19 Common OFW Problems, Causes & How to Prevent Them

By on November 28, 2012

Sometimes we think having an overseas Filipino worker (OFW) solves all problems in the family. But the fact is that our OFW families are also experiencing difficulties that are unique to them. If not addressed immediately, these problems may have serious consequences. Hundreds of OFW families have been torn apart because of OFW-related problems that were not attended to immediately.

What are these problems and how can they be addressed? In most surveys done on the topic, marital and family issues top the list of problems of OFWs. Websites offering counseling services for OFWs said most of their clients are worried about their families back home. Are their children going to school? Are they eating the right food? Are they going out with the right kind of friends? For OFWs, the thought of having sent monthly remittances is not enough assurance that everything’s going well at home.

This concern is closely related to another common OFW problem. Most OFWs who are worried about their kids back home are also experiencing problems with their spouses. Marital problems affect many OFWs. This is not surprising, considering that physical distance is a serious threat to a marriage. Many OFWs worry if their spouses back home are having an affair. This is especially true for young couples separated just shortly after getting wed. The fact that they are still young and that they have just been married make them vulnerable to temptation.

The problem affects both spouses. It’s also common for OFWs themselves to have an affair. Working in a foreign land thousands of miles from home can be very lonely, and enjoying the companionship of a fellow OFW can be a very tempting thought.

The Problem with In-Laws

In-laws present another problem for OFW families. Many OFWs complain that their in-laws are calling the shots back home. Sometimes, in-laws have a way of throwing their weight around the house in the absence of the breadwinner. In-laws sometimes make the decisions about the children and the expenses. And this is one thing that an OFW may not actually like.

Racial discrimination and issues with co-workers and bosses are also a common problem suffered by OFWs. These are followed by problems of homesickness and depression.

Solving the Problem

How can an OFW address all these problems? Constant and open communication with the spouse and children back home is crucial in avoiding family and marital problems. Both parties must make it part of their regular schedule to communicate with one another. The online technology has made it possible for loved ones oceans apart to communicate by just a few clicks of the mouse.

The same is true with problems related to racial discrimination and work. The OFW should learn how to cope with stress brought about by these problems. Communication is also the key. There are many ways of dealing with situations at work without endangering the working relationship between the OFW and the company.

That’s why it is important for OFWs to also avail themselves of the counseling services offered by various non-government and government agencies. Most of these counseling services are free. These agencies offer counseling on any problem that is bothering the OFW, from problems affecting the family, work and even finances.

As a summary here are some of the common problems of overseas Filipino workers

1. High placement fees.
Filipinas applying as domestic helpers in Hong Kong are charged as much as P150,000 placement fees, far beyond the capacity of most applicants who believe becoming DH is the way to lift up their family from poverty.

Why it’s happening:
Lack of enforcement of an existing government law limiting the amount of placement fee to be collected from applicants.

How it can be solved:
Educate would-be domestic helpers on their rights and empower them to report exorbitant fees collected; prosecute violating agencies and/or erring government enforcers.

2. Contract switching or failure to honor working contracts.
Contract switching happens when the

Why it’s happening:
Lack of enforcement of an existing government law limiting the amount of placement fee to be collected from applicants.

How it can be solved:
Educate would-be domestic helpers on their rights and empower them to report exorbitant fees collected; prosecute violating agencies and/or erring government enforcers.

3. Offloading at Philippine airports.
Filipinas applying as domestic helpers in Hong Kong are charged as much as P150,000 placement fees, far beyond the capacity of most applicants who believe becoming DH is the way to lift up their family from poverty.

Why it’s happening:
Lack of enforcement of an existing government law limiting the amount of placement fee to be collected from applicants.

How it can be solved:
Educate would-be domestic helpers on their rights and empower them to report exorbitant fees collected; prosecute violating agencies and/or erring government enforcers.

4. Illegal recruitment.
Many Filipinos are aching to work abroad that they’d fall for most recruiters with gift of persuasion. Failure to check with POEA could lead to catastrophic results with money and effort wasted.

Why it’s happening:
Lack of education and awareness on how to evade illegal recruiters or know-how about desired overseas deployment is the main culprit why many Filipinos fall to illegal recruiters and human traffickers.

How it can be solved:
Common sense, education and guidance from government agencies helps would be OFWs achieve their goals of landing a legitimate job abroad.

5. Workers unable to save money.
Sometimes Filipinos realize they are unable to save money after years of work abroad. Worse, they do not know where did their salary go.

Why it’s happening:
Lavish lifestyle, attachment to friends and gadgets are often the reasons, but it could also be caused by infidelity, failed business deals and getting duped by friends or strangers.

How it can be solved:
Healthy planning and discipline on expenses through monthly contribution to pension funds or home mortgage secures the future by easily saying “wala akong budget sa gadgets, good time at girls“.

6. Employer abuse.
Abuse from employers are not only limited to domestic helpers subjected to physical or verbal abuse. It is also the case of sexual harassment or racial discrimination.  

