Canada, Not All ‘Rosy’ for Filipino Migrants

Canada is one of the preferred countries of destination for Filipinos aiming to work and live abroad. But life for migrant workers and overseas Filipinos is not all that rosy in the “Land of the Free,” a motto coined and patented by Canada.


Canada is one of the preferred countries of destination for Filipinos aiming to work and live abroad. But life for migrant workers and overseas Filipinos is not all that rosy in the “Land of the Free,” a motto coined and patented by Canada.

Bulatlat interviewed Filipino-Canadians, who participated in a fact-finding mission that investigated the unabated political killings in the country, about their lives in Canada. This is what they revealed.

Filipinos in Canada

The second largest country in the world after Russia, Canada is a favored destination of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs). In fact, government data showed that Canada is the tenth highest source of OFW remittances in 2005, amounting to $117.06 million.

The first Filipino immigrant to Canada entered the country in 1931. But compared to the United States, Filipino migration to Canada is a more recent phenomenon.

Only when its policy of exclusion of non-whites from the mainstream population was formally dropped in 1962, and flexible immigration policies were adopted in response to the growing demand for skilled labor, did Canada open up to migrants from other countries. Most of the Filipinos who took the chance to work in Canada are nurses, laboratory technicians, office workers, and a few doctors. Majority of nurses working there now came from the United States. When their work visas in the United States expired, they transferred to Canada.

In the late 1970s, a large number of sponsored relatives arrived under the family reunification program, including Filipino senior citizens. Filipino parents in their fifties and sixties were sponsored by their children living in Canada. In the 1980s, most Filipinos who entered Canada were live-in caregivers. By the next decade, there was a steady influx of independent immigrants and an increase in investors and entrepreneurs entering the country.

Data from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) shows that the number of OFWs going to Canada grew by 13.3 percent, or a total of 4, 006 in 2003 from 3,532 the previous year.

The burgeoning Filipino community in Canada is among the largest. Filipinos are considered a visible minority population distinct from other Southeast Asian groupings.

At present, the Philippine Embassy in Canada estimates that there are around 400,000 Filipinos staying there. Of this number, 36,922 are classified as permanent overseas Filipinos (OFs) who are degree holders and are working there as professionals.

Filipino organizing

With their growing number in Canada, Filipinos saw the need to organize themselves and fight for their welfare.

Cecilia Diocson first arrived in Canada in 1975 as a nurse. She may sound like a Canadian now but she has not forgotten the Ilonggo language (one of the languages spoken in the Negros and Panay islands in central Philippines). She still speaks Ilonggo fluently.

Diocson, originally from Sagay, Negros Occidental, is one of the pillars of Filipino organizing in Canada.

In the 1980’s, the Philippine Women Center (PWC) of British Columbia (BC), and the B.C. Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines (BCCHRP) were formed from the first solidarity formation under the Centre for Philippine Concerns.

The creation of sectoral organizations followed with the formation of the National Alliance of Philippine Women in Canada (NAPWC), Ugnayan ng Kabataang Pilipino sa Canada/Filipino-Canadian Youth Alliance (UKPC/FCYA), Sulong Itaguyod ang Karapatan ng mga Manggagawang Pilipino sa Labas ng Bansa (SIKLAB or Onwards, Promote the Rights of Filipino Workers Abroad), the Filipino Nurses Support Group (FNSG).

The campaigns conducted by Filipino-Canadians led to the creation of the Kalayaan Resource and Training Centre (KRTC), a community-based, non-profit organization that provides comprehensive research, resources and skills training to enable Filipino-Canadians to be socially active, and the Filipino-Canadians against Racism (Fil-CAR), a community-based group that educates, organizes and mobilizes against systemic racism faced daily by Filipino-Canadians.

Aside from labor and immigration issues, these organizations, Diocson said, also campaign for national freedom and democracy in the Philippines.

Filipino organizations in Canada have four areas of concerns: economic marginalization; systemic racism; sectoral issues; and the youth.

Filipino organizers go to different Filipino communities within Canada where they gather and share experiences, and conduct studies and campaigns on issues facing Filipinos.

Through their outreach efforts, these organizations were able to help Filipinos who could not exercise their professions or are being abused by their employers. For example, nurses have to wait for at least a year to be accredited. Others are subjected to deprofessionalization like engineers who are categorized and hired as engineer technicians.

“Nasaan ang mga Pilipino? You go to the malls, naglilinis o nasa delivery” (Where are the Filipinos? You go to the malls and they are there cleaning or doing deliveries.), said the concerned organizer. “Sa ospital, nasa housekeeping o laundry department.” (In hospitals they are in housekeeping or in the laundry department.)

Diocson said that Filipinos are among the first to lose their jobs during lay offs because they are in the bottom rung of jobs. She said that during the privatization of the health care system in 2000 called regionalization, several Filipino workers were laid off.

The laid-off employees were forced to seek the help of agencies to deploy them to other hospitals or other companies even in low-paying jobs.

Worse, Diocson said, is the effect of the lowering economic status of Filipino parents on their children who are also in Canada.

Diocson said there is a disturbing trend of Filipino youth dropping out of school. She said that many children of Filipino domestic workers were forced to drop out of high school after their parents ended up working in lower-paying jobs. Children, she added, are also not exempt from racial profiling by the police and the racism of Canadian youth. Studies conducted by the UKPC revealed that drop out rates of Filipino-Canadian children are high in Vancouver, Quebec, Montreal, and BC.

As a result, she said, out-of-school youth tend to join gangs that are prone to trouble.

Live-in caregivers

A high percentage of Filipino contract workers who came as domestic workers, called live-in caregivers, in the 1980s became immigrants after two years as overseas contract workers (OCWs).

About 70 percent of these workers are women. Thus, there arose a need to organize on the basis of women migrant issues.

Diocson said live-in caregivers are not covered by the Labor Protection Act. They were covered by the Employment Standard Act only in 1995.

Worse off are Filipino live-in caregivers who entered Canada under the Live-in Caregiver Program (LCP). In 2003 alone, 1, 811 Filipino caregivers entered Canada. Because of this, Diocson said, Filipinos already constitute the majority of temporary workers in Canada.

Introduced in 1992, the LCP is a federal program that allows the recruitment of foreign nationals to work in Canada as live-in caregivers. It is part of Canada’s immigration policy that aims to fill up the acute shortage of domestic workers and to provide childcare alternatives for well-off Canadian families. Under the LCP, live-in caregivers provide childcare, senior home support care, or care of the disabled in private homes.

The LCP’s two provisions – the mandatory live-in requirement and temporary immigration status – are “the seeds that bring forth numerous cases of abuse, exploitation and violations on the rights of caregivers,” said Diocson who chairs the NAPWC.

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