By Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat
The ban in US Visa for H2A and H2B workers will have a minimal effect on remittances coming from the US, but reduced deployment to the Middle East could have a strong negative impact on dollar inflows to the Philippines, according to a recruitment and migration expert.
Emmanuel Geslani, a long-time recruitment and migration expert, said that H2A visas are for agricultural workers and the country does not deploy this type of workers to the USA. The number of H2B workers is quite small and mostly working in Guam.
Geslani noted that in 2017, statistics from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) showed that the number of deployed workers to the US was 1,902 only which cover nurses, some skilled workers and construction workers who were issued various types of visas.
Nurses are issued H1-B visas so they are not covered by the ban while the rest of skilled workers entering the US are issued H2B visas which have a limited time of stay.
Construction workers in Guam are most affected by the H2B visas ban however the US military has a massive construction bill for new facilities like new headquarters, new hospital, new runways, barracks and housing facilities for the 30,000 troops and their families who will be transferred to Guam from Okinawa.
The National Defense Act of the US also exempts construction workers from the ban and Filipinos can still enter Guam using H2B visas for the construction work of the US Military, explained Geslani.
He, however, said that the country will suffer a $1-1.5 billion loss in remittances as OFW deployment for 2019 is expected to decrease by 10-15 percent with the additional restrictions imposed by the government.
OFW remittances in the first nine months of 2018 amounted to $21.3 billion, up by 2.5 percent from $20.7 billion in the same period in 2017. Remittances from OFWs in the Middle East account for substantial contribution to remittances because of the sheer number of deployment.
But Geslani said the Department of Labor and Employment’s move to further reduce deployment of Household Service Workers by 10 percent aside from the earlier predicted dip of 10 percent in the deployment of skilled workers to the Middle is due to low crude oil prices from Middle East countries.
The labor and migration expert said the reduction in OFW deployment to the Middle East is good for the entire 2019.
DOLE Secretary Silvestre Bello III issued an administrative order signed December 27, 2018 but only released last January 8, 2019 directing the POEA to reduce by 10 percent the accreditation of FRAs (Foreign Recruitment Agencies) and also reduce the number of employment contracts by 10 percent especially in Saudi Arabia and Middle East countries where a large majority of household workers are deployed.
According to Geslani, the order will have a severe impact on the deployment to the Middle East by 30,000 workers which is more or less 10 percent of the more than 300,000 deployed there annually by local recruitment agencies in collaboration with FRAs.
“The reduction in deployment will have a disastrous effect on our dollar remittances aside from the loss of employment opportunities for our household workers and OFWs in the Middle East especially in Saudi Arabia,” he said.
Around 80,000 to 100,000 jobs for OFWs could be lost due to the precarious financial situation of Saudi Arabia and other Middle East countries due to lower crude oil prices.
Saudi Arabia is also progressing in the implementation of “Saudization” which accounts for the lost of Filipino white collar workers in that country, he said.
In 2018 around 3,000 workers were repatriated through Overseas Workers Welfare Administration by local recruitment agencies as companies laid them off and stopped paying their salaries.
The deployment of OFWs in 2017 dipped by nine percent and an 8 to 10 percent decline was seen in 2018 due to the instability of crude oil price.