News Commentary

More Pinoys seek brighter future in Canada

Despite its cold climate, Canada is fast becoming the country of choice for many middle-class professional Filipinos who are leaving the tropical Philippines in droves to seek a better future for themselves and their families overseas.

Armed with a college degree and a good career history with a multinational electronics firm in Manila, Ferdie del Rosario plans to quit his job and emigrate to Canada.

Taking a day off from his job as a supervisor at Amkor Technology, he has brought one of his small children along to a seminar on becoming a Canadian citizen.

Del Rosario points to his daughter, playing in the aisle during a seminar break, and says he is doing it "for the future of my kids."

He says his life here is comfortable but even he is worried about what lies ahead for the Philippines.

"You can see the situation: there are so many graduates but not enough jobs. In my job, there are college graduates who are just machine operators," Del Rosario said.

Unemployment is running at about 11 percent nationally and rising, and, with 700,000 new college graduates every year, the economy cannot create enough skilled jobs to accommodate them.

A million Filipinos are expected to leave the country this year, most of them in search of temporary, higher-paying jobs. But a growing number are pulling up stakes for good in a country where 51 percent live on P100 a day or less.

For the optimistic crowds who attend the seminars organized by the Canadian government’s Citizenship and Immigration Ministry, there is little sign of wistfulness about leaving the land of their birth.

Offered free of charge twice a week to those approved immigrants to Canada, the seminars prepare Filipinos for the realities of their new country: the cold weather, the culture shock and having as much as 30 percent of their salaries go to taxes — a sharp adjustment for Filipinos who are used to evading taxes back home.

Canadians based in the Philippines say there is much to love in the Southeast Asian country: a comfortable, tropical climate, beautiful beaches, fresh fruits and fresh seafood.

But at one recent seminar, the would-be migrants, mostly professionals or skilled workers, said they would be glad to leave "the pollution" and "bribery."

The only things the Filipinos said they would miss are the friends and family they will be leaving behind — and the low-cost house helpers that every middle-class Filipino family can afford.

Filipinos are the third largest group of immigrants to Canada, just behind the Chinese and Indians. Approximately 12,000 immigrated last year alone, Canadian officials said.

The number excludes 2,000 Filipino caregivers allowed into Canada each year under a special program that lets them become permanent residents after about three years.

In the past, the United States was the migrants’ first choice. But stricter US immigration regulations, Canada’s more open policy to skilled workers, state-subsidized schools and health care are attracting more Filipinos.

The Canadian government advises migrants to bring enough money to survive for six months because it may take them that long to settle and find a job.

The immigrants are not intimidated by advice that their educational and professional qualifications may not count as much in Canada — or tales from earlier migrants about how they had to start working at the bottom of the ladder.

Teachers in government schools get paid about $200 a month here in the Philippines, about half what they can earn as domestic helpers in Hong Kong. Government doctors earn around $400 to 500 a month in the Philippines but in North America, they can earn many times that each month as nurses.

Many are willing to endure this because they have lost hope in a home country that suffers from sluggish economic growth, political squabbling and corruption.

Gloomy sentiments about the Philippines have been growing for years. A July 2002 survey by Manila-based polling outfit Pulse Asia Inc. found that 24 percent of adults said they would "migrate to another country and live there" if given a chance.

Options of preventing the country’s best and brightest from leaving are few. "Well, what can we do about it? Tell me, can I prevent you from leaving? I don’t think so," says Labor Secretary Patricia Santo Tomas.

One prospective migrant, dancer Jojo Lucila, proudly recalls how he choreographed some of the official Philippine Independence Day parades in recent years.

But in his trips abroad, he was impressed by the discipline and way of life in Canada. "It is a good place to raise kids. Once there, you hardly see people blow their horns when they drive."

Lucila says "the straw that broke the camel’s back" was joining his children in watching the televised corruption trial of deposed Ppresident Joseph Estrada.

His kids seemed more impressed by the eloquence of the lawyers rather than the moral issue of a president being tried for plundering his country, he recalls.

"You can’t tell what are the obvious values (here). Our system is too disorderly. You don’t know whom to trust. We want our kids to have a choice of understanding a better country, (learning) what is right and what should be done," he said.

Louise Belanger, Philippine manager of the Canadian Orientation Abroad project, does not recall any case of a Filipino going to Canada and then returning home in disappointment.

One woman wrote to her, saying she wanted to give up after only six months. She was advised to stick it out and in a year, she found her desired job as a chartered accountant, Belanger recalls.

Glenda Carabit, assistant professor at a small provincial college, says she is going because "at my age, 40, I have served the country that long. I can spend the rest of my life as a Canadian."

She is confident that the she will be able to cope with the new environment. "I’m a Filipino. We can handle these things," Carabit says.

"It’s a trend. Everybody is going now," she adds. — AFP

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