'Slow' gov't process makes OFWs fall for illegal recruiters

MIGRANT WORKERS. A known labor-sending country, the Philippines gets a boost in the economy through the remittances of overseas Filipino workers. File photo by Agence France-Presse

MIGRANT WORKERS. A known labor-sending country, the Philippines gets a boost in the economy through the remittances of overseas Filipino workers.

File photo by Agence France-Presse

MANILA, Philippines – While underground migration is a complex problem caused by many social factors, one way to quell it is by streamlining the legal process that Filipino workers go through when applying for jobs overseas. 

Loreto "Lito" Soriano, an advocate of ethical recruitment, believes time is crucial for a would-be migrant worker badly in need of a foreign job placement. This makes the "speedier" illegal recruiter a viable option in the eyes of the worker.

"I’m calling on our government, especially POEA (Philippine Overseas Employment Administration) and Department of Labor [and Employment], to make documented migration competitive in terms of processing lead time," he told Rappler in an interview.

The Philippines' "managed migration" is "a good policy wherein everything's recorded," he said. Still, he challenged the government to "shorten the process at the same time the number of documents that should be secured" for and by overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

According to the 2013 Commission for Filipinos Overseas Compendium of Statistics, there are around 1.34 million undocumented Filipino migrant workers – a number the government wishes to shrink.

On average, Soriano said, an OFW will be able to secure overseas employment 2 months faster through the illegal process than through the proper channels.

A former OFW himself, Soriano is the president of LBS E-Recruitment Solutions Corporation and has first-hand knowledge of the recruitment process.

Among his advocacies is putting an end to "circular migration" or what the European Union calls "temporary labor migration at periodic intervals." (READ: Ex-OFW, now business owner, tells OFWs: Plan your return)

Dangers of undocumented migration

Illegal recruiters' deceptive practices are meant to prey on the need and desires of a migrant worker. (READ: 30 OFWs in Dubai duped with offers of better jobs – DOLE)

"The [illegal] system is that majority has no expense, very small expenses. Fly-now-pay-later schemes, especially for household [service workers]," Soriano explained.

But Soriano stressed that the long-term costs of undocumented migration far outweighs its short-term benefits.

"If they (undocumented migrants) encounter maltreatment, abuse, they have no recourse or access to who should take good care of them, except calling the attention of media or calling the attention of any Filipino community organization there that they know or going to the embassy," he said.

Even then, he said it would be a struggle.

Under the legal process, a worker's employer, address, position, amount of salary, family members left at home, agency that recruited him, and other relevant information on his or her overseas employment are detailed in the POEA database.

The embassy in the country where he migrated to for work and the licensed recruitment agency he applied with for the job also have these details.

"The copy of the employment contract is deposited in POEA and also should be available for at least 7 years in the data vault of the agency," explained Soriano.

With these information readily available, Soriano said, it would be easier to exact accountability from non-compliant recruiters and even employers who break the terms of the job contract including the agreed salary. 

"In the case of illegal recruiter, he (the OFW) does not know the employer actually. He or she will know it when she's already on the job site," he added.

The POEA, which is in charge of licensing of recruiters, continues to clamp down on illegal recruiters.

It has made efforts in shortening the process of securing an overseas employment certificate (OEC). (READ: How OFW rehires can apply for employment certificates online)

Still, OFWs and migrant rights activists believe the process for securing work abroad can do away with a lot of the documentary requirements, including the application for an OEC. (READ: Junk the Overseas Employment Certificate now!)

LEGAL. POEA Deputy Administrator Amuersina Reyes, POEA Administrator Hans Leo Cacdac, Jobstreet.com Country Manager Mary Grace Colet, and Jobstreet Marketing Manager Carolyn Enriquez campaign against illegal recruitment of OFWs. Photo by Ace Tamayo/Rappler

LEGAL. POEA Deputy Administrator Amuersina Reyes, POEA Administrator Hans Leo Cacdac, Jobstreet.com Country Manager Mary Grace Colet, and Jobstreet Marketing Manager Carolyn Enriquez campaign against illegal recruitment of OFWs.

Photo by Ace Tamayo/Rappler

Advice to would-be OFWs

The Philippines is known as a labor-sending country, with an estimated 10.5 million Filipinos either permanently residing or temporarily working overseas.

The POEA urges would-be OFWs to first attend a pre-employment orientation seminar and determine for themselves if they are fit for work abroad.

The POEA also has an online database of recruiters with their corresponding statuses – whether they are in good standing, delisted, cancelled, forever banned, inactive, revoked, suspended, or denied renewal of permits. 

A free POEA mobile app also shows the status of a recruitment agency, active job orders, as well as information about illegal recruitment and how to identify an illegal recruiter. (READ: Tech-based services needed to protect OFWs – research)

Under current state rules, only select OFWs – including domestic workers, caregivers, seafarers, and those bound to specified countries – are exempted from placement fees.

Otherwise, an OFW may be charged with as much as his or her one month's salary. (READ: DOLE to endorse OFWs' exemption from placement fees)

Newly-hired Filipino migrant workers are also required to attend a pre-departure orientation seminar. (READ: Solon wants OFWs' pre-departure seminar updated)

While OFWs' remittances boost the economy, President Benigno Aquino III envisions "a government that creates jobs at home so that working abroad will be a choice rather than a necessity."  Rappler.com