Reverse migration looming
A large-scale reverse migration of overseas Filipino workers looms. The tragedy here is that the OFWs are coming home not for good, but for worse. Thus, we urge the Philippine government to prepare for the worst with an eye toward mitigating its adverse impact on the affected OFWs, their dependents and the country’s economy.
Reverse migration from the Middle East has begun—mostly among OFWs in Saudi Arabia due to the implementation of its Nitaqat law which strictly requires the hiring of Saudi nationals first before expatriate workers.
Bahrain and Oman are “localizing” their labor force also by prioritizing their citizens over migrant workers for employment. The Arab Spring that swept across Egypt, Libya and Syria has forced thousands of OFWs to leave these countries.
Clearly, the OFW labor market is shrinking.
It should be noted that some 2.3 million OFWs are in the Middle East. Of these, 1.5 million are in Saudi Arabia, the No. 1 destination of OFWs since the 1990s.
In our estimate, at least 120,000 OFWs were directly affected by Saudization, some 28,000 of them undocumented.
Around 10,000 to 12,000 have sought government’s assistance from Philippine embassy, consular and labor officials, for repatriation.
Others are trying to legalize their status by transferring to another employment sponsor, which the Saudi labor ministry has allowed; provided they are able to fix their “illegal” migrant workers status within the 90-day grace period prescribed, otherwise they will have to leave the country on or before July 3, 2013. More than 200 stranded OFWs have already been repatriated from Saudi since April.
On the other hand, nearly 5,000 OFWs have come home from Syria; 114 OFWs in Amman, Jordan, are expected to be repatriated soon, and there could be more.
Unfortunately, the P-Noy administration has twisted its interpretation of the OFWs’ reverse migration phenomenon, claiming it is the offshoot of the country’s robust growth, not a shrinking market. We expect President Aquino to repeat this spin in his State of the Nation Address this coming July.
But we can’t reconcile the OFWs’ “reverse migration for good” with the country’s 7.8-percent GDP growth as the unemployment rate in the first quarter of this year—based on official government data—at 7.5 percent last April was higher than the 6.9 percent in the same month last year.
Who doesn’t want OFWs to come home for good? Yes, we’re still hoping for this. But it will never happen if the country’s GDP growth remains superficial, benefiting only the few rich—the local big businessmen and multinational corporations.
The “reverse migration for good” that P-Noy, the labor department and his spin doctors tout, is cheap political propaganda designed to provide P-Noy with something to crow about during his Sona next month. But the country’s high unemployment rate and the government’s intensified peddling of Filipino labor abroad will belie their claim.
—JOHN LEONARD MONTERONA,
vice chair, Migrante-Middle East &
North Africa coordinator,
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