Metro Manila · The Overseas Filipino Worker

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The millions of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) count as "national heroes" in the Philippines. They do not only provide a living for their families back home, but also make a considerable contribution to the country's gross domestic product and its economic growth.

There are over 10 million Filipinos who temporarily work abroad, a number that has kept growing through the years. The rise of the Overseas Filipino Worker began in the early 1980s, when laws, treaties, and a government agency were established to promote and regulate the overseas employment of Filipinos.

Most OFWs work as domestic helpers, construction and factory workers, seamen, nurses, and salespersons, but you also find engineers, doctors, and other highly-qualified employees among them. Roughly 2/3 of OFWs work in the Middle East while Hong Kong, and Singapore are also top destinations. Working overseas means an economic advancement which most OFWs could hardly have achieved in the Philippines. They send back home a huge chunk of their salary to support their family and relatives, and to invest in houses or small businesses. These remittances from all over the world account for about 10 percent of the Philippine GDP.

Overseas Filipino Worker Definition

An Overseas Filipino Worker or OFW is a Filipino living and working outside of the Philippines who are in another country for a limited or definite period i.e. on a work contract. Some Filipinos who already live abroad permanently still consider themselves as OFWs because of the remittances sent to their home country but those who are stricter with these definitions often refer to them as Balikbayan (Filipinos returning home for temporary visits).

Because of the number of OFWs in different parts of the word, there is a large number of Filipino communities abroad.

Economic Impact

In the year 2012, the Philippine central bank expected USD 21 billion in remittances, but according to Asian Bankers Association estimates, this number is likely 30 to 40% higher than the Bangko Sentral figure. By 2015 , remittances were estimated at USD 438.6 billion. Remittances did not grow much in 2016 though but the 0.8 percent growth from the previous year is still quite substantial. 

The Philippines, according to the Philippine Daily Inquirer, is the fourth largest recipient of remittances with China, India, and Mexico in the top three.

While it was mentioned that 10% of OFW remittances represent the country’s GDP, experts believe that the percentage is likely higher by 3.5% as of 2015 and 2016.

Employment Conditions

While living abroad may seem like a better option than living in the Philippines, some Overseas Filipino Workers are subjected to low wages and long hours especially for low skilled workers. Although the wages are low, these wages are still relatively higher than what they would earn while in the Philippines.

It is worrisome however that approximately 60% of OFWs are temporary workers and are often excluded from basic labor rights in the countries they work in.

The Brain Drain Phenomenon

This phenomenon has been discussed by the academe since the 60s. This is particularly relevant in the nursing field, according to experts. Statistics show that the Philippines is the largest supplier of nurses to the United States aside from the added number of Filipino nurses in the United Kingdom and Saudi Arabia. There are also Filipino chemists, microbiologists, surgeons, and engineers who have migrated abroad in search of greener pasture.  


OFWs Remittances During The Holidays

The holiday season is the time when most OFWs send more money to the Philippines, filling up the balikbayan box to send home to the Philippines. For even if they have been away from home for long months or years, they always carry with them the Filipino tradition of pasalubong, or gift giving particularly during Christmas season. Most plan their vacation from work around this time so they can spend the holidays with their family. By second or third week of November up until Christmas, expect airlines to be filled with OFWs arriving in the country, staying an average of one month, depending on their employer, before flying back to where they work abroad. The balikbayan boxes have already been delivered beforehand or carried by the OFW himself/herself upon arrival.

National Heroes 

Suffice to say, OFWs are one of the few sources of inclusive growth that also reaches the poorer masses, making them crucial for the Philippine economy. However, the comparatively high salaries come with a price: loneliness, hard work under poor conditions, and long periods away from home are just some of the challenges most OFWs have to face. Therefore, they truly deserve the title "national heroes".

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