Due to travel restrictions and strict health protocols, the overseas employment industry continues to grapple with the impact brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.
For the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), the challenges brought about by the COVID-19 have severely affected the overseas employment industry in the country this year.
However, with the initiatives and interventions of the government, Filipinos who wish to find employment overseas even amid the pandemic continue to get assistance from the government.
Deployment of OFWs
POEA Administrator Bernard Olalia said that the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly affected overseas employment industry.
Due to the community restrictions brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, Olalia said that there was a slowdown in deployment of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs). This slowdown has shrunk the operations of several private recruitment agencies, prompting them to suspend their operations temporarily.
Olalia noted that OFW deployment has dropped by over 60 percent this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. POEA tallied an average of 62.5 percent decrease in deployment particularly for land-based and sea-based OFWs.
“For land-based, there is more than 70 percent decline in our deployment data and for sea-based, we also saw more than 55 percent drop in the data for 2020 compared to 2019,” Olalia said.
Olalia noted that the deployment for both land at sea-based were “adversely affected,” and that thousands of OFWs have lost their jobs after businesses were forced to close down due to the health crisis.
This slowdown in deployment, Olalia said, has led to temporary closure of some recruitment agencies. As of Dec. 18, POEA noted that at least 13 main branches of land-based private recruitment agencies have temporarily suspended their operations. In addition, a total of 68 branches of those affected licensed recruitment agencies also submitted notices of temporary closure amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
To help struggling recruitment agencies, Olalia said that the POEA allowed them to withdraw part of their escrow deposit, under certain conditions, to give them respite from financial burdens and constraints in their operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Demand for healthcare workers
While there is a slowdown in deployment of OFWs in other sectors, Olalia noted that the demand for healthcare workers (HCWs) remains high. “It was so high that we even had to impose a temporary suspension of deployment of healthcare workers so that we can still respond to the needs of our own healthcare system,” he noted.
In April, POEA imposed a temporary suspension of deployment of HCWs to ensure that there will be enough manpower in the country. However, POEA partially lifted the deployment ban in November for HWCs and has set a 5,000-cap per year on deployment.
At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, POEA has been monitoring the status of OFWs in other countries. It has been providing assistance to those who need help while working with their respective agencies to ensure the workers’ safety.
In the previous months, the POEA has been regularly assessing and monitoring the OFWs abroad through the release of appropriate labor advisories as well as the health and safety protocols of each country.
The POEA has also issued interim guidelines on the deployment and repatriation of OFWs to further ensure their protection and benefits during the national state emergency brought by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Aside from the adjustments in deployment of OFWs, Olalia noted that one of the biggest challenges this year is the proliferation of online scams.
During the lockdown period, the POEA observed that there were “increased reports of illegal online schemes” which include employment scam, phishing, identity theft, and cyber cloning.
Due to mobility restrictions in the time of COVID-19 community quarantine, POEA said that many Filipino job seekers rely on online information.
“Unscrupulous persons may have taken advantage of peoples’ heightened online presence during the quarantine period by targeting unsuspecting jobseekers and licensed recruitment agencies,” POEA said. Thus, jobseekers are constantly advised to exercise extreme caution in dealing with online job advertisements.
Anti-illegal recruitment campaign
To help those who fell victim to these scams, Olalia said that the POEA has intensified its anti-illegal recruitment campaign through the online legal assistance program.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, clients personally go to the POEA office in Ortigas, Mandaluyong City to seek legal advice and counseling on a range of overseas employment issues. With the imposition of the quarantine, POEA continued to offer its legal assistance service with the re-launch of the POEA Legal Assistance Online platform and via e-mail.
Likewise, Olalia noted that POEA has launched an online jobs fair in line with its efforts to prevent illegal recruitment of OFWs as well as a response to the ongoing COVID-19 situation in the country.
POEA also established a “Green Lane” specifically for seafarers to help them in processing their requirements for deployment. Olalia noted that POEA will also review the 5,000-cap for HCWs by next year to assess if this can be “flexible” to increase the ceiling since the demand for healthcare workers in many destination countries remains high.
Olalia assured that the POEA will continue its efforts to assist OFWs, particularly those who need repatriation , as well as those who want to seek jobs abroad especially during these trying times.