COVID-19 Op-ed

Filipino Migrants Facing Uncertain Future in the midst of COVID-19

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Eunice Barbara C.
Novio
Vongchavalitkul University, Nakhon Ratchasima,
Thailand
Correspondent: Inquirer.net US and Canada
Bureau
eunice.novio@gmail.com;
eunice_nov@vu.ac.th

Unlike the previous months, the Thai-Lao border in Nongkhai,
Thailand is not crowded with people from various countries doing visa runs.
Earlier, Laos has closed its four immigration checkpoints in Nakhon Phanom
Muang Khob in Sayaboury province in Laos bordering Thailand’s Phayao
Province. On March 19, Laos suspends all types of visas to foreign tourists
including ASEAN countries effective midnight of March 20 until April 20
(Novio, 2020).The border closing has been affecting the Filipinos and other
migrant workers seeking visas either for work or tourism in Thailand.
Usually, foreigners seeking to work in Thailand apply for visa in Thai
Consular Office in Laos or in Savannakhet.In the Mekong Region, Laos shares
borders with Vietnam to the east, Cambodia to the south, Thailand to the
west, and Myanmar and China to the north. Due to its location and frequent
border crossings from neighboring countries, Laos’ is vulnerable to entry of
infectious diseases like COVID-19.In the morning of March 19, several
second-timer tourist visa applicants were already turned down by the Thai
consular office. The policy was unannounced that even the agency operators
were caught off-guard.Jane is an undocumented migrant Filipino worker in
Thailand for the past four years. She did visa run several times. She needs
to stay overnight in Vientiane so she can get a visitor stamp for another 30
days upon returning to Nongkhai border in Thailand. A hotel worker was also
denied with a 3-month visa. He contemplates going home. But with no money to
fly back home, how could he? Their employers failed to provide the documents
to secure work visas. Upon returning to Thailand, they can only stay for 30
days. Beyond that, they do not know. Many of them are out of work due to the
closure of business establishments and schools around Thailand.Those who are
‘stranded’ in Thailand, both workers working undocumented and legitimate
tourists are given 30 days to leave the country. The Philippine Embassy
issues letter upon the requests of an individual guaranteeing that the holder
of the letter will leave the country as soon as the ban on air travels are
lifted, which is approximately 30 days.Some who just renewed either work visa
(Non-B), ED (education) or dependent (Non-O). These are only for 90 days, and
renewable for one year. Those who are able to secure visa for one year needs
to renew it every year.Maricris Vistro and her family have been living in
Thailand for 19 years, yet the current situation makes them uneasy. She and
their only child have Non-O or dependent visa under her husband.In a survey
done by PinoyThaiyo, an online website based in Thailand, (2020) reveals that
81% of the Filipinos are affected by the Covid. The survey was participated
by 1,047 Filipino workers in from different province.Some companies and
schools provide insurance for their employees. In some universities and
government schools, workers are provided with a Pragansangkoom or social
security (SS) insurance. Known as the Workmen’s Compensation Act of 1994,
both the employers and the employees of private companies, including foreign
workers are required to enroll in PhraGansangkhom (Novio, 2018).Aside from
unemployment benefit and pension at the age of 55, PhraGansangkhom members
can avail of medical benefits such as hospitalization (to the accredited
hospital), maternity benefits, burial (cremation) and repatriation. It now
includes hospitalization due to Covid-19.In 2017, there are 17,921 Filipinos
in Thailand. An estimated 4,000 are considered irregular or undocumented.Thousands
of regular and irregular Filipino workers in Thailand are in danger of losing
a jobs if the pandemic continues. Although the Philippine Embassy in Bangkok
assures that it would help in the repatriation, but it would take long as
part of the ‘long term contingency plan’ for the Filipinos. However, given
the situations of the Filipino workers, many of whom are yet to (or not)
registered to Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) priority will be
given to documented workers. If ever they are repatriated, there is no
designated quarantine area. Secretary of Health Francisco Duque is a poor
excuse of a health practitioner. His ineptitude contributes to the
uncertainties the Filipinos are facing.As a labor sending country, the Philippines
faces a more complex dilemma. The recent budget cut to the health sector
exacerbated the health problems. How will the Philippine government address
the health and economic issues facing the displaced workers?At this time of
uncertainty, it is a matter of protecting the territory and its own people.
Meanwhile, the Filipinos have to choose survival at all
costs.References:Novio, E. (2020, March
20)Filipinos in Laos cope, prepare amid COVID-19 threat,
Inquirer.net, https://globalnation.inquirer.net/186209/filipinos-in-laos-cope-prepare-amid-covid-19-threatNovio,
E. (2018, September 5), Filipinos in Thailand urged: get insurance
Inquirer.net,https://globalnation.inquirer.net/169636/filipinos-thailand-urged-get-insurancePinoythaiyo,
(2020, March 31), Survey reveals 81% of Filipinos in Thailand affected by
covid, https://pinoythaiyo.com/2020/03/31/survey-reveals-81-of-filipinos-in-thailand-affected-by-covid-19/?fbclid=IwAR2uaGlq8BHcHYdeNxdTlq0p87cbrI1_x3vL7HkReTDyo73ryJUU2v5YX74

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