What we know so far about the OFW ID card

Social media went agog last week over the soft launch of the soon-to-be-issued OFW identification card, which is intended to replace the Overseas Employment Certificate (OEC). The OEC is a receipt issued by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) as proof that its holder is an overseas Filipino worker who underwent the government’s standard procedures. An online test site that some OFWs were able to stumble upon listed the cost of the ID card at P501 with an additional P200 charge for PhilPost delivery. This turned out to be bogus amounts.

Why do OFWs need an OEC? It differentiates them from other outbound passengers. A worker presents his OEC at the airport together with the passport to assure immigration officers that they went through the POEA. The OEC also serves as proof of one’s OFW status thereby enabling the work to avail of travel tax and terminal fee exemptions.

During the soft launch held last July 12, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said that the i-DOLE ID card for OFWs would be free. He has since clarified that the card is free to OFWs because its cost will be charged to the foreign employers. How much is the OFW ID card? In a recent interview with Assistant Secretary Mocha Uson, Secretary Bello said the cost would not exceed a thousand pesos. The current OEC costs only two hundred pesos.

How will the government make sure that the worker will not pay for the card? Secretary Bello said that this is a matter between the DoLE and foreign employers. Repeatedly, the secretary said: “This is the President’s gift to our OFWs. No OFW should pay for the card.”

When will the OFW cards be issued? The target date for the official, global launch of the I-DOLE card is August 2017. Starting August, an OFW can avail of the card from the embassy, or when on vacation, in any of the POEA regional offices and at the DoLE Building in Intramuros, Manila.

Meanwhile, all government agencies from the POEA to the immigration bureau and beyond will still use the OEC as basis for its OFW services. An OFW, therefore, need not worry about not having an I-DOLE card from now until such time that the labor department declares the card to be fully activated and internationally available.

I won’t be surprised if the card is mentioned in the second State of the Nation Address of President Duterte, in line with his directive to cut lines and red tape. The OFW card is a laudable initiative. DoLE has to deliver an efficient and glitch-free OFW ID card considering the enormous trust and love that our OFWs have in and for the President. I learned that the ACTS OFW party-list donated the software and basic hardware needed by the government to develop the OFW ID card. The party-list, however, has no role in the manner by which DoLE intends to issue millions of these OFW cards.

According to labor undersecretary CiriacoLagunzad, the department has a 90-day window to pilot-test the OFW ID card and make sure that the databases are in sync, all necessary inter-agency agreements are signed, and enough personnel and machines are available.

The POEA Governing Board will meet tomorrow to agree on the cost of the card. On Wednesday, the DoLE will sign memorandums of agreement with the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP), APO Printing, Inc. and PhilPost. The DBP shall be the repository of payments for the OFW ID card. It will pay APO Printing for the cost of printing the card, and PhilPost for its delivery services here and abroad.

DoLE said that the OFW ID card would eventually become an ATM card that is linked to the soon-to-be-opened OFW Bank. Once the DFA agrees, the OFW card can also serve as a substitute to the passport. The card will be linked to the SSS, PhilHealth and Pag-IBIG Fund for easy access to records of contributions.

Here are a few reality checks for DoLE to consider.

Foreign employers are not under Philippine jurisdiction. The government cannot compel a foreign employer to pay less than a thousand pesos for an ID card unless this is clearly written in the POEA rules and regulations, and was a product of earlier consultations.

The OEC is issued on the same day of application because everything from processing to payment is lodged with the POEA. The OFW card involves several agencies: application is with POEA, payment is with DBP, delivery is with PhilPost and the server is with DoLE. Delays are to be expected.

The OFW ID cannot take the place of the Philippine passport. We have a passport law. We don’t have an OFW ID law. Besides, other countries will not consider it.

The cost of the card and other details concerning its timeline and issuance will be known this week. Our OFW friends need to be patient, because the OFW ID is clearly still a work in progress.

Author: Susan Ople

Susan "Toots" Ople is the President of the Blas F. Ople Policy and Training Institute. She's an OFW and labor advocate based in the Philippines.

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