'OFW': In the Philippines, Working Overseas is Big
In the Philippines, if you're not an OFW -- Overseas Filipino Worker -- it's like you're missing out.
There's an OFW-only immigration line at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila. Signs for overseas employment scream from recruitment agencies that dot the roadsides of the capitol city, Manila. Advertisements for education courses to get certified to go abroad hang from the walls of schools and special academies.
After I arrived in the Philippines on Sunday, I traveled about two hours south of Manila to the city of Los Banos where I stayed with some family friends and met two women on opposite ends of the OFW story.
One woman told me about her time as a housekeeper/nanny in Washington, DC. She had both good employers there who made her feel part of the family, and bad employers who didn't pay her wages as promised and often threatened her with deportation. The other was the 31-year-old daughter of an OFW. Her father left when she was only nine months old. His absence, she said, has had a lasting affect on the family especially on her younger brother who grew up without a strong male role model.
"Four-thousand five hundred Filipinos leave the country every day to find jobs overseas," said Garry Martinez, a former OFW himself and now chairman of Migrant International -- a worldwide alliance of Filipino migrant worker advocates based in the Manila metro area.
"The Philippines is the fourth largest remittance-receiving country in the world -- it's India, China, Mexico and then the Philippines."
And the number of OFW's is growing ... and they're sending back more money. The Philippine Star reported in February that the money sent home from Filipino abroad hit a record high of $21.39 billion US dollars.
But it's not enough. Families of OFWs are still living paycheck-to-paycheck, and poverty and unemployment is still rampant, even with the Philippines' "booming economy".
Martinez said the government isn't helping to remedy the economy situation in the Philippines in order to keep citizens at home for work.
"The No. 1 business of this government is exporting their people outside," said Martinez. “But they say, 'We are not pushing to work abroad but we are facilitating'.”
Look for more of Ashley Westerman's dispatches from the Philippines here on www.WRKF.org and follow her on twitter @as_westerman with the hashtag #pinoyworkers.
**This story was funded by a reporting fellowship from the International Center for Journalists in Washington, DC.