Lala Abalon spent five years bouncing between temporary office jobs in Dubai before she found steady work as a customer service agent at a real estate company. Then the pandemic struck, and she, along with hundreds of thousands of other Filipino guest workers in the Persian Gulf and elsewhere, was sent packing.
Nine months after returning to her parents’ home in the Philippines, she can’t wait to go back overseas. “I don’t see a future here,” says Abalon, 33, who now manages her family’s noodle shop north of Manila. “Life is difficult in the Philippines. The pay is better and everything is more accessible abroad.”
As countries began closing their borders in an attempt to keep out the novel coronavirus, President Rodrigo Duterte’s government launched an operation to repatriate Philippine migrant workers stranded abroad. At last count, more than 560,000 have returned. It hasn’t been an ideal homecoming, though: The economy contracted 9.6% last year, the most of any country in Southeast Asia, and a spike in Covid-19 cases is hampering the recovery.
“The workers I send abroad often tell me, ‘We’ll die of hunger here if we stay with our families,’ ” says Alicia Devulgado, president of the Overseas Placement Association of the Philippines, a trade group that represents recruitment agencies. A survey released last month by the International Organization for Migration shows that almost half of the returnees intend to leave again.
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