Finding Treasures in your Balikbayan Boxes

Literally and Figuratively.

There’s no denying that a balikbayan box is a treasure.

If you have a family member who is an OFW, you may have received one of these packages before at least once or twice a year. Some OFWs even send their boxes every three months.

Let’s start by admiring and appreciating those Balikbayan boxes.

Have you noticed how carefully packed every items inside the box are? They are wrapped in plastic and packaging tapes, each labeled with a family member’s name. Imagine the long hours spent in arranging and packing them, not to mention the time and effort exerted in scouting for the best items that they think everyone would like. That’s how much our OFW family member or members love us.

As receivers of balikbayan boxes, we should recognize that everything in there is a treasure. Let’s admit it, as selfish as it sounds, sometimes we would prefer to receive cash. But we’d be surprised by how much money we are actually saving with the help of these Balikbayan box items, if only we know or learn how to recognize that.

Here are the many reasons why everything in the Balikbayan box is a treasure. If you are receiving these items, perhaps you should already cross them our from your next shopping list (if you haven’t yet).

1. Toys

While there are places to buy cheap toys in the Philippines, you may need not to buy them anymore if you are receiving some from abroad.

2. Kitchen Utensils

I was at home last month when I saw an unopened box of spoon and fork set. I knew that it came from the Balikbayan box, so I asked my mom if I could take it. They don’t need it back home, and it would be a good replacement to the kitchen utensils that I bought (at a very cheap price) when I moved in to my new place. That alone, already save me a couple of hundreds.

3. Toiletries

I rarely buy soap, and I can’t remember the last time I bought a bottle of shampoo. I have months of supply of soap and shampoo from the Balikbayan box. That’s a lot of savings considering that a bottle of shampoo in the Philippines is priced by over a hundred pesos.

4. Clothes

I am buying a shirt only once a year. If my sisters ask me what kind of shirt I want, I would ask for a polo or polo shirt so that I could wear them in the office. Everyone in the family, my parents, my nephew and niece, all wear clothes from Balikbayan boxes. Saves us a lot of money.

5. Shoes

The last time I bought myself a pair of shoes was two years ago; it is a leather shoes also for office use. My sneakers and rubber shoes all came from the Balikbayan box, and most of them are also over two years old. In addition, my parents rarely buy shoes anymore.

6. Bags

I personally haven’t received a bag yet, but my mom does. All her bags are also from the Balikbayan box, so she never had to buy one herself anymore. Big savings for her too!

7. Chocolates and Candies

Chocolates are the first things that kids look for in the box, and is the first thing that OFWs put in there. So if you have an OFW family member, you should not be buying chocolates at groceries anymore. Period.

I’m sure there are several other things I missed. What other items are you getting from your Balikbayan boxes?

Direct Hiring OEC Process for Professional and Skilled Workers

Recently, I have been receiving questions about the OFW direct hiring process for Professionals and Skilled workers. These questions are posted as comments in these related articles:

How to Get an OEC for Direct Hires
Online: List of Direct Hires with DOLE Clearances or OEC

Per Section 124 of the Exemption from the Ban on Direct Hiring, Professional and Skilled workers are exempted from the ban:

“2. Professionals and skilled workers with duly executed/authenticated contracts
containing terms and conditions over and above the standards set by the
POEA. The number of professional and skilled Overseas Filipino Workers hired
for the first time by the employer shall not exceed five (5). For the purpose of
determining the number, workers hired as a group shall be counted as one;”

However, the OEC processing for Professional and Skilled workers seem to confuse some applicants as they were told by the POEA that they do not handle the paperworks for this specific category.

I browsed the POEA website to check for any new updates or advisories regarding this, but I couldn’t find any. The published REVISED POEA RULES AND REGULATIONS GOVERNING THE RECRUITMENT AND EMPLOYMENT OF LANDBASED OVERSEAS FILIPINO WORKERS OF 2016 has not been replaced or amended:

http://www.poea.gov.ph/laws&rules/files/Q%20&%20A%20on%20Revised%20POEA%20Rules%202016.pdf

Anyway, upon checking the Overseas Filipino Workers tab in the POEA website, it looks like the applicant’s documents need to be submitted to DOLE directly, based on this guideline:

This PDF document can be found here: http://www.poea.gov.ph/services/workers/NH_Professionals.pdf

If I got it right, this means that applicants who are qualified under this exemption will have to submit their requirements to DOLE instead of POEA.

UPDATE: It looks like Professionals and Skilled workers are no longer part of the exemption, at least based on the accounts of applicants who’s been to the POEA office lately: These comments are posted HERE.

