Sending of Filipino workers abroad dives to lowest since 1990

Xave Gregorio - Philstar.com
This April 2, 2020, photo shows overseas Filipino workers who were repatriated amid the global coronavirus pandemic.
The STAR / Edd Gumban

MANILA, Philippines — Filipino migrant workers deployed last year plunged to their lowest in 3 decades blocked by coronavirus lockdowns that prevented them from seeking greener pastures abroad.

A total of 549,841 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) were deployed in 2020, plummeting by 74.5% from a record-high of 2.16 million in 2019, data from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) showed.

The figure was the lowest since 446,095 OFWs flew abroad in 1990.

The yearend tally was much lower than the preliminary 693,237 deployed OFWs reported as of October last year. Explaining the discrepancy, POEA only said numbers were “rectified” at the close of the year, without elaborating.

There is optimism that deployment has started picking up this year when most economies have restarted travel. That should bode well for remittances sent by this legion of workers annually, which slipped 0.8% year-on-year in 2020. The central bank is aiming for a 4% growth in inflows this year.

Analysts have said OFWs who opted to stay abroad were using savings to subsidize their families at home. That would explain the minimal decrease in remittances despite the low deployment and the repatriation of 327,511 OFWs last year, as per the foreign affairs department. But they also said those reserves have likely been exhausted already, and may soon manifest through a larger decline in inflows.

Remittances, which account for nearly a tenth of annual economic output, help drive consumption and investment in a country known to export labor to foreign nations. Legislators are debating whether there is a need to establish a separate Cabinet-level agency to address their plight. 

Breaking down the deployment numbers, there was a 79.4% drop in newly-hired OFWs in 2020, while rehiring sank a larger 80% year-on-year. Land-based workers went down 78.4%, while seafarers saw a softer decrease of 57.2%.

Slower OFW deployment did not mean Filipinos are finding jobs at home, not with joblessness at a record-high of 10.3% for all of 2020.

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