The Overseas Filipino Worker, of OFW, is one of the cornerstones of the Filipino economy. There are some ten million Filipinos working in foreign countries, sending back the majority of their pay to their relatives. They are such a vital component of the Philippines economy former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo praised them publicly on more than one occasion.
The official figure for 2012, the year of the most recent available stats, is 10.5 million, yet there are probably another 3 million living overseas permanently and registered with the authorities. There is a Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO) which regulates visas and travel, ostensibly to protect Filipinos from being ripped off by unscrupulous agents in the Philippines and employers overseas.
Overseas Filipino Workers
OFWs work as domestic helpers, entertainers, seamen, medical professionals and aged care workers among many other vocations and professions. They are spread around the world with the USA (3.5 million) having the majority of overseas Filipinos, although many of these will be the spouses of US citizens. Saudi Arabia accounts for 1.3 million with other Gulf states taking 932,000 (UAE), 213,000 (Kuwait) and 200,000 (Qatar). Other major populations are, in descending order; Canada, Malaysia, Australia, Japan, UK, Hong Kong, Singapore and Italy.
The life of the OFW is a part of modern Filipino folklore with numerous movies made of the practise; usually with the estranged parent or parents coming back to the Philippines after many years overseas and finding their children distant and cold. The kids are usually brought up by the grandparents and have trouble bonding with their parents. Sometimes both parents have been abroad, not always in the same country and it is difficult for them to re-bond after so many years apart.
Most OFWs return home only every two or more years and this can be problematic, particularly if one partner has been at home while the other has been away. The OFW might resent having to be the one to be away while the stay home partner mistakenly thinks the OFW spent the years travelling and having fun. In reality, the opposite is the norm with many OFWs working weeks without breaks, exploited and mistreated by employers and generally hanging in there because their family back home needs the money desperately.
There is the chance of those at home taking the regular remittances for granted, seeing it as their ‘pay’ and doing little or nothing to help themselves while one person shoulders the burden of feeding, housing, educating and clothing everyone else. You can imagine the tensions and dramas that develop, ripe for screen writers with movies like ‘The OFW’s Wife’, ‘Balikbayan’, ‘Buhay OFW’ and many more. Some OFWs have been murdered, executed, imprisoned and sadly abuse, (sexual, physical, emotional etc) is quite common. One thing is certain, though, the numbers of OFWs are not likely to decrease in coming years unless there is major change in domestic employment opportunities.
Perry Gamsby, D.Lit, MA(Writing), Dip.Bus, Dip. Mktg is a writer and lecturer who lives with his Cebuana wife and five Aus-Fil daughters in Western Sydney. The author of a series of best-selling ‘self-help’ books for expats and those married to Filipinas, he is also a Master of Filipino Martial Arts and a former World Stickfighting Champion who has lived, worked and vacationed in the Philippines since 1988. Perry and his family return to the Philippines on a yearly basis. You can read more of his writing on Philippines topics at www.streetwisephilippines.biz