Anyone who went through this process this year (2018)? Care to share your experiences?

3 Things that OFWs Must Know about the OFW ID

1. The iDOLE OFW ID Card is FREE!

According to Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, “This is free for our OFWs. We do not want our OFWs to shoulder the cost because this is a gift from the President to recognize their sacrifices and immense contribution to our economy.”

2. Currently, this is only available for NEW Balik-Manggagawa (worker-on-leave, or vacationing OFWs).

“This is only the first phase of implementation and will cater first to our Balik-Manggagawa until the system is ready for all OFWs. We are doing this to secure the database and for further improvements in the system,” Secretary Bello said.

3. Registration can be done online via idole.dole.gov.ph in 3 easy steps!

This means that moving forward, OFWs will be able to do perform their transactions online! Per DOLE advisory:

“With the use of the ID, OFWs will no longer need to queue in transacting with agencies for their overseas employment as they can now access government services online during the further phases of the iDOLE eServices implementation.

The first phase of the system links DOLE with the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), and the Bureau of Immigration (BI).

The iDOLE system will further interlink the databases of DOLE offices and agencies with other government agencies for a more reliable, updated and complete Labor Market Information System (LMIS) for employment facilitation purposes.” – Source: https://www.dole.gov.ph/news/view/3929

What is the POEA Online Pre-Employment Orientation Seminar (PEOS)

What is the POEA Online Pre-Employment Orientation Seminar (PEOS), and why do you need to take it?

The PEOS is informal online seminar that you need to take when applying for a job overseas; you can access this at http://peos.poea.gov.ph/.

This is required by the POEA, and in case you are applying through an agency, the agency will be asking you to submit the printed copy of your PEOS completion certificate. This certificate will be provided at the end of the online seminar.

The PEOS consists of a series of videos showing all the information that you will need to know when applying for a job abroad. At the end of each video, you will be asked to answer a short “quiz” to test your knowledge and to ensure that you understood what was discussed in the videos.

Screenshot from http://peos.poea.gov.ph/

 

Why do you need to take the seminar?

It’s a quick and convenient way to learn and understand the ins and outs of becoming an OFW.

It will provide you information about the legal ways of obtaining a job abroad, tips on how to spot and avoid illegal recruiters, and the physical, emotional, and psychological preparations that one should do before leaving his or her family in the Philippines to work overseas.

A short, quick lesson about cultural awareness is also included.

I took it myself, and although I was confident that I am knowledgeable about what is legal and not, and despite my broad awareness of the cultural differences amongst regions around the world, I still incurred one incorrect answer.

It was a fun and easy online seminar, just like watching 5-10 minute Youtube videos. You can do it anywhere, and all you need is an internet connection and a computer.


Ideally, the PEOS should be taken before an aspiring OFW start his or her application. It will actually also help you decide whether you are “ready” to work abroad or not. Nonetheless, you can still do it at any time during your application process. My brother, for example, took this online seminar while waiting for his OEC to be released.

How Did I Learn About OEC Processing?

I learned it the hard way. Very hard, but amusing way!

Late in 2016, we started processing my brother’s papers for his employment in Canada. It took us around six months to prepare all the requirements including his passport. We submitted the documents via the MyCIC website in April 2017, I did everything online.

Everything happened so fast – medical exam, submission of passport, and claiming of visa. It all happened in less than two months. We never seek assistance from an agency nor asked help from a third party, a move that we later on regret not doing. We have the visa, we thought that’s all we need. In June 2017, we immediately booked his flight and he’s set to leave in three weeks.

NAIA Terminal 1

His flight schedule is 9AM, so we left Quezon City at 4AM. On our way to the airport, I had this strange feeling that something is not quite right. I just still couldn’t believe that it happened so fast, that it is even possible to do it that quick. When we passed by the POEA office in Ortigas, I had this deep sigh of relief thinking that we didn’t have to go through all the process inside that building. I would often see long lines there in the past and it surely looks depressing.

We got at the airport two hours too early. We didn’t let him in until 7AM, just enough time for checkin. My sister and I proceeded to the waiting area inside the terminal and decided to wait until his plane takes off.

15 minutes later, my phone started ringing. My brother was calling and I knew that something was wrong.

Imagine our horror when we learned that airport staff were looking for a document called OEC! We were in shock!


We did try our best to possibly get him through to no avail, but we stayed calm and present. It took awhile for everything to sink in but we knew we have to keep moving. We gathered all the information we needed and left the airport. That was my longest EDSA trip ever!

