Offloading is an occurrence at Philippine airports that cause fear and anger among Filipino travelers going abroad.
Offloading is the process of barring a traveler — tourist, overseas Filipino worker, or a person with held departure order — from leaving the Philippines. The cause of offloading may vary from insufficient documentation to security risk at the intended destination. Considering the amount of effort, time, and money involved up to that face-to-face encounter with the immigration officer, it is not a surprise how frustrating an offloading incident can be to every traveler, noting that reports of corruption in the ranks of the Bureau of Immigration and other inefficiencies at Philippine airports are well-documented.
For every traveler fearful of getting the boot, the question remains: how to avoid getting offloaded at the airport?
1. Provide sufficient documentation.
This means you have every single supporting paper ready. Your passport is at least 6 months before expiration. You have a valid visa to your intended destination if needed.
- If you are traveling as a tourist, provide proof that you are financially capable of supporting the trip such as hotel booking, financial statements, employment contract stating your salary, or credit cards. You also need a return ticket back to the Philippines, indicating the date not exceeding your allowed period of stay in your intended destination. Define your itinerary clearly.
- For OFWs, you have your work contract handy or proof of attending required seminars such as PDOS or more proof as an overseas worker (OEC, work visa, OWWA membership). Not that these documents are asked all the time, but having them ready bolsters the legitimacy of your travel and, hence, your pit stop at the immigration should be a breeze.
- For travelers who depend on another group or individual sponsoring the trip, provide an affidavit of support and guarantee (for example, for family members in Dubai or Hong Kong), including invitation letters authenticated by the Philippine consulate or embassy in your destination country.
2. Provide consistent answers to Bureau of Immigration officers
Our guess is that more travelers are more likely offloaded with inconsistent statements than lack of proper documentation (e.g., travelers may be asked about these documents before reaching the immigration counter and failure to show them meant no further entry). Answer in a straightforward manner and provide only information that is being asked. For instance, if a tourist visa is stamped on a passport, yet the traveler talks about finding a job to help the family as the reason of travel.
Or if you are going to Dubai or Abu Dhabi with a tourist visa without a sufficient answers to questions like “why do you have to go this far as a first-time tourist when Hong Kong and Singapore are just nearby and offer visa-free access?” or “what attractions are you planning to visit?” If your destination is a place far from the Philippines and well-chronicled as a transit point for drug couriers, be prepared to show enough evidence your travel is legitimate. Otherwise, you’ll be shown the exit door instead of the way to your departure gate. The keyword is confidence. If your travel is valid, then you should have no problem answering every question.
3. Dress appropriately.
The dress code may largely be under the discretion of the traveler, but it could also show hints of how valid is your intended travel. Going to a country during the winter season, you are expected to bring a jacket or wear a sweater.
When traveling to a place with a strict dress code like many countries in the Middle East, females are expected to dress appropriately. When you’re a tourist, dress and act like a tourist; a camera in tow or traveling with accompanying family members may help support your cause.
4. If possible travel with companions, especially for females.
We do not mean you’ll automatically get offloaded if you’re a solo female traveler. But chances are, one slight mistake could easily trigger a disapproval stamp from the officer. With due respect to solo female travelers (backpacker travelers, returning to work abroad, etc), their being on their own could initially raise a red flag: concerns about security and safety come to mind.
Once this traveler is consistent with items 1 – 3 above, there’s no reason to fear. However, any small inconsistency could prove fatal. For example, showing too much skin may bring an impression of a sex worker, which immigration officers are often ordered to keep a close eye on, citing possible human trafficking schemes in play. We need to be aware that profiling is a standard among immigration counters worldwide.
5. Be firm with the purpose of the trip and be confident during interviews.
We cannot overstate this advice. Confidence brings assurance that the traveler knows about the destination and follows all legal means to travel. This is not possible if one is involved in illegal activity like becoming a drug courier, a would-be victim of human trafficking, or one who’ll end up as an undocumented Filipino worker.
Immigration officers may ask a few questions, and if these questions do not prove whether your travel is valid or not, he or they may look at your gestures and confidence in answering questions. Appearing nervous in front of an officer is a no-no.
6. Have your financial details ready.
Filipinos working abroad may face less scrutiny when it comes to money since their travel is for work and not for leisure. But tourist travelers may be asked for financial proof to verify their travel is justified. However, we think this is not enough for travelers who are currently unemployed as they may need additional support such as bringing letters from family members abroad indicating they will shoulder their expenses abroad.
Presenting the right document is vital. Showing your bank statement and credit cards is much better than showing wads of paper bills. Those ostentatiously showing cash may either be subject to prevailing laws against money laundering. It may also insult an officer (at least the law-abiding one) or tempt him/her into extortion.
7. Know your sponsor, if you have one, very well.
Those traveling with invitations from abroad (a university offering scholarship, a boyfriend/girlfriend, business partner, friend, or close family member) needs to know clear details about their contacts. Failure to answer clearly where they live, what’s their job, how long will you stay there, and why are going there could mean offloading. An affidavit of support or letter of invitation will be helpful to support the answers.
8. Secure clearance for government workers.
Government workers (public school teachers, barangay councilors, etc) may be required to show clearance from their supervisors authorizing them to travel. Declaring yourself as a government employee but failing to show travel clearance could jeopardize your travel plans.
For employees of private companies, showing your contract or any proof that you are currently working in the Philippines helps establish your strong links to the country and indicates that you are returning back for work after your overseas trip.
9. Be aware of your travel history
When travelers have been visiting a country too frequently, it raises curiosity among immigration officers. Note that computer systems allow them to trace your previous trips so be prepared to answer questions related to this. You may be working there and often going out for business trips. If you have past history of being offloaded, learn why you got denied and address that concern this time. Officers may refuse your exit if you fail to explain your travel purpose properly.
The duty of immigration officers is to help ensure that travelers are legitimate and not add up to future victims of scams or lists of undocumented Filipinos. They are there to help travelers be properly documented and avoid getting barred from entering their destination countries. Why travel far if you only find yourself denied entry upon your arrival because you have insufficient documentation or funds? It is their role to help us stay away from trouble. Offloading isn’t necessarily meant to randomly deny someone their right to travel; it is safeguarding travelers from staying away from trouble.
The Bureau of Immigration is tainted with a bad reputation, with allegations of officers asking for money before a traveler is granted safe passage. Administrators should exercise their roles to protect travelers from becoming victims of rogue immigration officers. Complaints with sufficient support should be heard and investigated. Those proven guilty should be removed from their post to protect officers who perform their jobs religiously. The Bureau of Immigration must provide clear guidelines to passengers to avoid offloading, and not based on arbitrary and inconsistent decisions in every case.