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Pedestrians cross over the Pasig River in the City of Makati. The robust economy gets strong support from transfers of Filipinos working overseas estimated at $2 billion a month. (WORLD BANK PHOTO)

WB cites OFW support system as model for Asean countries

The country was cited for its support system for overseas workers as the World Bank said other Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) members can learn from the country’s experience as it called on easing restrictions on labor migration to boost workers’ welfare and accelerate regional economic integration.

“The highly-developed support system for migrant labor in the Philippines can serve as a model for other countries, however, the country should continue its focus on improving reintegration of returning migrants,” the WB report titled Migrating to Opportunity stated.

It cited the Philippines as good example of migration systems with “clearly defined institutional responsibilities”.

The report said several migrant-focused agencies are housed mostly within the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE).

Their roles and responsibilities are well defined, with  the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA) responsible mainly for managing migration and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) responsible mainly for protecting migrants.

The WB, however, urged the Philippines to continue evaluating and improving its migration management system, including oversight of recruitment agencies, programs for returned migrants, and data sharing and interoperability.

Meanwhile, the WB report also underscored the need to relax migration procedures across Asean region, as migration is expected to increase with the regional economic integration.

The Asean Economic Community, which was launched in 2015, aims to promote the free mobility of professionals and skilled workers within the region.

The report said barriers such as costly and lengthy recruitment processes, restrictive quotas on the number of foreign workers allowed in a country, and rigid employment policies constrain workers’ employment options and impact their welfare.

“No matter where workers wish to migrate in Asean, they face mobility costs several times the annual average wage. Improvements in the migration process can ease these costs on prospective migrants, and help countries respond better to their labor market needs,” WB Economist for the Social Protection and Jobs Global Practice Mauro Testaverde, the lead author of the report, said.

The report noted the impact of labor mobility on the region’s economies can be significant, as migration could provide individuals from lower-income countries with the opportunity to increase their incomes.

About $62 billion (P3.1 trillion) in remittances were sent to Asean countries in 2015. Remittances account for 10 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in the Philippines, seven percent in Vietnam, five percent in Myanmar, and three percent in Cambodia.

Testaverde further said better policies can lower the barriers to labor mobility, noting some of these include improving the governance of the migration system, reforming domestic policies, and balancing protection and economic development in the migration process.

Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III similarly hailed the signing of an Executive Order (EO) for the establishment of a bank specifically for Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs).

Malacanang released last week Executive Order 44, signed last Sept. 28, directing the Philippine Postal Corp (PhilPost) and the Bureau of the Treasury (BTr) to transfer their Postalbank shares to the Land Bank of the Philippines (Landbank) at zero value.

Dominguez said the Department of Finance (DoF) “moved quickly to help deliver on the President’s campaign promise to create a financial institution totally dedicated to catering to the needs of all overseas Filipinos.”

“This financial institution will be a subsidiary of Landbank, the govenrment-owned and -controlled bank with the most extensive branch network that will cater to the needs of the families of foreign-based Filipinos,” he added.

Establishment of an OFW-focused bank was first broached by the DoF as part of the government’s way to help alleviate lives of the more than nine million overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and their families.

LUIS LEONCIO

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