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Emigration and Emigration Policies | Philippines |

Philippines Historical Development Immigration and Immigration Policies Emigration and Emigration Policies Citizenship and Naturalization Refuge and Asylum Irregular Migration Challenges and Future Development References

Emigration and Emigration Policies

Michael R.M Abrigo

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A Filipino applicant is seen filling out a job application at a Saudi-Arabian employment agency in Manila. (© picture-alliance/dpa)

Figure 1: Overseas Filipino Stock by Type, 1997-2012 (bpb) Lizenz: cc by-nc-nd/3.0/de/

In 2011, the Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO) estimated that there are around 10.5 million Filipinos in more than 200 territories overseas. Between 1997, when the official migrant stock series was started, and 2011, the average annual growth rate of permanent emigration (5.9 percent) surpassed that of temporary migrant worker flows (3.5 percent) and irregular migration movements (-2.6 percent). The recent world economic crisis in 2008 greatly affected the demand for migrant workers in many countries of the world, resulting in a decline in the stock of Filipinos overseas, specifically that of temporary migrant workers, although later migrant stock estimates show a return to the pre-crisis trend (cf. Figure 1).

Figure 2: Personal Remittances to the Philippines, 1977-2011 (bpb) Lizenz: cc by-nc-nd/3.0/de/

International remittances from emigrants make up about ten percent of the Philippine’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in recent years (cf. Figure 2). This is greater than the contribution of many traditional economic sectors to the GDP, and larger than most regional economies in the Philippines. Total remittances sent by workers have been historically larger than the combined total of foreign direct investments and official development assistance inflow to the country, prompting many to note that remittances could be an important source of development financing: about one of every four households in the Philippines is a direct recipient of international remittances. In 2012, the BangkoSentralngPilipinas (Central Bank of the Philippines) estimated that the inflow of international remittances totaled US$ 23.3 billion, of which 91.6 percent were cash remittances by Filipino migrant workers.

Permanent Emigrants

Receiving country policies on permanent immigration is recognized as the primary pull factor enticing many Filipinos to move abroad permanently. Demand for immigrants, including Filipinos, has been highly skewed towards skilled workers. Between 1981 and 2012, for instance, only around 10 percent were previously employed as production workers and laborers among those employed prior to emigration, while 40-50 percent of the total annual flow had at least a college degree and were thus considered to be skilled or even highly skilled. Moreover, about two in three permanent emigrants are unemployed family dependents (housewives, minors, retirees, etc.) reflecting family re-unification programs, especially in the US, as well as policies allowing dependents to migrate with skilled worker-members of the family.

Figure 3: Emigrant Flow by Type, 1984-2012 (bpb) Lizenz: cc by-nc-nd/3.0/de/

Permanent emigrants have constituted less than 10 percent of the annual total emigration flows since the 1990s (Figure 3). Females have comprised about 60 percent of the annual flows since the 1980s. The US remains to be the major destination of permanent emigrants, although its share has been declining as other countries adopt more liberal immigration policies. The US accounts for 70 to 80 percent of permanent emigrant flows up to the early 1990s, but has declined to less than 50 percent in 2012. Canada is a far second, hosting a third of the annual flow in 2012 from only about 10 percent in the 1980s. Likewise, there were significant Filipino permanent emigrant flows (more than 10 percent) to Australia in the late 1980s, and to Japan in the late 1990s to early 2000s.

Marriage migration has comprised between 20 to 30 percent of the annual permanent emigrant flows from the Philippines in the past two decades. On the average, about 20,000 Filipino fiancées, spouses or partners of foreign nationals, of which about 90 percent are female, register annually with the Commission on Filipinos Overseas.

Temporary Migrant Workers

The Philippines have been deploying at least a million migrant workers annually since 2006, from only about 36,000 in 1975. Labor shortage in the Middle East construction boom in the 1970s led oil-rich Gulf countries to turn their attention to Asia, including the Philippines, for needed labor support. The completion of infrastructure projects in the early 1980s saw the decline in the number of construction-related workers, while opening other sectors for employment, notably domestic work service, in that region. The emergence of newly industrialized countries in East and Southeast Asia in the 1980s and 1990s has led to a further increase in the flow of temporary migrant workers. Emigration of workers from these countries to more advanced economies left a void in the former’s various economic sectors, which were filled by immigrant workers from the Philippines. Female participation in paid employment increased the demand for foreign domestic help in the region. Since the 1990s there has been an increasing demand for skilled and highly skilled workers, largely in the health and allied health and in the information and technology sectors. In 2011, temporary migrant stock estimates showed that Filipino temporary migrants are largely concentrated in Saudi Arabia (33.9%), the United Arab Emirates (14.6%), Qatar (7.3%), Kuwait 4.0%), Hong Kong (3.5%), the US (2.5%) and Canada (2.3%). Some 300,000 Filipino migrant workers are sea-based, representing about 20 to 30 percent of international seafaring crews.

