Crossroeads (Toward Philippine economic and social progress)
Philippine Star, 10 February 2016

What do we know about overseas Filipino workers (OFWs)?

As a group, OFWs work abroad but their families live generally in our country. OFWs send remittances homeward periodically. These foreign remittances have provided a steady source of dollar earnings, much like the exports we sell to other countries to earn dollars.

My purpose in this essay is to describe detailed information I learned from the latest survey of OFWs by the Philippine Statistical Authority.

(I will leave for later occasions the analysis of remittances and whether OFWs saving.)

Overseas Filipinos. OFWs are only a part of overseas Filipinos who now live around the world. Overseas Filipinos are the larger part of the Filipino diaspora, including OFWs.

According to the Commission on Overseas Filipinos, there are 10.4 million ethnic Filipinos living abroad. OFWs, according to the Philippine Statstical Authority in the 2013 survey estimate, number 2.3 million workers. They represent 22 percent, or roughly one-fifth of the overseas Filipinos.

Among OFWs, 96.2 percent are “overseas contract workers” (OCWs) or workers who work abroad on some form of formal contract of work.  We now focus on OFW statistics.

Who are the OFWs? Most of OFWs come from Luzon. The largest group of OFWs come from the CALABARZON provinces comprising 18.4 percent of all OFWs; those that come from Central Luzon provinces, 13.9 percent; and from the National Capital Region, 12.8 percent. Thus, 45.1 percent of all OFWs come from Luzon.

The rest of the OFWs come from the Visayan islands and Mindanao. But it should be noted that Eastern Visayas (dominated by Leyte and Samar) provide 9.4 percent of all OFWs; Western Visayas (Panay and Negros), 6.5 percent.

Fewer OFWs come from Mindanao. But is this a statistical statistical mirage? Mindanao itself is a land of migration from the northern provinces of the country. Do they, in the survey, identify themselves as ethnics from their Luzon and the Visayan origins or with the province of their immediate residence? Nevertheless, all the Mindanao regions provide 13.2 percent of all OFWs.

What age and gender are they? In 2013, there were slightly more women than men among OFWs even though the year before the proportion of women were slightly more than the men.

In terms of age, women OFWs tend to be younger than men. In short, they leave the country at a much younger age.

On average, among men, 26.7 percent belong to the age of 30 years or less. Among women OFWs, 36.2 percent belong to the age of 30 years or less.

Also, women between the age of 30 to 34 comprise 26.2 percent of female OFWs while men in the same age group are only 22.4 percent of all male OFWs.

How do we interpret these numbers? Women go to work abroad at a younger age because they (as it turns out) go there with less educational and work experience and also earn less income than the men.

The men OFWs of age 35 years and above comprise 50.8 percent of them. Women in the same age group of 35 years and above account for 37.6 percent of all female OFWs.

Where do they work?  More than half (53 percent) of OFWs in 2013 work in the Middle East.

Saudi Arabia is the destination of more than one-fifth of all OFWs (22.1 percent). United Arab Emirates (UAE) is the second most popular working destination (15.4 percent of OFWs), Kuwait and Qatar accounting for 11.4 percent of all.

East Asia (Hong Kong, Japan, Taiwan principally) is the destination of 16 percent of OFWs, just a little above those who go to the UAE.  Southeast Asia (principally Singapore and Malaysia) is the destination of 12.2 percent of OFWs.

The three big, continents of Europe, North and South America and Australia account for 13.1 percent of all OFWs, while Africa is a destination of 1.7 percent of them.

In Hong Kong, Singapore in East and Southeast Asia, and in UAE Kuwait, there is a high plurality of female workers compared to men in percentage distribution (by at least six percentage points), indicating these are destinations where women go to work as house helpers.

What occupations do they have? OFWs come from different occupational groups. Numerically, most OFWs are workers with varying levels of skills. Within each professional grouping the skill levels differ.

Among the occupational groups, officials and managers and supervisors comprise 3.5 percent of OFWs; “professionals” about 11.6 percent; “Technicians and associate professionals” 7.6 percent, as well as “plant and machine operators,” 11.7 percent.

All of the above mentioned groupings account for 34.4 percent of all OFWs.

But those OFW groups with lower levels of skills are classified as “laborers and unskilled workers” (30.8 percent of OFWs); “service workers and shop assistants” (16.7 percent of OFWs);  and “clerks” (5.2 percent of OFWs).

Skills are tied up with incomes of the OFWs. In turn, the remittances they send home provide an indication of their income levels. The survey did not ask questions about incomes. But it did ask about the remittances they send home.

The last mentioned groups send much lower remittances per OFWs than those mentioned among those with higher skills.

For instance, unskilled laborers sent remittances which amounted to 43 percent the amount of remittances that “professionals” sent home. In contrast, “clerks” when compared to the same group of professionals, sent home remittances which amounted to 71 percent of the average remittances sent home by professionals.

Statistical surveys of OFWs. The descriptive statistics I have culled from the survey of OFWs come from the latest available which was undertaken in September 2013.

Actually, the Philippine Statistical Authority has been tracking this important information for some time. In 2008, the effort to survey OFWs became more detailed. The most recent survey represents an effort to yield more information on the phenomenon of OFWs.

In fact, the surveys are undertaken as part of the Labor Force Surveys (LFS), through the addition of more comprehensive questionnaires on Filipinos working abroad.

Source: Philippine Statistical Authority, “2013 Survey on Overseas Filipinos”.