Thousands of stranded overseas workers can now heave a sigh of relief knowing that they can already return to work effective February 15 this year after the Taiwan government imposed an eight-month ban on all foreign nationals due to the surge of Covid-19 cases last year.

Along with the long-awaited opportunity, fully vaccinated Filipino workers first need to comply with related epidemic prevention rules and guidelines set by the Taiwan Centers for Disease Control, thus they need to be tested for Covid-19 at least 72 hours before their flight to Taiwan. After the RT-PCR test result, they must undergo quarantine. Upon arrival, workers are also required to complete quarantine at a hotel and self-management for 21 days.

While we recognize the importance of health requirements and protocols, we are very concerned that such health requirements will again bleed dry our OFWs. They have suffered too much from this pandemic for delaying their livelihood and now they will be burdened by long list of fees. We received reports from stranded OFWs that their employment agencies required them for another round of payments for the processing of their overseas applications which include multiple medical examinations at least every three months, training fees, yellow card, visa renewal, PCR test, BOQ, OEC as well as PhilHealth, Pag-ibig, SSS and other mandatory contributions.

Deprived of the promised government ayuda, they are buried in debt in order to pursue their only hope to work abroad in order to meet the economic needs of their families. Many of them have desperately waited for the lifting of the travel ban but their anxieties remain until when they can finally leave. However, with the continuing existence of the broker system in Taiwan, more fees and salary deductions as required mandatorily by the brokers or local recruitment agencies awaits them. The broker system is a draconian practice of local recruitment agencies in Taiwan that controls the living and working conditions of OFWs and charged OFWs with several fees (ranging from NT$60K to NT$200K) per working contract from day one up to the time they depart Taiwan.

It is high time that the Philippine government extends financial relief to the stranded OFWs by providing government subsidy to outbound OFWs for paying their PCR test fee, medical test fee, Bureau of Quarantine certificate and other expenses related to quarantine.

Likewise, we call on our Presidentiables and Senatoriables to ensure that our OFWs are protected from any forms of exploitations and abuses and for the first one hundred days in office to start negotiating with their counterparts in Taiwan for the abolition of the broker system.  More so, they should include in their electoral platform the 10-point electoral agenda of overseas Filipinos whose only option for economic survival is to risk their health and safety amidst the global pandemic. ##