The term OFW is an acronym for “overseas Filipino worker”, or Filipinos who opted to go to another country for employment. But like Filipinos who work in the Philippines, OFWs are also entitled to the same rights and responsibilities as members of the workforce. They also pay taxes to the Philippine government, and their remittances make up a significant part of our national economy.
The Department of Migrant Workers has been tasked to take care of the welfare of Filipino migrant workers abroad. Why is there a specific department for OFWs? It’s because our OFWs are prone to abuse and exploitation by their employers, and the Philippine government wants to make sure that they are protected.
The most common jobs that OFWs have are domestic work, construction, manufacturing, agriculture, and shipbuilding. They usually work in countries like Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Hong Kong, United States, etc.
OFWs as Modern Day Heroes
In a report by the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) published on March 7, 2022, there is an estimate of 1.77 million Filipinos working abroad from April to September of 2020. From this number, a whopping 96.4% or about 1.77 million are overseas contract workers, or those with active employment contracts.
The remaining 3.6% are Filipinos who are working abroad albeit with a different legal document such as a tourist, student, medical, or visitor visa, or any other non-working or non-immigrant permit. The total remittance sent by OFWs during this period amounted to over ₱134 billion, which came in a combination of in-kind cash sent to the country, and cash brought home.
OFWs are often coined as the “modern day heroes” for their sacrifices have always been valued, not only by the families they left behind, but also by the country they have always gone home to. Besides their immense contribution to our economy, OFWs contribute to the growth of Filipino culture worldwide, building communities of their own in order to foster the same feeling of home that they have been missing while working abroad.
We also hear of OFWs who have gone or are experiencing abuse and mistreatment in their countries of employment, and while the Philippine government maintains their stand on protecting our countrymen wherever they may be, some still brace such sacrifice simply in order to continue providing their families in the Philippines with a better future.
Why Filipinos Apply for Work Abroad
The Philippines is among the world’s places with the most number of migrant workers, and there can be a lot of reasons for these, but these reasons are often interrelated and interdependent of each other.
1. Better career opportunities
This is probably the most common reason you would hear from other Filipinos who wish to work abroad, and it’s no secret that greener pastures do lie in other countries than here in the country.
The idea of a bigger salary alone is convincing enough for many Filipinos to take the risk of living away from their loved ones. Moreover, overseas jobs allow for Filipinos to renew and explore themselves as skilled workers, as most job offers are contractual.
Although, of course, the ideal is to be a regular employee, the fact that you can renew your contract every time it ends is a benefit of its own, and the liberty to either continue the path you chose or pursue another is in your hands.
2. Reasonable compensation
Many job offers abroad also come with better benefits and more reasonable and fitting qualifications. Therefore, Filipinos need not to worry about accomplishing so much paperwork when they know what they’re applying for in the first place, and its long-term effect is twofold: it fulfills their sole purpose of going abroad, and it also helps boost their morale, even with white-collar jobs. The idea is that when you are valued as an employee, the company sees the significance of your contributions and appreciates your presence, therefore making you value your job.
3. Good work experience
Working abroad provides Filipinos with a new environment with people and practices that may be far from what they know, which therefore allows them to explore their job more and gain significant experience that they wouldn’t normally get as a worker in the Philippines.
And should they come back for another career in the country, having an overseas work experience in their resume would give them the edge they would need for better compensation locally.
4. A chance for residence abroad
Another common plan for FIlipinos is to work abroad for a few years or until they can be their own sponsor and bring their families to live with them. This is because the longer you work in a foreign country, the higher your chance to be approved as a resident should you apply for one, especially when the country of employment sees your significant contribution and good moral standing.
It can also be a privilege for OFWs to get residence in their country of employment as it is easier to travel in an out of the country with such document. And on top of that, getting to experience the greener pasture with your beneficiary sure is worth the hard work.
5. Local and international benefits
OFWs are entitled to local benefits from government agencies such as OWWA, should they become members. They are also entitled to various international benefits as set by their employer, recruitment agency, and the government of their country of employment, should they become residents.
These benefits may come in the form of financial assistance for educational, livelihood, medical or other purposes, and they may be claimed for either their own benefit or for the benefit of their dependents in the country.
6. Better savings
Last but not the least, the saying “You reap what you sow.” applies well for most OFWs, because better paying jobs would mean they can establish better means of saving up money, and they can actually save up more.
Whatever they save up from years of working would be the fruit that they can send or bring with them home for a better life—with their investment returned.
Considerations in becoming an OFW
Many Filipinos who become OFWs enjoy a number of benefits in a variety of settings. Some of these benefits are useful in their everyday life in a foreign country, while some of them benefit their loved ones back home. However, the mere thought of working far from home is a huge risk, and a responsibility in itself.
Working overseas would be a whole new world, especially for first time migrant workers, and the necessary adjustments will either make or break your supposedly new chapter of life.
So it pays to weigh the pros and cons of working abroad depending on your resources, current overall condition, capabilities as an individual, and the consent of your loved ones (before you leave them for a long time!)
Being bilingual (or even multilingual) is an advantage for most jobs here and abroad, because it actually allows for us to break language barriers and communicate with more people. This is a very useful skill especially when you are dealing with foreign clients.
On the other hand, it can also be a hassle for some who are not used to communicating in more than one language. It can also be an extra challenge, especially when you are already an adult and you’d have to pay to take formal language lessons.
And take note that world languages are constantly evolving, meaning you’d need consistency in using the language for you to actually learn it and use it appropriately at work.
