The newly established Department of Migrant Workers is taking over the functions of Assistance to Nationals (ATN) program from the Department of Foreign Affairs. By July 2023, the transition will be complete. Here’s how the ongoing transition will impact OFWs.
Starting July 2023, the Department of Migrant Workers (DMW) in the Philippines will take over the full Assistance to Nationals (ATN) functions from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), including all civil and criminal cases of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) across the world, regardless of their status as documented or undocumented workers.
To facilitate the transition, a technical working group (TWG) has been formed to implement the necessary changes, including transferring existing cases to the DMW along with relevant data and other information.
According to Atty. John Rio Bautista, Labor Attaché in Dubai and the Northern Emirates, there will be no differentiation between clients, and all OFWs will receive the same level of assistance.
In an interview with The Filipino Times, Bautista confirmed the news and said, “Once the function of the Assistance to Nationals is transferred to the MWO come July 1 of 2023 we will also be handling cases including civil cases and criminal cases…All other cases involving overseas Filipino workers, whether documented or undocumented, there will be now no distinction as far as the clients that the MWO will be going to serve.”
This move is expected to provide much-needed support to OFWs, who often face difficulties accessing legal aid in foreign jurisdictions.
The DFA will continue to provide ATN services to overseas Filipinos who are not OFWs, as well as for OFWs in areas without resident MWOs.
The ATN program was established by the Philippine government in 1995 to provide assistance to distressed overseas Filipinos, particularly OFWs, and combat human trafficking.
AKSYON Fund launched
In addition to the recent transfer of ATN functions from DFA, DMW has announced the launch of the Agarang Kalinga at Saklolo para sa mga OFWs na Nangangailangan (AKSYON) Fund. The fund was established under Section 14 of the Department of Migrant Workers Act and aims to provide legal and other forms of assistance to OFWs.
According to the implementing guidelines issued by DMW on February 27, 2023, all OFWs, regardless of their immigration status, whether they are land-based or sea-based, documented or undocumented, are entitled to avail of the benefits or assistance provided by the AKSYON Fund.
This includes medical, financial, psycho-social, legal, rescue, repatriation assistance, or any other kind of analogous interventions, including the transport of human remains. The next of kin of OFWs in distress or families left behind can also avail of humanitarian assistance through the AKSYON Fund.
Each MWO will be allocated a revolving fund from the AKSYON fund for a swift assistance to OFWs in distress.
“The approved amount of assistance may be released in full or tranches based on the recommendations of the concerned head of MWO for all assistance at post, or of the Fund Administrator in the case of financial assistance to children/families of distressed OFWs in the Philippines,” as per Article 3 of DMW’s Department Order No. 4, Series of 2023.
OFWs who will go home to the Philippines for vacation and with changed or updated contracts can go to the nearest MWO for their individual contract verification.
There are four ways to avail of contract verification.
- Scheduled in-person onsite appointment: Book an appointment to visit MWO and bring the complete documentary requirements to process your contract verification in-person.
- Online submission: It is available for all OFWs, with or without flights, as long as they have a valid employment visa issued by Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm Al Quawain, Ras Al Khaimah, and Fujairah. A new form is published every Monday and closes on Wednesday when the limit of 500 applications have been reached.
- Walk-in: For OFWs who were not able to submit an online application or those with disapproved submission, they may visit the MWO one day before their flight.
- Authorized representative: OFWs can have an authorized representative to process the contract verification by bringing an authorization letter and a copy of his/her ID along with the complete set of requirements and a copy of the ticket.
Currently, issuance of the Overseas Employment Certificate (OEC) at MWO Dubai is temporarily suspended until further notice, according to their online portal. However, the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) has opened a new online system called the POEA Online Processing System for Balik-Manggagawa.
OEC is something that every OFW should have before leaving the country to work abroad. It is presented at the immigration as proof that the individual is a legal overseas worker. To use the new system, OFWs with or without previous records must register to their new online site at https://bit.ly/3y2skJC.
Meanwhile, OFWs with previous records or OEC have to transfer their old record using the same site. Next step will be to set up an appointment. OFWs who will return to the same employer at the same country can avail of an OEC exemption.
Other services such as the application or renewal of Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) membership, and accreditation of employment documents through foreign placement agency such as Tadbeer Centers are also catered by the MWO.
Reintegration of OFWs simply means allowing overseas Filipinos to become productive and capable after returning home.
Through the DMW, the government has laid out a comprehensive Full-Cycle Reintegration 5-Year Road Map which includes economic, social, cultural, and psychosocial programs for OFWs.
The full cycle of reintegration covers the pre-departure phase, on-site phase and return phase.
OFWs will be trained to help them prepare and rebuild their lives when they stay for good. It will also assist those who are displaced due to conflicts in their host country or those who are victims of illegal recruitment and human trafficking.
As per OWWA, trainings such as value formation, financial literacy, entrepreneurial development, techno-skills and capacity building will be provided for free to returning to OFWs.
Further, a package of livelihood assistance and services, as well as program scholarships will be granted to help them develop knowledge and skills for self-employment.
The ATN program covers several assistance to Filipino nationals which include providing temporary travel documents, supporting social welfare and medical-related cases, as well as criminal and immigration-related issues, finding missing Filipinos, and helping those facing court cases.
Securing a passport still falls under the services rendered by the DFA. Applicants must set an appointment online, fill out the application form, pay the passport processing fee, show up at the chosen DFA Office on the appointment date, and pick up the passport.
In a bid to ease the passport renewal process for OFWs, the DFA has partnered with VFS Global on the establishment of a Passport Renewal Center. In the UAE, VFS Global is the exclusive service provider for the Philippine Embassy in Abu Dhabi and the Philippine Consulate General in Dubai and Northern Emirates authorized to provide electronic passport renewal services to Filipinos.
Further, visa application for foreigners, access of consular records, and authentication of public documents through Apostille are also services still covered by the DFA.
While the DFA passes on the ATN functions to the DMW, both agencies aim to provide Filipinos, home and abroad, with essential services and programs beneficial for them and their loved ones.