CFO Seminar and Emigrant Sticker: How I finally got mine
After nearly 12 years of marriage, the birth of my son, and more roundtrip journeys between Manila and Chennai than I care to count, the CFO Seminar requirement caught up with me at long last.
I first heard about the CFO Seminar in 2013 when I had a reunion lunch with a former co-worker who had married an American. While sharing tales of homesickness and adjusting to life in a foreign country, she recounted an amusing anecdote about the CFO seminar she’d been to. I was confounded: What seminar? It’s a seminar that all Filipino spouses of foreign nationals must attend in order to be allowed to fly out of the Philippines, I was told. I’d lived abroad with my Indian husband and traveled in and out of the Philippines many times, and not once was I asked to show proof of CFO seminar attendance. I quickly dismissed it as a new requirement that didn’t apply retroactively to those who’d gotten hitched many years ago.
But the CFO seminar quandary continued to hound me. On my numerous trips to the Indian Embassy in Manila to obtain an OCI card, I saw a number of Filipino-Indian couples there and often overhead them talking about the CFO requirement. When I collected my OCI card and visa, an embassy employee gently reminded that me to have an Emigrant Sticker from the CFO affixed on my passport. I’m not one to believe in “signs,” but I finally accepted that the universe had been dropping me hints all along.
CFO stands for the Commission on Filipinos Overseas, a government agency mandated to, among other things, register all Filipinos leaving the country as spouses or partners of foreign nationals. As part of the registration process, Filipino spouses/partners attend a seminar, officially called the Guidance and Counselling Program (GCP), at designated CFO offices. A GCP Certificate is awarded to participants upon completion. If the Filipino happens to have a resident or spouse visa, his or her passport is also affixed with an Emigrant Sticker. Otherwise, the Filipino only gets the GCP Certificate and must return for the Emigrant Sticker when he or she is granted the spouse/immigrant visa. As you might have guessed, the ultimate aim of the seminar and counseling is to help prevent human trafficking, mail-order brides, fake marriages and some such shenanigans.
Participants must set an appointment online at the CFO website to secure a slot in the seminar. Seminars are country-specific and are held both in the morning and in the afternoon. The seminar, which includes one-on-one counseling, runs for four hours and imparts useful information related to intermarriage and migration, the cultural and social realities of living abroad, and available networks of support for victims of abuse.
I reached the CFO office at the Citigold Building along Pres. Quirino Avenue in Manila, 30 minutes ahead of my 1PM schedule. Before being allowed into the seminar room, I had to fill in a registration form and submit photocopies of my and my husband’s passports, NSO Report of Marriage, OCI card and visa. Afterwards, I was instructed to pay the P400 registration fee at the cashier on the ground floor. We were asked to leave our passports with the cashier, where we would be collecting it, along with the GCF Certificate and Emigrant Sticker (if applicable) when the seminar was over. After I showed them my payment receipt, they took a photo of me using a webcam. The photo would later grace my GCF Certificate.
At 1PM, I, along with 12 women and one man, was called into one of seminar rooms. Two other seminars were being conducted simultaneously in separate rooms; ours was specifically for partners of citizens of Asia and the Pacific. The air conditioning was exceptionally cold. I suggest you take a jacket to keep you warm.
While we waited for the seminar to start, each of us was called to a one-on-one interview with the counselor in the main receiving area. Among the questions generally asked by the counselor are:
1. How did you meet your partner/spouse?
2. What is your partner/spouse’s occcupation?
3. How long have you known each other?
4. Have you met your partner in person? (this question is apparently for unmarried Filipinos who have been interacting with their foreigner boyfriend/girlfriend solely online)
5 Have you visited/lived with your partner/spouse abroad?
6. What are your long-term plans, particularly regarding living arrangements, work, family, etc.
The questions had to be modified for me, as I’ve been married for 12 years and have lived abroad with my husband. The counselor was very friendly and professional and seemed genuinely interested in what I had to say. I actually enjoyed our “chat” and didn’t notice that 20 minutes had passed. Before concluding the interview, he asked to see a family photograph. He took one look at the photo and asked if the my son also had an OCI card and visa. When I answered yes, he informed me that my son will also need to be registed with the CFO and have an Emigrant Sticker stamped on his passport. As a minor, Motito is exempted from attending a Peer Counseling Program for Filipino Youth Emigrants (13-19 years old). To confirm his visit to the CFO, I was advised to first reserve him a slot in the Pre-Departure Orientation Seminar (PDOS), even if he would not be participating, prior to coming to the CFO office to get his Emigrant Sticker.
When everybody had finished with the interview, the counselor proceeded with the seminar. He started by explaining the purpose of the seminar, before discussing issues pertinent to spouses /partners of foreigners. Among the topics he touched upon were the social, legal and financial implications of marrying a foreigner, the realities of living in a different country, and adjusting to the ways and traditions of the spouse’s homeland. We heard cautionary tales of Filipinos, mostly women, who had been deceived into fake marriages and became victims of human trafficking. We learned of women who had suffered domestic abuse in the hands of their foreign spouses. The seminar enlightened us of our rights as Filipinos overseas and underscored the importance of forming and maintaining a circle of friends or confidantes for emotional support and safety. We were advised to note down the contact information of Philippine embassies and consular offices in our destination countries, as well as be aware of available support networks for women in distress. The seminar concluded with a pre-departure orientation, which imparted useful advice about how to pack for our destinations, what documents to bring, and what time we needed to be at the airport.
After the seminar, we proceeded to the cashier area on the ground floor to collect our passports and GCF Seminar. I found out I was the only one in our group whose passport was affixed with an Emigrant Sticker. As soon as I arrived home, I logged on to the CFO website to confirm my son’s visit to the CFO office. Two days later, I found myself at the CFO-Manila building again, this time with my son in tow. We approached the registration counter and presented Motito’s barcoded confirmation form, along with photocopies of his passport, NSO Report of Birth, OCI card and visa. The counselor verified Motito’s registration documents before instructing me to proceed with payment of the P400 registration fee. After a five-minute wait, we got his passport affixed with an Emigrant Sticker. Now, mother and son are free to leave the country and settle abroad, if only we could make up our minds about it.