Today the Philippines is the biggest labor-exporting country in Asia and is ranked second in the world after Mexico. As of December 2003, the number of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) was estimated to be 7.7 million; the population of the Philippines is some eighty million. Forty-three percent of these emigrants were on temporary contracts, 68 percent of which were placed in Asia. The remittances sent by OFWs are the Philippines’ largest source of foreign exchange, contributing US$7 billion to the national economy in 2003….
The primary destinations of labor emigration in the Philippines have gradually switched from North America and Europe to West, East, and Southeast Asia. Among the land-based OFWs deployed from 2001 to 2004, 46 percent of them were located in the Middle East, 41 percent departed for East and Southeast Asia, and only a small number went to North America (1.7 percent) and Europe (6.7 percent). Taiwan has become a major host country for Filipino migrants since the mid-1990s. In 1998 it was the second-most-popular destination for newly hired migrants from the Philippines, next to Saudi Arabia, and in 2004 it was the fifth major destination, after Saudi Arabia, Hong Kong, Japan, and the United Arab Emirates.
Filipino workers have occupied a dominant position in the global labor market because of their proficiency in English and level of education. Both male and female OFWs are well-educated: over half have completed college or have at least taken some college subjects, and one-third complete secondary education. But the large outflow of experienced, skilled, and professional human resources constitutes a brain drain that poses a threat to development in the Philippines.
Annual changes in the numbers of overseas Filipino workers have pointed to a growing trend toward feminization. Women constituted only 18 percent in the 1980 outflow of OFWs, but that percentage rose to 36 in 1987 and 69 in 2002. Most women are employed in service occupations such as housemaid, caregiver, and entertainer. Domestic work accounted for one-third of overseas female deployment in 2002, despite the fact that most Filipina migrants were educated and skilled workers.
Some demographic characteristics of Filipina migrant workers deviate from the profiles of male migrants. The majority of migrant women are in their late twenties and early thirties, younger than their male counterparts, who are mostly in their thirties and forties. Official statistics provide no details about the marital status of OFWs. One survey showed that the majority of Filipina migrants were single (56 percent) while 37 percent were married. In contrast, a much larger proportion of male migrants were married (71 percent), and only 27 percent were single. The differences suggest that the decisions to migrate are embedded in the gender roles and ideologies in the Philippine family. Also, migrant women tend to face greater difficulties than their male counterparts in building or maintaining a family during their overseas journey.
Labor migration in the Philippines fluctuated in reaction to several crises in the 1990s. The Gulf War in 1991 resulted in the repatriation of 30,000 workers, mainly from Kuwait. Overseas deployment declined by 13 percent in 1995 after the hanging of Flor Contemplacion, a Filipina domestic worker found guilty of murdering a Filipina coworker in Singapore. To mitigate the public outcry over this case, the Ramos government banned deployment to Singapore for a short period. The Congress passed the Migrant Worker and Overseas Filipino Act (RA8042) in 1995 to announce its intention to ensure the welfare of migrants. But legal protection has proved to be nothing but a symbolic measure, and the halo of “national hero” only glows when politicking takes place.