Overseas Filipino Workers
OFWs in Brunei
Total population
2.3 million[1][2] (2019)
Regions with significant populations
 Saudi Arabia494,000
 United Arab Emirates291,000
 Hong Kong165,000
Filipino (national), English (co-official)
Philippine languages, Arabic
Christianity (majority), Islam
Related ethnic groups
Filipinos (Overseas Filipinos)

Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW) is a term often used to refer to Filipino migrant workers, people with Filipino citizenship who reside in another country for a limited period of employment.[3] The number of these workers was roughly 1.77 million between April and September 2020. Of these, female workers comprised a larger portion, making up 59.6 percent, or 1.06 million. However, this number declined to 405.62 thousand between 2019 and 2020.[4]

OFW money remittances to relatives in the Philippines are a major contributor to the Philippine economy, reaching a total of P1.9 trillion in 2022, which represented some 8.9% of the Philippines' Gross Domestic Product.[3]


The term "Overseas Filipino Worker" (OFW) was used as early as the 1990s to refer to Filipino migrant workers, when Republic Act 8042, also known as the Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995 was enacted. The term was officially adopted by the Philippine government when the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) adopted the 2002 POEA Rules and Regulations Governing the Recruitment and Employment of Land-based Overseas Workers. Historically, particularly during the administration of President Ferdinand Marcos, the term "Overseas Contract Worker" (OCW) was used.[5]

For statistical and probability purposes, the term "Overseas Contract Worker" refers to OFWs with an active employment contract, while OFWs who are not OCWs are migrant workers currently without a contract who had one within a given period of time.[4]


Early 1900s

Filipino migrant workers were working outside the Philippine islands as early as the 1900s, when Filipino agricultural workers were deployed to Hawaii to satisfy temporary labor needs in the then-U.S. territory's agricultural sector. Filipino workers then went on to the Mainland United States to work in hotels, restaurants, and sawmills, as well as getting involved in railroad construction. They also worked in plantations in California and the canning industry of the then-American territory of Alaska. Some Filipinos also served in the U.S. Army during World War II.[5]

After World War II

Following the end of World War II, some Filipinos who served in the U.S. Army became American citizens. The United States also saw increased immigration of Filipino medical professionals, accountants, engineers, and other technical workers after the war. From the 1950s to the 1960s, non-professional contract workers began migrating to other Asian countries; artists, barbers, and musicians worked in East Asia, and loggers worked in Kalimantan, the Indonesian portion of the island of Borneo.[5]

Start of systemic migration

According to the Philippine Department of Labor and Employment, "active and systemic migration"[5] of Filipinos for temporary employment began by the 1960s, when the United States government, contractors of the US Armed Forces, and civilian agencies began recruiting Filipinos to work in jobs in the construction and service sector.[5] This was encouraged by the passage in the US of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which ended national immigration quotas and provided an unlimited number of visas for family reunification.[6] Filipinos also worked in select areas in the Pacific and Southeast Asia, namely Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, and the US territories of Guam and Wake Island.[5]

Overseas employment first became the subject of Philippine government policy in the early 1970s, in response to a series of crises brought about by heavy government spending linked to Ferdinand Marcos' 1969 campaign for his second presidential term.[7][8][9] Beginning with the 1969 Philippine balance of payments crisis, these resulted in a spike in unemployment, an urgent need for foreign exchange to resolve the country's balance of payments, and a period of social unrest that kicked off with what is now known as the First Quarter Storm.[10] More Filipino medical workers began to search for work in Australia, Canada, and the United States. This compelled the Marcos administration to create a short-term labor policy that included overseas employment.[5]

In 1974—two years after Marcos' proclamation of martial law—the Philippine government came up with the Labor Code of the Philippines (Presidential Decree 442, series 1974), which included Filipino migrant workers in its scope. The decree formally established a recruitment and placement program "to ensure the careful selection of Filipino workers for the overseas labor market to protect the good name of the Philippines abroad". Three government agencies were created to tend to the needs of Filipino migrant workers: the National Seamen Board, Overseas Employment Development Board, and the Bureau of Employment Services, which were later merged in 1978 to create the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration.[5]

The Marcos administration continued to expand the policy, since it served a double function: it helped relieve economic pressure by bringing in dollar revenues, and it also relieved social pressure, because many of the highly educated young people who formed the bulk of Marcos' political critics left the country to find work.[10]

Soon, construction workers and engineers also began to be recruited by multinational companies in oil-rich nations in the Middle East, which were then experiencing an economic boom.[5]

Post–People Power Revolution

After Ferdinand Marcos was removed from office following the People Power Revolution of February 1986, his successor Corazon Aquino issued Executive Order No. 126, which renamed the Welfare Fund as the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA). In 1995, the Republic Act 8042, or Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act, became law.[5]

700,000 of the world's mariners come from the Philippines, being the world's largest origin of seafarers;[11] In 2018, Filipino seafarers sent home the equivalent of US$6.14 billion.[12]

Then-President Rodrigo Duterte announced that in 2021, the Philippines would limit the annual number of health professionals (including nurses) it sends abroad to 5,000, from about 13,000 that currently leave every year.[13]

