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Perspectives on Labour Migration and Welfare in the Philippines

Kidjie Saguin
National University of Singapore

Kidjie Saguin
National University of Singapore

Kidjie Saguin
National University of Singapore


The move towards greater economic integration in the Southeast Asian region is anticipated to intensify intra-regional labour migration. In an effort to drive economic growth, developing countries in the region look up to the Philippines to emulate its migration management system. The Philippines experience showcases the positive contribution of labour migration to economic development. Strong remittance inflow allowed the economy to weather the brunt of the 2008 global financial crisis. Having been embedded into the government’s development agenda, labour migration has also been used as a means to reduce widespread poverty in the country. But the stories of success is accompanied by stories of failure Filipinos know all too well.

The panel addresses the urgent call to unpack the interconnections of social inequality, religion, gender and poverty with international labour migration. The Philippines is the best case to understand these complex relationships considering its long history of migration. The panel will feature academic papers that employ qualitative and quantitative empirical analysis coming from different disciplines and migration theories. The panel hopes to engage in a lively debate using evidence from different stages of the migration cycle by addressing the following broad questions:
• Does labour migration improve the welfare of migrant workers and their households?
• Can labour migration address social inequality and poverty?
• What are the mechanisms by which labour migration can serve as a welfare-enhancing device?
• How does religion and gender intermediate the relationship between migration and welfare?


Paper 1: Impact of International Migration and Remittances on Poverty in the Philippines: Evidence from the Community-Based Monitoring System (CBMS) Data

Alellie B. Sobreviñas
University of Antwerp

Migration is considered to be one of the key issues in policy discussions in many developing countries, including the Philippines. At the national level, the significant contribution of international remittances on the Philippine economy has always been highlighted. While many of the existing literature focus on the impact of remittances at the macro level, it is also important to look at its impact at the micro level. This paper, therefore, utilized the community-based monitoring system (CBMS) data in selected communities in the Philippines to determine the impact of international migration and remittances on the poverty situation of households. It involves examining the characteristics of migrant households, the profile of people who work overseas and the patterns of remittances sent by migrant workers. The impact of migration and remittances on poverty was estimated by generating the counterfactual scenario. Results revealed that migration and remittances has the potential to reduce poverty, in general. Although the impact is much larger among migrant households, it is clear that not all migrant households benefited. A deeper analysis is necessary to understand why migration and remittances appears to be not effective in improving the poverty situation of some households. This research contributes to the literature by providing empirical evidence on the topic using the unexplored household-level data collected through CBMS.

Paper 2: Reframing the Space for a Successful Return Migration for Filipina Household Service Workers

Dessy Septiane Sukendar
National University of Singapore

According to official estimates, about 40% of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) save a part of their cash remittances, most of which are able to set aside 25% or less of their earnings. Most OFWs thus return home broke despite years of earning more than what they earn in the Philippines. This poor saving behaviour among Filipino migrant workers has been attributed to their unwillingness to save and has led to introduction of financial literacy programs and economic enterprise programs for migrant returnees. This paper attempts to better understand this behaviour using the theory of transnationalism in the context of return migration. With return migration viewed from a transnationalist perspective, the poor saving behaviour can be attributed to the continuous process of renegotiation of space for return being experienced by OFWs. Using qualitative information derived from interviews with current Filipina household service workers (HSW), the paper reveals three major issues in the reintegration programs. First, return migration is a process of management of dissonant transnational identities for most HSWs, which is important influencing successful migration experience. Second, migrant workers tend to use their income for social reintegration rather financial preparation. Instead of saving, OFWs use their earnings to carve out the space for their return within their families through transnational practices such as sending remittances and regular visits. Third, government programs over-emphasise reintegration through enterprise development failing to recognise multiple identities formed by migrant workers. Policy recommendation on how to improve the reintegration programs are identified at the end.

Paper 3: The Contradiction of Culture and Practice of Female Labour Migration from the Muslim Mindanao in the Midst of a Protracted Crisis

Marian Mae Solangon
The Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies

The contemporary conflict in the southern Philippines, which is largely concentrated in the Muslim-dominated provinces of Mindanao, is a clash of interest and identity of the Islam ethno-linguistic group collectively known as Moros with the central government. The protracted nature of this contemporary armed conflict of over 40 years has impoverished the conflict-affected areas, displaying lowest levels of growth and human development in the country. One of the primary impacts of conflict in Mindanao is on mobility. When men’s mobility is seen as constrained during periodic outburst of conflict in which they are primary targets for revenge, women then, are required to take on new responsibilities such as taking on the economic burden. Women from Muslim Mindanao migrating abroad to support their families have increasingly become common. But how can the contradiction between their community’s standards of modesty and of keeping women under guardianship reconcile with the expressed need for sufficient livelihood driven by conflict and assumed incentive of working abroad? This paper attempts to understand the effect of the necessary mobility of Muslim women on their identity, values, change in family dynamics, decision and ability to assimilate and eventually return. With the use of qualitative research from semi-structured interviews to get the narratives of current female Muslim Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs), the paper analyses their individual experiences to better understand the effects of their cultural norms and traditions on the female Muslim OFWs’ decisions to depart, assimilate and return.

Paper 4: Exclusionary mechanisms of social networks in international migration: An empirical analysis of network structure in villages of origin

Aubrey Tabuga
National University of Singapore

A fundamental problem in diffusion theory concerning migrants’ social networks is its assumption that migration tends to spread outward to encompass a greater segment of the society. However, empirical studies show that like any collectives, migrant networks provide resources to their kin but they also restrict membership. Moreover, societies and communities tend to exhibit some forms of stratification where group boundaries can prevent the diffusion of migratory capacity and behaviour to a wider segment. Therefore, while social networks are such powerful forces behind the migration of certain groups, it may be that these networks’ exclusionary mechanisms have the ability to aggravate social inequalities already existing within communities. This is empirically examined by looking at within-village network structures of communities of origin of international migrants from the Philippines. Patterns of durable social interaction amongst members of the communities and migration histories of both pioneer and current migrants are collected via face to face interviews with all households in each village of origin. This method allows one to associate network structure with migratory behaviour of community members. Using graph theory, network parameters of density and segregation resulting from the social network analysis can then be used in modelling migration likelihood to determine ability of social network mechanisms to exclude other groups.