What is behind the sharp fall in number of Filipino workers in the Middle East?
Although the Middle East has become second home to about 2.5 million skilled Filipino workers, a decline in their employment has been noted in the last two years.
After 10 years of continuous growth, the deployment of Filipino workers to the Middle East went down by 9 percent in 2017 and recruitment agencies predict another 8 percent fall for the year 2018.
Fall in remittances
The decrease in employment has been attributed to decline in oil prices and also to Philippine President Duterte’s policy of imposing a ban on household service workers to Kuwait. The decision was taken following a case in which the remains of a Filipino worker’s body were found inside the freezer of his employer by Kuwaiti government authorities in 2018. Furthermore, some Middle East governments have also been urging employers to hire locals to reduce unemployment in the region.
Last year, the fall in employment registered a 15 percent decline in remittances from Filipino workers in the Middle East. Remittances from Libya and Israel have fallen by as much as 73 percent and 61 percent respectively.
There are over 6 million Muslims in the Philippines and 2% of them are of Arab descent. Thus, the influence of Arab culture in the Philippines remains a binding force that continues to link the Philippines and countries in the Arab world and this has forced Filipino-Muslim workers to work in the Middle East.
Thus, with bleaker prospects for skilled Filipinos in the Middle East, these workers are now looking at other countries that are short of skilled professionals, like Japan and China.
In Japan, the country has already accepted 2,200 nurses and caregivers as part of the Japan-Philippine Economic Partnership Agreement to take care of Japan’s ageing population.
Moreover, Japan also announced that it is expected to have 50,000 new Filipino workers, following its new policy of calling in foreign workers in various industries for the next six years. A total of 50,000 vacancies will be on offer to skilled Filipinos who will work as nurses, farmers, construction workers, shipbuilders and professionals in the hospitality sector. These are also industries in the Middle East that employ most of Filipino workers.
Similarly, Chinese education sector also announced vacancies for 100,000 Filipino teachers to teach English in China. The Philippine government has already announced guidelines for interested Filipinos who want to apply as English teachers in China.
Philippine Labor Secretary Silvestro Bello has said that those interested to teach in China should be currently employed in private sector institutions of higher education, and must have their bachelor’s degree accredited by the Ministry of Education of the People’s Republic of China.
With this development, some private teachers have started showing interest to work in China because the salary on offer is around USD 1,200 monthly, which is three to four times more than the current salary of private teachers in the Philippines.
The Philippines is one of the world’s largest countries that sends its skilled workers around the world and has 10 million contract and off-shore workers. The offers from East Asian countries notwithstanding, Middle East today remains the second home for skilled Filipino workers.
But if Middle East policies on prioritizing locals for employment remain, and oil prices remain subdued, the next generation of skilled Filipinos may have to start looking at other countries for employment that and this will not make Middle East the dream work destination it once was for some skilled Filipino workers despite the strong historical and cultural ties between the Philippines and the Middle East.
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