Feminization of temporary labor migration

The demand for temporary migrant workers shows a clear bias for education, age and sex. Relative to the domestic labor force, Filipino temporary migrant workers are younger and better educated. The rise in the demand for household service workers and entertainers, which are traditionally considered to be female occupations, resulted in an increasing feminization of temporary labor migration, although stricter domestic policies and the tightening of border control on performing artists and entertainers, specifically in Japan, has led to a more balanced distribution in more recent years. In 1992, females comprised about half of new-hire temporary emigrant workers. This proportion increased to 61 percent by 1998 and peaked at 74 percent in 2004. Due to the imposition of stricter policies on performing artists and entertainers in the Philippines as well as in the host country Japan the share of female temporary emigrant workers had declined to 53 percent by 2009.

Managing temporary labor migration

The Philippines, with forty years of experience in handling large scale temporary labor migration, is frequently considered a global model in managing international labor migration. Public institutions were established to provide services to migrant workers, including their families, at all stages of the migration process: recruitment, deployment, overseas employment and eventual return and re-integration. Chart 1 provides an overview of these public offices and their functions.

Chart 1: Public Institutions Managing International Migration Source: Orbeta, Abrigo and Cabalfin (bpb) Lizenz: cc by-nc-nd/3.0/de/

The evolution of public institutions reflects the developing complexity of government policies on managing the flow of Filipino workers. The Bureau of Employment Services (BES), the Overseas Employment Development Board (OEDB) and the National Seamen Board (NSB) were created in 1974 to oversee the promotion of the labor migration sector and the gradual phase-out of private sector participation, which was blamed then for the increasing number of violations committed against Filipino migrant workers. This plan was abandoned in 1977, however, with the boom in the number of workers being processed for deployment. The government realized its limitations and recognized the role of the private sector in managing the flow of migrant workers. In 1982, the functions of the OEDB, NSB and the overseas employment functions of BES were transferred to the present Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) with the reorganization of DOLE. The administrative, regulatory and quasi-judicial functions of POEA were further strengthened with its reorganization in 1987. In 1977, a Welfare and Training Fund for Overseas Workers (WTFOW) was created under DOLE to provide social and welfare services, including insurance coverage, placement assistance, remittance services, skills training and career development services to Filipino migrant workers. Subsequent issuances streamlined its activities, as well as reinforced its mandates. The fund was renamed the Overseas Workers’ Welfare Administration in 1987 with the reorganization of DOLE.

Mounting abuses committed against Filipino migrant workers in countries of destination, especially against the low-skilled, paved the way for the adoption of the "Migrant Workers Act of 1995" (RA 8042), which instituted policies on overseas employment and provided minimum standards of protection and promotion of workers’ welfare. It clarifies that the state does not promote overseas employment as a development policy. The legislation provided for the complete deregulation of the overseas employment sector, but was amended in 2007 to the contrary, and provided for the further strengthening of the regulatory functions of the government. The provision on joint and solidary responsibility of domestic recruitment firms and foreign employer, which allows workers and the government to hold recruitment firms accountable for violations committed by employers, is considered a cornerstone provision of RA 8042. Additional benefits and welfare guarantees for migrant workers were provided with the further amendment of the Migrant Workers Act in 2010.z The adoption of RA 8042 provided for a framework that saw the establishment of other public institutions that provide on-site and re-integration services to Filipino migrant workers. An Office of the Legal Assistance for Migrant Workers Affairs, later renamed Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs, was created in 1995 under the Department of Foreign Affairs to provide legal assistance and to coordinate all legal services for overseas Filipinos in distress. Philippine Overseas Labor Offices in Philippine consulates and embassies act as on-site extensions of DOLE to enforce and administer policies and programs on labor migration. The National Reintegration Center for Overseas Filipino Workers was established in 2007 to provide reintegration services to returning migrant workers and their families.

The Philippines have likewise negotiated for bilateral and multilateral agreements concerning migrant workers in addition to unilateral policies on managing international labor migration. Between 1968 and 2011, the government has ratified 37 Bilateral Labor Agreements with 21 countries. The Philippines is likewise a party to major international treaties concerning the welfare of migrant workers and their families, including the United Nations Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families, and International Labor Organization Conventions 97 (Migration for Employment), 143 (Migrant Workers), and 189 (Domestic Workers), although this may have limited impact on the protection of workers as many destination countries of Filipino temporary emigrant workers are not parties to these treaties.



  1. CFO stock estimates are based on host country estimates of the Filipino population and on Philippine immigration data from the Bureau of Immigration on the flow of Filipinos to and from the country. See Battistella and Asis (2013) for a discussion. An alternative estimate by the World Bank (2011) using the methodology by Ratha and Shaw (2007) pegs the total Filipino migrant stock at 4.3 million in 2010.

  2. See for instance Maimba and Ratha (2005).

  3. See Carino (1987) and Carino (1994).

  4. See Battistella and Asis (2013).

  5. See for instance International Organization for Migration (2005).


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Michael R.M. Abrigo is Research Specialist at the Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS). The opinions expressed in this paper do not necessarily reflect those of the PIDS.
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