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Most repatriated OFWs struggle to find jobs — IOM

Over 540,000 displaced overseas Filipino workers have been repatriated since the pandemic began, according to the Labor department. — PHILIPPINE STAR/ EDD GUMBAN

By Luz Wendy T. Noble, Reporter

MORE THAN three-fourths of repatriated overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) are struggling to find new jobs, a study by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) showed.

IOM Philippines Head of Programs Troy Dooley said in a webinar on Thursday that 83% of OFWs remained unemployed three months after they returned to the Philippines.

The repatriated workers are also facing financial difficulties due to the lack of a regular income, while others were not given separation pay by their former employers.

“It tells us to work more in the government so that they can reintegrate in the Philippine domestic labor. We have to work harder on this migration cycle,” Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Sarah Lou Y. Arriola said during the webinar.

The IOM study titled “COVID-19 Impact Assessment on Returned Overseas Filipino Workers” found that most OFWs repatriated came from the Middle East, namely Saudi Arabia (24%), United Arab Emirates (21%), Qatar (6%) and Kuwait (4%). Around 4% of the returning OFWs were from Hong Kong. Nearly all or 98% of returning OFWs are land-based.

The study showed 59% of the workers did not receive separation or compensation pay, while 17% did not get their final salary and 19% reported early contract termination.

Over 540,000 displaced OFWs have been repatriated, according to the Labor department.

Despite the pandemic, nearly half (48%) of the repatriated OFWs still want to work abroad, while 35% prefer to stay home and 2% looking to move to other parts of the country.

As a significant number of workers want to return abroad, Ms. Arriola expressed concern human traffickers may take advantage of this situation.

“We have to prepare for this as a country of origin, simply because now because of the pandemic, there are really acts of desperation,” she said.

The government is looking to raise awareness over the risks involved in seeking work in a foreign country using only a tourist visa.

Susan V. Ople, the head of the Blas F. Ople Policy Center, said the significant number of migrant workers wanting to continue working abroad strengthens the case for their immediate vaccination against the coronavirus.

“I see the need for all stakeholders — government, recruitment agencies, NGOs (nongovernment organizations) to help in the effort to encourage more of our ex-OFWs and potential OFWs to get vaccinated. So that, whatever their aspirations are, they can do it in the safest way,” she said.

Meanwhile, IOM’s Mr. Dooley said that most OFWs (78%) see finding a job as a major challenge upon their return to the country, while 24% were concerned about paying debts.

Repatriated OFWs are also keen on setting up their own business, but most lack the required capital. The study found that 45% of the respondents want to venture into business but only 27% said they have capital while more than half (69%) do not have money for their business.

Meanwhile, 52% of the returning workers said they want to upgrade their skills to improve their chances of getting employed.

Data from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration showed OFW deployments plummeted by 75% to 549,841 last year from 2.16 million in 2019.

Despite this, cash remittances only dropped by 0.8% to $29.903 billion in 2020, the first annual decline since 2001.

“The prediction once was that it will drop by 20% but the reality in 2020 was that it only dropped by 0.8%. It’s quite interesting that you have all these returnees but remittances have not significantly dropped,” Mr. Dooley said.

Cash remittances is crucial in fueling consumption, which makes up 70% of the economy. The central bank expects inflows to grow by 4% this year due to the reopening of various host economies.

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