The Middle East continues to be a leading destination for OFWs, with land-based OFWs reaching 2,473,668 in 2010, and the establishment of 46 Philippine Schools in the region (Ramirez, 2015). Despite their growing number and increasing remittances, minimal research studies have been conducted on the life and work of Filipinos in the Middle East; their family left behind; and the different phases of overseas work from pre-departure, through employment, and on to reintegration.

However, scientific research for policies and implementation is hindered because priority topics have not yet been identified. In addition, psychological difficulties among children of OFWs, relational troubles among OFW spouses, and problems with savings and entrepreneurship also call for evidence-based interventions. To gather ideas from key stakeholders on what research on Overseas Filipinos (OFs) in the Middle East can be conducted, and how to support research logistics, the Center for Research and Communication of the University of Asia and the Pacific organized a round table discussion on “Exploring Research Priorities on Overseas Filipinos’ Life and Work in the Middle East”, on May 11, 2015, at the Telengtan Hall of UA&P.

The speakers at the round table discussion highlighted pressing concerns of OFs in the Middle East. Undersecretary Mary Grace Tirona of the Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO) expressed concern over married OFs in the United Arab Emirates who dealt with loneliness by finding partners for the meantime among other OFs. Dr. Alexander Acosta of the Philippine Schools Overseas catalogued the anxieties of Filipino students who had a parent engaging in the same practice. Mr. Roy Emil Yu of the Bank of the Philippine Islands noted that only 40.70% of OFs have savings. Dr. Bernardo Villegas saw a solution in a family integration policy like that of Spain, which allows hired OFs to bring their families to the host country.

Other discussion points focused on research for capacity-building of OFs. Usec. Tirona suggested that government labor migration agencies should provide OFs data on ideal locales, professions, wage rates, and caregiving options in the Philippines so that they become “evidence-based decision makers”. Mr. Loreto Soriano of LBS Recruitment Solutions, Inc. shared comprehensive statistics that while there were 164,000 unfilled job orders for skilled workers and professionals in 2010, by 2013 there were 230,000 OF new hires in services/household work and 148,000 in industry, due to lack of qualifications. Director Albert Valenciano of OWWA noted the need for “brain gain initiatives” to tap the expertise of reintegrated OFWs. And Dr. Bernardo Villegas added that agencies for land-based OFWs could adapt the programs of maritime agencies, which systematically train seafarers’ families on savings and entrepreneurship.

Special guests and other participants included Consul General Michael Alexander Ang of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan; Attaché Naif M. H. Alharbi of the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia; David Des Dicang of the Department of Labor and Employment; Bansan Choa of i-Remit, Inc.; Luther Calderon of KAMPI; Ricardo Casco and Regina Calzado of International Organization for Migration; Pete Rahon of Philippine Migrants Rights Watch; and Rosemarie Arhlene Ampil of the Lyceum of the Philippines University Research and Innovation Center.

This round table discussion can be the beginning of partnerships among the academe, government, business, the private sector, and dignitaries from the Middle East, in areas of research that benefit not only these agencies but also the OFs, their family left behind and the Philippines as a migrant-worker sending country. With informed policies and interventions, future labor migration could be as Usec. Tirona described it, “neither encouraged nor discouraged” but rather by the free and well-informed choice of Filipinos.

PROGRAMME Introduction Veronica E. Ramirez, Ph.D. Director for Operations, CRC-UA&P Holder, BPI Professorial Chair for Migration & Overseas Filipino Work
Welcome Remarks Bernardo M. Villegas, Ph.D., Director for Research, CRC-UA&P
Cross-Cultural Understanding: An Imperative Usec. Mary Grace A. Tirona Executive Director, Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO)
Recruitment of OFWs to the Middle East Mr. Loreto B. Soriano President, LBS Recruitment Solutions Corporation
Overseas Filipinos and Education in the Middle East Alexander S. Acosta, Ph.D., President, Philippine Schools Overseas (PSO)
Remittances from the Middle East Mr. Roy Emil S. Yu President, Association of Bank Remittance Officers, Inc. (ABROI) Remittance Business Head, Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI)
Reintegration of Overseas Filipinos from the Middle East Mr. Albert Valenciano, Director, Overseas Workers Welfare Association (OWWA)
Open Forum and Discussion and Closing Remarks Bernardo M. Villegas, Ph.D.
Veronica E. Ramirez, Ph.D. Facilitator