POWs vs OFWs

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The IT and Business Process Association of the Philippines ecstatically reported that the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) sector has surpassed its targets in 2015, generating almost $22 billion in revenues and directly creating 1.1 million jobs for Process Outsourcing Workers (POWs).

In contrast, while there were 2,391,152 land-based and sea-based overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in 2014, only 639,579 of whom were new hires. Rehires in various occupations numbered 1,233,501.

Of the top 10 occupations deployed overseas, 87 percent belong to blue-collar jobs –from service workers to agricultural workers (423,188).

POWs, on the other hand, are mostly white-collar workers. In a report by the Philippine Institute for Developmental Studies (“The BPO Challenge: Leveraging Capabilities, Creating Opportunities”), the main jobs contributing to the growth of the BPO sector are in the ”knowledge-intensive business services, particularly computer and IT-services, R&D and other business activities.”


While the IT-BPO is a close second to OFW remittances in terms of foreign-exchange earnings, the BPO sector cannot produce an average of 1 million new jobs every year. The overseas employment sector, however, has proven itself capable of deploying more than a million such as in recent years, from 2010 to 2014.

In fact, the BPO sector was able to reach the 1-million mark after ten years of growth. The sector was also able to catch up on OFW remittances last year.

According to the central bank, OFW cash remittances reached $25.76 billion in 2015, up 4.6 percent from $24.63 billion in 2014.

In the same year, the Information Technology-Business Process Association of the Philippines (IT-BPAP) reported that the BPO industry exceeded its targets in 2015, generating $22 billion in revenues.

But providing a million jobs to new hires every year is not probable, despite the phenomenal growth rate of the BPO sector.

Unless the current administration generates employment that provides decent wages to workers in the other sectors, the IT-BPO industry will be a major foreign-exchange earner and revenue generator but not the jobs-with-decent-wages generator that overseas employment offers.

Price and prize
There is, of course, the costs related to migration including overseas employment. While overseas wages are higher than those paid locally–even those in the IT-BPO sector–the cost of separation is immeasurable.

“We acknowledge the economic benefits that it brings,” said George Campos, head of Couples for Christ, the largest Catholic family movement in the Philippines, acknowledges the economic benefit of higher wages that OFW earnings bring.

But “it would not compensate [for]the loss of the parent from the children and the stability of the relationship within the family,” Campos added.

There are between 10 million and 12 million Filipinos living and working overseas. The average Philippine family of five members means at least half the population of the country could depend on a relative working overseas sending money home to feed, clothe and educate them.

The social costs of such large worker exodus include the alienation of parents from their children and the breakdown of families. Infidelity and marriage annulment cases have risen over the years.

Archbishop Oscar Cruz, head of the National Appellate Matrimonial Tribunal of the Philippine Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, said the matrimonial tribunal receives an average of 60 marriage annulment cases every year.

In September 2015, some 40 cases had already been lodged with the tribunal, the archbishop said. There are no official figures but with the new rules issued by the Vatican, Cruz expects the number of cases to increase in the immediate future.

The Vatican’s new rules eliminate the requirement that any marriage annulment granted by a church court must be automatically reviewed by another set of judges.The new rules also allow a bishop to hear a case and grant an annulment in less than two months.

The ideal situation is for an OFW to be able to bring his or her family to the place of work. Unless the spouse is also allowed to work and the children are able to study at minimum or no cost at all, bringing the immediate members of a family is not practical. Besides not too many employers would be willing to shoulder the cost of bringing the OFW’s family to the place of work much less support the family as dependents of an OFW.

Separate, together
For OFWs whose skills, occupation and experience are in demand in countries with permanent migration programs, pursuing residency in Australia, Canada, New Zealand or the United States is a viable alternative.

For those who are not eligible to be POWs but are qualified to be OFWs, planning a future in the next years is essential. In this case, reunification as permanent residents (in a country where better opportunities await, decent wages are paid, quality of life and respect for civil liberties and human rights are the norm) is worth the price.

Family members of OFWs who are aware of this planned family togetherness after the initial period of separation will reduce the angst and pain of being apart. At the same time, the spouse, common-law partner and children would ensure that a specific portion of the remittance sent is spent toward that goal of reunification.

For example, sons and daughters who are going into the last two years of the senior high school could take up specific courses that would enable them to hit the ground running in the country of intended migration. Instead of taking up university courses, a two-year course in IT, hospitality, health care, technology, early childhood, age-care and gerontology would enhance the graduate’s chances of a successful career in the country of intended destination as permanent immigrants.

OFWs with at least one-year experience in occupations that are in demand in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States, belonging to the 29 to 39 age range, who are married and with sufficient English language proficiency stand a good chance of becoming permanent residents or immigrants with their immediate family members.

New Zealand has a list of occupations eligible for residency: the current Long Term Skills Shortage List is available through this weblink— http://skillshortages.immigration.govt.nz/

Australia has two lists showing the occupations in demand and qualified applicants may apply directly as permanent residents: Schedule 1 Skills Occupations List (SOL) and Schedule 2 (Consolidated Skills Occupations List (CSOL). Selection of qualified immigrants is through SkillSelect. The link is available here— https://www.border.gov.au/Trav/Work/Work/Skills-assessment-and-assessing-authorities/skilled-occupations-lists/SOL

Canada does not have a list of occupations in demand although John McCallum, Immigration Minister of Canada, said he wants to “significantly increase immigration beyond its current record level as a way to fill the country’s labor needs.”

This expression of increased migration to Canada was made before a meeting with the Philippine Canadian Chamber of Commerce last week.

Currently, Canada has the Express Entry selection system. In a mid-year and last year’s report, the Canadian government showed preference for applicants who are already in Canada as international students or temporary workers.

For those outside Canada, the profile of potential successful immigrants is in the 20 to 29 age range, married or with common law partner and both with college degree and highly proficient in the English language.

For POWs intending to explore residency in any of the four countries previously mentioned and whose occupations are not on the list of in-demand skills, the viable alternative is to take up a one- or two-year diploma course. International students are allowed to work part-time (20 hours a week while in school and 40 hours during off-school periods). The spouse or common law partner of an international student is allowed to work full time.

Any time the spouse or the international student (with at least one year experience) gets a job offer, the door to permanent residency opens up immediately.

Then the POWs or OFWs become LPR or lawful permanent residents in the country of their choice, families together enjoying a better quality of life, where one’s future is brighter even without connections.

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