Imagine that you’re all packed and ready to fly to Australia. You’ve got your tourist visa, your return ticket, and your passport.
Suddenly, as you walk through Immigration, two officials stop you and demand to see certain documents. Confused, you stammer and attempt to explain why you don’t have them. Unconvinced, the Immigration officials then prohibit you from boarding the plane.
Sounds like a nightmare scenario, right? It’s called getting offloaded, and it happens to approximately 40 Filipinos every day at Terminal 1 alone. If you’re unlucky enough to be one of them, it means your trip has ended before it even had a chance to begin, so all that time, money, and effort in planning it goes to waste. Let’s not even mention the humiliation of being publicly denied entry to an airplane.
But why do people get offloaded to begin with? It all boils down to human trafficking. Given the sheer number of poor Filipinos that get exploited abroad as unregistered helpers, sex slaves, and even mail-order brides, the Bureau of Immigration has put into place stricter measures to prevent vulnerable people from falling into these traps.
It all sounds fair enough, sure. However, the vetting system isn’t perfect, and its rather vague regulations makes this policy prone to abuse. So, how do you guard against the possibility of getting offloaded? Here are some guidelines:
1. Have your crucial travel documents at hand.
Any experienced traveler knows that you should have your up-to-date passport, roundtrip ticket, and any applicable visa ready. If it’s your first time traveling and you want extra peace of mind, you may also bring along your company ID, your latest Income Tax Return (ITR), and a Certificate of Employment that indicates how long you have been with the company and how much your salary is.
For freelancers who have no company ID’s, a copy of your latest ITR and a document from one of your clients certifying that you have been providing them with your services will often suffice. If you are operating as a sole proprietor, you may want to bring along your business registration certificate as well.
If you will be staying at a hotel, it would be good to have a printout of your reservation with you.
The bottomline is, all your travel documents should show that 1.) you have the financial capacity to travel and 2.) you have a job or a business to come back to in the Philippines.
2. Be ready for questions about your itinerary and financial capacity.
Going back to the first item, immigration officers might ask to see a copy of your hotel reservation if you mention that you’ll be staying at a hotel. If you will be staying with family or a friend, you might have to give them the complete address. In some cases, a letter affirming your relative or friend’s offer to host you abroad could come in handy.
“Which company do you work for?” is another common question, though it’s a more polite way of sussing out if you really have the means to travel. This is where your company ID or Certificate of Employment comes in.
Lastly, be prepared to answer questions about what you plan to do when you reach your destination, and always reply with honesty and confidence.
3. Keep a cool head, should you get picked out for inspection.
Let’s say you do get singled out. It’s natural to feel nervous (e.g., “Shoot! What if I’m bumped off the flight?”), but as the British like to say, keep calm and carry on.
The more jumpy and skittish you seem, the more suspicious you will appear to be.
4. Avoid “red-flag” destinations as much as possible.
Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, and Bangkok are all transit points for human trafficking, so travelers en route to these locations are scrutinized more closely.
Passengers on Dubai-bound flights are also prone to getting offloaded since the Middle Eastern city is the most common destination of Filipinos planning to work illegally overseas.
If you really must visit any of the aforementioned places, be sure to double-check your documents before heading to the terminal.
5. Look sharp.
Between a scruffy, clueless-looking person and a smartly-dressed, poised traveler, who do you think is more likely to get approached by an immigration official at the airport?
You don’t have to look like a fashion plate while traveling, but it helps to look neat and tidy. Purposeful, confident movements, such as walking tall and maintaining a steady pace will also make you appear in control rather than lost, confused, and possibly in danger of being swindled by a smooth-talking foreigner.
To be fair, many of the passengers who do get offloaded tend to have dubious circumstances. Majority of them were found to have the intention of seeking employment in their destination countries without the proper papers.
This doesn’t mean that we can afford to be complacent, however. Even the Bureau of Immigration admits that about 3 or 4 in 50 offloaded passengers turn out to have legitimate reasons for traveling. As collateral damage goes, that’s not such a big number, but why risk it when you know better, right?