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Polo suspends verification of contract renewals

24 March 2020

By The SUN

OFWs renewing their contracts will now be able to skip going to the Consulate and Polo

Filipino domestic workers who are renewing their employment contracts will now be able to skip going to the Philippine Overseas Labor Office and instead, go directly to Hong Kong Immigration to apply for their new visa.

The new procedure was announced yesterday, Mar 23, by Labor Attache Mel Dizon, who said it was due to “the current situation in Hong Kong brought by the Covid-19 pandemic.”

He said the directive was to take effect immediately “until further notice.”
This means a total savings of $280 per worker, as previously, the contract had to go to the Philippine Overseas Labor Office for verification, which costs $80, and to the Philippine Consulate for the “red ribbon” (authentication), at $200 per.

However, those who are moving to a new employer, either because they had finished their contract, or it was terminated prematurely, will have to hire an employment agency to work on their new visa.

This in turn means, their employer will have to pay an agency fee ranging from $5000 (for direct-hire processing) to at least $10,000.

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In the past, a worker applying for transfer to a new employer after completing her previous two-year contract could do the entire process on her own.

The same is true for those with ID 522, or those allowed to process a new employment contract without exiting Hong Kong in exceptional cases, as when their employer terminated their contract for financial reason, or was relocating to another country.

Only those whose contracts had been cut before expiration for reasons not included in the exemptions, were required to go through an agency, as they had to exit Hong Kong to await their new work visa.

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At least one Filipino worker who had just applied for a renewal of her work contract welcomed the move, saying the process took a lot faster than before, as she didn’t have to line up at Polo for hours just to get the verification.

Irene Dollente said all she paid was $230 for the visa, which she got on the same day. In the past, completing the process would have cost her at least $280 extra, apart from several days of waiting for the contract to be released.

However, some migrant leaders are concerned that even those who could previously process new contracts on their own will now have to go through agencies, and pay thousands of dollars in fees.

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This is particularly worrying, especially since many of the new terminations nowadays are Covid-19 related, meaning the employer is forced to release the worker because of financial problems.

“Doble-kara” ang advisory. Habang pinasimple, pinadali at binawasan ng gastos ang mga contract renewal, isinubo naman sa mga buwayang ahensya ang mga lilipat sa bagong employer, ” said Eman Villanueva of Bayan Muna Hong Kong and Macau.

“And with the looming threat ng mass termination dahil sa mass unemployment at recession sa Hong Kong, many will have to transfer to new employers. Marami ang masasaktan dito.”
 
Villanueva calls for all contract processing to be done by HK Immigration
Villanueva said it would have been better if all new contracts were allowed to be processed directly by HK Immigration, as the new arrangement clearly shows Polo does not really have a role in completing the process.

But according to a group representing various accredited agencies, the new circular will not make things easier for them, either, in light of the pandemic.

Irene Leung, general manager of the Association of Hong Kong Manpower Agencies, said a worker who is terminated will still have to go home, and because of travel restrictions, could have difficulty returning to Hong Kong.

Leung also said that since the circular took effect, no worker transferring to another employer by choice or due to termination has yet processed her contract with any of their member agencies.

She said the only difference now is terminated workers can apply to extend their visa for up to a month to look for a new employer, instead of the previous 14 days.

The SUN tried to get additional information from Labor Attache Dizon on his directive, but he reiterated an earlier request that the questions be written down, as they needed to be pre-approved by the Department of Labor and Employment in Manila.

A Polo insider, however, said the new procedure was prompted by a directive from the home office to adopt stringent measures to protect both the workers and Polo/Owwa staff from the risk of infection.

“Just imagine, if a worker comes here to file her contract and gets infected, that would force us to stop processing and close the premises for disinfection,” the source said.

He added the measure will definitely lighten Polo’s workload, as it used to receive about 200 applications for contract renewal on a daily basis.

The source said it had nothing to do with a long-standing request by some agencies that all the contract processing, whether for renewal, transfer or new hires, be coursed through them, ostensibly to avoid overcrowding in Polo.
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