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Middle East hiring freeze stings the Philippines

As part of a preemptive move to avoid major protests, Saudi rulers have tried to tackle domestic unemployment by trimming the number of foreign workers in the country where more than 1.3 million Filipinos live and work.

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Halfway around the world from Egypt and Libya, the Arab Spring is even reverberating in small-town Philippines. Many families here depend on wages sent back from wealthier countries, including the Middle East, which accounted for nearly half of new overseas jobs in 2010.

So far, job losses have been concentrated in Libya, which employed around 23,000 Filipinos before war erupted in February. A far greater worry is the prospect of cutbacks in Saudi Arabia, where more than 1.3 million Filipinos live and work, the largest overseas community after the US. Their wages helped bump up total remittances last year to a record $18.7 billion.

While Saudi rulers haven’t faced sustained protests, they’ve tried to tackle domestic unemployment by capping the number of foreign workers that companies can hire in what some observers have described as part of a preemptive move amid turmoil in the region. This could have a major effect in the Philippines, which is the fourth-largest supplier of workers after Pakistan, India, and Egypt.

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