THE Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) has called on some 5,000 undocumented and overstaying overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to avail early of the host country’s 90-day general amnesty program ahead of the observance of the holy month of Ramadan.
OWWA Administrator Hans Leo Cacdac made the urgent call on Monday over a warning from the Saudi government that undocumented foreigners who failed to apply for amnesty would be arrested, jailed and slapped a stiff fine ranging from SR15,000 to SR 100,000 or P199,350 to P1,329,000.
It is believed that the general amnesty is a prelude to a possible crackdown on overstaying and undocumented foreigners in line with the Kingdom’s so-called “Saudization” program and in compliance with an amended Saudi Labor Law.
Cacdac said the urgency has been made more pronounced by the coming Ramadan wherein office hours will be short, giving rise to possibility that late amnesty applications may not be processed at all .
“Ramadan will start on the last week of May and office hours will be shorter. As a result, it is also expected that the processing of amnesty applications will be much longer. Thus the possibility that applications of those who will apply for amnesty on the last month [of the 90-day amnesty]will not be processed before the end of the amnesty program,” he noted on his Facebook page.
The 90-day Saudi Arabian amnesty program was launched on March 29, 2017.
It covers undocumented and overstaying foreign individuals of Umrah, Hajj and visit visa holders; OFWs with expired iqamas (residence permits), or have never been issued an iqama; Huroob cases or those who escaped from their employers; and OFWs who were abandoned by their employers, including their dependents.
The amnesty applications of OFWs with these cases will be processed free of penalties, and will be given with exit permits, and issued with exemption in acquiring certificate of no objection from their employers.
The workers will also be exempted from the usual “deportee fingerprint system” and will be able to return to the kingdom legally.
But undocumented OFWs who have police cases, traffic violations and bank obligations are not entitled to the amnesty.
Aside from processing their travel documents and clearances, the government will be paying for the plane tickets of the stranded OFWs going back to the Philippines.
The first batch of 139 Filipinos who were granted exit visas under Saudi Arabia’s “Nation without Violations” amnesty program arrived last April 17.
Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello 3rd earlier sent a team of senior labor officials to Saudi Arabia to facilitate the repatriation process to bring home the distressed OFWs.
“We understand that they are distressed. Those who prefer to stay are allowed to stay because some of them have already found a job. However, more OFWs want to go home, that’s the mission of the delegation, to take advantage of the amnesty, and bring home all stranded OFWs in Saudi,” Bello said.
More than 11,000 OFWs have lost their jobs as a result of the economic crisis brought about by the drop in oil price in the Gulf states.
On orders of King Salman bin Abulaziz Al Saud, the Saudi government provided welfare assistance to the jobless OFWs, including waiving of immigration penalties because of expired working visa, plane fare to OFWs returning to the country, food aid, reemployment assistance to those who wish to work in other companies and legal assistance on money claims.
Bello said the Labor department, OWWA and the Bureau of Local Employment are ready to assist the repatriated OFWs when they arrive in the Philippines.
They will be given livelihood assistance for them to continue earning income while still looking for a regular job in the country.