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PIA Press Release
2010/05/05

PIDS study reveals trends and prospects in Philippine international migration

Quezon City (5 May) -- In the last three decades, international labor migration has helped shape the Philippine economy. It is considered an enduring feature of Philippine development.

In their study titled Philippine International Labor Migration in the Past 30 Years: Trends and Prospects, Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS) Senior Research Fellow Dr. Aniceto C. Orbeta, Jr. and Research Analyst Mr. Michael Ralph Abrigo said that the drivers and prospects both in the local economy and in the major destination countries will define the future of migration streams in the country.

The annual flow of Filipino migrants shows that temporary migrant workers dominate in terms of volume, with around 36,000 workers leaving the country in 1975 up to more than 1.2 million in 2007. Among the temporary migrant workers, land-based workers have comprised around eight of every ten workers leaving annually since the 1990s.

This includes the increasing number of new-hire and the even faster increasing proportion of rehired workers, which show that employers prefer workers with prior international experience. In the early years of the overseas employment program, the flow of sea-based workers was greater than that of the land-based workers, with around 23,500 sea-based workers leaving the country in 1975. But 2007 registered only about 267,000 sea-based workers leaving the country, compared with around 800,000 land-based workers leaving during the same period.

The Middle East is the primary destination of land-based temporary migrants followed by Asia, particularly the newly industrialized countries which turned to labor importation to sustain their economic growth.

Land-based temporary migrants are composed of professionals, service workers, production process workers, transport workers, and laborers. The dominance of professionals in 1975 was replaced by production process workers, transport workers, and laborers in the 1980s, coinciding with the construction boom in the Middle East. The professionals consist of architects and engineers, health professionals, and composers and performing artists. Service workers, on the other hand, are mainly composed of maids and housekeepers deployed around the world.

When compared with the domestic labor force, Filipino temporary migrant workers are shown to be younger and better educated. Around seven of every ten temporary migrant workers are of ages between 24 to 44 years old and half of them have at least some tertiary education. Temporary labor migration is likewise selective of sex, with majority of temporary migrant workers being women.

Meanwhile, Filipino permanent migrants are in the developed countries of North America, particularly the United States (US). Other destinations of permanent migrants are countries in Asia, Oceania, and Europe but the proportion is far lower than that in North America.

Unlike temporary workers who are mostly professionals and service workers, the larger proportion of permanent migrants are unemployed-housewives, students, and minors-dependents of professionals who emigrated because of more career advancement opportunities, over and above the differences in wages. This scenario is created by the family reunification goal of permanent migration in the US - the prime destination of Filipino emigrants. Permanent migrants are highly educated which may reflect US immigration policy "to admit workers with skills needed by the economy." In terms of age, however, the 44 years old and above age category comprises the largest group, reflecting the preference of employers in hiring more experienced workers, in addition to the family reunification program in the US.

In the case of irregular migrants, a large proportion is likewise in North America but this is already declining from 37 percent in 1997 to 28 percent in 2007. However, there is an increasing number of irregular migrants in East Asia, comprising around 30 percent of the total number of irregular migrants in 2007. Other regions with irregular migrants are Europe and the Middle East, representing 9 and 10 percent of all irregular migrants, respectively, in 2007.

Looking forward, Ducanes and Abella (2008)[1] argued that the future of Philippine international migration will depend on long-term prospects highly determined by certain factors:

Domestic economy - it is tied to the country's ability to redeem itself in its history of "inconsistent economic boom" and catch up with other developing countries. The continuing limited opportunity for career and professional growth is a push factor that will determine the flow of migrants out of the country.

Demography - it is observed that there is a high population in the Philippines accompanied by a slow decline in fertility rate in neighboring and in destination countries. Given this dual situation, Filipino migrants can obviously fill the population gaps and lack of human labor in major destination countries.

Politics - it is observed that since the 1980s, the political "adventurisms" of the country had contributed to the lack of political stability and led to a push migration to "safer and more stable" developed countries.

Environment - involves frequency of intense storms visiting the country and the vulnerability they bring especially to large coastal areas during this time of climate change.

The primary pull factors to lead international migration of Filipinos are the demographic and migration policy scenario of destination countries. Aging countries are expected to increase their demand for health professionals and eventually other set of professionals who will fill the gap in their labor force. Likewise, migration policies provide the structure on the flow of both permanent and temporary workers.

The last of the long-term prospects to look into are the network effects-"the increasing number of migrants in the population is expected to deepen (more in the same household) and widen (other households in the same geographic area) the scope of migration because of a high probability that migrants will effectively reduce migration costs."

In the meantime, short-term prospects suggest that Middle East countries will continue their demand for foreign workers in the near future due to the failure of their programs to lessen dependence on foreign labor. One reason is the continued reluctance of locals to take on the jobs that have been considered as "foreigner's work."

The 2009 global financial crisis has highlighted the need to understand the international labor migration and remittances market better. For instance, at the beginning of the crisis, it was reasonable to worry about the prospects for the Filipino seafarers because of the documented decline in global trade brought about by the crisis. Available seafarer deployment data up to the third quarter of 2009, however, did not show a decline but only a deceleration of the growth. Everyone was also expecting a decline in the flow of remittances. Remittance data up to the last quarter of 2009, though, likewise show only a deceleration in growth but not an actual decline. (PIA) [top]

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