost such as this to process OEC applications be a thing of the past?
By Daisy CL Mandap

The ‘paper’ overseas employment certificate (OEC) for Filipinos working abroad is now a thing of the past, along with the HK$20 fee. However, those who plan to go back home for a vacation still need to sign up with the Balik Manggagawa Online (BMO) to ensure they can return to their jobs abroad.
The new rule, said to be in its pilot or experimental stage, takes effect starting Sept. 15. It is expected to be officially announced when Philippine Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III visits Hong Kong in the first week of September, after holding peace talks with leftist rebels in Norway.
But as early as Aug. 21, the Philippine Overseas Labor Office in Hong Kong will open its offices for all OFWs who want to register online ahead of an anticipated vacation in the Philippines.
Labor Attache Jalilo de la Torre said: “We are preparing to make all our computers accessible for OFWs who might want to update their profiles or register for the first time. There will also be tutors to guide them along. We are encouraging our OFWs not to crowd out our offices, but to come, say one week, before they head for the Philippines. This way, human traffic is kept at manageable proportions. OFWs in Hong Kong who are able to come on days other than Sundays are encouraged to avoid Sundays. We will open our offices in Hong Kong during Saturdays, Sundays and all other days, except Fridays, for this purpose, beginning August 21, 2016
The effective scrapping of the OEC were among the points clarified by Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) boss Hans Cacdac to The SUN via online enquiry, in the wake of moves taken by the agency to simplify OFW-related transactions.
Under Resolution No. 12 passed by the POEA Governing Board on Aug. 4, the pilot phase of the new rule will initially exempt only two categories of workers: those returning to the same employer at the same worksite, and those hired through POEA’s in-house placement system.
However, they do not really stand on a better footing than other OFWs because all of them will still have to register with BMOnline, either before they leave their work site, or at a POEA center of their choice in the Philippines.
“In effect, the OEC will be replaced by an online registry system. This ensures we know who they are, for policy, documentation and emergency purpose, (for) safe passage back to their job sites,” said Cacdac.
Asked why it was necessary for OFWs to still register online when they have employment contracts, work visas and other documents to prove their status, Cacdac replied: “Again, emphasis on being part of the database for policy, statistical, and emergency purposes”.
While the new rule has yet to be implemented, POEA has already started to work on setting up a system that would ensure a smooth passage for departing OFWs.
“Our IT people are finalizing systems adjustments, especially the interconnectivity with Bureau of Immigration. In the meantime, we are asking Bureau of Immigration to be flexible in terms of accepting those who are not in the registry. There will be a LAC (labor assistance counter)  person posted in primary inspection areas at the airport,” said Cacdac.
Indeed, the resolution and a subsequent press release posted on the POEA website both state that “a worker who proceeds to the airport without prior registration with the BM Online System will be referred by the Bureau of Immigration to the POEA’s Labor Assistance Counter (LAC) for evaluation, to determine if the worker may be cleared for departure or be subjected to further completion of travel documents”.
Despite this, Cacdac stressed that prior online registration is necessary before one can be cleared for departure.
“To be exempted, one must be in the POEA database. One can’t just present oneself to LAC and expect clearance,” he said.
Cacdac is expected to report to Secretary Bello one month after the implementation of the OEC exemption.
According to the POEA Board, the new measure is being put in place in accordance with President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s directive to streamline processes in the deployment of OFWs.
It was also in response to a clamor from OFWs for ease in processing their employment documents.
Those who sit with the POEA Board are Bello, who acts as chair; Cacdac as vice chair; and members Milagros Isabel Cristobal, Estrelita Hizon, Alexander Asuncion, and Felix Oca.

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