POLICY DOCS // 

Preparing Migrants for the Life Abroad: Modern Mechanisms and Their Implementation in Armenia

19.12.2013

By Mane Kocharyan, ICHD

11.10.2013

Introduction: Preparatory Seminars for Migrants Prior to Departure

It is widely known that migration process brings forth several challenges, that at some point may become hard for a migrant to cope with unless one knows how to. In most cases faster integration into the employment environment and the better success of a migrant usually depends on the level of preparedness.

In recent decades implementing circular labor migration (CLM) has become a better alternative for migrants. However, as the years of experience show, CLM can hardly be viewed as a homogeneous process, but a procedure of joint stages which can conventionally be called pre-departure, post arrival, and reintegration. Each stage has its own challenges for which adequate policies need to be introduced. Usually, in order to reduce the number of risks in further stages, it is necessary to prepare the migrants at the pre-departure stage. The preparation of labour migrants usually involves all the possible stakeholders in CLM, such as the government, employers, private and public employment agencies, etc.

Generally, getting a work permit in a destination country is not a sufficient guarantee of successful employment and easy adjustment into the lifestyle of the host country, as settling in a foreign culture can most likely cause difficulties that the migrant will have to overcome. In order to reduce the number of those difficulties and prepare migrants for their future life experience, in certain countries trainings and seminars are provided prior to the migrant’s departure. The need to address potential risks and challenges has become an issue in the countries with high migration rates. Countries such as the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Bangladesh are dealing with labour migration for many years, and they are well-aware of the perils of migration and understand the importance of preparing for the upcoming life experience. Therefore, they have developed a package of functional mechanisms that support labour migrants to prepare for residence and employment abroad.

Philippine Migration Policies: Pre-Departure Orientation Programs

The Philippines is considered as most experienced especially in the sphere of migration. The mechanisms and policies realized by the country are viewed as an international model for several other countries specializing in CLM. Though Filipino migrants at certain points get involved in vulnerable situations, Philippine mechanisms of supporting their migrants are still well-set.

The Philippines is considered to be one of the major workforce suppliers in the Asian region. According to Stock Estimate of Overseas Filipinos, as of December 2011, approximately 11 million Filipinos are residing and working abroad, which makes around 10-11% of the total Philippine population. In 2011, the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) estimated that a total of 1.85 million Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) were deployed to 190 destination countries.

Since 1972 the Philippines has developed a sophisticated policy on circular labour migration in order to manage country’s migration rates, promote safe migration, and protect Filipino migrant workers. Both public and private institutions were established to provide services to OFWs. Several public institutions are responsible for the regulation of labour migration, specifically the Department of Labour and Employment (DOLE) and adjacent Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), and the Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO). The latter primarily provide advice and assistance to the President and the Congress of the Philippines in the formulation of policies concerning Filipinos overseas. The CFO organizes also pre-departure orientation seminars for already migrants to be.

The Philippines government has accepted the importance of having pre-departure orientation seminars (PDOS) for labour migrants already in 1983, indicating that having such seminars is based on two ideas "(i) that the protection of migrants begins at home, and (ii) that a well-aware and informed migrant is the most secure warrant of their empowerment and protection.."

The POEA Memorandum Circular No. 3, Series of 1983 states that the attendance of the seminars is obligatory in the country for “all first-time or re-contracted workers, and every agency is responsible in providing each worker a thorough PDOS”. The seminars aim to provide migrants with the latest and necessary information on life abroad, on the host country, as well as the working conditions, in order to help migrants integrate easier and faster into the new environment of the host country and to contribute to their achieving success at work.

Over the decades the Philippines has succeeded developing multi-profile seminars by involving the major stakeholders – the government (OWWA and POEA), civil society and private sector - in delivering the PDOS to the migrants. POEA in its turn has set concrete guidelines for PDOS courses and programs, and each service provider is bound to follow the established guidelines. As well as it verifies the private employment agencies licensed to deliver seminars.