Magna Carta of Filipino seafarers

Department of Foreign Affairs undersecretary Eduardo De Vega has put forward the so-called "Magna Carta for Seafarers", a bill that was to be signed by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. in February 2024 but was put on hold for review. Senate Bill No. 2221, "An Act Providing for the Magna Carta of Filipino Seafarers" (and the House of Representatives' version, House Bill 7325, approved on March 6, 2024) "seeks to provide seafarers with the right to humane working conditions and just compensation by ensuring that recruitment agencies provide them with adequate information about onboard conditions and laws that apply to Filipino seafarers; it also aims to address the lack of domestic laws vis-à-vis the country's compliance with international maritime standards, as well as the seafarers' rights and welfare."[14]

Government policy

Official sample of an Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW) ID card

The Philippine government has stated officially for decades that it doesn't maintain a labor export policy, and has continued to claim so as of 2012.


During the presidency of Ferdinand Marcos, three government agencies were created to tend to the needs of Filipino migrant workers, namely:[5]

  1. National Seamen Board (NSB) : To "develop and maintain a comprehensive program for Filipino seamen employed overseas".
  2. Overseas Employment Development Board (OEDB) – To "promote the overseas employment of Filipino workers through a comprehensive market and development program".
  3. Bureau of Employment Services (BES) – responsible for the regulation of "private sector participation in the recruitment of (local and overseas) workers".

In 1982, these three agencies were consolidated to create the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), which later became an attached agency to the Department of Labor and Employment.[5] On December 30, 2021, then-President Duterte signed into law the "Department of Migrant Workers Act" (Republic Act 11641), which consolidates all OFW-related services into one department.[15] The new Department of Migrant Workers is slated to be operational by 2023.[16]


The Migrante Partylist has cited two reasons that the Philippine government created a more systemic labor export policy during the administration of Ferdinand Marcos: To quell dissent brought about by massive domestic unemployment and the political crisis, and to consolidate foreign exchange from remittances.[5]


The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) was a government agency tasked with supervising labor recruitment agencies in the Philippines. Recruitment and deployment agencies are mandated by the POEA to monitor the situation of Overseas Filipino Workers, including if they are with their supposed employers and if employers provide assistance to the Filipino worker in case of emergency.[17]


Remittances sent by Overseas Filipino Workers to the Philippines from abroad are not themselves subject to taxation by the Philippine government, which has no jurisdiction over foreign remittance. However, a value-added tax is imposed on transfer fees charged by the remittance companies.[18] Under Presidential Decree No. 1183 and Republic Act No.8042, or the Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipino Act of 1995, Overseas Filipino Workers are exempt from travel tax and airport terminal fees when traveling out of the Philippines from within the country.[19]

Female overseas Filipino workers

Despite many Filipina migrant workers having received higher education and working as skilled nurses,[20] 58 out of 100 overseas Filipino women workers are categorized as laborers and unskilled workers compared to 13 out of 100 overseas Filipino male workers in a 2007 survey.[21] Filipino women often fill "the demand for unskilled, low-paid domestic work in high-income countries".[20] They are encouraged to take these overseas jobs due to high unemployment rates in the Philippines and the economy benefiting from remittances.[22][23]

Medical concerns

A study conducted by Veronica Ramirez of the Center for Research and Communication has found that because they are afraid of losing employment and since most clinics are closed on Sundays, which is the typical OFW's day off, a majority of female OFWs find it difficult to obtain medical treatment, resorting to self-medication instead.[24]

Mental health concerns

Despite financial benefits from working overseas, separation from family and cultural ties have proved detrimental to the health of Filipino migrant workers.[25] Many Filipino women working abroad have experienced worsening mental health, reporting symptoms of depression from a loss of belonging, loneliness, and guilt.[20]

Unsafe workplaces and abuse are another big problem, with "more than 40% of labour Filipino migrants in the USA report[ing] high levels of workplace discrimination".[20] Filipino women are often associated with stereotypes such as being mail-order brides and having submissive attributes, which further adds to their discrimination in and out of the workplace.[26]

Impact on governance

Empirical research has demonstrated that Filipino migrants and the remittances they send back to families are correlated with better governance. Exposure to the democratic politics and efficient bureaucracies in host countries allows migrants to use their remittances to urge relatives back home to demand better governance, at least in the context of enhancing the efficient provision of public goods at the provincial level.[27]


See also: List of deployment bans on Overseas Filipino Workers

Overseas Filipino Workers can only be legally deployed to countries certified by the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs to be compliant with Republic Act 10022, also known as the Amended Migrant Workers Act.[28]

