Our Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) are often described as Modern Day Heroes, especially in the Philippines. You can look at the sacrifice they put themselves through just to earn more money for their families and believe that they are, indeed, heroic. But what you don’t see are the struggles they face day in and day out, being so far away from home.
Also Read: 8 Reasons Why You Should NOT Work as an OFW
Much more, OFWs are deemed to be rich by their Filipinos just because they are living abroad. However, this is not the case and is definitely a common miscconception. According to the Migrant Rights, “migrants are among the poorest and most vulnerable in any society.” They leave their homes in search of a better future but end up working long hours for little pay, with no guarantee of job security. Many suffer from exploitation and abuse, including verbal and physical violence, sexual harassment, and non-payment of wages.
They miss the warmth of their loved ones, the comfort of their own beds, the taste of home-cooked meals. They toil in difficult working conditions, often putting their own safety at risk, just to earn a living. And when something bad happens, they have nowhere to turn to for help.
The Boom of OFW Migration and Remittances
On the other hand, you may also look at the OFWs’ impressive and significant contribution to the Philippine labor and economic growth. Since the government launched an overseas employment program in the 1970s, Filipino workers were introduced to the oil-rich but labor-short Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries and the uncharted Middle East, diversifying their prospects and protection abroad.
Now, over 10 million Filipinos—or about 10 percent of the population—work or live abroad, making the Philippines one of the top 5 economies in the world that benefit the most from remittances. We rank third, next only to India and China. In fact, in 2016, the country saw $26.9 billion in money transfers from these economic heroes. By 2018, the large, steady OFW remittances were no longer just the country’s lifeline, and they also accounted for 11% of the country’s total GDP.
Aside from the remittances, OFWs tend to splurge whenever they come and visit. From the balikbayan boxes filled with imported goods to the increased recreation and travel activities, OFWs try to make the most of every visit to their families. They unconsciously tend to spend money to compensate for the long absence, and these are seen and often envied by the OFW’s neighbors and peers. Among others, such behaviors make other people think that OFWs are rich.
The Truth about OFWs and their Finances
But what most of these people don’t realize is that many OFWs are just like the regular workers for hire. True, some currencies exchange higher than the stable Philippine peso, but the truth is their lifestyle in these countries is equally expensive. Thus, most OFWs are neck-deep in debt, suffering just to support their families and provide the imported goods that their relatives ask for. In truth, most OFWs are broke since they usually start their quest for greener pastures with debts.
So if you are one of those who believe that OFWs are rich, then think again after reading these couple of home truths about OFWs and their finances.
1. OFWs are not rich.
Think about it. Would you live and work so far from your families if you could earn the same amount closer to home? Probably not. It’s pretty much the same for all OFWs. They are having a hard time living and providing for their families while working close to home, so they move abroad. They are not rich because if they are, they’ll want to be close to their homes, either managing a business to support and provide for their families while enjoying their moments together. Instead, they are alone, working their bones off in a foreign land, sometimes despite maltreatment from their employers for about 5-10 years on average. Why? It’s really simple. It’s because they are not rich.
2. OFWs have multiple loans.
It’s true. When they apply and process their documents for the placement before they even go abroad, many OFWs are already saddled with debts. Some even go as far as pawning their lands or taking out OFW loans to have enough money to leave their family and pay for their own expenses while looking for a job and waiting for their contracts.
3. OFWs don’t earn a huge amount of money at work.
Contrary to popular belief, OFWs do not earn a lot. They make their agreed rate on a contract generally lower than the market rates abroad. The only difference is they earn their salary in the same currency used in the country where they’re at. Maybe it seems like they earn a huge amount compared to when they work in the country since their rates are in another currency. However, the cost of living is also in the same currency that they are being paid in. They don’t spend the same amount they do when they are at home. Considering this, it is safe to say that if many OFWs don’t work two to three part-time jobs, they probably won’t even have money left to send home to their families.
4. OFWs don’t shop for one day to fill their balikbayan boxes.
OFWs do send balikbayan boxes back to their families in the Philippines. Sure, it makes the family happy and the neighbors envious, but it takes so much more than a day of shopping before an OFW can fill a balikbayan box. Filling one up can take a few weeks or months at the very least, with the OFW scrimping on food and just about everything else to save money and send a “majestic” balikbayan box back home.
5. OFWs typically don’t have any savings.
Between paying multiple debts, providing for their family in the Philippines, paying for their living expenses, and filling the balikbayan box to send home, there is nothing much left to save, if at all. It’s no wonder OFWs who come back to the Philippines for good do not have much money left for investment and are forced to find work in the country.
6. OFWs aren’t millionaires when they go home.
It’s true. Many OFWs spend money like water whenever they come home for a short vacation. But, just because they spend a lot doesn’t mean they have a lot of money. You see most likely the leftover from a month or two’s worth of pay. In fact, some OFWs even take out loans just to have that “extra money” to spend and create happy memories with their families during their vacation.
7. OFWs always find it hard to go back abroad after a vacation.
You may think that it’s hard because they have to leave their families again after spending time together. But more than that, it’s hard because of the money. Most of the time, the OFWs spend all the money they set aside for their trip back to work abroad. It’s not surprising considering all those money-burning activities with their families (shopping, going to the beach, emergencies, etc.). Indeed, it isn’t so hard to imagine how almost all OFWs have nothing left after a month’s vacation, which leaves them no other alternative than to get an OFW loan.
8. OFWs don’t have a carefree life.
You may see a lot of OFWs posting pictures of their trips to different places abroad, but the truth is, not everything you see is real. It may sound bad right now, but it’s just the same as how they are here in the Philippines. They are mostly budget travelers, and it took them some time before they could save up for that trip. I won’t be surprised to know that they scrimped and saved up for months from what little was left of their paycheck so they could travel and somehow show the world to their families back home. It’s not being carefree, and they deserve it.
9. OFWs don’t live in big, luxurious houses.
When you see OFWs in big, air-conditioned homes with comfortable living rooms filled with grand appliances, do not immediately assume that they are living your dream life in the best house abroad. Sometimes, the truth is a little bit different. For some OFWs, that big, comfy house is shared with not less than 10 other people. Some even take roommates to help save money and keep themselves fed until their next pay. Others share food and other expenses.
10. The cars OFWs drive are on credit.
If you think that OFWs buy cars because they have so much money to spare, then let me tell you, you are sorely mistaken. The fact is, most of them didn’t have much choice in the matter. You can even say they were forced to get a car and take out car loans because it’s way more costly and tiresome to commute. Believe it or not, that car you’ve been eyeing is just another item on the list of debts they need to pay off monthly.
Honest Truth of OFW Life
So you see, you should be aware that OFWs are not rich. Suppose you are a relative or a friend of an OFW or even an aspiring OFW. In that case, you’d want to think whether it is worth their sacrifices before you splurge their hard-earned money on the latest gadget, appliances, and whatnots, considering that the OFW can afford it. Now that you know that he can’t, you’d probably try and just ask only for what is necessary.
If you are an OFW, learn to distinguish needs from wants and good loans versus bad loans. The rule of thumb is that it’s a good loan if it improves your life and your family (like it does during emergencies or in the case of investments).
On the flip side, it’s considered a bad loan if its purpose is to show off to your peers (like buying the latest mobile phones or jewelry). OFWs should also learn to protect themselves, so they don’t turn into human ATMs. Sure, you’re working to help your family, but remember, giving is not helping.
One last thing would be to make sure that you set aside some funds for saving. After all, no one can work forever.
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