Filipino domestic workers in Hong Kong whose passports were seized by police in raids on loan sharks over the past few months may now be able to get replacements, but only if they apply in person at the Department of Foreign Affairs office in Manila.

Paul Saret, head of the Philippine Consulate’s Assistance to Nationals Section in Hong Kong, said the DFA had started issuing the new passports but the applicants could only secure them by applying in person at the Office of Consular Affairs in the Mall of Asia on Roxas Boulevard in Manila, sunwebhk.com reported.

The workers will be asked to sign a declaration that they will not relinquish control of their passports again or risk forfeiting the right to get a new travel document in future.

“We’ll just advise them to fly to Manila first to apply for the passport, then pass by again on their way back to Hong Kong on the date of release,” Saret said.

The replacement process will take a week.

The consulate’s tough stance was adopted because of the recurring problem of Filipino domestic workers losing their passports to loan sharks.

In the most recent case, 300 Philippine passports were seized by Hong Kong police from a man in North Point who was found to have lent money to migrant workers at 125% interest, and secured the loans with passports and employment contracts.

Many of the borrowers in these cases would declare that they had simply lost their passports, so the consulate resorted to requiring them to make an affidavit of loss with the police before applying for a new one. The idea was to make it more difficult for them to acquire new passports so they would stop using their documents as collateral for loans.

But when even this failed, the consulate decided to turn away those who had lost their passports in the police raids, and told them to apply for new ones directly with the DFA in Manila.