Reintegration efforts to help returning OFWs

By Caroline J. Howard, ANC

Posted at Sep 14 2011 04:00 PM | Updated as of Sep 16 2011 03:10 AM

MANILA, Philippines - The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) remains unfazed by the Saudization policy restricting the hiring of foreign workers in the Kingdom.

The Saudi Arabian government has yet to come up with a matrix which would categorize about 3,000 companies in the Kingdom.
OFW reintegration
Speaking on ANC's "Headstart," POEA Administrator Carlos Cao Jr. says, while Saudi Arabia is not expected to implement the Saudization policy abruptly, the Aquino government is prepared to assist returning OFWs, who may avail of jobs or loan assistance thru the government's P2 billion OFW reintegration fund.
"While we are not duly alarmed, our government is prepared for this eventuality. That's why we have a massive reintegration program," Cao said.
Among the components of the program include local employment and opportunities for business. 
"Over the last year or so, we have generated 1.4 million jobs and the target is 1 million a year in the next five years," said Cao.
"By way of this P2 billion reintegration fund, they can  can apply for business loans ranging from P300,000 to P2 million for as long as they are willing to be guided by the Land Bank of the Philippines. This is collateral-free.  Interest is 7.5% per annum, but it must be guided so the business will be viable."
The program is also seen to help OFWs who may be affected by the deployment ban on OFWs to Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as repatriates who have returned home amid continued political unrest in Syria.
The POEA revisited the deployment ban after a security assessment by the Department of Foreign Affairs, and decided to partially lift it, excluding OFWs working in US military installations in Iraq and Afghanistan from the ban.
"Our OFWs in Iran and Afghanistan can now finish their contracts.  Even on site there can be an extension or renewal of their contracts, but the partial lifting is only good for US camps and facilities... I think we can trust the assessment made by the DFA here. Definitely, they're safer inside US installation facilities and camps," said Cao.
He added, "They did not pass thru the processing of the POEA so they could not go back there as 'Balik Manggagawa' but this time they can.  That's the good news there."  
Cao noted 2010 figures show there are some 7,000 undocumented workers in Afghanistan, while close to 90% of OFWs in Syria are undocumented.
Best repatriation
Amid conflict and disasters in the Middle East and Asia, Cao said the government's efforts to take OFWs out of harm's way have drawn praise.
"The Director General of the International Organization for Migration and the Deputy Director General said officially, repatriation efforts conducted by the government under President Aquino is one of the best repatriation efforts conducted by any country during a period of crisis-- 10,000 OFWs without a single casualty."
Today, Cao is confident in government's continued repatriation efforts.
"We have a new Ambassador to Syria in Ricardo Endaya whose expertise is in repatriation.  That's a signal the effort is gong to be serious, prudent and calibrated. But employers are demanding that they be refunded for recruitment fees... The key here is negotiation and that's being done my our rapid response teams."
Remittances up
Despite the various challenges abroad, including the ban on the deployment of domestic workers to Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, Cao adds, OFW remittances are still up... and rising. 
"From January to June 2011, total remittances reached $9.63 billion, a substantial increase of 6.3%."
"By God's grace and with the right direction of government, remittances have been continually increasing and we hope the projection of $20 billion can still be reached."
Today, Cao urges Filipinos to remain vigilant against illegal recruitment syndicates, especially amid reports Bangkok, Thailand is being used as a transit point for OFWs going to countries with existing deployment bans.
He also reminds Filipinos, who are looking for work abroad, to go through the proper processes and personally check with the POEA to ensure their jobs are secure and legitimate.
Still the demand for Filipino workers remains.
Cao says, close to 5,748 jobs await Filipino nurses in Saudi Arabia despite the impending implementation of the Saudization policy.  This is the balance left from 9,589 job orders minus 4,911 filled slots. 
Meanwhile, Japan is said to be seeking 500 Filipino nurses and caregivers under the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement.
According to the Budget Department, the government itself has tens of thousands of job openings with plans to recruit new nurses and teachers, among others.