OFWs can return to Iraq

THE Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) has lifted the deployment ban on Iraq for returning overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) under certain conditions.

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello 3rd, who sits as chairman of the POEA Governing Board (PGB), has signed Board Resolution 9 over the weekend “to exempt the documentation of returning workers.”

In the same resolution, however, the PGB “imposes a deployment ban on the processing and deployment of newly hired workers.”

Bello said the lifting of the order would allow the more than a thousand OFWs in Iraq’s violence-free Kurdistan region to come home for a reunion with their families this Christmas and return to their job sites after being processed by the Balik-Manggagawa Section of the POEA.

The PGB approved the resolution after the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) lowered the Alert Level 4 status (Mandatory repatriation) to Alert Level 3 (Voluntary repatriation) upon the recommendation of the Philippine embassy in Baghdad.

Previously the POEA issued Board Resolution 6 series 2018 allowing documentation of returning workers except for household service workers. However, in January 2020, the DFA raised the Alert Level to 4, which stopped the return of vacationing workers to Kurdistan.

There are about 1,000 OFWs in Kurdistan and around 500 Filipinos working inside the US base in Iraq.

Among the conditions set by the POEA for returning workers to Iraq are proof that the worker is active, that the worker is returning to the same employer or company, that the contract between OFW and employer conforms with Philippine and Iraq labor laws, and the OFW work site is outside of the so-called “no-go-zones.”

Areas off limits to OFWs in Iraq are the provinces of Anbar, Nineveh, Kirkuk and Mosul; Sadr City, Baghdad province; and Amedi and Makhmour, both in Erbil province.

The POEA has also required the employer of the OFW to sign an undertaking guaranteeing secured work premises in Iraq, and guaranteeing as well financial sponsorship and facilitation of the repatriation of OFW covering both airfare and visa penalties, if any.

Furthermore, the resolution stated that the OFW is not a household service worker.

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