Philippine is the 12th largest population with total of 92 million people scattered in 7107 islands in Western Pacific Ocean. The skills, commitment and hard work of its citizens are highly respected as overseas migrant workers around the world. OFW is Overseas Filipino Worker; this term was first introduced under Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos ACT of 1995 to protect the rights of million Filipinos working abroad. This ACT is 43 sections long explaining the rights and laws to protect and help the OFW(s). According to Section 2(c) of Republic ACT; “… the State does not promote overseas employment as a means to sustain economic growth and achieve national development”. “The State, therefore, shall continuously create local employment opportunities and promote the equitable distribution of wealth and the benefits of development.” And Section 4 states: “Deployment of Migrant Workers - The State shall deploy overseas Filipino workers only in countries where the rights of Filipino migrant workers are protected.” Government has created societies like Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) in every country to help and protect right of their workers.
According to unconfirmed sources there are estimated 11 millions Filipinos working around the globe with highest number of almost 2.8 million in US, around 1.5 million in Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and in hundreds of other countries. These 11 million makes almost 11% of the total population and contribute around 10 billion dollars every year in Philippines economy which makes 15 % of total GDP. In 2009, the amount of $17.348 billion was sent to the Philippines by Overseas Filipinos, highest among prior years in which Saudi OFW(s) contributed 1.4 billion dollars. But why Saudi Arabia!?
Saudi Arabia is oil based economy possessing 25% of the world’s proven petroleum reserves with GDP of $592.886 billion as of 2009 estimate. 7 million labour forces are required to run its machineries and 80% of which are overseas migrant workers. Average wages in Saudi Arabia hover around 75 – 96$ and 6 – 9$ per day depending upon your nationality, skill and professional; which is also tax-free with benefits like housing and medical insurance. Even after last year’s world financial crisis; World Bank declared Saudi Arabia as strongest Arab economy. All these conditions make Saudi Arabia the best choice to work. According to Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA); Saudi Arabia welcomed 123, 048 Filipino migrant workers in 2009 among which 48,109 are female; it is highest number of migration.
These 1.5 million OFW(s) are posted in every city, every field and literally every company inside Saudi Arabia. Working as Head Nurses to helpers in every big hospital like King Faisal Specialist Hospital, King Khalid and National Guard Hospital. Taken over posts from Project Manager till technicians and even tea boys in all the major Telecommunication operators like STC, Mobily and ZAIN. You will find them working in every shopping mall working as shoppers and helpers. You will find them in very home as house; and as managers, chefs and waiters in all Fast food chains of Saudi Arabia. Thus you will find them everywhere.
Filipinos has proven themselves as very big, active and vital community in Saudi Arabia. The Business centre of Riyadh (Batha) has converted into Mini Manila with many shops, malls and restaurants run my Filipinos themselves. The cooperation and operators has to offer special packages to attract this 1.5 million community; as they know they are playing vital role in Saudi Arabia’s economy. They are living as one big family and they work and intermingle with other nationalities very easily. They don’t separate themselves as other Western, European or Chinese community does here.
Despite all the riches and benefits, they do face racism and abuse like all the other nationalities does in every other country. Al Jazeera has shown their problems and miseries in their documentaries like “Working for Nothing” and “Migrant workers”. So I thought why not to directly ask them; how they live, what they do and why they selected Saudi Arabia?
Erick has been working as engineer in telecommunication sector for almost 9 years. Due to boom in telecommunication and power field in Saudi Arabia; electrical engineers are in high demand. According to POEA; 919 electrical engineers migrated to Saudi Arabia in 2009. I thought to ask Erick what he thinks about working in Saudi Arabia and what his take on increasing OFW population.
I: What is the situation of jobs for telecom engineers in Philippines?
Erick: Job market for telecommunication is very good in Philippines. Initially it was totally in control of government operator but after lot of foreign investments, private operator started doing business, which created many jobs.
I: Were you enjoying your job life in Philippines?
Erick: Yes, I was very much enjoying. Esp. when I was about to leave Philippines I was team leader and many engineers were working under me.
I: What made you leave Philippines; is life difficult there?
Erick: Life is not difficult there, it depends how you want to live, depends upon your life style. But nowadays taking care of family is getting difficult because of high prices and taxations.
I: So family finances was main reason to become OFW!
Erick: Yes and No. In these days of high prices it has become very hard to take care of family, daily expenses for good education for my kids. Though I was enjoying my work but not satisfied with salary. One is not able to buy land, property or do investments for future. This made me think of working overseas and I also want to have new experiences.
I: Why you selected Saudi Arabia?
Erick: It was by chance, it was the only option available at that time.
I: What benefits OFW enjoy in Philippines?
Erick: Every government try to give different facilities, benefits to overseas workers. For example, previous government used OFI (overseas Filipino investors) instead of OFW trying to give us opportunities to make large investments. OFW can get loan on easy terms and sometimes government also wave taxes depending upon the investment.
I: How overseas Filipinos are treated by people back home?
Erick: We are treated as “Heroes”. Whenever we arrive in Philippines we are given VIP welcome, whole family is there to receive. Even on airports we have separate immigrations lines and while leaving we don’t even have to pay terminal fees. People organise dinners and you have to give PASALUBONG.
