The Philippines is known as one of the major countries of origin in the world with around 6000 Filipino workers leaving the country to work abroad each day. Majority of overseas Filipino workers are working in the Middle East such as Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Kuwait. There is also a significant number of OFWs in Hongkong, Malaysia, Singapore and Taiwan.

Given the increasing deployment of OFWs, the national government has established a number of structures and policies in order to address the various issues and concerns of migrant workers. In 1995 the Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act (Ra No. 8042) was enacted to “institute the policies of overseas employment and establish a higher standard of protection and promotion of the welfare of migrant workers, their families and overseas Filipinos in distress”. This law was later amended by the Republic Act No. 10022. The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) was established as the lead government agency responsible for monitoring and supervising recruitment agencies in the country.

Unfortunately, despite government anti-illegal recruitment laws and programs, OFWs continue to be victims of unscrupulous and unethical recruitment practices. Many Filipino jobseekers have been duped into paying fees for ghost or non-existent job offers abroad. The charging of excessive recruitment or placement fees is a form of illegal recruitment but is a common practice in the country. There have been many cases of workplace abuse or contract violations such as forced overtime, underpayment, delayed or non-payment of wages. In some cases, personal and travel documents such as passports of workers have been confiscated by recruiters. Contract substitution or alteration of POEA-approved contracts to the prejudice of the OFW also constitutes illegal recruitment.

Illegal recruitment practices can be committed by licensed non-licensed recruitment agencies. In 2016 alone, nearly 1600 illegal recruitment cases were reported to the Department of Justice (DOJ) excluding cases that have either been dropped or not reported at all. According to POEA data, only 16 of 725 illegal recruitment cases filed at the DOJ have resulted in convictions by the courts.

According to the POEA, below are some of the modus operandi of illegal recruiters:

  • Escort Services – Undocumented workers are escorted at the airport or any international exit (ex. seaport) to evade checkpoints set to check on the documents of workers.
  • Tourist–Worker Scheme – Workers leave the country purportedly as tourist but in reality is being deployed as worker abroad.
  • Assumed Identity – Workers particularly minors are deployed abroad under an assumed identity.
  • Direct Hiring – Workers are hired by foreign employers without the intervention of licensed recruitment agencies and are deployed undocumented and without protection.
  • Trainee Worker Scheme – Hired workers are deployed allegedly not for employment but for training purposes only and will return to sending company after training.
  • Backdoor Points Scheme – Workers are sent abroad not through regular exit channels like airports but are deployed usually through cargo ships.
  • Tie-Up System – Unlicensed recruiters with foreign principals who are usually in the blacklist use the name and offices of licensed recruiters in their illegal activity.
  • Visa Assistance/Consultancy Scheme – Firms that offer services including the pairing of workers with foreign employers and promising applicants immigrant visas but are in reality engaged in the recruitment business.
  • Blind Ads Scheme – Workers are enticed to apply and send cash payments addressed to a Postal Office Box without the worker having the opportunity to communicate personally with the recruiter.

Visit the Anti-Illegal Recruitment page of the POEA at for more information on illegal recruitment.

Find out more about the degree of respect for workers rights in this country based on ITUC Global Rights Index here.