DUBAI: Around 200 Filipinos on visit visa in the UAE have availed of the Philippine government’s repatriation program in light of COVID-19. But while this so, there are hold-outs who are taking their chance than go home penniless.
Among them is Veronica Abad, who considers herself fortunate to have beaten the government’s deadline on the issuance of visit visas last March 17, 2020, which was announced as part of measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus in the UAE.
Now on her third consecutive visit visa, with each valid for a maximum allowable period of three months, Abad had high hopes she could land a job. But recent turn of events has however dampened her bid.
“Inabutan ako ng lockdown. Nagkaruon ng problema,” Abad said, referring to COVID-19 measures that the government gradually started implementing around March 23, 2020 through flight suspensions, closure of public establishments including restaurants and theaters, a halt in the operations of the Dubai metro and finally, a 24-hour, two-week sterilization drive which took effect in early April and strictly required residents to acquire permits to leave their homes.
With this in the backdrop, the Philippine missions in the UAE on April 13 announced a repatriation program for stranded Filipinos with emphasis on visit visa holders who have no kin or friends to support their continued stay.
Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs, Sarah Lou Arriola stressed this focus during the live-streamed launch of “OFW Helpline” on April 15, saying: “Kung feeling nyo nahihirapan na kayo, we are ready to bring you home.”
The live stream was hosted by Ernesto Abella, the Department of Foreign Affairs’ (DFA) undersecretary for strategic communications, with Consul General Paul Raymund Cortes of Dubai and Philippine Ambassador to Italy Domingo Nolasco as featured guests.
“Wala namang makapagsasabi kung when this crisis will end. Kung wala kayong trabaho dyan…this is an open invitation,” Arriola said.
Abad however said she has decided to weather it out till year end, noting that the UAE government has extended validity of resident and visit visas that have expired beginning March 1, 2020 till December 2020 to ease the impact of COVID-19 measures on the expat community.
“Mahirap umuwi nang walang pera,” Abad said. “Wala man lang pang-taksi.”
She said she will consider the DFA’s repatriation offer while waiting it out till December in the hope that things get better in the coming months.
“Yung nga lang, nga-nga. Buti yung iba may ipon, kami wala,” Abad said, adding that she has been surviving through grocery hand-outs by volunteer groups like Kabayan Bayanihan, which recently opened a Facebook account functioning as a coordination point between Filipino Good Samaritans and those in need, like her.
Leandro Quinones. (not his real name) shared Abad’s thoughts on digging in for the long haul.
He said he has been on visit visa for almost three years, renewing his papers every time it has expired.
“Kailangan meron tayong pera kahit paano kapag uuwi na, kaysa pagdating mo ruon ay ikaw pa rin ang pag-iintidihin nila sa gastusin,” Quinones said.
Quinones, who lives in Abu Dhabi, said he has been in the UAE for 14 years. These days, he said, he has been taking odd jobs to survive.
Cortes said they have received around 900 applicants for repatriation.
“But of these 900,” he told reporters, “only about 200 were tourists visit visa holders.”
The rest, he said, were resident visa holders “who probably were on a furlough or no-work-no-pay scheme.”
Cortes lamented that overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in this situation “cannot be the responsibility of the Philippine government,” explaining that by law, their employers should shoulder their plane tickets for home.
“No, they have not been dropped by their companies but they have just been asked to go on a short leave clearly that cannot be the responsibility of the Philippine government” Cortes said.
Cortes said they were putting together documentation of those wanting to be repatriated.
“Wala pa tayong ina-arrange (na flight) but are monitoring with the Philippine Embassy. We are also coordinating with the home office,” he said.