Erick: Presents, souvenirs people bring for their loved ones. We have to take care of pasalubong, especially for kids.
I: And what benefits you have in Saudi Arabia?
Erick: Government has representative offices of OWWA (Overseas Workers Welfare Administration) in every country, even in Saudi Arabia. They help Filipinos in different problems like handling legal matters, court cases or helping the Filipinos who face abusive treatment from their sponsors, unfortunately most of them are house maids. Secondly many Filipinos have made many communities like educational community, religious community even sports communities. We are lucky enough to have helpful and productive communities here.
I: Have you every faced any professional difficulties in Saudi Arabia?
Erick: No, never in profession. I have been lucky enough to work with good institutions.
I: How is daily life in Saudi Arabia?
Erick: Life is simple but very boring if you are single; as there not many activities to do here. Yes, we really admire family life here as you get a lot of time to bond with your wife and kids. Family life is relaxing here.
I: Do you think your life has changed in Philippines because of your overseas employment?
Erick: Yes definitely, no doubt about that. I have been able to buy property, I have been to give good education to my son and Alhumdulillah enjoying and getting everything we wish for.
I: In last, do you recommend others to come to Saudi Arabia?
Erick: Well, NO.
I: And why is that?
Erick: For financial stability and savings, Saudi is very good option; but culturally it is not. Filipinos face cultural difference here and also religious as Saudi Arabia is 100% Muslim country; we Christians have no religious independence here. And secondly I am not satisfied with the education level of school for my son. I want my son to have degree from highly respected schools. Beside school, kids don’t get much chance to enjoy outside life. So Saudi Arabia is good option but not best one.
Sarah has been working as beautician for four years. This profession is in high demand; 314 Filipinas migrated to Saudi Arabia as beauticians. Got a chance to discuss with Sarah how she thinks about her stay in Saudi.
I: Why you selected to become OFW?
Sarah: I decided to work abroad because I believed that this was the easiest way for me to have any investment; not only for my self but also for my family. Because in Philippines the rate of my salary was not sufficient, everything in Philippines is expensive.
I: How is life in Philippines?
Sarah: The life in Philippines is very comfortable because your family is always there for you to help and support, but it gets very hard too in case of finances.
I: Do OFW(s) have any benefits in Philippines?
Sarah: OFW have a lot of benefits in Philippines. Like SSS (Philippine Social Security System) which gives financial support in case of sickness, Maternity, Retirement, Death or funeral or in case of any disability. And Programs like Philhealth which is National Health Insurance Program. So we enjoy many benefits back home.
I: Why you selected Saudi Arabia, any special advantages for OFW(s) here?
Sarah: I choose KSA, because this is the only country that had a ready visa, very easy place to go. I don’t have any benefits or any advantages here from my employer.
I: What do you think about Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA)? Is this society active in KSA?
Sarah: OWWA! You can’t really depend on them. It is very difficult for them to come here. You will be very lucky if they can help you.
I: How life is in KSA as family and single?
Sarah: Life in KSA is very different, difficult, sad and boring. If you are a single here, you feel alone, only friends can give you any support.
I: Do you think anything changed back home in Philippines because of your work here?
Sarah: KSA and my work have really helped me. Now I have a little investment in my homeland, Philippines. And I can help my family too, esp. their financial needs.
I: Will you recommend your friends to come and migrate to Saudi Arabia for employment?
Sarah: Well if I have a friend who wanted to work abroad, I will not recommend KSA, much better if they try to work in other country. I am also hoping that one day good opportunity will come for me to go in any other place, not again Saudi Arabia. I can’t fulfil my dreams here. I want freedom and open country.
It was really great meeting both of them and getting to know about there stay in Saudi Arabia. Now I decided why not to talk to someone who is now living and working in Philippines and looking for any opportunity to work abroad. I got a chance to have online interview with James who is working in Sales department in one company for last 3 years in Manila.
I: Why Filipino wants to go overseas?
James: Reasons why most of Filipino wants to work overseas is lack of job opportunities in the Philippines and low rate of salary. They think that working abroad could help them give their family a better living because of high paying jobs.
I: Which countries mostly OFW(s) go to?
James: Countries mostly Filipinos go to are Middle East countries, European countries & America.
I: What benefits do they have in Philippines?
James: There are some benefits & special programs for OFW(s) in Philippines. I won't mention all of them; but they do enjoy special treatment.
I: Do you see the life style difference of OFW(s) in Philippines?
James: You will see different life style of those Filipino with a OFW relative. They can send their children in a nice school, built their own house etc, if the one received remittances spend the money wisely.
I: Do you think Philippine cannot live without OFW(s)?
James: If there are enough jobs in the Philippines I don't think Filipinos have to work abroad. But since it's one of the major problems here, lots of Filipinos will still go and find their luck in other countries.
We can guess from the above interviews that people do enjoy the salary and benefits they receive while working in Saudi Arabia, but their main concern is cultural and religious differences. But whatever opinions may be; Saudi Arabia no doubt is the hottest market for migrant workers due to its stable and growing economy. Not only OFW(s), Saudi Market welcomes foreigners from every part of the world; Pakistanis, Indians, Africans and people from other Arab countries have already taken over Saudi job market and working in every field and every post.
Cross posted from MideastYouth.com