US seeking end to costly employment fees for OFWs

WASHINGTON – The United States is seeking cooperation with the Philippines to abolish exorbitant placement fees for Filipino workers applying for jobs overseas as many applicants end up in debt bondage and leave them at the mercy of human traffickers.

John Cotton Richmond, US State Department’s ambassador at large to monitor trafficking in persons, said his office was looking into a prevention strategy that would restructure the recruitment system.

Under the plan, an “employer pays” model could be adopted instead of passing all the fees to job-seekers.

“The reason that it’s important because for far too long, for decades, we’ve seen so many people going through tremendous amount of debt in order to find a job,” Richmond told Filipino journalists at a briefing.

“That debt can be manipulated by someone who is a trafficker and a forced laborer,” he said.

Although the debt itself is not illegal, Richmond said the aim was to take away the tools traffickers use to harm people.

“So if there’s a system in place that is making it easier for traffickers to operate and we can remove that system and we can flip the script on that,” Richmond said.

The Philippines is one of the world’s top labor-exporting nations with about 8.6 million skilled and unskilled workers scattered abroad, exposing them to abuses, unfair labor practices, and in some cases, civil strife in conflict-torn nations.

Remittances from Filipino migrant workers constitute a significant source of the country’s foreign exchange as they send home over $20 billion per year.

Philippine Ambassador Jose Manuel Romualdez said that the Philippines remained committed to engaging and cooperating with concerned US agencies in advancing the global anti-trafficking agenda.

“The Philippine embassy in Washington, D. C. sustains its cooperation and engagement with US stakeholders in order to communicate our priorities, including the importance with which we consider the role of labor-receiving countries in the fight against human trafficking,” Romualdez said.

Since 2016, the Philippines has retained its Tier 1 status in the US government’s list of countries that comply with international standards to combat human trafficking.

The Philippines narrowly escaped stiff sanctions that include the withholding of millions of dollars in American aid after the US removed the Philippines from a trafficking blacklist three years ago.

Although the government meets the minimum standards, challenges remain in combating the global scourge, Richmond said.

“Meeting those minimum standards is not the same as doing everything right,” Richmond said.  “Tier 1 countries have the right legal regime. The question is how to we implement that, how do we turn the words on paper into actions that help the victims.”

The Philippines, he said, should be vigilant against new tactics of illegal recruiters and traffickers to lure victims, such as the use of technology and social media.

“We are thinking about how do we continue to look for more victims,” Richmond said. “There is a constant evolution of our work that we have to always be trying to push forward and I’m encouraged that we are seeing these increasing efforts from the Philippines for the last several years.” —NB, GMA News