By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – Filipino migrant leaders in the United Kingdom, Canada, and US revealed that undocumented workers in those countries are the hardest hit with the lack of social protection amid the dreaded pandemic.
In the recent Bulatlatan episode “Far from home: OFWs caught in pandemic,” Phoebe Dimacali, chairperson of the London-based Filipino Domestic Workers Association, said that many undocumented Filipino workers who are working on a “no-work no-pay” basis have lost their jobs.
Dimacali, also a domestic helper based in London, said, “This COVID-19 has greatly affected us and our families.”
Listen on Spotify: Far from home: OFWs caught in pandemic
Garry Martinez, long-time OFW leader and pastoral care head of the All Saint Battersea Filipino Community, added that most of our countrymen are working in the service sector. “They immediately felt the brunt of this pandemic,” he said in the same Bulatlatan episode.
Access to health care
Apart from losing jobs, New York-based Melanie Dulfo of the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns (Nafcon) underscored the lack of access to health care of many undocumented OFWs.
Dulfo, who is a mid-level administrator at a community health center in New York, said in another Bulatlatan episode that health systems in many areas where there is a high concentration of immigrants were easily overwhelmed.
Immigrants, she said, has been bearing the burden of the poor COVID-19 response of the US government. She said that even before the pandemic, undocumented immigrants in the US have been skipping visits to doctors because they do not have health insurance.
Listen on Spotify: Is COVID-19 the ‘endgame’ for US-dictated privatized healthcare?
The US, she said, was forced to confront long-running problems in their fragmented health system due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Access to healthcare in the US, for the longest time, is determined by their health insurance.
Dulfo also said that the pandemic also highlighted the problem with labor trafficking in the United States. She cited that hundreds of Filipino workers with J-1 visas have been terminated from their work-study programs.
The International League of Peoples’ Struggle (ILPS)-USA branded the J-1 visa program as “legalized labor trafficking.” While J-1 is a temporary non-immigrant visa issued by the U.S. embassy for individuals who participate in “work and study exchange visitor programs”, most of the J-1 visa holders work in hotels with meager pay and without benefits.
For many Filipinos with J-1 visa, going home is not an option. Flights are limited and overpriced, not to mention that many of them have yet to repay up to $10,000 in placement fees.
Impact on families here in the Philippines
OFWs also worry about their families back home.
Dimacali said they have to send additional funds amid the pandemic, with the low exchange rates between British pounds and Philippine peso to continue supporting their families here in the Philippines.
Cielo Tillan, vice president and welfare officer of the FDWA, said she also has to send more remittances now, with their families not receiving any government aid. Their families, she said, were not included from the government aid as they have relatives working abroad.
In 2019, Philippines ranked fourth as the largest destination for remittances of overseas workers, per the World Bank.
Poor helping poor
Despite the difficulties they are facing, volunteer-members of the FDWA are providing relief assistance to fellow Filipinos who are in need in London. Faith-based groups, human rights groups, and migrant rights groups immediately set up a support system. They provide basic needs such as food, medicines, and toiletries.
While the FDWA does not have enough financial resources to support fellow Filipinos for their house rent and daily food, Tillan said they have been receiving support for the work they have been doing.
Nafcon, for its part, is also providing relief and other forms of assistance to Filipino J-1 visa holders in the United States.