Preparing for Return - Blueboard by Maria Elissa J. Lao
The last stage (after departure and the “on site” period) of the labor migration cycle is return and reintegration. While much of the focus has been on the governing and politics of leaving the country to work and live abroad, it is heartening to note that in the past few years, there has been a growing discourse on return and reintegration as well.
There are a number of government agencies that focus on the process of return and reintegration. These include: (most notably) the National Reintegration Center for OFWs (NRCO) of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), the Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO), and Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA). There are also inter-agency efforts at improving return, reintegration and case management.
Outgoing Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz has outlined not only entrepreneurial loans and grants but also employment opportunities from the private and public sector with DOLE “at the concluding stages of the development of its Human Resource Development Roadmap, a joint initiative with the International Labor Organization. The HRD Roadmapping initiative involves consultation with twenty-one (21) sectors across the three (3) major industry groups—agriculture, services, and industry—to determine labor supply and demand information and identify strategies for HRD competitiveness.”
In terms of reach, NRCO's Livelihood Development Assistance Program which, according to their website, has 15,000 beneficiaries. According to the DOLE, 2013 saw the NCRO's enterprise development program being able to reach out to 3,397 OFWs that were been granted a total of Php 39 Million worth of loans.
Aside from this, there are local governments that extend additional assistance to returning OFWs, particularly if there are groups returning from conflict or crisis areas. It is in fact in this area that there seems to be a lot of innovation ongoing.
However, these numbers are small compared to the potential market of returning OFWs. Further, definitively tracking these returning OFWs may prove to be difficult as statistics regarding return migration are not available. According to a paper published by the IOM in 2013:
"Unlike outbound flows of labor migration which require departing OFWs to pass through government procedures, there is no such requirement for returning migrants, and thus, this inflow has eluded recording by government agencies. Apart from OFWs, there could also be some return migration of permanent migrants. For years, there had been some discussion of estimating return migration through the conduct of a special survey or the analysis of arrival/departure cards. Knowing the scale of return migration and the profile of return migrants is germane to the formulation of a sound reintegration policy and program."
For some returning OFWs, the environment post – return is still somewhat perplexing. According to the Center for Migrant Advocacy, for example, hard earned money is wasted on the entrepreneurial activities due to the difficulty or cost of doing business in the Philippines in general. For many of them, the decision to stay (as is the decision to leave) is just as big a gamble and there is definitely a need for government to continue to support resettling in the Philippines in a more holistic manner.
The government may have an good number of programs and agencies on board but the varying contexts of returning migrants also has to be considered fully: Conflict or crisis context returnees will need different support services but this does note mean that “regular” returnees are need less support. They should likewise be provided with adequate information and guidance on government programs available to them, both at the national and local levels.
A look at the Joint Migration and Development Initiative (JMDI) website provides many useful links on the kind of projects at the local level aimed at looking at migration and development from a specific, local lens.
Whatever may be the case, the decision to return home for good is one that cannot be addressed by providing options limited to general, national programs. The role that local governments take on to further understand the nuanced needs of returning OFWs has been highlighted in the past and I believe this will continue to be a bright spot in securing a place for our countrymen (and women) back home.
Maria Elissa Jayme Lao, DPA, is an assistant professor and chair of the Department of Political Science at the Ateneo de Manila University.