Where in Australia do most of the Filipinos live

Labor migration is normal for Filipinos

Many Filipinos live and work abroad. Their families and the economy depend on the money they send home.

"The loneliness was often so unbearable that I sometimes thought I was going crazy," said Jane, describing her first months in Schledehausen in northern Germany. Prayers saved her, she often went to church. Meetings with other Filipino nurses who, like her, suffered from homesickness also helped. They shared their grief over leaving family and young children behind and cried together until the pain subsided. Growing up without their mothers was of course difficult for the children too.

Jane learned German quickly and soon began to appreciate her new environment. She worked hard and her colleagues accepted her. Thanks to her income, her children were able to attend a good school in the Philippines. The decision was tough, but she doesn't regret it.

Political considerations

Jane was one of many nurses and midwives who left the Philippines in the 1970s. Not only Germany recruited medical personnel, countries such as Britain and the USA were also dependent on immigrants. The Philippine government under the then President Ferdinand Marcos saw labor migration as a temporary solution to high unemployment and rising foreign debts.

Initially, mostly men went to oil production sites in the Middle East - officially as overseas contract workers (OCWs) as they left the Philippines with their employers' contracts.

Even in 1986, after the overthrow of the despot Marcos, the exodus continued. The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) was founded in 1982. It was supposed to introduce a "systematic program to promote and monitor the work of Filipino workers abroad". Over the decades, she has handled millions of employment contracts; in the past ten years, an average of at least 5,000 workers went abroad every day.

What statistics say

In 2013, the Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO) estimated that around 10.2 million Filipinos lived and worked overseas. Around 4.9 million of them have stayed in the destination countries permanently, most of them in the US, Canada, Australia, Japan, Britain, Italy, Singapore, Germany, Spain and New Zealand. Another 4.2 million work with temporary employment contracts, mainly in Asia, and around 1.2 million illegally in countries such as Malaysia, the USA and Italy.

According to the World Bank, the money sent home by migrants has accounted for around ten percent of the Philippine gross domestic product over the past ten years. So it's not just the families that benefit directly - the money is an important driver of the Philippine economy. Without labor migration, poverty would be greater and the political order less stable.

56 percent of the two million Filipinos working abroad whose contracts the POEA 2019 processed are women, according to the Philippine Statistics Agency. Filipino women who emigrated unregulated do not appear in these figures. Since the 1980s, many have left the country as tourists and work abroad without papers.

Since many women work in rich countries, Filipino nurses and domestic help are in demand there. In 2019, the statistics agency found that almost 40 percent of newly emigrated migrants do simple activities such as housework. The main destination is Saudi Arabia, followed by the United Arab Emirates, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Kuwait. This harbors risks such as sexual and physical violence as well as exploitation - especially for undocumented women who cannot go to the police.

Quite a few Filipino women have been abused and killed by their employers - often, but not exclusively, in the Middle East. The case of the 29-year-old domestic help Joanna Demafelis, who was found dead in the refrigerator of her employers in Kuwait, became known. As a result, the Philippine government banned the use of Filipino workers in Kuwait in February 2018. A little later, however, she lifted the ban: labor migration is too important for the country.

Exodus in healthcare

Trained women who emigrate are often given formal jobs with better protection. Almost 17,000 Filipino nurses signed employment contracts overseas in 2019.

In April 2020, President Rodrigo Duterte temporarily stopped the departure of health workers due to Corona. According to the POEA, the step was necessary because there is a shortage of around 290,000 health care workers in the country itself and an average of 13,000 more migrate each year, making the shortage even worse. The ban was partially lifted in November, and 5,000 doctors, nurses and carers are now allowed to leave the country every year.

Workers' representatives were against the ban, they saw it as a violation of rights. Critics also complained that the salaries of Filipino nurses were the lowest in Southeast Asia. A new law now raises the monthly salaries in state clinics to at least the equivalent of 545 euros - but it has not yet been implemented. In Germany, a Filipino nurse earns around 2000 euros. The cost of living is a Filipino nurse in a German hospital, 1992. Although higher, she can still send some of it home.

Marie came to Hamburg as a nurse in 2016. Many of her colleagues in the Philippines have now signed employment contracts in Germany and are about to leave. With the “Triple Win Project”, the Federal Employment Agency would like to attract medical staff from abroad (see Richa Arora in the debate in the D + Z / D + C e-paper 2020/06).

Much is easier today than it was in the 1970s. Marie keeps in touch with the family via messenger services and Facebook. She learned German in Manila and took orientation courses to prepare for life in Hamburg. Her income finances her siblings' education - she didn't have to leave her own children behind. Marie has geared her career to making more money and supporting her family.

Emmalyn Liwag Kotte is a freelance journalist and lives in Germany.
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