As we’ve mentioned earlier, moving abroad will entail a cycle of adjustments, including culture shock, as well as the occasional homesickness, separation anxiety, and feelings of instability. While this is normal for everyone who’s going out of their comfort zones, it can be detrimental to one’s overall well-being, therefore affecting their performance at work. There will also be times where you will feel alone and discriminated against, and these feelings are all valid.
But on the flipside, working abroad provides opportunities to get to know and be familiar with people in other parts of the world. There is no better tip on cultural awareness than being immersed in the culture itself. It can be grueling—embarrassing at some point—but it is definitely worth the time and effort when you get to discover more of yourself in the process. And should you need protection or extra guidance, the Philippine consulates, embassies, and overseas offices are ready and willing to help you adjust.
3. Conflicts with personal life
Working abroad would mean having to establish yourself again, but this time, as part of a whole new community. Feelings of isolation and anxiety will come, and there will be times where it will be hard to talk to your loved ones back home—may it be because of time differences, conflicts with your work schedule, or simply because you don’t feel like it—and again, these are all normal.
Conflicts with personal life and interests are part of the adjustments that OFWs need to face when working abroad, but they can prepare for this beforehand through pre-deployment orientation seminars and training workshops organized by the Philippine government through OWWA, or accredited manning agencies by the Philippine government. Also, picking up new hobbies, interests, and building new routines make for an effective adjustment to the new community you are growing and working in.
4. Struggles at Work
Being an OFW is not as glamorous as it seems. We’ve heard of success stories from some of them, but many of them had to go through hardships, and some still endure them.
Maintaining a clean and agreeable reputation at work takes a lot of time, and it can be a real issue given the uncertainties in foreign territory. Abuse, maltreatment, and discrimination are only some of the major issues that many OFWs continue to face.
On top of that, OFWs had to adjust to the uncertainties of their working environments and other harsh conditions. These struggles contribute to the buildup of stress that they might be facing as lone individuals far from home.
However, the Philippine government, through its overseas agencies and partners, consistently reassure OFWs of their security and the protection of their rights and welfare as they strive to build a career abroad.
How a Filipino Can Become an OFW
In order for a Filipino to become an OFW, it is important to take note of the following steps and guidelines:
1. Know which job you are most suited for, given your knowledge, skills, and experience.
A lot of online and in-person job fairs offer various jobs abroad. Government offices such as the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) also announce job openings abroad, in cooperation with different accredited manning agencies, , so be sure to keep yourselves posted for updates.
2. Be familiar with the different Philippine overseas offices
The next step is to be familiar with the different government offices that are tasked to facilitate, monitor, assist, and evaluate the activity of OFWs going in and out of the country. Some of these include:
- Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE)
- Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA)
- Commission of Filipinos Overseas (CFO)
- Philippine embassies, consulate offices, and overseas labor offices worldwide
- Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth)
- Social Security System (SSS)
- Home Development Mutual Fund (PAG-IBIG)
3. Know and comply with the application procedures and requirements
The third (and the longest) step is to know and comply with the application procedures and requirements, which may vary from one job to another. Generally, applying for an overseas job would entail the following:
- Attending pre-employment and pre-deployment seminars
- Accomplishing documentary requirements such as forms, statements and certificates,
- Completing interviews, medical and screening exams, and
- Signing of contracts
These procedures may or may not require a fee, and will take from a couple of hours to even weeks. The application process will cost you the most time, money and energy, which you will have to prepare for when applying for an overseas job.
Upon submission and accomplishing the application process, you will be allowed to proceed to your validation. Present your receipt and supplementing documents to the Bureau of Immigration before you can head onto the plane or ship for your travel.
5. Get acquainted once you land
Last but not the least, upon arrival in your country of employment, it is important to acquaint yourself with the community as best as you can. Navigate around, immerse yourself with the locals, and get to know the Philippine offices you can contact. You can also contact your employer prior to starting your work in order to be oriented on your payroll system and other benefits.
Frequently Asked Questions
Check out these common questions about overseas Filipino workers.
1. Is the OFW a new term? How long have there been OFWs?
OFWs have been going on since the early 70s! Many of them, however, have chosen the path of an OFW primarily due to the lack of employment opportunities in the country back then.
2. Why do Filipinos choose to work abroad?
Besides the reasons we have mentioned in the first part of this article, we believe the primary motivation for Filipinos choosing to work abroad is their being family-oriented. Many Filipinos would sacrifice a lot for their loved ones to thrive. Providing a better future for their families by saving up more money to send home is a common manifestation of this trait.
3. Are OFWs same with migrant workers? Do they have a difference?
There is no particular difference between the two terms, for they both mean the same. Migrant workers refer to people who move to another country for employment. OFWs are simply another term, if not more specific to Filipinos, for the same group of people. Although, in the recently created Department of Migrant Workers, the term “migrant workers” was used in place of OFWs.
4. Which countries have the most number of OFWs?
Top destinations for OFWs differ according to the type of work that is in demand. In a report by the Philippine Statistics Authority in March 2022, OFWs based in Asia comprise 83.6% of the total number of OFWs from April to September 2020. Among these, Saudi Arabia ranked first in the most number of OFWs, followed by the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Hongkong, Qatar, Singapore, and other Asian countries.
In conclusion, going abroad in hopes of a better life is a common picture for many Filipinos, despite the risks it may pose. They believe that it is the best way for their families to continue living in a country with unequal opportunities brought about by the growing class divide.
Being in a third world country means taking every chance at alleviating the hardships that your loved ones are facing, and this might be the closest reason to why they are dubbed the modern day heroes—offering their lives for a more prosperous future.