Philippines: ADB sees remittances, worker deployment back to pre-pandemic levels

MANILA, Philippines — Remittance inflows to developing Asian countries from overseas workers are expected to continue to grow this year, while deployment of migrant workers from the region disrupted by restrictions imposed due to COVID-19 is expected to return to pre-pandemic levels amid the resumption of economic activities, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) said.

In its report titled “COVID-19 and the Deployment of Labor Migrants from Asia: Lessons Learned and Ways Forward,” the ADB said remittances in many developing countries in Asia have remained resilient despite the pandemic, which made cross-border travel difficult and slowed down economic activities, affecting the opportunities for overseas work.

“In 2021, the aggregate remittance inflows to the region increased by 2.6 percent, exceeding the 2019 level with prospect for another growth streak in 2022,” ADB said.

Based on available data for this year, the ADB said some of Asia’s large migrant-sending countries reflect the sustained buoyant pre-pandemic trend.

In the Philippines, monthly remittances for 2022 so far, have been consistently posting year-on-year growth.

Latest available data from the Bangko Sentral ng Piilipinas showed remittances sent by overseas Filipino workers to their families reached $3.02 billion in August, up by 4.4 percent from the $2.89 billion in the same month last year.

The ADB said the deployment of migrant workers from Asia has picked up pace this year and is expected to recover to pre-pandemic levels.

It said the upward trends are seen in the deployment of migrant workers from the Philippines, as well as Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

Citing a survey it conducted with government representatives from nine major migrant-origin countries in South Asia and Southeast Asia, including the Philippines, the ADB said the deployment of overseas workers this year would either be the same or exceed the pre-COVID-19 situation in 2019.

Many survey respondents cited testing, greater access to vaccines, and easing of quarantine protocols as factors that would drive labor migration and increased interest to work abroad.

“Positive developments are already underway that could facilitate further deployment of migrant workers. The rapid vaccine rollout and easing of mobility restrictions and border controls have boosted economic activities in many parts of the world,” ADB said.

According to the survey, countries expected to have higher demand for workers include the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Thailand, and the United Arab Emirates for the services sector, as well as Japan and South Korea for caregiving.

In 2020, deployment of migrant workers from Asian countries dropped by more than 50 percent and many overseas workers had to return to their home countries as the COVID-19 pandemic forced governments to close their borders and impose restrictions, and the economic downturn led to job cuts and reduced working hours.

“While the deployment trend and the positive outlook seemingly indicate a return to normalcy, it is important to note that the pandemic has exposed socioeconomic vulnerabilities of migrant workers, including their limited access to health and social services and protection. This experience should not be repeated,” ADB said.

For better deployment of workers in the post-pandemic era, among the ADB’s recommendations is to have employment contracts indicate the initial costs of migration will be covered by the employers, and include related emergency clauses clearly stipulating that employers and/or the countries of origin and destinations will coordinate to cover such costs.

It also said online services in overseas employment administration need to be monitored and reviewed to make sure these achieve the intended objective and complement face-to-face services.

To strengthen the cooperation between the origin and destination countries, the ADB also recommends having provisions for pandemic and other disasters that define the responsibilities of host or origin countries, intermediaries, and migrant workers in bilateral and regional labor agreements.