Is going abroad the only way?


DO the 6,000-plus Filipinos leaving the country daily have no other choice but to go abroad?

In 2014, the POEA reported 487,176 newly hired contract workers deployed. Of this number, Household Service Workers (Domestic Helpers) top the list at 183,101 or almost 38 percent of the OFWs for the year.

In fact, nine of the top 10 categories of land-based OFWs deployed did not require diplomas or bachelor degrees to qualify for and get their jobs abroad. Since only nurses need diploma and licensure to practice their profession, approximately 96 percent of these OFWs need only a high-school diploma or two years of college education to go abroad.

Should they opt to stay and find employment at home, where would the non-degree holders, undergraduates and elementary graduates find work?

In July 2015, the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) reported that 55 percent of those employed were in the services sector followed by those in the agricultural sector (28 percent). Workers in the industry sector registered the smallest at 6.5 percent.

Wage and salary workers represent 62.4 percent, including those who work in their own family farm or business. Sadly, 3,173,337 Filipinos work without pay from their own farm or business. Among the unpaid family workers, 64.9 percent were working in the agriculture sector. Also, more than 10.2 million workers were self-employed but had no employees.

Domestic earnings
All workers in the National Capital Region (non-agri and agriculture) get the highest daily wage at P444. Agricultural workers in Region 10 are paid the highest – P291 to P306.

If a family of five wants to get out and stay out of poverty, the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) estimates it needs P258.96 daily to take care of the basic necessities: food, water and clothing. Note that this does not include shelter and cost of sending children to school to get an elementary or high school diploma.

Primary and secondary education in public schools remains tuition-free, but the cost of going to school (books, supplies, uniform, transportation, lunch money) is not included.

Self-employed individuals, especially those owning and running their own farms and businesses, could barely provide for these after-the-basic needs, leading to the high rates of dropouts from the primary, secondary and, especially, college, levels (Data below from Philippine Statistics Authority.)

The poverty threshold income for a family of five is P93,225.60 per year.

Based on today’s exchange rates, this amount would be the equivalent of US$1,992.80; for Canada – $2,504.68; Australia – $2,616.40; New Zealand – $2,869.20; Ireland – €1,757.94 and the UK – £1,368.08.
Overseas Earnings
Dairy farm workers in New Zealand are paid NZ$15.25 per hour. At the normal eight hours a day, five days a week, a Filipino working in an NZ farm would earn the equivalent of P19,820.00 a week or P79,280.00 a month. Thus a Filipino farm worker in New Zealand need only to work for one month and a week to earn more than what he or she would have to labor for a year in the Philippines.

A caregiver in Canada (the country’s version of household help) receives at least $12.58/hour or P74,917.70 a month. Just like in New Zealand, a Filipina caregiver needs only to work a month and a week to earn what amounts to her annual salary in the Philippines.

Nurses who find jobs in Canada as nursing assistants or practical nurses earn $18.58 per hour (P110,649.00 a month) close to what a licensed nurse in the Philippines is normally paid for a year.

A student in a health-care-related course (Aged Care) working while studying in Australia must be paid $18.38 per hour (according to the Fair Work Ombudsman) or the equivalent of P104,785 month.

After completion of the academic program, the student could qualify to apply for permanent residency with a job offer, logically from the same employer the student worked part- or full-time while studying. The earnings increase substantially, a career pathway could be mapped without relying on who-you-know.

Back in the Philippines, NEDA Director General Arsenio Balisacan mused in 2012 “to increase the income of the main earner to get the family out of poverty.” More about this promise later.

Going abroad not for everyone
While the POEA consistently reminds job-seekers that foreign employers or their designated licensed recruiters in the Philippines cannot and must not charge applicants for any placement fees, the cost of prequalifying must be borne by the applicant. In practice, some employers require applicants to pay the cost of qualifying for the job with a promise (through a side-agreement) that the costs shall be reimbursed when the applicant successfully obtains the needed requirements.

It is not uncommon then, that applicants for farm jobs in New Zealand, domestic helper employment in Canada, Singapore or the Middle East, nursing position in the UK or Ireland must fork out the initial payment to obtain the accreditation of trade competency and registration or licensure for a profession.

There are thousands of jobs for nurses in the UK, but the cost of registration with the Nursing and Midwifery Council is daunting both in terms of theory and practice. First, the Philippine RN must get a minimum score of 7.0 in each of the language components in IELTS and have his or her credentials assessed to determine eligibility to pursue the registration. The total cost of the registration process is £1,415 or P96,422.70, almost a year’s salary.

Then the PH RN must take the Part 1 of the registration process (a multiple choice exam that can be taken in the Philippines through a Pearson Vue test center). Then the practical part called an OSCE (objective structured clinical examination) must be taken in the UK at the University of Northampton.

