OFW traffic: Few flying out, many returning

OFW traffic: Few flying out, many returning

OVERALL deployment of newly hired overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) was cut by more than half this year because of the Covid-19 crisis.

Initial deployment data of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) showed the number of new hires deployed from January to May was only 70,990.

This was about 60 percent lower compared to the 174,348 figures in 2019.

“This is only for new hires. This does not include rehires and seafarers, which are the main groups composing the bulk of our deployment,” POEA administrator Bernard P. Olalia told BusinessMirror in an SMS.

The drastic drop in deployment comes amid a steady stream of repatriations of OFWs from all over the world, as host countries and businesses either shuttered or scaled down operations amid the pandemic, causing temporary or permanent job losses for foreign workers.

As of Saturday (June 20), the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said it has repatriated close to 50,000 overseas Filipinos since February this year, the start of the bring-back-home overseas Filipinos (OF) program impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Of this number, the DFA said 58.2 percent (28,816 OFs) are sea-based and 41.8 percent (20,704 OFs) are land-based.

Some 25,000 of these repatriated workers have been sent home to their respective provinces after being cooped up in government-designated quarantine areas, such as hotels and other establishments.

Deployment restrictions

In March, President Duterte placed the entire country under a state of national emergency and Luzon under enhanced community quarantine. This stranded both would-be OFWs who had gone to the NCR for processing of their deployment papers, and those flying back to jobs but forced to stay put because of lockdowns both in the Philippines and their host countries’ airports.

This, coupled with the travel restrictions implemented by other Covid-affected countries, significantly dented overall deployment figures especially in the last two months.

Only around 100 newly hired OFWs were deployed in April and May.

In April, only 47 new hires were deployed by POEA. This was 99.85 percent lower than the 30,592 in the same period last year.

Deployment of new hires in May also decreased to 56 from 38,660 in the same month in 2019.

Stumbling block

Recruitment consultant Emmanuel Geslani does not expect deployment figures to recover soon, as most governments remain cautious in accepting travelers from Covid-19-hit places like the Philippines.

He cited the case of Taiwan, which opted to “put on hold” hiring OFWs because of the high incidence of Covid-19 in the country, which exceeded 30,000 on Sunday.

“Taiwan has prioritized the entry of Vietnam for the factory jobs intended for Filipinos since that country has very few Covid-19 cases and zero deaths,” Geslani explained in a statement.

The situation is worsened, he said, by POEA’s policies to require employers to pay OFWs, while they undergo mandatory quarantine in their destination countries.

“This is now the stumbling block for the deployment of OFWs to Hong Kong and Taiwan—that the quarantine period for them should be paid according to the POEA; which, to many agencies, is unfair and unjust to the employers,” Geslani said.

With other top destinations for OFWs like the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia still being closed for migrant workers as they try to contain their Covid-19 cases, Geslani said the slump in the deployment of new hires will persist this year.

Latest batch

The latest repatriates to arrive, meanwhile, are OFs in Canada, the Netherlands and the United Arab Emirates,” said DFA Undersecretary Brigido “Dodo” Dulay. He reported to Foreign Affairs  Secretary Teodoro L. Locsin Jr. that there are two Philippine Airlines flights to Doha, Qatar, on June 24 and 25, to bring home more OFs.

Earlier, a netizen named Caren in Qatar sought Locsin’s help by Twitter for stranded OFWs, saying that for months now, they have been under a “no work, no pay” scheme.

Locsin attributed the success of their repatriation program to the “indispensable help of General [chief implementer Carlito] Galvez and [Department of Transportation Secretary Art] Tugade.”

Locsin said: “Thank you, gentlemen. I know I’m a nag but I can’t help myself. Find it in your heart to forgive. And, Art, no, I am not a mother superior even if I badger you about letting nuns in.”

Still, the DFA could not avoid criticism from a netizen, Malak Imperial: “This is a welcome act of DFA; however, it is a fact that some OFWs especially those in remote places who…wanted to avail of repatriation [were] unable to do it. Therefore, in addition to the social-media usage the consulate and embassy staff must exert more effort to reach out these OFW’s.”

“We already did,” said another OFW. “We called the embassy and Philippine Overseas Labor Office [POLO] and Overseas Workers Welfare Administration [OWWA].” They were told to “apply for repatriation and wait…. We applied for repatriation [and were told 5,000] have applied. Please pity us…”

Locsin had repeatedly explained that while DFA posts worldwide have never stopped reaching out to OFWs and processing their repatriation, many issues had proven stumbling blocks. The lockdowns in foreign airports, and the off-and-on go-ahead given by Philippine authorities for inbound flights have tied the hands of DFA and DOLE repatriation teams.

“We are asking help for the repatriation. All flights are cancelled due to issues. We are sincerely begging,” said another netizen.

Meanwhile, Dulay asked OFWs who sign up for repatriation to make sure they show up on appointed flight days, after an unspecified number of people who signed up for a special flight from Macau did not show up.— Source: Samuel P. Medenilla & Recto Mercene / Business Mirror

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