Filipino workers in Hong Kong protest e-passport fees
Filipino workers in Hong Kong protest e-passport fees

Filipino workers in Hong Kong are protesting the increased price of a passport. They say the new fees are part of a pattern of the Philippine government exploiting overseas workers.

16,000 petition to protest passport fee increase

Filipino workers and migrants' rights groups noisily besieged the Philippine consulate in Hong Kong recently, to protest the price of the new passport. Sixteen-thousand people signed a petition to protest the price, which is three times more expensive than the price of passports issued in the Philippines.

Filipinos in Hong Kong pay about $60 U.S. dollars for the new electronic passport, but the price is roughly $20 back home.

More than 100,000 Filipinos live here, the majority of them working as nannies, housekeepers and drivers. Most earn about $450 a month, and they say the passport is too expensive for their salaries.

"Very expensive, $510 Hong Kong ? [that is] more than 3,000 [pesos] in the Philippines - 3,000 in the Philippines ? how come?  I can get three passports already," one worker said.

The workers want their country's new president, Benigno Aquino, to do something about the passport fee.

The migrant workers here have already petitioned the Aquino administration for help. In June, UNIFIL HK - a group working to protect the rights of overseas Filipinos - asked the government to scrap the welfare and social security fees that overseas workers must pay.

Dolores Balladares, the UNIFIL chairwoman here, says the Philippine government has been slow in responding to workers demands.

"If the decision or the demands of the workers are not yet addressed, very soon," she says, "then everyday there are many Filipinos will be affected by the policies."

Migrant petition submitted to office of president

The Philippine consulate in Hong Kong says it has submitted the migrants' petitions to the office of the president but has not received any word back.

Consulate officials also say the new machine-readable passports contain micro-chips, which makes them more expensive. And they say this is the first price increase for Philippine passports since 1992.  

Even with the increase the electronic Philippine passports are among the cheapest in the world.

Hong Kong workers are not the only ones protesting the cost. Filipinos in Doha and Saudi Arabia are also questioning the price difference.

Overseas workers say mandatory fees and taxes are exploitive

Workers in the Middle East officially earn $400 dollars a month. But Migrant Rights - a group that helps migrants in the Middle East - says the average salary is probably less because many employers cheat on the workers' contracts.

Many Filipino migrants see the passport price increase as part of a pattern of government measures to squeeze them for money. More than 9 million Filipinos work overseas, because their country's economy is too weak to create enough jobs for them. In many cases, workers are separated from their families for years, and risk abuse at the hands of unscrupulous employers.

Last year, Filipino migrants sent more than $17 billion back home - more than 10 percent of the nation's gross domestic product. But the overseas workers complain that in return for shoring up the Philippine economy, they are hit with mandatory fees and taxes, especially when they go home to visit.

Balladares says the situation for overseas workers is getting worse. That is why, she says, migrant groups must keep on protesting.

"Continuing struggle is a good mechanism, so that even if you can not immediately have victories from your demands or campaign you can have some victories," she says, "I mean some reforms."

Despite their anger at the cost, more than 10,000 Filipinos have applied for new passports in Hong Kong since they were introduced in April.

Filipinos here say the high technology passport makes travel easier, but they still want to know why the price of the passport in Hong Kong is three times higher than in the Philippines.