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Migrant Workers and Their Families
Socioeconomic Issue on Spotlight

Airports are often associated with excitement, as they are considered gateways to thrilling adventures and dream vacations. But airports also symbolize painful goodbyes when individuals leave behind their homes and loved ones in pursuit of dreams for a better life for themselves and their families. This is the case for many overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

According to the Philippine Statistics Authority, there were 1.96 million migrant Filipino workers from April to September 2022. The top destinations for OFWs include Saudi Arabia (23%), Kuwait (7.7%), Hong Kong (6.1%), and Qatar (5.8%). However, these figures merely scratch the surface and do not take into account undocumented workers.

OFWs face numerous challenges, including premigration issues, such as illegal recruitment and contract substitution. Once abroad, some OFWs have to deal with excessive work hours and other maltreatment from their employers (especially migrant domestic workers in the Middle East). In extreme cases, those without legal papers live under the radar to avoid deportation, a situation known as “tago nang tago” or TNT. Daquio (2016) discovered that prospective migrants are willing to pay high fees to recruiters, even for low-skilled work like domestic service and construction labor, just to secure employment overseas. Many of them take loans from family and friends and repay them through remittances. Aspirations for higher income to support their families back home also make OFWs vulnerable to scams. For instance, agencies in Italy targeted Filipinos with promises of jobs in Europe for their unemployed relatives in the Philippines. As of 2023, the Philippine consulate in Milan reported that 223 individuals had fallen victim to this scheme, collectively paying PHP 40 million to illegal recruiters.

The idea of living abroad often crosses Filipinos’ minds, especially since many of them have friends and family members working overseas. A Social Weather Stations survey shows that 7 percent of Filipino households have OFWs. Additionally, 4 percent of adult Filipinos actively search for work abroad, while 17 percent aspire to live in another country. Interestingly, the children of OFWs are most likely to follow in their parents’ footsteps. Artajo (2016) revealed that besides mirroring the migratory behavior of their parents, these children are driven to seek opportunities abroad due to a lack of job options at home. They are also influenced by government policies that promote overseas employment.

In 2022, 1.13 million women comprised the majority of OFWs. As a result, migrant mothers have delegated their childcare and household responsibilities to their spouses or the children’s grandparents.

Lomibao (2023) looked at the impact of migration on education within migrant households from 2013 to 2018. He found that children aged 5 to 22 in migrant households had lower school enrollment rates compared to those in nonmigrant households. This disparity could be partially attributed to how remittances are allocated, with migrants prioritizing spending on food over education. Male migrants allocate 65 percent of their remittances for food and 33 percent for education, whereas female migrants, often earning less, allocate 59 percent for food and 28 percent for education. This pattern highlights the challenges migrant families face in balancing basic needs and educational investments.

The country’s labor export program has yielded substantial benefits to the economy, thanks to the remittances sent by OFWs to their families. In 2023, overseas remittances reached a record high of USD 37.2 billion, accounting for about 8.5 percent of the country’s gross domestic product and 7.7 percent of the national income. Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, remittances remained strong at USD 29.9 billion in 2020 (representing only a slight decrease of 0.8% from USD 30.1 billion in 2019).

Despite challenging economic conditions, OFWs continue to provide vital support to their families by sending money when it is most needed. But while OFW remittances help meet economic needs, concerns at the household level have been raised by Tuaño-Amador et al. (2022). Overreliance on remittances can lead to over-dependence and reduced motivation to work, negatively impacting household dynamics.

Remittances also provide essential foreign exchange to the economy, allowing for policy flexibility for economic adjustments and structural reforms. Policymakers can help facilitate transactions and optimize remittance benefits by supporting digital remittance channels through fintech innovations. Such can improve services, reduce costs, and boost remittance inflows. Improving the remittance environment necessitates enhancing transparency, promoting competition, and upgrading payment systems. Also recommended are the expansion of digital access to financial transactions and financial education among OFWs. By leveraging remittance flows for economic development, beneficiaries can be encouraged to save and invest in their future.

Many individuals who seek higher income are drawn to work abroad. However, this dream comes with a price. A PIDS study revealed that most OFWs experience divided relationships and complex transnational relationships with their loved ones in the Philippines. Albert et al. (2023) emphasized the importance of promoting financial literacy skills among OFWs for smoother transition into post-overseas life and long-term financial security. Urgent measures are needed to support family reunification and broaden access to social protection programs. Mental health support must also be prioritized, given the heightened risk of mental health issues among OFWs caused by stress from work and family separation.

OFWs often describe their journey abroad as pakikipagsapalaran (venture) or sugal (gamble). Despite the risks involved, they courageously live in foreign lands where they have to start anew. The title of bagong bayani (modern-day heroes) is well-deserved, but OFWs must also be given support beyond mere recognition. Helping secure their financial future after years of working abroad is the best way to honor their commitment and sacrifices.

SERP-P has resources about labor migration and OFWs. Below are some of them:

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