Protecting Overseas Workers: Lessons and Cautions from the Philippines
This report investigates how migrant-sending countries can protect their migrant workers abroad by examining the policies, functions, and challenges of the Philippine government’s mechanism for providing welfare services to its temporary overseas workers—the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA). The report provides an overview of the Philippines’ deliberate policy of labor export and the emigration trends of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) since the mid-1970s and outlines the purpose and organizational structure of OWWA, a membership-driven welfare fund that stations Philippine government agents at regional offices abroad in order to provide services and benefits to OFWs, for whom OWWA membership is a mandatory requirement for going abroad through official channels.
The report identifies striking the right balance between achieving financial stability and maximizing services to beneficiaries as OWWA’s main challenge. While OFW membership fees comprise the bulk of OWWA’s income, the agency directs over half of its annual budget to operational costs; meanwhile, conservative fund allotment for welfare services ranging from repatriation assistance to life and disability insurance to loan and scholarship programs limits the agency’s capacity to deliver benefits on a meaningful scale. The report finds significant delivery gaps in OWWA’s secondary services—pre-departure and post-return benefits extended to OFWs.
To avoid such pitfalls, authors offer the following recommendations for governments seeking to emulate the Philippine model: create meaningful partnerships with private and public institutions to augment the state’s capacity to deliver services, implement avenues for involving migrants as fund stakeholders, ensure operational transparency and efficiency, and elicit the support of destination countries through bilateral or regional agreements.