Why most OFWs refuse to come home

Prances Jera Fernandes, a nine-year-old student, goes to a good school and receives teddy bear, stuffed toys and pillows from her parents.  Despite getting the kind of gifts she wants, Prances says she sometimes feels unloved.

Most of the time, Prances misses her parents.  “My mom is a flight attendant. I’m very happy for her because she is traveling. My father also works abroad,” she says.

Prances, in a video interview staged by Philam Life, reveals her true feelings toward her parents.  “I am very sad because I cannot see my mother everyday. Sometimes, I feel that she doesn’t love me, but she said she loves me,” she says.

Philam Life director for agencies  Christopher Cary Casipit (left) and chief marketing officer Jaime Jose Javier Jr. introduce the BalikBayani program to journalists in a news briefing in Makati City.
On what she desires most, Prances says: “I wish that my dad could find good work here in the Philippines, and same for my mother.”

Her father, Leopoldo Fernandez, is an architect who has been working in Singapore for 20 years while her mother Arlene has been a flight attendant for 25 years.

Leopoldo, in an interview arranged by Philam Life in Makati City while he is in the country, says he started working in Singapore, right after graduating from college.  “The opportunities were there, to find a living and provide our kids a better life,” he says.

Richard Duque, a cruise ship bartender for 10 years, says he decided to leave the country to provide his children with “the things I never had when I was young.”

“Here in the Philippines, a food server or a bartender’s salary is not enough.  Even if I want to go home and work here, I can’t afford to,” he says.

Duque’s 11-year-old son Kian says he is most happy when his family is complete.  “I wish that my father could stay here with us, so we are always complete,” Kian says.

Marivic Cortez, a single mother and a cabin steward for five years, says she decided to try her luck abroad, because “my wage here is not enough to raise my two children.”

Her 11-year-old son Timothy James remembers the time he was at the airport.  “She was excited to work abroad.  She was jubilant. I wish that my mom was truly happy because she got a job,” Timothy James says. “When she entered the airport, I cried. I felt sad, very sad.  I am happy when my mother comes home. I’m happy whenever she is here in the Philippines. I wish she was working here in the Philippines, so she would not need to go far away,” Timothy James says.

Leopoldo, Arlene, Richard and Marivic are just four among more than 10 million overseas Filipinos who have been separated from their children and families, in search of better income and opportunities in other countries.  Like most OFWs, they are not ready to stay home yet.

Nearly 10.2 million Filipinos, or about a tenth of the country’s total population, live or work in other parts of the world.  In 2014, they remitted more than $24 billion to the Philippines, supporting their families and the whole economy.

Nearly 60 percent of them are migrants, especially in the United States and Canada, while 4.2 million or 40 percent are considered OFWs. Of the 4.2 million OFWs, 2.2 million were deployed in 2013, with 1.2 million or 54 percent considered rehires or repeat OFWs.

An OFW research study conducted by Philam Life shows that eight of 10 OFWs are not yet ready to come back permanently to the Philippines.

“We asked them if they are ready to come home? This is the result.  Eight out of 10 said no, not yet. Only 18 percent actually said yes. The ones who said yes said it is better to be with their family because they already have a business or they have enough savings. But the majority or 82 percent said they don’t have enough savings and their kids are still studying,” Philam Life chief marketing officer Jaime Jose Javier Jr. says in a news briefing in Makati City.

Philam Life tapped Taylor Nelson Sofres or TNS,  a market research company, to conduct the nationwide study on OFWs in April 2015.  The respondents, with a mean age of 37, were mostly on a two-year contract with an average tenure of 6.5 years working abroad and earning an average of P50,000 a month.

“We have millions of Filipinos out there who were not yet ready to come home.  If they come home, they said they would use up whatever savings they have. They are looking at scenario of their children and spouse going to work. That is their situation currently, if they are going to come home now. The bottomline, they were saying they would stay abroad,” says Javier.

Javier says OFWs are very worried and fearful of a lot of things.  “These include getting sick, fear of losing their jobs, non-renewal of the contract or having a calamity in the Philippines where their families are. About 54 percent are afraid of getting sick, for themselves and their family,” he says.

He says most OFWs actually save for emergency, retirement, kids’ education and to buy a house. “A big bulk of them save for emergency,” he says.

Javier says the OFW respondents, with average monthly income of P50,000, are saving at a rate of P13,800 a month. “Of the P50,000 a month, they remit half of that to their family.  They retain the other half. If you take a look at total savings, about P13,800 a month is saved,” he says.

The respondents were asked how much they need to save that will enable them to come home.  “On the average, they said if I am able to save P3 million, I will go home,” says Javier.

Javier says at the way they are saving money, mostly in banks, it will take them 18 years, to save up P3 million.  “It is just a projection, with no inflation, no interest yet.  It is a straightforward calculation of how many months it will take.  This is on top of six years they have been out of the country,” he says.

Javier says the results of the survey show that most OFWs are quite knowledgeable about financial instruments, but do not invest in those financial instruments.  “They know it, but they don’t avail of it.  About 97 percent of them have bank savings account.  They are saving at a rate of 15 percent of their income, above the average savings of Filipinos onshore at only 2 percent,” says Javier.

Javier says while most OFWs view properties, jewelry and cars as investments, these assets will have to be liquidated usually at a loss in times of emergencies.  He advises OFWs to explore other investment instruments to address their needs and concerns.

Javier says Philam Life understands the needs of OFWs and can help them plan their future.  “If they are able to save at a rate of P13,800 a month, they can actually do a lot. They can create a fund, whether it is for their retirement, for buying a house or for capital for a business. It will take them shorter than 18 years to achieve that,” he says.

“We have committed to provide solutions, plans to help our OFWs achieve their dreams and their goals,” Javier says.

Philam Life director of agencies Christopher Cary Casipit says Philam Life advisors are “going around nationwide, in key cities and even remote areas, to bring the BalikBayani program to OFWs and their families.”

Casipit says BalikBayani is a financial literacy program designed to help OFWs secure their financial future. “Our advocacy is to educate OFWs and their families on financial planning to ensure their sacrifices of working abroad will not go to waste,” he says.

Javier says Philam Life can help OFWs plan their future with their families.  “They are out there, they are alone, they know that they left their family behind.  Anything can happen to them and their family. So, a lot of times, they are worried.  What we want to do is give them a product so that they can have peace of mind.  So whatever happens, their family is secure.  The real desire of an OFW is to come home, as soon as he can,” he says. 

Topics: OFW , Philam Life
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