Philippine labor migration resumes after the Covid-triggered freeze
Updated: Dec 6, 2022
By Jinky Jorgio
Manila—Like most overseas Filipino workers, Juliet Endozo Mendoza works abroad to help her family. She has been working as a housekeeper in Japan for four years.
"I am the eldest and, being a single mother, I need to work doubly hard," Mendoza said, adding that doing household chores is second nature to her. In Japan, she said, there are several types of household equipment and tools that make her work easy.
She underwent training for two weeks prior to flying to Japan, and another month of training in Japan to familiarize herself with the household equipment and learn basic Japanese words.
In the Philippines, working abroad is a common course of action for a better life and it comes with sacrifices.
“It is hard to be away from my family," Mendoza said, noting the lonely Christmases she spends in a foreign country. But having Filipino roommates gives her a little sense of home away from home.
Mendoza cleans two places a day, requiring her to travel for an hour by train. Both houses where she works are located within a 20-minute walk from the station. "It is hard to travel and go to work during the winter because it is really very cold. But most of the time we walk,” she said.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Philippines saw a drastic 75 percent reduction in the deployment of Filipino workers, while the number of returning overseas Filipinos reached nearly 800,000 by the end of December 2020. In the post-Covid period, job seekers have returned to the line to process their papers for overseas work.
Labor export has been one of the Philippines’ main industries since the government launched an overseas employment program in the 1970s.
Around three million Filipinos are working abroad, remitting around $35 billion a year, which accounts for 8.9 percent of the Philippines’ gross domestic product. Steady flows of remittances have become the country’s lifeline. The Philippines ranks third after India and China as major recipients of remittances.
The number of overseas Filipino workers during the period from April to September 2020 was estimated at 1.77 million. The number dropped by 18.6 percent from 2019. The United States is the top destination for Filipino workers.
Guam’s labor market— specifically the construction industry—just reopened for Filipino workers.
In 2019, the Department of Homeland Security banned the Philippines from the H-2B program citing the country's high rate of visa overstay and high volume of human trafficking. But due to the massive construction catering to the growing military presence in Guam, the island’s workforce cannot sustain such an expansion as the need to construct homes, expansion of hospitals and other projects is underway in the next five years.
Susan Ople, secretary of the Department of Migrant Workers, highlighted the characteristics of Filipino workers— work excellence, hardworking and the ability to speak English— as the reasons Filipino workers are sought by foreign countries.
Ople noted that Guam is a vibrant, growing and important labor market for the Philippines.
The U.S. Homeland Security Office noted that the restoration of the Philippines' inclusion in the H-2B visa program would help meet the construction needs in Guam.
Filipino workers are efficient and hard workers. The majority of them work abroad to help their families back home," Ople said.
She said her department looks forward to collaborating with Guam authorities and the island’s private sector in the hiring of skilled Filipino workers, especially on the construction side.
Ople added that the department awaits the approval of the 2023 national budget to initiate and sustain more programs for Filipino migrant workers on Guam and other labor destinations.
The Filipino migration to Guam dates back to the post-WWII period when the island was undergoing reconstruction to the tune of $379.2 million. The Navy determined that Guam did not have sufficient qualified local manpower. In May 1947, the U.S. Embassy in Manila and the newly independent Philippine government entered into an agreement for “the recruitment and employment” of Filipino citizens to pick up military construction jobs. Thousands of Filipino laborers eagerly migrated to Guam, several of whom made the island their home.
Seventy-five years later, the Philippines remains the main source of manpower for the island’s construction work. Guam has begun to rebuild a stable workforce, with the Guam Department of Labor reporting a record high of 3,000 skilled foreign workers currently stationed on island. Guam labor officials said 97 percent of the H-2B workers pool are from the Philippines, and a few from Korea and New Zealand.
In August, the Philippine government opened the Migrants Resource Center, a one-stop-shop for overseas Filipino workers in Quezon City, in partnership with the International Labor Organization.
Funded by the European Union under its Safe and Fair Program, the establishment of the center aims at strengthening labor migration governance and addresses risks inherent in migration systems that can result in violence and trafficking.