Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts

Vol. VI, No. 44      Dec. 10 - 16, 2006      Quezon City, Philippines








Web Bulatlat


(We encourage readers to dialogue with us. Email us your letters complaints, corrections, clarifications, etc.)

Join Bulatlat's mailing list



(Email us your letters statements, press releases,  manifestos, etc.)



For turning the screws on hot issues, Bulatlat has been awarded the Golden Tornillo Award.

Iskandalo Cafe


Copyright 2004 Bulatlat



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.

Immigration problems

Filipinos face not only work-related problems but also immigration issues.

Live-in caregivers are subject to arbitrary and unjust deportation for failure to complete the requirements of the LCP, which includes 24 months of live-in work within three years upon entering Canada. Those who entered Canada under the LCP can apply for immigrant status only after three years.   

In some cases, Diocson added, those facing deportation are given an extension of their working visas under the temporary worker program.  But under the latter program, they could not apply for permanent residency.

A migrant worker served with a deportation notice should leave the country within a month. Because some have debts in the Philippines and have not yet saved money, Diocson said, they go into hiding and work as illegal aliens. They survive by working in the “underground economy” as baby sitters or domestic cleaners, she said.

“Now, we are feeling the trauma of migration,” she said. “In the 70’s, there were a lot of jobs available even for migrant workers. But because of neoliberal globalization, there were retrenchments even in Canada leading to more competition for jobs.  Thus, Filipinos and other migrant workers are relegated to low-paying jobs.”

Government neglect

In organizing fellow Filipinos in Canada, Diocson said it is not enough to just tell them what to do to solve their problems.

“When we talk to them, we don’t just explain the rights of live-in caregivers and migrant workers in Canada but we explain the roots of migration, the economics and politics of it,” said Diocson. “We explain to them the reasons behind the labor-export policy of the Philippines, tracing the root cause to the socio-economic and political problems besetting the country; why Filipinos had to work abroad to earn a decent income; and why Canada needs our cheap labor,” Diocson said

Being the main force that keeps the Philippines’ ailing economy afloat, migrant workers are regarded as “modern-day heroes” by the Philippine government.

But the government does not match the adulation it confers on OFWs with deeds, Diocson said. “The OFWs toil as modern-day slaves abandoned by their government,” said Diocson

Numbers lang ang tingin sa amin,” (We are just being viewed as numbers.) she lamented

She also criticized the Philippine Consulate for not setting a shelter to accommodate domestic workers running away from abusive employers. She stressed that trade and investment promotion continues to be the primary concern of Philippine officials in Canada.

“Ang role lang naman ng Philippine Embassy ay mangolekta ng pera,” (The only role of the Philippine Embassy is to collect money from OFWs.) she said. “They are not really interested in the conditions of the Filipino workers. Wala pa akong nakitang consulate with services except renewal and validating of passports,” (I have not seen a consulate with services except renewal and validating of passports.) she added.

Diocson also said they have cases of OFWs seeking the help of Filipino organizations after being denied assistance by the Philippine embassy.

One successful campaign that Filipino organizations conducted was against the deportation of Laila Ilumbra in 2004. Ilumbra was given a deportation notice after failing to complete the required 24 months of live-in work. But she was not able to complete the requirement because she was ill then and was in a coma for four months.

“If they deported this person, it shows that Canada has no soul,” Diocson said.

After they have lobbied before the Canadian government, Ilumbra was allowed to stay in Canada for humanitarian considerations. At present, Diocson said, Ilumbra is undergoing rehabilitation and has been getting medical assistance, free of charge from the Quebec local government. Diocson scored the Philippine Consulate for not giving Ilumbra the $6,000 assistance it promised.

She also said that instead of helping OFWs facing deportation, the Philippine Consulate even encourages them to avail of voluntary deportation so that the host government would shoulder the transportation costs.

“The only responsibility they take is to secure the plane ticket!” she said, “(After all), they have collected their money already.”

Hopes and realities of home

Although they have left the country several decades ago, they never lose hope that they would eventually go back home.

To facilitate the process of reintegration into Philippine society, Filipino groups in Canada implement a program that sends Filipino-Canadians to the Philippines for six months of integration/exposure.

Sino ba ang ayaw bumalik sa sarili n’yang bansa?” she asked, “Pero dahil sa mahirap ang buhay sa Pilipinas, kailangang marami-rami ka na ring naipon para mabuhay sa pagbalik mo.”  (Who does not want to return to his/her own country? But because of the difficulties of earning a living in the Philippines, one needs to have a lot of savings to be able to live a decent life when one returns.)

Diocson said that her two children, who were born in Canada, had their integration in the Philippines. She related that they had a positive experience.  But they also realized that earning a decent living is difficult in the Philippines.

But Diocson assured that even as they are miles away from their native land, they will still respond to the “call of service, the call for change.” Bulatlat



© 2006 Bulatlat  Alipato Media Center

Permission is granted to reprint or redistribute this article, provided its author/s and Bulatlat are properly credited and notified.