Why it’s happening:
Irresponsible and immature employers, lack of law enforcement in host country and lack of assistance from OWWA officers encourage this practice.

How it can be solved:
Government measures to deter unfair treatment or simply harmony at work initiated by healthy relationship between employer and employee.

7. Broken families.
Separated by long distances between OFWs and their spouses and children sometimes is a recipe for broken marriage and misguided lives. Husbands who work abroad may feel lonely and homesick. Another female worker who feels the same may spark the illicit relationship, thus breaking the marriage vow. In other cases, those who were left in the Philippines are the ones who become unfaithful that in the midst of a hardworking spouse abroad, was able to flirt and engage in extra marital relationships.

Why it’s happening:
Loneliness, overwhelming physical needs, peer pressure and the feeling of freedom away from prying eyes of husbands or wives.

How it can be solved:
Devotion to spouses and strong family values help prevent broken families. Positive distractions such as participation of wholesome civic activities (basketball leagues, serving Sunday masses, etc) deter such temptations to break families apart.

8. Failed family business.
OFWs who think of investment often think of close family members as the most trustworthy people to deal with. Sari-sari store, passenger jeepney and Internet cafe are among the investment options. But with any investment, planning and research is required. Without enough experience or knowledge, many of these businesses fail to grow and the trust OFWs bestow on family members likely turn sour.

Why it’s happening:
Lack of knowledge of the business, the target market and positioning.

How it can be solved:
Diligence in determining what is the best business to invest in. For instance, if your location is near the open sea, investing in ice plant or fish car might be an option. If you live close to a university, a boarding house can be a profitable venture. But also look at other factors such as competition, possible increase in production and labor costs as well as seasonality of demand.

 9. Unable to get help from consular and embassy officials.
Filipinos sometimes feel neglected by consular and embassy officials in countries they work. It could be because they are very far from embassy offices, unable to go out of workplaces or simply there are too many Filipinos seeking for help and their needs aren’t attended to immediately. Worse, there may be embassy officials who simply ignore pleas of distressed workers.

Why it’s happening:
Lack of consular officers, long distance between work place and Philippine embassy and incompetent officers who fail to see the need of workers in posts they are assigned.

How it can be solved:
Adding manpower at locations with large concentration of overseas Filipino workers only solves half of the problem. Deployment of labor attaches and consulate officials with experience and maturity to handle distinct problems plays a vital key in addressing OFW problems.

10. Friends unable or unwilling to pay debts.
To cope with anxiety and homesickness, OFWs naturally build a circle of friends. In some cases, friends have issues at home — sick parents, tuition fee for children and other reasons — and need money urgently. A helpful, albeit careless, friend is ready to help. But sometimes, when it’s the time to pay debts, friends who owe money are unable to honor their promise. Worse, they hide from friends and outright refuse when confronted.

Why it’s happening:
OFWs sometimes put too much trust on friends they barely knew. Also they apparently can’t say no for fear of falling out of friendship of getting branded as selfish.

How it can be solved:
It’s certainly not bad to be helpful. But OFWs need to know their limits. Being firm on their stand — sorry, I wish  I could help but I also have folks to send money to –without hurting those who ask for help.

11. Dwindling value of Philippine peso.
It is ironic that as the greater volume of dollar remittance to the Philippines grows, the less value per dollar it becomes. That’s because with increased dollar reserves, the value of the greenback weakens against the peso. Since salaries are pegged at foreign currencies affected by the dollar-peso exchange rate, the peso value of salaries of OFWs decrease.

Why it’s happening:
OFWs send more money for education, paying bills, savings and for investment purposes.

How it can be solved:
If ‘solving’ means higher value of dollar against peso, this requires government action such as increasing imports (which likely use US dollars to pay for commodities) or offloading dollar reserves to pay for external debt. If ‘solving’ means maintaining the peso value of remittances, OFWs asking for a higher pay for their jobs is likely the most straightforward way.

 12. Getting duped by strangers online.
It is normal for single OFWs to look for love while abroad. The fear of not getting attached while busy at work is something many Filipinos overseas experience. With the advent of technology that enabled communication across multiple channels — SMS, instant messaging, social media, to mention a few. But these channels can also become conduits of fraudsters disguised as romatic boys and girls. There are many ways to get duped:  men sending money to supposed girlfriends who turn out to be gang members, stolen identity online or women looking for true love found out that they’re hooked to a married womanizer.

Why it’s happening:
Lack of awareness of the dangers lurking in cyberspace: hackers, fraudsters, pedophiles and other forms of predators. And giving too much trust to people OFWs barely know.

How it can be solved:
Never trusting anyone you meet online. Do not give too much information about yourself — email passwords, home and work address and even your birthday — sensitive information can be used against you or steal your identity online.

13. Extra-marital relationships.
A big portion of OFWs is composed of married men and married women, whose families are back in the Philippines. When communication between OFW and family becomes unstable and temptation is just too strong, vulnerable OFWs could easily fall for illicit relationships. Other extra-marital relationships are made not for pleasure but for survival.

