alin ang naiiba? the subtle differences of migrants vs OFWs


Many times, an OFW is just a migrant-in-waiting.

LET’S ADMIT IT: probably three-quarters of all Filipinos travelling anywhere in the world at this very moment are Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) temporarily working and residing abroad, earning foreign exchange and wages in jobs they otherwise would not find back home.

On the other hand, most of the remaining quarter IMHO (in my honest opinion) are migrants who have transplanted themselves in second homes without losing sight of their original motherland. They frequently and regularly go back to their respective hometowns across LuzViMin (Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao island groups), continue to send money home to immediate and extended family, some even taking advantage of the new Philippine law recognizing and giving dual citizenships to our kababayan (countrymen). These are the true balikbayan who profess their love for our country again and again.

On the surface you won’t see much difference between those described in the first and second paragraphs above, respectively. We are all lahing kayumanggi (brown race), share identical features on the average, height, hair color, skin color, and non-Filipinos would find it nearly impossible to distinguish between OFW and migrants. And we all know that a member of one group can easily shift into the other.

But there are subtle differences. And these differences are best spotted during the time both groups are travelling, and by nature because air travel is the great equalizer, OFWs and migrants seen together in one aircraft can be distinguished. It’s not easy and takes a little practice, but after awhile you see the clues and cues and ask yourself why didn’t I notice these before?

General demeanor. Because I’m an OFW, a lot of my observations regarding OFWs are relatable to my own. I may be subjective and therefore biased, but that’s just the way it is. I therefore confirm my own behavior when I see others in similar situations. For example, OFWs travelling can never be truly relaxed. They are either on their way from work, or going back to work. There is no in-between.

Therefore, they are always thinking residually of work situations left behind, or readying themselves to get back to the grind. Ganon talaga; and you can see it in the way they carry themselves. They appear to be lost in thought always, sleep fitfully during long-haul flights, and generally appear more stressed than any other set of travelers.

Migrants have long since passed the stressful phase, having become citizens of desirable country destinations. They just look forward to reunions with family and friends, with the unspoken humblebrag of reaping the ultimate benefits of a First World passport as a reward for years of sacrifice. They almost always carry with them disposable income saved up precisely for the purpose of a long vacay filled with much-deserved merrymaking, piling up weeks and weeks’ worth of leave. They leave with the blessings of their employer, having earned trust and confidence of the latter. So these are the kabayan passengers who fall asleep literally minutes after takeoff, take the time to converse with fellow passengers with little or no inhibitions whatsoever, and are seasoned travelers accustomed to every scenario.

Clothes and shoes. accessories. This is a bit more complicated. Pinoys love to dress themselves up, male or female, but because I’m male, I’m obviously more familiar with my gender. But general observations are made here. Both OFWs and migrants are eager to show they’ve arrived literally and figuratively, by using branded and signature clothing, shoes and accessories.

The slight difference is OFWs are a bit overeager to show off, I say this without casting any negative qualities to my brother (and sister) workers: they have had disposable income for a somewhat shorter period, and are subject to a little more uncertainty regarding job and finances than their migrant counterparts. So the choice and fashion sense is affected a result.

OFWs still spend on their clothing etc, but sometimes the concern is more with the label and trendiness than overall look and fashion sense. As long as naka-Nike na or orig ang mga suot, kahit di na bagay minsan , ayos nang suotin sa byahe. 

Like many other Pinoys, migrants still dress well, but ironically dress down when they come home. They don’t want to dress the way they do in the USA, Canada, or Australia. They want to blend in, being brand-conscious or trendy is no longer a priority for them.

[Note: I am as guilty of this as the next guy, eager to show that I keep up with current trends, little realizing that I am just an old man trying vainly to look young, with laughable results. So I say this as a commentary on myself as well as on peers and countrymen.]

Attitude. This is the pure opinion section of the blog, and so please feel free to attack the following opinion/s with as much vigor as possible, as long as it’s respectful and observant of online etiquette:  being an OFW is part of continuing stream of consciousness about so many things: doing well on your current contract, keeping two households across the seas well-fed and happy; keeping everything organized and on schedule on vacation; treating all the different groups of family, friends and contemporaries to keep up with appearances; transitioning effortlessly back to the job, and doing well enough to secure a new contract. Unlike Jayson Tatum or Ben Simmons where you just need one and a half good seasons to get that max contract, for the OFW every year is a contract renegotiation year, and you’re only as good as this year’s performance; you can’t get caught napping.

Things like this occupy the OFW’s mind all the time. If you were in his/her shoes, would you have much peace of mind, whether on vacation or not? That’s right, you never stop thinking. And that’s why the OFW is always stressed, always thinking, always in a constant state of mental planning, adjustment and readjustment.

