DUBAI: The Philippine government on Saturday has lifted its temporary ban on the deployment of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) to Saudi Arabia, clearing the way for over 400 workers left stranded due to COVID-19 protocol issues.
“After receipt of the official communication from the Saudi government this morning which ensures us that the foreign employers and agencies will shoulder the costs of institutional quarantine and other COVID protocols upon arrival in the KSA, the temporary suspension of deployment to the Kingdom is hereby lifted,” labor secretary Silvestre Bello III said in a statement.
The labor chief also thanked the Saudi Arabian government ‘for acting with dispatch and giving us reassurance’ on the matter.
“I have advised the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration to immediately implement this directive and provide the necessary clearance to all our departing Filipino workers to facilitate their travel to the KSA,” he added.
“I understand that the suspension order drew confusion and irritation among our affected departing OFWs. Again, I apologize for the inconvenience and momentary anguish that it may have caused our dear OFWs. It was to the best interest of our OFWs that such decision had to be made.”
Bello earlier issued a memorandum imposing a temporary ban “effective immediately and until further notice” pending clarification on who would pay for the costs of the institutional quarantine and COVID-19 testing of individual arriving into the Kingdom.
Existing travel regulations from the Kingdom’s civilian aviation authority requires that all international guests must complete a period of seven days of institutional quarantine at their own expense starting from the time of arrival.
They must also take a PCR test on the seventh day of their arrival, and if the result is negative, they would be permitted to leave quarantine on the eight day.
“The department received reports that departing OFWs are being required by their employers/foreign recruitment agencies to shoulder the costs of the health and safety protocol for COVID-19 and insurance coverage premium upon their entry in the Kingdom,” Bello said in his May 27 memorandum for the government’s main overseas labor administration.
Bello told Philippine media that the process could cost Flipino workers in the Kingdom around $3,500, or equivalent to about a year’s salary for some of them.
The announcement, posted on the social media account of the department’s labor office in Riyadh, received mixed reactions from OFWs based in the Kingdom, with some hoping that the temporary suspension be lifted soon.
Saudi Arabia is a major destination for Filipino workers in the Middle East, with about one million of them employed in the Kingdom sending about $1.8 billion in remittances back home in 2020.