Filipinos have been working overseas in large numbers since the early 1900s when many agricultural workers went to plug labour gaps in Hawaii. In the 1950s, many more Pinoys would emigrate to California in the US and Manitoba in Canada to fill essential roles in hotels, restaurants and railroad construction. As the number of Filipino migrants increased, different names emerged to describe Filipinos working abroad.
Filipinos working abroad
Overseas Filipino Worker (or OFW) is an official term for Filipino migrant workers with employment contracts overseas. The term dates back to the Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995, introduced to protect the rights of Filipinos working abroad.
Although the OFW label was used for years, it wasn’t until 2002 that the Philippine government adopted the term. The move was made to replace and unify other terms such as “Overseas Contract Workers”.
The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA)
The OWWA is a government agency created to provide OFWs with a range of essential services. This includes access to certain social services in the Philippines and overseas, such as:
- Disability and death benefits.
- Pre-departure language and culture courses.
- Scholarships and financial assistance for education.
- Family welfare assistance.
- Repatriation funds.
Although all OFWs are OWWA members by default, memberships only become valid on receipt of a “membership contribution”. The amount of the contribution depends on which country the OFW resides in.
The role of OFWs in the Philippines
Overseas Filipino Workers are a lifeline in the Philippines. By supporting relatives, OFWs also boost their homeland’s economy. Last year, OFWs sent 35 billion dollars to the Philippines. And in 2018, remittances sent by OFWs accounted for 11 per cent of the country’s total GDP.
Like Jose Rizal and Andres Bonifacio, who helped the Philippines gain independence, OFWs help their loved ones achieve financial freedom.
|Did you know? Balikbayan boxes sent home by OFWs benefit from tax-free status.|
Where do OFWs live?
There are over 10 million OFWs worldwide. From healthcare to hospitality, Overseas Filipino Workers perform a variety of roles. For instance, there are 22,000 OFWs employed by the UK’s National Health Service alone. In addition to the UK, the majority of OFWs live in:
*Figure sourced from official NHS data.