JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia: One major concern shared by many overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) is what awaits them back home after they’re done with working abroad once and for all. This final homecoming represents the final phase of the overseas employment cycle. When they return to the country, they bring with them not only their luggage, pasalubong and hard-earned money but also their fears and anxiety about reintegrating into society after years of being away.
While OFWs look forward to being with their loved ones, they are also worried about being out of work or having no steady income while seeing their savings slowly dwindling.
For those wise enough to have built a comfortable nest egg, they nonetheless face a new predicament such as where to invest their money, what business to engage in, or what their alternative source of income should be. But for those involuntarily repatriated due to political uprisings, disasters or economic recessions in the host country, their homecoming is more stressful than exciting.
This is why the Duterte administration, through the national agencies involved in migration, has been strengthening the reintegration program for returning OFWs, in order to make overseas employment a choice rather than a necessity by helping OFW families become self-reliant in their own country. The challenge then is how to respond promptly to the needs of returning migrant workers to ensure that their gains from overseas employment can be maximized.
As the primary agency in charge of promoting the welfare of OFWs and their families, the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) has crafted and is implementing a package of programs and services to returning OFWs through its own reintegration program.
While OFWs are still abroad, the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) and OWWA conduct reintegration-preparedness activities like values-reorientation training, financial literacy seminars, entrepreneurial development, and techno-skills and capacity-building to provide OFWs with an option to enter into self-employment activities when they return home for good. In 2016, a total of 43,641 OFWs benefited from the aforementioned programs.
Meanwhile, in its regional offices throughout the country, OWWA conducts business counselling, community organizing, financial literacy seminars, networking with support institutions, and social preparation for returning workers and their families.
For distressed and displaced OFWs, OWWA offers the “Balik-Pinas Balik-Hanapbuhay” program, a non-cash livelihood assistance program intended to provide immediate relief to returning OFW members who are displaced due to wars, policy reforms, or are victims of illegal recruitment or human trafficking, and other distressful situations. In 2016, 3,993 OFWs were given P10,000 worth of techno-skills training and starter kits and goods so they could obtain livelihood through self-employment.
OWWA also implements the Enterprise Development and Loan Program (EDLP) to support enterprise development among OFWs and their families in partnership with the Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) and Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP). The program aims to help OFWs and their families establish a viable business enterprise, which will provide them with a stable income and create employment opportunities in their communities.
The program has two components. The first is the Enterprise Development Interventions which comes in three phases: 1) program orientation and business appreciation; 2) project-specific training/visit to demo farms/immersion; and 3) business plan writing seminar. The second component is the loan facility, where OWWA’s partner-banks evaluate the loan and project proposal in accordance with the borrowers’ creditworthiness and the project’s viability.
These livelihood and development programs will hopefully assure our OFWs that, even if they don’t work abroad again, they can still earn good money, make a profit or even generate jobs in their localities.
This year, OWWA will be having an OFW Reintegration Fair, an info-caravan on reintegration intended to increase awareness among OFWs and their families on the reintegration program of the government and provide them with the options and venue for availing of the programs and services offered by various government agencies.
This upcoming project, in coordination with participating agencies, aims to provide OFW returnees and repatriated workers viable livelihood and business options through “business counselling, mentoring, grant of productive resources, and access to additional capital,” skills training, re-tooling and upgrading, venues for exhibiting the products and expanding markets of livelihood program beneficiaries, and updates on the latest trends in business.
OWWA has also partnered with the United Nations’ migration agency whose major advocacy involves OFW reintegration. In January 2017, OWWA, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), the National Reintegration Center for OFWs (NRCO), and the UN International Organization for Migration (IOM) signed a “Project Implementation Agreement on Enhancing the Reintegration Program” for OFWs, aimed at improving the socio-economic reintegration program of the government through a “reintegration summit, sectoral, regional, and thematic consultations and capacity building and service system improvements.”
The enactment of Republic Act 10801, or the OWWA Act, will also strengthen the national reintegration program as it stipulates that “not less than 10 percent of OWWA’s collection of contribution for the immediately preceding year shall be allocated annually for the reintegration program.” This mandatory allocation means OWWA’s reintegration program will be intensified over the coming years.
The current and forthcoming reintegration programs of the Duterte administration is something OFWs can look forward to. By bolstering reintegration services, OWWA hopes that OFWs will no longer be afraid about returning home and staying home permanently.