We spent the next five weeks literally running around Metro Manila to process his OEC. Although we knew we can’t relax until he actually makes it to Canada, we were laughing at the whole experience all throughout. We complied with all the rules of DOLE and POEA, two agencies that I wish I will never have to deal with ever again.

He finally took his flight in August 2017 and landed in Vancouver safely. It’s been four months (as of this writing) and I still couldn’t believe that this happened to us, and how we actually managed the whole thing. I am proud to say that we dealt with it peacefully. It was quite an experience, but definitely something that I do not wish anyone to go through!

So if you are leaving the country as an OFW for the first time, make sure that you have an OEC prior to booking your plane ticket. You may proceed to POEA directly for inquiries, or look for an agency that could help. Make sure that the agency is legit, visit http://poea.gov.ph/cgi-bin/aglist.asp for the list of POEA-accredited agencies.

Where to Find the List of POEA Blacklisted Recruitment Agencies and Illegal Recruiters

POEA just created an online page where the list of blacklisted recruitment agencies and illegal recruiters are published. The list will contain the blacklisted names of:

  • Individual persons and entities
  • Philippine recruitment/manning agencies with the name of its corporate officers, executive officers, and employees, of known;
  • Foreign placement agencies with the name of its corporate officers, executive officers and employees, if known; and
  • Direct Employers.

As of this writing, the site is still on its testing phase, but should be populated with information very soon. To view the list, go to http://tipblacklist.poea.gov.ph/ or click on the image below.


What is the Overseas Filipino Bank or OFB?

The Overseas Filipino Bank (OFB) is a policy bank dedicated to provide financial products and services tailored to the requirement of overseas Filipinos and their beneficiaries.

Per the advisory posted by the Department of Finance on their Facebook page:

“Beginning next year (2018), OFWs and foreign-based Filipinos would be able to make use of the Overseas Filipino Bank (OFB). The OFB is focused on delivering quality and efficient foreign remittance services to our Filipinos abroad.

The LandBank and the Bureau of the Treasury (BTr) are also exploring ways of mobilizing the savings of overseas-based Filipinos for them to invest in the country’s capital markets.”

For future updates, you can follow Department of Finance on Facebook: www.facebook.com/DOFPH/

Where can OFWs find OFB officers? They will be deployed in Philippine Embassies with high concentration of overseas Filipinos.

Below are the key features of OFB:

Image courtesy of the Department of Finance Facebook page.



 

Online: List of Direct Hires with DOLE Clearances or OEC

If you are a direct hired OFW, and recently applied for an OEC, you can check if your name is already on the list of those whose clearances were approved. This list is available online. Go to the POEA website via the below link:

http://www.poea.gov.ph/hswclearance/hsws.html
 

Note: These Notice Numbers get updated regularly and will definitely change every time you visit.

The page will show you the main directory of Notices, each number representing a group or batch of applicants with approved OECs. These Notices will open as a pdf file, and also include an instruction on how to claim your OEC.

Click on each of the Notices to find your name, you can make the indicated date as a reference. For example, if you applied in September or early October 2017, your name would probably be under Notice No. 336 if your clearance is approved:

Under this notice, the clearances were received by POEA from DOLE in October 30, 2017.

If your name is not on any of the lists and you want to check the status of your OEC application, you can contact POEA directly at 722-11-44 or 722-11-55.

DOLE Suspends Processing of OEC from November 13 to December 1, 2017

Update: POEA resumes processing of OECs, as of December 4, 2017.

For the second time this year, DOLE suspends the issuance of Overseas Employment Certificate (OEC) for OFWs for 15 days. This will start from November 13, 2017 to December 1, 2017 and covers new applicants only.

Screenshot from ABS-CBN News’ Twitter account

“Balik Manggagawa” or OFWs who are on vacation are not affected by the suspension.

Screenshot from ABS-CBN News’ Twitter account

Here’s the official statement from DOLE:

How to Contact the POEA Legal Assistance Online

POEA has just launched a legal assistance contact page on their website. If you need legal advice related to your job abroad, or if you know an OFW who needs legal assistance, the said contact page may help. You can find this at http://legalassistance.poea.gov.ph/main/legalcounseling.

The page will ask you to fill-out this form:

Make sure that all the information you entered are correct and up to date as you may be contacted via phone or email. Upon submission, you will be provided with a Reference number.

How do you check the status of the complaint or case that you submitted? In the same page, click on the Check Status button and submit:

Enter your Reference Number, and answer the Validation question.

If you need further assistance, you can contact the POEA hotlines at 722-11-44 or 722-11-55.