2,000 more OFWs in Saudi Arabia sent home after amnesty extension

MANILA, Philippines – Over 2,000 more overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) have been repatriated after Saudi Arabia extended its amnesty program for overstaying migrants.

When the amnesty program initially ended last June 29, 5,299 Filipino migrant workers had been sent home. Latest data from the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) show that 2,398 more OFWs have been repatriated after Saudi Arabia extended the application for amnesty until July 24.  

In total, the Philippine government has extended assistance to 7,697 distressed OFWs in Saudi Arabia. Majority of them are female (4,016) while some are minors (1,233). (READ: Duterte brings home 138 stranded OFWs from Saudi)

Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) Undersecretary Dominador Say said 695 are currently awaiting flights but already have exit visas. OFWs can leave the Middle Eastern country within 60 days from the issuance of their exit visas.

OWWA Administrator Hans Leo Cacdac said they are now blocking off seats on Philippine Airlines (PAL) flights for the OFWs needing to go home. 

"It's easier to block off seats these days. It was difficult last June 29 because it coincided with the end of Ramadan. Everybody was scrambling for plane tickets to go home," Cacdac told Rappler in an interview. 

Aside from plane tickets, OWWA has also given P5,000 cash assistance to male workers. Another P5,000 from the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) was also given to female OFWs with kids to help them buy basic needs.

The Saudi Arabian government earlier estimated that there are around 15,000 overstaying OFWs. This means only more than half of the expected distressed OFWs have been repatriated, based on government records. (READ: Saudi OFWs raise problems before 'Tatay' Duterte)

But OWWA said it has yet to track those who went home on their own without availing of the free plane tickets from the government. There are also those who chose to stay. 

Since the amnesty period has lapsed, Saudi Arabia is expected to crack down on illegally staying foreigners. Those who will be caught may be subjected to fines, deportation, or be banned from returning. 

Cacdac said the Philippine embassy in Riyadh would have to coordinate with local officials there to ensure humane treatment for those who will be caught. – Rappler.com 

Patty Pasion

Patty leads the Rappler+ membership program. She used to be a Rappler multimedia reporter who covered politics, labor, and development issues of vulnerable sectors.