Philippine Standard time

Beyond Business as Usual: Philippine Labor Outmigration and the COVID-19 Pandemic

Since early 2020, with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, more and more migrant destination areas are instituting stringent regulations and restrictions on the entry of travelers from the Philippines, particularly overseas Filipino workers (OFWs). Global mobility has been severely hampered by the pandemic, and now made extremely costly both financially and, more importantly, in human terms.  Over a million Filipinos overseas have returned to the Philippines because of the pandemic, a substantial number of them being returned or repatriated OFWs, many of whom lost their jobs permanently, their contracts abruptly terminated. The Philippines has effectively lost its comparative advantage in the migrant labor market because of the pandemic. A return to at least a semblance of (pre-pandemic) normalcy will not happen overnight. Restrictions on the entry of Filipino travelers to key destinations will continue for the foreseeable future. Destination countries would need to be convinced of the resolve of the Philippines not to deploy its OFWs at the expense of making them unwitting vectors of the COVID-19 virus or any other contagious diseases for that matter. The Philippines needs labor migration to weather through future economic crises, as well as to address the socioeconomic issues caused by the pandemic. In the absence of significant foreign direct investments entering the economy, the overseas employment program represents the only viable economic strategy the country has for some time to come. The current situation offers the authorities the opportunity to reexamine the Philippine labor migration program as a cornerstone of the government's strategic development policy outlook toward making it safe, orderly, regular, and humane. How fast can the country return to its premier status as a labor-exporting country? What are the labor migration challenges the government needs to face in order to return to a semblance of normalcy?


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