EVERY Filipino who applies and leaves for an overseas job usually has on overarching motivation: to give his or her family and loved ones a better life. Most of our migrant workers are able to do so but only while they are gainfully employed overseas. Once their work abroad is done, they are faced with the same challenges, which they dealt with before they left overseas.
A typical example is “Jose.” After completing his studies and passing the board exams as an engineer, Jose immediately applied for an overseas job. Through hard work, dedication and a sprinkling of luck, Jose gradually rose through the ranks at a construction firm in Nigeria, eventually retiring as chief engineer after 24 years.
Upon returning to the country, Jose was quite disappointed that his savings were not as big—or as adequate—as he thought they would be. He tried investing in various projects. Some fared well, most did not.
In his haste to generate alternative sources of income to maintain his family’s lifestyle when he was still abroad, he put his money on some risky business ventures that didn’t turn out so well. Sooner or later, his savings started to dwindle and he was forced out of retirement. He ended up going back to Nigeria.
Jose’s case is not unique. Many of our migrant workers come home for good only to realize that their “success” is only temporary. Why? Because they have not been properly reintegrated into his or her community.
Reintegration is not a result but a process to enable returning OFWs to participate again in the social, cultural, economic and political life of his or her country of origin.
In order to successfully reintegrate our migrant workers, they should be given opportunities to become self-sufficient. This means giving OFWs access to income-generating activities that allows them to meet their and their dependents’ basic needs. To do this, migrant workers must be prepared and trained for reintegration.
In order to have an effective reintegration, one has to consider the whole cycle of migration. It is a common misconception that reintegration only begins when the worker returns to the country. Truth is, the reintegration process starts from the moment the worker decides to work abroad up to the time he or she decides to settle home for good.
There is no set formula, however, for reintegration. Why? Because another indispensable component to a successful reintegration is the OFW’s motivation and active participation in the reintegration process.
This explains why the reintegration program of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) is currently being enhanced to address both the economic and social aspects of reintegration.
The economic aspect deals with providing access to livelihood programs, local job referrals and technology transfers while the social aspect involves engaging the community and the OFW family in the reintegration process.
The involvement of the family of the migrant worker is key to a successful reintegration program. The worker should, before leaving, discuss how they, as a family, could attain their financial goals while the worker is toiling abroad.
Setting achievable monetary targets is very important at this stage, the main objective being to generate financial awareness among all family members (i.e. those who will be left behind as well as the OFW who is about to be deployed abroad). Reintegration would be quite difficult if the worker has little or no savings at all. The OFW family should clearly define each role of family members in optimizing the earnings of their parent, sibling or relative overseas.
It is also important for both the migrant worker and his or her family to join support groups that could help them cope with their prolonged separation. The OFWs should also condition their minds for their eventual return as well as explore all available saving options.
If the migrant worker is both financially and mentally equipped for reintegration, there are several reintegration pathways available to them: entrepreneurship, local employment and retirement.
Entrepreneurship is the pathway if the OFW wants to make a living by engaging in a trade or business. But not all migrant workers see entrepreneurship as a suitable livelihood. Some choose the stability and security of a job, in which case, the pathway is local employment that matches the skills which they acquired while working abroad. Skills that could easily be upgraded through additional training.
I’ve learned of some OFWs who were deployed abroad as domestic workers but instead worked for years as semi-skilled workers such as medical, dental or laboratory assistants, and who have actually acquired particular knowhow sought by local companies.
There is also the retirement pathway where the OFW is no longer keen on putting up a business or being employed again but is looking to generate passive income through investments in stocks, mutual funds, treasury bills and the like.
Which reintegration pathway is best for an OFW will depend on several factors. First, does the worker have enough savings or not? Second, what skill sets does he or she possess? And thirdly, does he or she intend to go back to working abroad or permanently reintegrate into the community?
But whatever pathway an OFW may take, what is certain is that for reintegration to be successful, it will require not just government intervention and assistance, but also, more importantly, the pro-active participation of the migrant workers and their families in the re-assimilation process.
Ultimately, it is only by effectively reintegrating our OFW-returnees that we can achieve President Rodrigo Roa Duterte’s vision to make overseas employment “a choice rather than a necessity.”