Why it’s happening:
Some Filipinos become unfaithful as soon as they are away from family and cannot cope with loneliness and physical needs. Others do so because it allows them to obtain their material desires while others are forced into a relationship in order to sustain their stay abroad.

How it can be solved:
Devotion to family, constant communication, prayers and personal discipline are key elements to withstand the lure of extra-marital relationships.

14. Children failing to finish studies.
One big headache for OFWs is when their children fail to finish their studies, whether impregnated, unwilling to go to school or gone astray by drugs and vices.

Why it’s happening:
Lack of guidance as parents are abroad, children nobody to lean on when facing problems and too much influence from peers could lead to cutting classes, and relationships that lead to teenage pregnancy. Oftentimes, these episodes lead to kids failing to graduate from college.

How it can be solved:
Proper guidance and motivation not only coming from parents but also to close family members who surround these kids at home.

15. Getting caught in violent uprisings or natural disasters.
Unstable political situations and natural calamities are beyond the control of OFWs. Peaceful demonstrations can turn violent with Filipinos caught in the melee between  protesters and government enforcers. In other cases, natural calamities like earthquakes, typhoons and tsunamis leave Filipinos at the mercy of Mother Nature.

Why it’s happening:
In an unstable world where ideas and philosophies collide, Filipinos working in a country or region are among the first to be affected. Work shutdown, evacuation  and repatriation procedures disrupt work and even forced to abandon work for good for the sake of personal safety.

How it can be solved:
It’s hard to prevent. So it’s better to always prepare — contacts at embassy or friends, food, water. Arm yourselves with prayer.

 16. Landing in jail for sins they did not commit.
Sometimes OFWs get into trouble and at times they bear the punishment for the offense they did not make.

Why it’s happening:
Jealousy at work or mistaken identity.

How it can be solved:
Stay away from places where risks or riots may take place. Stay away from friends who could easily get in trouble. Pray for protection.

17. Risk of mass layoffs during economic turmoil.
OFWs are not immune to economic meltdowns. When companies lose big contracts of experience waning demands, Filipinos become at risk of losing jobs abroad.

Why it’s happening:
The economic cycle has a big role to play.

How it can be solved:
It’s hard to prevent this because, just like natural disasters, it is beyond an OFWs control. However, an observant OFW always plans ahead and thinks of options whenever the risk of job cuts during economic downturn is more likely.

 18. Corrupt airport staff.
When OFWs go home, various forms of corruption take place. From mulcting porters and taxi drivers to airport cleaners and government employees practically begging for loose change or extra chocolate bars.

Why it’s happening:
The attitude of the Filipino as a generous giver may have gotten into our culture, that everyone who asks, regardless of whether a family member or a stranger, it is expected that they receive something. This is especially rampant during Christmas season when OFWs are expected to be bringing a bounty of pasalubongs.

How it can be solved:
Ignoring may be a bit harsh, but it’s also simply setting your homecoming priorities. If you see someone greeting Merry Christmas, say the same thing without parting with your precious gifts.

19. All alone when getting sick.
Overseas workers are bound to work, and in many cases, succumb to ailments and other forms of disorders. Since they work by themselves, becoming sick is a tough experience since no family members are on hand to take care of them. It then becomes a complicated task to handle the workload and taking proper medication and rest. In some cases, workers have to fulfill their duties even when not 100% healthy.

Why it’s happening:
Stress at work, changing working conditions and other factors make it easier for an OFW to catch colds, fever or more serious ailments.

How it can be solved:
Proper diet, sleep and exercise is essential to maintaining everyone’s well-being. Although some workplaces don’t or cannot offer such rights and privileges, it is also the unhealthy lifestyles of certain OFWs that lead to becoming sick.

Addition: Balikbayan Box Problems
Sending balikbayan box brings smiles to family members back home. But it’s not always the case. Sometimes, family members start fighting over who receives what. Sometimes package content aren’t useful back home (example: thick winter jacket). Even neighbors expect you should also wrap something for them. Worse, picking cheap but unreliable cargo forwarder could mean a detour of balikbayan boxes to nowhere.

Why it’s happening
Lack of proper labeling of packages (“for Tatay”, “to Lola Paciana”, etc), lack of know-how on reliable cargo forwarders. Also, lack of proper attitudes back home such as bragging about their “well-to-do” OFW relatives make neighbors think that affluent relative abroad can feed the whole barrio.

How it can be solved:
Sending door to door packages need to be based on needs of families back home; they are not dumping ground of things you (and they) don’t need. Plan carefully what to package (do you need to send canned goods or toothpaste if they can buy it?) when cash is often more flexible even with falling dollar value. Lookout for list of blacklisted cargo companies or ask recommendations from friends what couriers they patronize.

Surely, there are other problems OFWs face. While each problem may not impact every OFW, that’s the risk and challenge we face in our daily work abroad. A few keys are certainly helpful: be prepared, be prayerful and stick with what is right.