MANILA, Philippines - A Filipino migrants group in the Middle East has been receiving reports since last week that overseas Filipino workers who went for vacation have had their exit/re-entry visas stamped 'Exit only' by Saudi immigration officers.
Migrante-Middle East (M-ME) regional coordinator John Leonard Monterona confirmed that his group has been receiving reports from shocked OFWs that instead of receiving ‘exit/re-entry’ stamps on their visas, Saudi authorities have stamped ‘Exit’ only, which would mean they will no longer be allowed to enter Saudi Arabia after their vacation in the Philippines.
“There were four OFW engineers who called me and our Migrante officers in Riyadh. They were surprised that their exit/re-entry visas had been stamped ‘Exit’ only by the Saudi immigration officers at the counter,” Monterona said.
“No explanation was given to them,” Monterona said, quoting the four OFWs.
Monterona cited another case of an OFW, along with his wife and two kids, who went on vacation last month but were not given entry visas by the Saudi immigration authorities upon arrival in the Saudi airport.
“He did not notice that during his departure in Saudi a month ago, his exit/re-entry visa had already been stamped ‘Exit’, in effect disallowing him from re-entering Saudi Arabia. As his wife and kids are under his sponsorship, they too were not allowed to enter,” Monterona added.
Monterona said that on Thursday, he called on Labor Attaché Albert Valenciano, head of the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) in Riyadh, and reported to him the incidents. “I inquired if his office was informed about such policy by the local immigration stamping vacationing OFWs ‘Exit’ even though they have exit/re-entry visas provided by their companies."
“Labatt Valenciano was also surprised by the reports. He told us to send an official communication to his office regarding the incidents," Monterona said. "He (promised to) recommend to Philippine ambassador-designate Ezzadin Tago to seek clarification with the concerned Saudi authorities.”
Monterona claimed: “We suspect that if they found that the vacationing OFWs belong to ‘Red’ coded companies, meaning on ‘delinquent’ list, they were forced not to return by marking ‘Exit’ on its visa though our OFWs have re-entry issued by their companies.” A red-coded firm under the Saudization program is one that falls short of the Saudi government quota for citizens of the Kingdom on its work force.
The Saudization scheme is supposed to be implemented in August.
Monterona added that he received similar reports from the Pakistani migrant workers community.
“These incidents only show the seriousness of the Saudi government in implementing the ‘Nitaqat’ scheme under its Saudization program,” Monterona averred.
Monterona added that because of these incidents, some OFWs told him they will postpone their scheduled yearly vacations for fear of not being given re-entry visas by the Saudi authorities.
Monterona said more than the surprises, the 'Exit’ stamps may also result in OFWs not getting their end-of-service benefits (ESB) and other entitlements from their companies.
Migrante-ME called on the Aquino government to craft ‘safety nets’ to lessen the impact of the inevitable displacement of OFWs from Saudi Arabia.