The cost of taking and completing the exam would run to more than a million pesos given the cost of airfare and accommodations while preparing for and taking the OSCE. Only after successfully completing the registration could the Filipino RN start working as a registered nurse in general practice. Then, the employer deducts whatever expenses were advanced if such was the verbal (non-written) agreement. In practice, the nurse would have to shoulder a significant portion of the registration expenses.

So far, we have only discussed the money part of going overseas. The social costs of migration have not yet kicked in: the alienation of parents from their children and the breakdown of families. Infidelity and marriage annulment cases have increased over the years, observes Father Resty Ogsimer, executive secretary of the Catholic Church-based migrant welfare group ECMI.

For the workers, the tragedy of being duped into human trafficking and prostitution, exposure to virulent diseases, and war and death are beyond price. After all, how much value would one put in a human life?

But tell that to the overseas employment marines, the Guardians of Remittances, addicted to the billions of dollars streaming in every year, keeping the Philippine economy and currency afloat.

Last Friday, President B.S. Aquino III claimed that none of his predecessors or successors (other than Mar Roxas) could top his “solid achievements,” particularly “the country’s 6.2 percent annual average economic growth under his watch.”

Candidate Aquino promised in April 2010 that if elected, he would create “better high-paying jobs” and an environment where investors and businesses can thrive. He also cited education as a long-term solution and the need to prioritize health “through broader social health care.”

Despite the economic gains, some 25 million Filipinos or a quarter of the population live in poverty. On March 18, 2016, the PSA reported that “in the first semester of 2015, on the average, incomes of poor families were short by 29 percent of the poverty threshold. This means that on the average, an additional monthly income of P2,649 is needed by a poor family with five members in order to move out of poverty in the first semester of 2015.”

In July 2015, the Economic Intelligence Unit (EIU), a London think-tank, said that despite robust economic growth “the Philippines remains one of the poorest in Southeast Asia and the Philippine economy would continue to be “marked by wide inequalities of income, and the disparity between the richest and poorest households would stay particularly acute.”

Given the failure of the Philippine government to eradicate corruption and the resultant poverty, the lower to upper middle-class consider going abroad as the most viable choice despite the dangers and social costs.

To those who might complain, we remind them to expect what President B.S. Aquino III reminded Tacloban businessman Kenneth Uy about his almost becoming a victim of shooting during the looting incidents in Tacloban after Yolanda: “Eh, buhay ka pa naman, ‘di ba?”


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  1. David Michael Meyer on

    If you are a educated professional,.What are your options here in the Philippines ?.

    .When you look around at what is on offer,,?

    I am reminded of a talk i had with a Dr –He asked me what my source of income was —

    I said well i Was on a war pension Plus a reduced aged Pension ,

    He asked “But you have a sideline surely ..Every one has to have side line ?

    …This was how this young Dr was thinking ..

    We are training thousand of Drs and nurses –It seem primarily for export..

    .Bear in mind nowadays these young people are having to pay for their tuition…Or at least their families do

    ..So unless they have something else to augment their income ..These young professionals, cannot hope to get the remuneration,offered in most of the western countries…

    .One gets the impression that the same can be said –for Engineers;Teachers etc etc …

    This sets the climate for a brain drain of mammoth proportions ..Here in the Philippines ..Unless we are driven by altruistic motivation;most seek work abroad ..

    Dr David M Meyer (Phd Psych)

  2. Juan T. Delacruz on

    If I am young and able, and be given the opportunity to go overseas to earn a living, I would leave my country as soon as I can. This article is a testament, that most able bodied working people would choose to go overseas to have better wage or earn more money for the same job they would be doing here. If they can achieve this plan, they can also help family members to improve their living condition. Presently, the economic and political situations in the country is deteriorating. Drug problems and political corruptions are rampant and these are some of the reasons people are leaving temporarily, and hope to return with lots of money to retire comfortably.

    For those of you who are about to retire, you might consider retiring here in the Philippines because it still affordable. Just stay out of politics because politics, here in the Philippines, is evil and dirty. There are so many American, Australian, New Zealand, and British expatriates living in the country, especially in the southern part of the country such as Cebu and Davao City. Japanese Retirement Community in Laguna, Koreans in Cebu and all kinds of Nationalities expatriates can be found in the Philippines. Young U.S Filipinos, retirees from U.S. Armed Services are dime a dozen, elected to retire in the Philippines for comfortable life, and most of them are still in their early 40’s (an average of $3,500 – $4,000 of military and service connected disability monthly pension is enough to live comfortably). Most of these young U.S. military that I know, have saved enough money during their working years as well.

    Here is the bottom line: Young able bodied people that choose to go overseas and work for a living are to be commended because of their desires to improve the living conditions for themselves and their families, and hope to retire back home comfortably as well. The overall remittances of OFW also have a big impact in the economy, and therefore, it is a win, win situation for both of the government and the people.

  3. Excellent and well written article from MR. CRISPIN ARANDA expressing both sides of being an OFW.

    As one of the many Filipino nurses who were given the chance to work, study and train in the USA and one of the few who decided to return to our country to truly share what I had learned abroad, it will doubly hard for any professional balikbayans to completely re-immerse in our country.

