MANILA, September 15, 2004 (STAR) By Des Ferriols - The shortage of economic opportunities has pushed more workers to leave the country, but their offshore jobs led to a robust growth in dollar remittances, reaching a total of $4.7 billion from January to July this year.

Data from the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) show that remittances from overseas Filipino workers expanded by 14.5 percent in July alone compared to July 2003 and by five percent from January to July over the same period last year.

According to the BSP, the January to July growth rate is very close to the six-percent full-year projection by the BSP.

The BSP said the increase in the level of remittances for the month of July was partly a reflection of the growth in the total number of deployed Filipino workers overseas.

Preliminary data from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) show that the total number of deployed workers rose 9.2 percent to 569,877 from 521,818.

The BSP said the increase was noted for production workers, professionals and service workers such as caretakers/caregivers, performing artists, managers, and office personnel.

"The continuing efforts by domestic commercial banks to expand access to banks by Filipino workers abroad also facilitated remittances," the BSP said.

According to the BSP, there was a significant remittance network expansion through the establishment of new remittance centers and increased tie-ups with financial institutions in host economies.

The BSP reported that countries such as Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, Italy, U.S., U.K., Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates (UAE) continued to be the major sources of these remittances.

Despite the growing competition from other labor-exporting countries, the BSP said it expected the demand for Filipino workers to continue because of their skills, easy trainability and high level of professionalism.

The BSP, however, is also expecting some slowdown in dollar remittances as international institutions have clamped down on the global flow of terrorist funds.

Over the last three months, the BSP has been reporting the initial impact of new and tighter bank regulations on OFW remittances, noting a decline in funds coming out of the Middle East.

According to the BSP, Middle East countries particularly the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, have begun implementing Anti-Money Laundering (AML) and Counter-Terrorist Financing (CTF) regulations.

"Banks in Saudi Arabia now require complete documentation and examination prior to remittance by overseas workers," the BSP said. Remittance centers in most countries, according to the BSP, have been implementing strict screening procedures of clients to implement their "know your client" policy.

"This would provide incentives for OFWs to remit their earnings through non-bank channels which are not captured by official statistics," the BSP said.

Over time, the BSP said it expects some of these informal remittances to show up in the banking system but only to the extent that they are exchanged for pesos or deposited in dollar accounts.

The BSP said the ongoing crisis in the Middle East also restrained OFWs from going out of their place of employment to transact with remittance centers.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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