PHL-Russia talks on OFW deployment to Moscow still ongoing

The Philippine Embassy in Moscow has vowed to advance Manila’s goal to institutionalize the deployment of overseas Filipino workers (OFW) to Russia.

Jeffrey Valdez, head of the embassy’s economic and consular sections, said talks on a labor agreement have been going on for years already but significant developments only happened this year.

“I cannot speak in detail about the agreement but this has been discussed at the level of Foreign Affairs Secretary (Alan Peter) Cayetano and Foreign Minister (Sergei) Lavrov during a bilateral meeting in Moscow in May this year,” Valdez said Thursday night when asked for an update on the agreement.

He said a draft labor agreement has also been formally transmitted to the Russian side earlier this year.

“The goal of the Philippine side is to create a mechanism for the legal deployment of Filipino workers to Russia, including household service workers (HSWs),” the diplomat told the Philippine News Agency (PNA).

Some 8,000 Filipinos are working in Russia, about 95 percent of whom are HSWs, while the rest work in construction, oil and gas, foreign embassies and others.

Of the total HSWs in Russia, Valdez said majority are irregular migrants because they do not possess the appropriate visa for HSW work.

Russia sets quota for Russian companies that apply for permission to hire foreign workers. The quotas are specific to the occupation and nationality of foreign workers the companies are allowed to hire.

For 2018, Moscow’s Ministry of Labor and Social Protection allowed six Russian companies to hire 119 Filipinos as HSWs.

To date, the embassy “is of the understanding” that these quotas have been filled up.

Given the filled slots for HSWs, Valdez reiterated that the work category is no longer open to Filipinos.

According to the diplomat, most of the illegal HSWs in Moscow enter Russia on a work visa obtained with the help of a friend, who enticed them to come over.

Many are recruited from Hong Kong, Singapore and other countries with high OFW concentrations allowing them to bypass Philippine authorities.

Valdez said these Filipinos pay thousands of dollars for the processing of their visas, but with the limited slots for HSWs, many are issued visas that indicate different occupations, an immigration violation.

However, even these inappropriate work visas have been difficult to obtain in recent years because the number of Filipinos in Russia exceeds the number of allowable work visas, he added.

“Because of the lack of visas and high costs to obtain one, some of our kababayans choose to be repatriated so they can move on with their lives,” he said.

For July 2018, the embassy is facilitating 10 repatriation requests.

“We estimate that at least 80 percent of Filipinos in Russia may be considered undocumented. For 2018, we receive on average 10 requests for repatriation assistance each month,” he said.

These OFWs are those who are unemployed and already out of status or has expired visas.

In Russia, it is legal and typical for law enforcement agents to demand foreigners and Russian nationals alike to show their documents.

The inability to provide the required documents can result in arrest, detention, and deportation.

The embassy’s voluntary repatriation program allows Filipinos to go through this process and avoid arrest and detention.

Aside from Filipino workers, the embassy also assists nationals who suffer from serious medical conditions.

Valdez said all repatriation activities are performed with the support of the Department of Foreign Affairs’ Office of Migrant Workers Affairs, headed by Undersecretary Sarah Lou Arriola.