Currently, the public and private sectors conduct seminars jointly, although the private sector gets the largest share. POEA provides intervention particularly to the migrants Since 1992 NGOs have been involved in providing trainings as well, which led to enriching the PDOS courses with the topics on human rights and trafficking. The typical PDOS courses include at least seven informative modules, specifically,

·         life abroad, OFWs code of conduct; common problems and solutions;

·         destination country: legislation, culture and customs;

·         the migrants’ labour contracts, rights and responsibilities; actions to be taken in case of contract violation;

·         health and safety, (HIV/AIDS);

·         financial literacy, bank account management;

·         OWWA’s programs and services; other state programs, including Social Security System and PhilHealth; and

·         travel procedures and practical advice.

These orientation programs usually last from one to a few days depending on the subject of discussion, and each session lasts for fixed 6 hours. As already stated, PDOS are compulsory in the Philippines, and are provided at a set cost of 100 PHP (around 2.4 USD). These orientation programs usually last from one to a few days. Upon completion the participant gets a certificate which is to be attached to the documents necessary for departure.

Although the Philippines practice in this field is considered to be most successful, the training effectiveness is hampered by a number challenges. First of all, the seminars are delivered to a large number of participants (50-90) at the same time, which complicates the assessment of the participants’ knowledge at the end of the intervention.  It is also a common practice that migrants attend courses a couple of hours prior to leaving for the destination country. So, because of the organizational misconduct migrants most likely would miss significant information. As a result in recent years mass media also was involved in the informing migrants. Special TV programs, commercials, newspaper stories are made public. They introduce the hazards of irregular migration and help migrants get on the right track of leaving the country protected.

Second, the courses, as a rule, are not tailored to the individual needs. Most are “one size fit all” programmes. Though migrants recognize that the information provided is valuable, they also point out the need for deepening and expanding the course, as well as prolonging it into several days. There is also a need to adjust the training program to the host country, skill and gender- specific characteristics of the particular case of migrants. Besides, special trainings should be designed for re-contracted circular labour migrants, as they have already attended it once and are quite aware of the basic information.

Third, different institutions are providing the same information in different ways, resulting in the information being perceived not homogeneously by all the attendants of PDOS. Though the guidelines of PDOS are set by the government, each of the trainers choose the material themselves. As a result the courses vary in different training providing institutions.

In addition to PDOS, the Philippine government has recently organized Pre-Employment Orientation Seminar (PEOS) to introduce the legal procedures of circular labour migration. PEOS is delivered to those who have not decided yet about working abroad. These trainings introduce to the participants the potential risks and vulnerable sides of working abroad, they try to guide the future migrant in the right direction by introducing the possible countries for migration, their legal systems and labor markets and work opportunities, introduce the government licensed PEAs, that are involved in legal recruiting procedures. In other words PEOS are designed to prevent and take measures against illegal recruitment and trafficking.

Thus, it can be stated that the Philippines was able to best coordinate the migration process having  state and private institutions cooperate together to provide OFWs with maximum support.

Supporting Armenian Migrants: Current Services and Suggestions for Improvement

With up to one million people having permanently migrated since independence, Armenia faces serious challenges of protecting and empowering its labour migrants. Migration is usually spontaneous for Armenians, and as a result, most migrants do not prepare for their life abroad. Research shows that migrants are mostly unaware of the programs designed to support them. For instance, the RA Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs has recently started the operation of Migration Resource Centers (MRCs), for the purpose of informing Armenian migrants both about the possible risks and dangers of living abroad, and about the possibilities that life outside the country may give, as well as inform about the perils of irregular migration

Currently, there are eight operational MRCs in different regions of Armenia, which provide services such as seminars and consultancy to potential labor migrants, migrant workers, and jobseekers abroad with temporary contracts. MRCs provide consultancy to the Armenian repatriates as well, who as a rule face problems reintegrating into Armenian society and finding a proper job.

As these are relatively recently opened institutions, it is hard to indicate for now the level of successfulness of the MRCs operation. However, the gaps in the preparatory courses can be singled out at already this stage. In Armenia courses are arranged in the format of a briefing rather than that of a seminar, which unfortunately does not allow elaborating more the provided information. As the consultancy is short lasting and only once a month, they manage concentrating basically on the legal and cultural spheres. Such important points as healthcare, safety and protection are currently omitted from the course programme. In most cases, programme takes its structure and is based on guidebooks, prepared individually for almost 20 different countries concentrating on their immigration law, visa acquisition procedures and necessary documentation, and employment opportunities.