See also


  1. ^ "Total Number of OFWs Estimated at 2.2 Million". Philippine Statistics Authority. June 4, 2020. Retrieved February 19, 2022.
  2. ^ "Table 3: Distribution of Overseas Filipino Workers by Region of Origin and Place of Work Abroad: 2019". Philippine Statistics Authority. Retrieved February 19, 2022.
  3. ^ a b Villegas, Bernardo M. (August 1, 2023). "OFWs as a permanent phenomenon". Business World. Archived from the original on August 2, 2023. Retrieved May 2, 2024.
  4. ^ a b "2017 Survey on Overseas Filipinos (Results from the 2017 Survey on Overseas Filipinos)". May 18, 2018. Retrieved May 28, 2018.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Medina, Andrei; Pulumbarit, Veronica (September 21, 2012). "How Martial Law helped create the OFW phenomenon". GMA News. Retrieved May 16, 2018.
  6. ^ Yo, Jackson (2006). Encyclopedia of multicultural psychology. SAGE. p. 216. ISBN 978-1-4129-0948-8. Retrieved September 27, 2009.
  7. ^ Balbosa, Joven Zamoras (1992). "IMF Stabilization Program and Economic Growth: The Case of the Philippines" (PDF). Journal of Philippine Development. XIX (35). Archived from the original (PDF) on September 21, 2021. Retrieved July 2, 2021.
  8. ^ Cororaton, Cesar B. "Exchange Rate Movements in the Philippines". DPIDS Discussion Paper Series 97-05: 3, 19.
  9. ^ Diola, Camille. "Debt, deprivation and spoils of dictatorship | 31 years of amnesia". The Philippine Star. Archived from the original on June 26, 2017. Retrieved May 2, 2018.
  10. ^ a b Maca, Mark; Maca, Mark (2018). "Education in the 'New Society' and the Philippine Labour Export Policy (1972–1986)". Journal of International and Comparative Education. 7 (1): 1–16. doi:10.14425/jice.2018.7.1.1.
  11. ^ VVP (January 19, 2013). "Pinoy seafarers' concerns taken up with US Coast Guard head". GMA News. Retrieved January 24, 2013.
  12. ^ "Filipino seafarers send home a record amount of $6.14 Billion in 2018". Crew Center. Drupal. March 3, 2019. Retrieved March 14, 2019.
  13. ^ "World's Supplier of Nurses to Limit Sending New Hires Abroad". BloombergQuint. Retrieved November 23, 2020.
  14. ^ Cabato, Luisa (March 12, 2024). "De Vega on Magna Carta for Seafarers bill: 'I hope it passes right away'". Philippine Daily Inquirer. Retrieved March 12, 2024.
  15. ^ "Duterte signs law creating Department of Migrant Workers". Philippine News Agency. December 30, 2021. Retrieved February 21, 2022.
  16. ^ "Department of Migrant Workers may start by 2023: POEA". Philippine News Agency. January 13, 2022. Retrieved February 21, 2022.
  17. ^ Macasero, Ryan (August 13, 2015). "'Recruiter's responsibility doesn't end after deployment' – POEA". Rappler. Retrieved May 14, 2018.
  18. ^ "OFW remittances not covered by tax reform". Department of Finance (Philippines). June 21, 2017. Retrieved May 14, 2018.
  19. ^ "Bello reminds airlines of travel tax, terminal fee exemption for OFWs". ABS-CBN News. March 3, 2017. Retrieved May 14, 2018.
  20. ^ a b c d Straiton, Melanie L.; Ledesma, Heloise Marie L.; Donnelly, Tam T. (2017). "A qualitative study of Filipina immigrants' stress, distress and coping: The impact of their multiple, transnational roles as women". BMC Women's Health. 17 (1): 72. doi:10.1186/s12905-017-0429-4. PMC 5584031. PMID 28870195.
  21. ^ Philippine Statistics Authority. "Overseas Filipino Women". National Statistics Office. Manila, Philippines, June 11, 2009, psa.gov.ph/content/overseas-filipino-women.
  22. ^ UN Women. "Filipino Women Migrant Workers". Fact Sheet. New York, United States. N.d. Web.
  23. ^ O'Neil, Kevin. “Labor Export as Government Policy: The Case of the Philippines.” Migration Policy Institute, March 2, 2017, www.migrationpolicy.org/article/labor-export-government-policy-case-philippines.
  24. ^ ""A significant number of women OFWs in Asia eschew health treatments when they are ill" – Ramirez Study of Women OFWs' common health problems". CRC – Center for Research and Communication. October 19, 2021. Retrieved December 2, 2022.
  25. ^ Grandea, Nona; Kerr, Joanna (1998). "'Frustrated and Displaced': Filipina Domestic Workers in Canada". Gender and Development. 6 (1): 7–12. doi:10.1080/741922629. JSTOR 4030329.
  26. ^ Limpangog, Cirila P. (2013). "Racialised and Gendered Workplace Discrimination: The Case of Skilled Filipina Immigrants in Melbourne, Australia". Journal of Workplace Rights. 17 (2): 191–218. doi:10.2190/wr.17.2.e.
  27. ^ Tusalem, Rollin F. (2018). "Do migrant remittances improve the quality of government? Evidence from the Philippines". Asian Journal of Comparative Politics. 3 (4): 336–366. doi:10.1177/2057891118757694. S2CID 158531389.
  28. ^ Medenilla, Samuel (January 1, 2018). "POEA lists 24 countries off-limits to OFWs". Manila Bulletin. Retrieved May 14, 2018.