The Gulf countries are home to the largest number of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) and it’s an arrangement which benefits both sides. For instance, for the Philippines, the workers send home billions of dollars.

GCC airlines benefit from the traffic to the Philippines, with Emirates dominating the Manila route.

Fact is, a sizable number of Filipinos live and work abroad for economic reasons, with their number estimated at around 10.5 million and comprising around 11 per cent of the country’s total population. The stats include some 5 million permanently living abroad and about 1.5 million irregulars.

However, this piece focuses on OFWs, officially estimated at more than 2.2 million by end 2012, including some 0.45 million working on the high seas. Yet, thousands of Filipinos were exposed for overstaying their work permits following the implementation of the Nitaqat scheme in Saudi Arabia in July. The controversial project is meant to make Saudi nationals, rather than immigrant workers, employees of choice in the private sector.

Notably, five of the six Gulf countries are on the list of top 10 destinations for OFWs, an evidence of openness of the economies of the grouping.

Saudi Arabia continues to maintain its position as the top destination for OFWs, which has been the case since 2004, followed by the UAE. In 2012, Saudi Arabia and the UAE accounted for 20 and 16 per cent of OFWs, respectively. Qatar emerges in fourth popular place after Singapore in third position. Qatar alone boasts some 200,000 Filipinos.

Service workers

The increasing significance of Gulf countries for Filipinos partly reflects the changing composition of OFWs, with more emphasis placed on household services workers. Unlike the GCC, Western countries are known for applying relatively strict conditions on employment of live-in housemaids.

To a degree, the changing make up of OFWs is in response to difficulties surrounding employment in the Philippines. The challenges include an unemployment rate of 7 per cent, and under-employment of nearly 20 per cent. More than 40 per cent of the employed work in the informal sector.

The Philippines enticed some $24 billion (Dh88 billion) in remittances in 2012, the third highest worldwide after India and China, according to the World Bank. The amount represents around 10 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). This sum is inclusive of money sent via financial institutions, cash carried by returning and visiting Filipinos and others in-kind.

The figure could be higher for the lifestyle of Filipinos, who are known to spend in the local economies. The habit of spending a considerable amount of their salaries in local markets adds to the attraction of having Filipinos in the GCC workforce.

Much to their credit, OFWS have made the first impression with respect to working habits and ethics. They are admired for possessing traits of productivity, discipline, customer service, attention to detail, and ease of communicating in English, and presentable.

It is not unfair to claim that Filipinos have emerged as a factor in local economic activities in all GCC countries. And it can be asserted that quality of life in the GCC cannot be the same without the OFWs on the back of their significant presence in diverse sectors.

The writer is a Member of Parliament in Bahrain.