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Can domestic helpers fly to different countries to “wash-out” and work around travel and entry restrictions to Hong Kong?

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Due to current travel restrictions on travellers from the Philippines and Indonesia, many employers and domestic helpers are enquiring if stranded domestic helpers can fly to a transit country that is lower risk and stay there for 21 days and “wash-out” so they can enter Hong Kong. However, this has very serious risks and should not be attempted. 

From 9 August, Domestic Helpers who are Fully Vaccinated in Hong Kong allowed to enter from Philippines and Indonesia

Read more: When will the suspension of flights from the Philippines and Indonesia be lifted? 

Can domestic helpers transit and “wash-out” to avoid entry restrictions to Hong Kong?

While logistically it may be possible for a domestic helper to go to a transit country for 21 days on a tourist visa on route to Hong Kong, it is very risky and highly disapproved by Immigration authorities in the Philippines and Indonesia. 

There are no regulations currently that outright ban such plans because there has not been a need for one before the COVID-19 Pandemic. Additionally, this type of regulation would require the coordination between multiple government bodies including Immigration and Labour. However, it is clear upon review of the risks and Immigration policies involved, such a “wash-out” plan would be strongly disapproved by Home Country Immigration and Labour departments.  

Firstly, the domestic helper is leaving with a permit or certificate for overseas work specific to her job and visa in Hong Kong. Transiting to a different country than stated in the overseas work permit may be flagged as a human trafficking issue. The travel of the citizen cannot be properly documented by the Government. Secondly, there are several risks to the safety of the worker in such a plan and we list these below. 

Responsibility of Agencies

There are too many risks involved in this type of plan. A responsible agency would strongly advise against such plans – regardless if the domestic helper is returning to the same employer, changing employers, or a first-time worker. License undertakings of agencies obligate agencies to report any such Immigration and Employment inconsistencies to the relevant government bodies.

Policies to Protect against Trafficking

In the Philippines, all migrant workers are required to receive an Overseas Employment Certificate (OEC) before they can leave the country. This certificate clearly indicates the destination country and job nature. This is documented by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA). Undocumented overseas workers fall out of the protection of their home government and this puts them at considerable risk of human trafficking

Four female Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) were intercepted by the Philippine Bureau of Investigation (BI) in the airport because their visas and travel destinations did not match (PhilStar, July 2021). The authorities explains: “This is a modus operandi employed by human traffickers and illegal recruiters. They will obtain work permits and job contracts for OFWs to work in another country, such as Albania or Maldives, when in fact their actual work destination is Dubai. This is a third country recruitment where victims are given working documents for one country but end up being deployed to another country. In many instances, victims are made to accept working conditions that are not acceptable just to be deployed for work.”

This is an area the Philippine Government has been putting much effort to address, as well as other migrant worker sending countries.

Other Potential Risks 

21 days is a significant amount of time for an individual to be in a new country without full access to support and remedy. What during the “wash-out” period if the domestic helper were to test positive for COVID-19? What if they were to fall sick? What if COVID-19 situation deteriorated in the transit country and the Hong Kong government imposed a flight suspension from that country too? Since their transit is not properly documented with their Home Government, there may be limits to what the domestic helper can access in terms of support from their country’s Consulates.

What are the entry requirements as a tourist for 21 days? Some countries will require travellers to present financial ability to support themselves over the full period of being in the country. This may not be possible for the domestic helper. Loaning money would carry its own risks here. 

We understand and share the frustrations around current travel restrictions. We want our domestic helpers to arrive safely and begin their jobs soon too. We will do our best to keep our articles updated with the latest information to advise domestic helpers and employers on safe and productive employment decisions. 

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Last updated on August 31st, 2021