The migrant’s state of mind? Not so much. Vacation time is vacation time. The big step of planting the foot in the land of promise (and keeping it there) has been made, everything from hereon is a bonus. Everything is a balance between sending the message that the migrant has arrived in the land of I-am-a-migrant-now on the one hand, and not being a show-off or hambog (arrogant) before the eyes of the guys you left back in the Philippines, on the other. And part of the balance is keeping it real, keeping your composure, and not overdoing anything, from purchases, partying to putting your personal stamp on the extended family’s festivities.

***************               ***************               ***************

I hope I haven’t been too detailed or personal in my narration of the differences between OFW and migrant. After all, it’s a very thin line separating the two,  practically nothing. To the extent of some even saying that the OFW is just a migrant-in-waiting. (if possible, please add your own observed differences based on experience.)

But it’s a long, uncertain wait, and if you look hard enough, you see the differences.

Thanks for reading, mabuhay po tayong lahat!

isang liham sa ministro ng imigrasyon, ang Kagalang-galang na Iain Lees-Galloway


[thanks and acknowledgment to,, and! maraming salamat sa mga kabayang nasa mga larawan!]

Dear Honorable Minister Lees-Galloway:

YOUR TIME is important, you have a million things to attend to, so I’ll keep this as short and to-the-point as possible, although I don’t think it will be that short.

Like all personal letters like this, it can only be about something that’s personal to me, the letter-writer.  That is one thing I’m an expert on, and on myself and my stuff, my opinion is not only accurate, it’s also the best available.

The coincidence is, there is one aspect of my personal affairs that concerns both you and me, and that is the matter of immigration. The only difference is it concerns you professionally, while it affects me personally. Thus, this letter, and without further ado let me hit the ground running:

three-year stand down period. Under the new essential skills work visa rules, unskilled workers must after three consecutive years of work “stand down” or leave their jobs  for no other reason than that they should go home to reestablish their roots with their home country.

I see two problems with this, with all due respect. “Unskilled” as defined under the rules is determined by two things : by a skill level based on industry and specific type of activity , a basis I might add originating in Australia and adhered to by New Zealand. It’s also determined by the amount of money earned by the worker.

What if the skill level was not considered high enough in one country but more so in another? What if skilled labor was, based on factors other than supply and demand, not remunerated well enough in a particular industry? And what if, circumstances have changed regarding how skilled a particular worker or position is?

Lastly, the concept of sending home, and therefore forcing a work visa holder to lose a job, because of what the government sees as a need to reestablish roots with a worker’s home country is a bit misguided. I can only use my own and many other Filipinos’ example: nearly all of us go home as often as we can, every year if we can.

(I forgot to add sorry, I’m one of 40,000+ Filipinos, one of the most demographically dynamic ethnic groups in your beautiful country New Zealand.)

You may have other reasons to impose a forced stand down period on work visa holders but to insist on your reason is a bit misleading. Worse of all, if I may say so, this policy will sadly just create an artificial labor shortage in a situation where none should exist.

ANZSCO rules. While I’m on the topic, I’d like to ask: why does Immigration New Zealand, enforcing rules that govern guest workers, foreign students and migrants to New Zealand, use a classification of occupations that were drafted in Australia?

I understand the rationale behind avoiding the need to start from zero, from scratch. I know the two countries have similar industries and ways of looking at jobs and occupations. I know the two countries have similar ways of doing things.

But Australia is Australia and New Zealand is New Zealand. Why do two different, sovereign countries have the same rules about something as sensitive as allowing guest workers in separate countries?

Besides, in as much as New Zealand is quite hospitable and welcoming to Australia, considering it as a sister nation, Australia sadly has not been reciprocating recently. Australia to be quite honest has not treated New Zealand as well as New Zealand has treated Australia. Why then should New Zealand continue to use Aussie rules? Just thinking out loud.

Parent category. On the premise of keeping families together, allowing NZ resident children to be good sons and daughters to their parents, you created a visa pathway allowing parents to join children in New Zealand.

Two years ago, the previous Government suspended this visa pathway using the (at the time) valid reason of processing a huge backlog of parent category applications.

Moreover, you can’t be blamed for such suspension because the situation came to be under a different party in power.

But that was more than two years ago. Since then, so many parents and applications have been in limbo. Families continue to be separated. Parents in their twilight years cannot join their children. Not to nitpick, but visa application fees weren’t returned.

When can people expect the parent category resident visa pathway to be reinstated?

So much promise across many sectors of NZ society was seen at the dawn of the Labour Government’s first day in power. Among these sectors was the guest / foreign worker class, not strictly part of New Zealand society but one that makes a solid contribution nevertheless.

We continue to hope that the Labour Government, represented by the good Minister, will continue to promote and defend our interests, look out for us, and at the very least protect the rights we hold dear.


a nameless worker