POEA needs to up their game

The Philippine government has established laws and systems to ensure the security of the state. Even Filipinos who are working abroad are protected by government-mandated agencies like POEA and OWWA. One cannot leave to work overseas without POEA's seal of approval, aka OEC, because they're only making sure of the safety of Filipinos from abusive employers, human traffickers, and other external factors like disease outbreaks or wars in the country of workplace. There are times, however, that POEA becomes the reason why OFWs lose their job opportunities and even incur huge debts.

From the issuance date of your Employment Approval by Maldives Immigration, you have to arrive in the country within 90 days. Sadly, due to bureaucratic, unpredictable, and Manila-centric processes of POEA, there could be a chance you won't be able to leave on time.

I personally know people who took 2-6 months to finally get their OEC. Their stories, although heartbreaking and need serious attention, are theirs to share so I'll talk about my own.

My EA was issued on May 24, 2017, in which time POEA's direct hiring was temporarily suspended. The Manila-based agency for my employer prepared the document: EA, contract, passport copy and passport-size photos, employer's details-- you know, the works. These were sent to POEA for evaluation on June 5.
Here's a timeline:


MAY
  • 24 : My EA was issued which means I need to arrive in Maldives before August 22.

JUNE

  • 05 : The Agency submitted all my documents to POEA. I was told to wait for 1-2 weeks.
  • 06-22 : Waiting game
  • 23 : I was told by the agency that there is a problem with Visa Guarantee (no idea what that is), and POEA has noted that it will take longer since it's a first-time application for my employer. They had to double check the employer's credentials and history before approving my papers. This was absurd because my employer hired POEA-registered Filipinos previously.
  • 29 : Agency has informed that they complied to POEA's requirements and submitted the documents. Again, I was told to wait for a week.
JULY
  • 10 : I received an email that POEA has once again asked for Cancellation Letter from the Previous Agency (apparently, my employer changed agencies prior my hiring), Employment Contract and EA with Philippine Consul in Maldives' seal, and additional job order. This is the point where I got so frustrated and called POEA directly on why can't they just give a checklist of all documents needed. I was answered that the process depends on every individual application.
My employer's HR department and I were still in communication at this time. I forwarded to them the email I got from the agency. They were also frustrated.

Behold, I did my research and learned that POEA has lifted its suspension for Direct Hiring. I discussed with my employer that I will take the matter to my own hands and just process in this manner. There were some articles I've read online where fellow OFWs only took 1 month to process their OECs through Direct Hiring.

The initial documents needed were: Employment Contract + EA with Ph Consul's red ribbon, passport-sized photos, TOR & Diploma, and my original passport. I took my passport from the agency (yes, they had it this whole time) and flew to Cebu for a commissioned work. Anyway, there's a POEA Office in Cebu, with lesser people compared to Ortigas.

My red ribbon'd documents were sent to me directly by my employer since I discussed to them about my plan and they were very supportive.

  • 27 : The red ribbon'd documents arrived!
  • 28 : I went to POEA Cebu at 1pm and was entertained around 4PM ALREADY! Their system was to place your documents face down on the "Direct Hiring" tray and wait until someone picks up your docs, assess them, and call your name. Unluckily, the person assigned on Direct Hiring was absent that time so the other staff doing other things would only pick them up if they're not busy. It was really a terrible service.
When I was called, the nice lady asked if I already had a plane ticket. I lied and said "yes" to give them a sense of urgency. She explained that they can process my application but it will take ANOTHER 2-3 MONTHS FOR ME TO LEAVE THE COUNTRY!!! Here is her explanation:
    • They will have to send my documents to Manila for evaluation and clearance along with the documents of other applicants. They have to send the documents in batches, not individually, which means we have to wait for a few days for some more applications. Top that with 3 days transit time. How big is the Philippines? 
    • Clearance alone would take almost 2 months to be completed. The final signatory is the DOLE Secretary (she emphasized on this as if saying her hands are tied), so it would definitely take long. 
    • Once clearance is completed, they will send back the documents to Cebu. Another 3 days!
    • After which, I would have to attend a Pre-Departure Orientation Seminar (PDOS).
    • She also mentioned about a medical examination, but it was not clear if I should take it before or after the clearance is completed.
Seriously, I wanted to shout (not at her, she's so nice) after that. My frustrations were all piled up already. That moment is labeled in my books as "that time when the government brought me down". A good opportunity is waiting for me outside our borders but this crazy bureaucracy chopped my legs off from running to it.

When I left POEA, I had to make the most difficult call of my life. I called my employer and asked them if they can wait for 3 more months. They can't. They've waited long enough. Now, they're also thinking that I may just be fooling them. Now, I have to pay all the fees they incurred to process my papers (that's around 200 USD).

We came up with a solution in the form of exiting as tourist. People, I STRONGLY DON'T RECOMMEND THIS. You will risk your safety, your plane ticket, and your opportunity abroad. However, for someone like me who was pushed around by the government many times, this was a choice I had to take with my eyes closed and my fingers crossed.

POEA keeps on reminding Filipinos not to misrepresent their intentions abroad to the Immigration Officers in the airport. What it doesn't realize is it should also look into its own backyard and identify why this keeps on happening and, more importantly, how to solve this.

So here are my humble recommendations:
    • Publish a clear checklist of documents required for all first-time applicants. Evaluation should be objective and based on these documents.
    • Memorandum Circular No. 44 should be enforced here. The 15-day maximum processing should start the day the documents are submitted. In a citizen's mind, once we submit the papers to a government institution, we're expecting final output in our hands once we come back for it. The Filipinos shouldn't bear the burden of where the documents flew or whose signatures should be taken. 15 days is 15 days.
    • Besides, what does the DOLE Sec have to do with my application? Regional POEA offices should have authority to approve simple transactions like a direct hiring application as long as all documents are submitted.
    • I had the privileged to afford to fly from Davao to Manila to Cebu just to process these documents but how about the other would-be OFWs who can't? POEA should strengthen their presence in remote towns and cities and give more responsibility to the regional offices.
    • Offer online application for first-time applicants. This is already going on for Balik-Manggagawa, and I hope POEA can extend a system like this to first-time applicants. Digital is the way up.
More and more employers would like to hire Filipinos for our talents and dedication. Unfortunately, they get discouraged because of the lengthy processing time before an OFW can join the workplace. 

It's not too late, though! I know the brilliant minds in the government can work on solving this issue. Just make it faster this time, please. 😄 





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