He had a visa and just the job – six months of work at sea and thousands in pay to send home. Then the virus struck.
And like millions of other migrant workers who leave the Philippines to work abroad and send their earnings back to a myriad of dependents, a whole family saw its lifeline cut.
“I was broke. Things were not easy for me and my family. I badly needed to go back to work at that time so I was looking forward to that trip,” said sailor Carlos Salvador Jr.
Salvador was all set to go to Spain for a six-month stint aboard a container ship when the Philippines imposed its strict lockdown in March, hoping to contain the novel coronavirus.
Since then, Salvador – who used to send about $2,000 a month home for two children and sick father – has been stuck in his home: a coastal village in central Philippines, with zero work.
“My world stopped spinning,” Salvador, 33, who has been a sailor for nine years, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from the Iloilo province.
His cousin, a deck officer on another ship, was similarly caught up in the lockdown and grounded.
“I lost my job, they have to look somewhere else for a crew replacement,” said Salvador.
Millions of overseas Filipino workers like Salvador are breadwinners who regularly send money home, in remittances that account for nearly 10% of the country’s gross domestic product.
But hundreds of thousands were likely to lose their jobs this year, cutting an important lifeline for many poor families.
About 10 million Filipinos work or live overseas, official figures show, spread across North America, Europe, the Middle East and parts of Asia such as Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong.
Remittances by overseas Filipino workers reached a record high of $33.5 billion last year, according to the central bank.
But as global coronavirus cases keep climbing, up to 400,000 Filipino overseas workers were projected to lose their jobs or take a pay cut this year, according to the Ateneo Center for Economic Research and Development, a local think-tank.
“This year’s projected remittance totals may be the steepest in Philippine, 45-year migration history,” said Jeremaiah Opiniano, an expert on remittances at the think tank.
“The Philippines needs these remittances more than ever. They have proven to be an added boost to the positive Philippine economic story the past decade, and have helped the country elude negative impacts of financial crises,” he added.
The Philippine central bank has said remittances, a key driver of consumption, will drop 5% this year on the 2019 total, after chalking up a 3% drop in the first four months of 2020.
Globally, the World Bank said remittances worldwide are set to fall by about 20% – or $142 billion – this year, worse than in the 2009 financial crisis.
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