Terror attacks, immigration fears — OFWs feel the strain

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — Filipinos are facing increasingly difficult conditions abroad, as the spate of terror attacks and threats of tighter immigration rules add to an already sluggish world economy.

Experts say, though, that overseas Filipino workers (OFW) always look for ways to keep sending money back home — even when their earnings take a hit.

Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) Deputy Governor Diwa Guinigundo admitted there was "serious concern" for the welfare and security of nearly 11 million Filipinos living and working abroad.

Last week, suicide bombers attacked the bustling Ataturk Airport in Istanbul, Turkey, claiming the lives of more than 40 people.

Twenty more people — all foreigners — were killed on Saturday (July 2) after militants held them hostage in a cafe in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

The next day, a truck bomb detonated in Baghdad, Iraq, as Muslims broke their fasts after Ramadan. The death toll is nearing 300.

ISIS has claimed responsibility for the Istanbul and Baghdad bombings. This follows other devastating attacks carried out by the terror group — particularly on the Brussels airport and train station in March, and all across Paris last November.

"Based on some field survey reports from the Department of Foreign Affairs, overseas Filipino workers might opt to return to Manila while this tension is ongoing," Guinigundo told CNN Philippines.

Shutting the gates?

Security isn't the only cause for concern. The UK voted to leave the European Union (EU) largely on the back of immigration fears. Campaigners of the so-called "Brexit" promised to cut back on foreign workers.

In the United States, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has also been pushing for stricter rules on immigrants.

BSP Governor Amando Tetangco, Jr. said it would be best to take a broader view of these developments overseas, particularly the Brexit.

"We'll have to see what changes in immigration agreements could result from the Brexit. Our expectation is that there should be a reasonable transition in the implementation of such changes," he said.

The Brexit — feared to be a long, protracted process as the British and EU governments untangle 40 years worth of laws and trade pacts — could also usher in a slowdown in Europe, which accounts for about 20% of the money sent home by OFWs.

Related: OFWs in the UK safe from Brexit fallout — British envoy

Altogether, Guinigundo said, there could be some "backlash in terms of lower remittances going forward."

Remittances are projected to increase 4% this year, he said. There will still be growth, albeit a much slower one, compared to previous years.

Remittances are one of the main reasons the Philippines has become one of the fastest-growing economies in Asia. They fuel consumption, which makes up 70% of the gross domestic product. They also bring in much-needed dollars, which act as a buffer from instability abroad.

OFWs sent home a total of $25.8 billion in 2015, a 4.6% rise from the year before.

Finding ways

When the going gets tough, though, Filipinos abroad often find ways to keep sending money back home.

Alex Chan Lim, Country Manager of remittance firm MoneyGram, observed that Filipinos abroad would rather tighten their belts than cut back on the financial support they provide to their loved ones back home.

OFWs will take on two or three jobs if an economic slump dragged down their earnings, he said. If they can no longer make do, they will move to another country that promises better employment.

"The money they send back home is 'yun pa din. Hindi magbabago 'yun because naipangako na 'yun eh,” he said.

[Translation: The amount of money they send back home will be the same. That will not change because that is a commitment.]

Central bank officials agreed.

While some Filipinos have considered returning home amid violence abroad, Guinigundo said many have opted to move to safer locations where they can continue working.

Tetangco added that whenever exchange rate fluctuations reduced the peso value of their remittances, OFWs respond by increasing the amount of money they send home just to maintain the peso equivalent.

Despite the dim outlook for the global economy, the experts retained their optimism for OFWs and their earnings.

"If we go by the experience... remittances are expected to continue to prove resilient and our OFWs continue to be the employees of choice," Tetangco said.

"Filipinos will really work very hard and find ways just to keep sending money back home — even when things are going badly where they are," said Lim. "Whether that is a good thing or a bad thing, I don't know."