WASHINGTON, D.C.—Eight Filipino workers held for almost three weeks in the Turks and Caicos Islands in the Caribbean for immigration violations should now be in Manila following their release by authorities in the British territory, the Philippine Embassy said today.
Ambassador Jose L. Cuisia, Jr. said the release of the eight came two weeks after a consular outreach team from the Embassy headed by Consul General Ariel Penaranda and Labor Attaché Luzviminda Padilla, made representations with immigration authorities during their visit to the capital, Provindenciales, on 8 April.
The eight, all construction workers abandoned by their employers, were arrested by immigration authorities on 5 April for overstaying and absence of work permits.
Ambassador Cuisia said the Embassy was informed today by Filipino Community leader Edwin Panga that the eight were able to leave for the Philippines on Monday after community members contributed funds to allow them to purchase their return tickets to Manila.
During the visit of Consul General Penaranda, Labor Attaché Padilla and Welfare Officer Saul de Vries at the immigration holding center, the eight Filipinos said they were looking forward to returning to the Philippines to be reunited with their families. They requested the Embassy’s assistance in ensuring that they could go home at the soonest time possible.
“We were able to convey the requests of the workers during our courtesy call on Turks and Caicos Islands Premier Rufus Ewing; Minister of Border Control and Labor Ricardo Don-Hue Gardiner; and Permanent Secretary of Border Control and Labor Clara L. Gardiner,” said Consul General Penaranda.
Although a British territory, Turks and Caicos are under the consular jurisdiction of the Philippine Embassy in Washington, D.C. because of its geographic proximity. The islands, with a population of 47,754, became an attractive destination for Filipino workers during the hotel and construction boom in 2006 and 2007.
According to Consul General Penaranda, the islands’ economy subsequently encountered a downturn as a result of the recession in the United States, forcing many companies to shut down. This resulted in many Filipino workers being abandoned by their employers.
He said Filipino community leaders and the consular team also met with members of the territory’s Labor Tribunal to discuss various other issues affecting the more than 1,200 Filipinos working in government agencies, hotels and restaurants, private firms and households.
“With the strong and unified support of the Filipino Community and the Embassy, our workers there were able to secure most of their requests,” Consul General Penaranda said even as he noted that Filipino workers there are now also increasingly experiencing stiff competition from local workers, whose employment is being prioritized by host country labor and immigration policies.
During the visit at the Immigration Holding Center, Labor Attaché Padilla advised the workers that they could avail themselves of the reintegration program of the National Reintegration Center for Overseas Filipino Workers of the Department of Labor and Employment and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) upon their return to the Philippines.
Welfare Officer de Vries told the detained workers that three of them are active OWWA members and are therefore, eligible to apply for OWWA’s livelihood program under the government’s P2-billion Reintegration Fund. ###