Another issue about Armenian preparatory courses can be singled out as it proactiveness. MRCs are referred to at any point when a migrant has issue that needs to be solved. Whereas, there is a necessity to develop more proactive courses which will have the intention of having the migrants prepared right from home and do the most for preventing from problems to arise in the destination country residing period. However, as the research shows, migrants have more preference in gaining practical skills and preparing for working and living in the new society.

Nonetheless, if properly managed, the current programmes in Armenia have the great potential of serving as a unique tool for monitoring migration process, as well as help strengthen the capacity of labor migration issues in the country.  As already mentioned, the services provided by MRCs are not widely-known and do not attract a vast variety of migrants. (The customers to centers are either heading to or repatriating from former CIS countries, mostly Russia.) This is also connected and reasoned by the lack of collaboration with private employment agencies (PEAs), which in their turn deploy Armenians for the job abroad and usually do not delegate jobseekers to the pre-departure seminars. In order to empower maximum number of migrants with abundant knowledge, it is suggested that PEAs can be great adjustment into the service, as usually they possess more practical information about EU and other society lifestyles. MRCs in their turn may have the possibility of regulating and registering the process of seminars conducted both in PEAs and their centers and have a more vibrant picture of the migration rates and trends in Armenia.

What is important to notice is that these programmes not only orientate the migrants correctly, but they also have a psychological aspect. By attending the seminars migrants get into the ‘atmosphere’ of the different culture and it makes the adjustment and integration process faster, which itself serves towards prosperous work of migrants abroad. Thus it is more suitable, likewise in the Philippines, to extend the seminars up to 3 days. This can motivate and may possibly oblige the trainees to take the courses more seriously and attentively.

Heading towards secure recruiting of Armenia’s workforce to EU countries and taking into account the level of vulnerability of Armenians, pre-departure orientation programs should become crucial point in the migration procedures. The right introduction to the society and putting of the courses and consultancy programmes into more regulated practice should become the central idea for the MRCs. Alongside with establishing new centers in the rest of the country, measures should be taken about the concern of introducing the existing services to the Armenian migrants.  

Still, it is impossible to say whether such kind of collaborative services will become effectively implemented to and delivered in Armenia, but based on the Philippines’ experience which is specialized in the sphere of circular migration, it can be stated that such services and programs are given lots of credits and are valued by the destination countries. In consequence, pre-departure seminars need to become a general practice generated and collaborated by the MRCs and PEAs. Thus, there is a need to break the common thinking that reaching the destination country is the hardest goal for a migrant to achieve. It should be generally perceived that the success and safety originate and are supported by the preparatory courses that the migrants attend to as well as by the level of being informed.

REFERENCES

1.       Aniceto Orbeta, Michael Abrigo, Michael Cabalfin, (May, 2009). ‘Institutions Serving Philippine International Labour Migrants’. Philippine Institute for Development Studies.

2.       Maruja B. M. Asis and Dovelyn Rannveig Agunias (September 2012).Issue in Brief ‘Strengthening Pre-departure Orientation Program’. IOM, Migration Policy Institution,

3.       A.K. Masud Ali. ‘Pre-Departure Orientation Programme: Study of Good Practice in Asia. A Comparative Study of  Bangladesh, The Philippines and Sri Lanka’, INCIDIN Bangladesh

4.       Dovelyn Rannveig, Agunias Christine Aghazarm, Graziano Battistella ‘Labour migration from Colombo Process countries: Good practices, challenges and ways forward’, IOM

5.       Caucasian Research Resource Center (2012) 'Migration and Skills in Armenia: Results of the 2011/2012 Migration Survey on the Relationship between Skills, Migration and Development’

6.       http://www.cfo.gov.ph/images/stories/pdf/2011_Stock_Estimate_of_Filipinos_Overseas.pdf

7.     http://www.senate.gov.ph/publications/AG%202012-04%20-%20OFW.pdf

8.       Migration Resource Centre, Employment.am http://employment.am/am/75/free.html

9.       The Migration Resource Centers part is based on the personal interviews with the workers of the centers.

 

 



MRC were established as a part of State Employment Service of Armenia within the frames of the project "Prevention of irregular migration and promote regular migration in Armenia and Georgia" on the basis of the memorandum signed with the International Organization for Migration (IOM ) Armenian Mission in April 4, 2010.

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