    Been back for almost 20 years and in looking back
    I did NOT feel welcome even by my fellow nurses.
    I set up a very lucrative and expensive training center in the country (invested my entire pensions and hard earned life savings) aimed primarily to develop clinical and global competence for any nurses wishing to employ abroad. As my intention is laudable and mertorious, I did get much support from many nursing organizations (administration, academe and specialty groups) in fact, I suffered personal denigration, direct insults and face to face humiliation (like I was actually deported from the USA reason I am in the country, did not really acquired my graduate degrees, illegal recruiters and more) I felt to the hilt the typical “crab mentality” from my fellow nurses in the Philippines. I can honestly tell that I am more welcomed and admired by foreign countries. Even if my initial intention is to help my fellow Filipino nurses and feel gulity about sharing my professional expertise around the globe outside of my own country, at the end I admit the sad fact that the inherent mentality and attitude of the Filipinos will not really change. The intrinsic demeanor of the Filipinos will always be there. Considering the number of nurses in the country, there are very few local nurses who sincerely believed and supported me. There were countless times that I contemplated of returning to the USA and start anew. These few friends are the ones who continuosly inspire and support me to do my best and stay.

    This is my 20th year in the country and ready to retire and amid my traumatic experiences, no regrets of what I did. My biggest consolation is that there are thousands of Filipino nurses who are now gainfully employed outside the country and the training center that I bulit was given the rare chance to make it easier for Filipino nurses to adjust and be safe care provider in their work environment.

    The hardest and the challenging part of returning to our country is not the traffic, crimes, humidity etc, but be accepted by your own kababayans regardless of one’s intention or reason.

    All the best and more power MR ARANDA, you are a blessing to our country

  4. Here in our country, the point is,the rich getting richer (yellow eelistist), the poor become poorer. Let say an example, the contractualization, in this labor law alone, a lot of manpower supplier (agency) getting richer and richer, and the poor workers get nothing benefits aside from their salaries is underpaid.. mostly of the workers working at industrial manufacturing were underpaid., working more than 8 hrs without OT.??what is this???This is inhuman….. In Saudi Arabia, if you are working at the Construction Company or either in any private, government offices, you will be having your health care free, provided by the company or government institutions. This is a Saudi law and mandatory, otherwise your company will be shutdown and or will be fine as per Saudi Law.Also, accommodation will be free and food, i.e. or food and transportation allowance will be provided..This is how they treat their workers, much more if you are Saudi national. Filipinos stay away from our country..because of unfair treatment and unequal distribution of free health care, basic necessities were very costly to compare against their daily wage salary which is very small and cannot reach at miniwage law.

  5. neil mcnally on

    A good article,explaining to me a few facts that I needed to be aware of.

    Although the wages paid to “qualified” pilipinos look very rosey in NZ,Canada or Australia compared to those attainable in Pilipinas,I must point out to readers that the cost-of-living in those adopted countries will put a dampener on the apparent gold-mine stated.

    Just one fact need only be stated.

    Rental for a flat/unit/apartment in cities of those overseas’ countries may be anything from P40,000 upwards per WEEK..P160,000/month! Before taking ‘possession” of one’s accommodation,at least three times that amount may be necessary as down-payment for electricity,water,services,one month’s rental in advance,etc.

    Food costs,transport,driving licences,car registration,taxes,health insurance…that’s another story!!

  6. tony de leon on

    its not only corruption that is the problem but the creation of decent paying wages and the spread of development throughout the archipelago and not only in Manila. other major cities need to upgrade their infrastructures to attract investors including transportation like light rail, ferries, airports etc. the economic executives need to get advice from the US experts.

  7. I left for the United States nearly four decades ago immediately after graduating from college. Now nearing retirement, my American wife and I debated the merits and demerits of retiring comfortably in the Philippines.

    After reading this article this question arose in my mind: “How can we settle back to a country, however beloved by us, when on a daily basis 6,000 of its own citizens leave for better employment and better life overseas?” This says it all.

    We know things aren’t too rosy for millions of Filipinos “still” residing in the Philippines. It is no secret that given the chance and opportunity, millions of Filipinos would gladly and immediately follow their countrymen who had gone overseas before them.

    This state of the country it is in right now fundamentally saddens me.

    • tony de leon on

      I’m retired too but I will not retire in the Philippines the way things are going. they say in news economy is growing yes maybe but the overpopulation due to the catholics resistance to family planning coupled with inefficiency in the government makes all life and services there difficult especially if you have been used to the American way of life. I heard mostly bad news from friends who visit and planned to retire there and all they say were negatives. Lastly, there are no health insurance for seniors there. you better have a lot of cash to pay your medical bills if you get an illness there.

    • we cannot retire in the Philippines because there are two kinds of people who will enjoy staying in the Philippines. they are the corrupt politicians and the goddamn Chinese businessmen.