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Think tank probes issues on OFW migration to UAE

By Jun Burgos/INQUIRER.net

MANILA, Philippines—A probing study on Philippine labor migration to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) was recently released by the Migration Policy Institute (MPI), an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank based in Washington DC, analyzing the movement of people worldwide.

Entitled “Migration’s Middlemen: Regulating Recruitment Agencies in the Philippines-United Arab Emirates Corridor,” it is authored by Ms. Dovelyn Rannveig Agunias, MPI Policy Analyst focusing on temporary and circular migration and diaspora policy.

The study was informed by 44 in-depth interviews with officials from the UAE and Philippine governments, recruitment agencies, and non-government organizations as well as with employers, and including focus group discussions with 86 Filipino migrant workers themselves.

It examined private recruitment agencies’ practices as well as their regulation by the Philippine and UAE governments, and notes room for significant improvement in this aspect.

The study utilized Philippine government data, which showed, among others, that there were some 600,000 Filipino workers in the UAE as of 2008 consisting of domestic workers, receptionists, and engineers, among others, making up nearly 12 percent of the population there, and with an annual OFW inflow of 200,000.

The author acknowledged that private recruitment agencies manage much of the flow of Filipino workers to the UAE, which is the third largest destination for Filipino migrants after the United States and Saudi Arabia, but noted that the costs of the services of these agencies for migrant labor deployment sometimes outweigh benefits for the workers due to the exorbitant fees they collect and even their violation of the rights of the workers they deploy.

According to the MPI report, “While the recruitment agencies, which are located in the Philippines and the United Arab Emirates, provide critical services such as logistical support and information about visa policies and living and working conditions, some abuse their clients by charging exorbitant fees or violating basic human rights.”

It added, “While the two governments have regulated recruitment agencies’ operations for nearly three decades, there is a policy mismatch between the two regulatory systems that, coupled with difficulties in enforcing regulations, has led to inadequate protections for migrant workers as well as a continuing flow of unauthorized workers.”

The MPI said this resulted in a three-tier labor migration system such as:

* A documented and organized labor migration based on written contracts following strict regulatory guidelines of both countries;

* A labor flow based on shifting arrangements that typically result in a lower wage, a different job, and reduced benefits compared to those originally promised to migrant workers by recruiters; and,

* An unregulated, unauthorized flow of workers who bypass the recruitment system altogether and migrate to the United Arab Emirates with a visitor visa.

The report further said, “While both countries are considering more stringent regulations for recruitment agencies, both governments must first commit to fully funding and creating capable and effective institutions to jointly harmonize, enforce, and closely monitor the impact of current and new regulations. Otherwise, regulatory changes could open the door to unintended effects, including increasing abuse and corruption and making illegal channels more attractive for prospective migrants.”

“The findings of this study are relevant beyond the Philippines-UAE corridor. They serve as a vital point of reference for other countries in the Middle East and elsewhere as they attempt to balance the need to create a flexible and dynamic labor migration system with the obligation to protect workers’ welfare in an increasingly transnational and interconnected global economy,” the report concluded.

Indeed, the recruitment industry is generally credited for its major contribution in matching millions of Filipinos to jobs in the UAE and many other countries. The industry’s feat, undeniably, likewise contributes to the economic stability of our country as well as to that of the OFW destination countries including providing for the latter’s labor demand.

But this recruitment industry, understandably the one principally benefiting from OFW migration, should likewise attend to and ensure, alongside its economic interests, the welfare and development of the workers they deploy. After all, a just and equitable sharing of the economic benefits of the migration industry it services would promote more gains for all stakeholders.

Surely, our government, for its part, would find very relevant insights from this MPI study to enable it to undertake necessary measures to improve the procedures, regulations and the overall policy on OFW migration.

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