Migrant workers’ jobs still at risk
The prolonged COVID-19 pandemic closed international borders and slowed migration, but highly skilled overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), especially nurses, have managed to continue sending money back home to support their families reeling from the recession, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) said.
“The coronavirus disease pandemic significantly affected people’s movement, halted many industries and disproportionately imposed huge costs on migrants and their families. Restrictions on mobility and travel to curtail COVID-19 infections disrupted economic activity, created massive unemployment and led to a global economic crisis,” the Manila-based ADB said in its Asian Economic Integration Report 2021: Making Digital Platforms Work for Asia and the Pacific released on Tuesday.
The ADB said that in 2019, there were 271.6 million international migrants, including about 5.4 million Filipinos who sought greener pastures abroad.
“The pandemic and ensuing lockdowns put many migrant jobs in jeopardy. The International Labor Organization reported that low-skilled migrants and seasonal workers were likely to be laid off first, but last to get tested or treated. They are often excluded from government policy responses such as wage subsidies, unemployment benefits or social security, and social protection measures,” the ADB said.
“With limited or no social protection, no savings, without adequate food and shelter, and no financial means to return to their home countries, thousands of migrants were stranded. Working migrants sent home continue to face uncertainty over their future employment prospects,” it added.
Citing the latest Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) data, the ADB noted that 327,511 OFWs were repatriated mostly from the Middle East, the United States, Europe and other Asian countries as of end-2020.
According to the ADB, many low-skilled migrants from Asia were hit hard by the pandemic, forcing them to return home, while high-skilled migrant workers in sectors vital to developed host countries stayed on.
OFWs in the health-care sector benefited from bigger demand in countries like the United Kingdom, where the work visas of doctors, nurses and paramedic were extended by one more year, and free of charge, the ADB noted. The Philippines is the world’s biggest source of migrant nurses.
The ADB estimated a 7.4-percent drop in remittance inflows to Asia to $291.8 billion in 2020 from $315.3 billion in 2019.
“A gradual and prolonged decline in remittance inflows will hurt the region’s top remittance recipients,” the ADB said, referring to India, China and the Philippines.
“Inflows to these economies will collectively drop by $18.1 billion in 2020, equivalent to 77.4 percent of the projected decline in Asia,” it said.
But cash remittances to the Philippines inched up 0.3 percent year-on-year to $2.38 billion in November last year such that the 11-month total declined by only 0.8 percent to $27.01 billion despite expectations of a sharp drop.
The ADB said that despite the large drop, remittances to Asia would likely remain a relatively stable source of external financing compared with other types of financial flows.
It helped that digital technologies are playing a bigger role in global remittance flows while the traditional channels are still constrained by mobility restrictions, the ADB said.
“Many conventional money transfer businesses closed during the height of government-mandated border and mobility restrictions, particularly in April and May 2020. This opened many opportunities for technology-driven money transfer companies. As people resorted to cashless payment systems, the use of digital remittances grew at an unprecedented rate. People began accessing alternative means of sending remittances—such as mobile money, internet banking and other noncash digital and electronic channels,” according to the ADB.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.