Part 1: An undocumented OFW’s most awaited Christmas

Regina Laborce came to the UK in 1997 with a tourist visa and worked as an undocumented domestic helper for 14 years before she got to see her daughter again

Lian Nami Buan

Published: 4:9 PM December 30, 2016

Updated: 12:8 PM December 31, 2016

UK DREAM. Regina 'Regie' Laborce entered the UK as a tourist in 1997.

The story starts at an upscale hotel on Drury Lane in London one summer day in June of 1997. Regina "Regie" Laborce, then 31, was desperately dialing the number of somebody she was told might be able to help her. If the person didn't pick up, Regie would have nowhere else to go.

The hotel was her last destination as a "tourist" before she bolted, hopefully never to be seen by UK immigration again. Her boyfriend introduced her to a fixer in Manila who set her up with loaded bank accounts and business papers signed off by the trade department.

The story was that she was going to Scotland for a business conference, then spend time in London for a bit of leisure time before heading home. That was how she found herself at that hotel on Drury Lane. The fixer promised to get her to that point, then it was every man for himself.

The phone just kept ringing and it was her last day at the hotel. She turned to the only other woman in her group for help. Her name was Lorina and she had managed to contact her relatives in Plaistow, in the outer parts of London where housing was cheaper.

It was 5:30 am when the man who Regie would come to call Manong (Uncle) Ben fetched them at Drury Lane. Uncle Ben had just finished his shift as a valet in a casino on Grosvenor Road in the rich Mayfair district.

Regie bid goodbye to the two men in her group – a dentist and a sales rep. She never saw them again. "Saan na kaya sila ngayon (I wonder where they are now)?"

She lived with Manong Ben, his wife, and their two young sons in a two-bedroom in Plaistow. She and her friend slept in the living room.

For one month, she stayed in Plaistow rent-free. "Mabait naman sila, pero pakapalan na lang din talaga ng mukha (The couple was very nice, but I knew I was overstaying their welcome)," Regie said, chuckling affectionately. "I looked after their kids, and sometimes I would buy them groceries."

After two weeks, she found a job as a housekeeper near Victoria Station, where undocumented immigrants like herself alight the trains from different parts of Europe. She considers herself lucky to have gotten a job so quickly. The English, Regie said, were fond of hiring undocumented househelp so they won't have to pay their tax.

She was then earning £280 a week – her monthly salary as a helper in Taiwan where she worked before deciding to give the UK a try.

"British pounds were the dream," she told me.

New country, new baby

BORN IN THE UK. Gienell's christening photo

This was first published in SubSelfie.com.