PH asks Saudis to expedite processing of Filipino illegals

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Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario: Seeking more assistance. AP FILE PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines—The Philippines has asked Saudi Arabia to expedite the processing of undocumented Filipinos either seeking to correct their immigration status or securing exit visas to return home.

Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said Thursday he has written a letter to Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal in hopes of speeding up the issuance of exit visas to undocumented Filipinos who want to come home and the processing of documents of those who want to legalize their stay in the the Kingdom.

Del Rosario also sought an audience with his Saudi counterpart to discuss the matter, as thousands of Filipino workers hope to have their papers processed before Nov. 3, the extended deadline for foreign illegals to correct their status.

In his letter, Del Rosario asked the Saudi Foreign Ministry “if we could get more assistance in terms of trying to come up with a speedier process for our people.”

“I asked for a meeting with the Foreign Minister in the next one or two weeks. I indicated to him that I’m prepared to go back anytime he can see me, because I really want to sit down with him to see if we can get more assistance and support,” said Del Rosario.

The official had just returned from a trip to the Middle East on Monday, a quick visit to check on the condition of Filipinos in conflict-stricken Egypt and in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where Philippine nationals are either seeking repatriation or regularization amid a crackdown on illegal workers there.

“We’re trying to see if the Saudi authorities can improve the speed at which our people are getting their papers—the exit visas—as well as regularizing their work permits. So we’re putting more people to the task,” said Del Rosario.

Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz had extended from July 3 to Nov. 3 the deadline for illegal foreign workers to regularlize their status, heeding appeals from foreign governments seeking a longer grace period for their citizens.

Saudi Arabia’s crackdown initiated in April had prompted hundreds of undocumented overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) to establish camps outside the Philippine Embassy in Riyadh and the Philippine Consulate in Jeddah.

“Of course, we welcome this extension that was provided to Nov. 3, but we hope that we could be ready in terms of achieving all our objectives at that time,” Del Rosario said.

He said some of the undocumented OFWs have either landed new jobs or have been repatriated. Per figures of the Department of Foreign (DFA), more than 1,500 OFWs have been flown home from Saudi Arabia to date.

There are at least 1.5 million Filipinos in Saudi Arabia, an undetermined number of whom are known to be staying there illegally. The DFA earlier said, however, that some 10,000 undocumented Filipinos expressed the desire to be repatriated.

During his Middle East trip, Del Rosario also visited Egypt to check on the preparedness of the Philippine mission in Cairo amid the unrest in the country. The Philippine government earlier hoisted crisis alert level 2 over Egypt, restricting the movement of some 6,000 Filipinos in Egypt.

“I think I have the confidence that we’re prepared for any possible eventualities there. We have a very good contingency plan and our ambassador there is very competent and very much on top of the situation,” said Del Rosario.

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