Marites Navarro

Opportunities Overseas: Leaving the Philippines for Work in North America

Image 2.1 Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) held its 20th Migrant Workers Day celebration in 2015 in Cagayan, participated by a total of 678 attendees from nine OFW family circles. Image from OWWA website.  

Philippine government policies and partnerships with other countries provided an impetus for Marites, her siblings, and other Filipinos to leave the country to search for work.

Setting the Stage to Leave

After centuries of Spanish colonialism and decades of American occupation which formally ended in 1946, the Philippines still struggles with poverty, unemployment, and government corruption, especially in rural areas like the Cagayan Province where Marites was born. Travel abroad is common among  Filipino workers as migration is often a reaction to the economic state of the Philippines, while official agencies and programs are established to facilitate their movement.

Each year the government of the Philippines celebrates Migrant Worker’s Day in order to recognize the role that migrant workers play in Philippine society. Meanwhile, the government claims that Filipinos are “the most sought-after workers in the world today”(Ty, 2012). More than 7.3 million Filipinos, or eight percent of the country’s population, currently reside abroad.

Moving to North America

Even though Marites graduated from university and found employment as a medical lab technician, she discovered that she lacked opportunities for upward mobility in the Philippines.

When Marites began to contemplate looking for employment outside of the Philippines, her older sister Jane suggested that she move to Toronto and work as a live-in caregiver.

In order to complete her move Marites applied for the Foreign Domestic Movement (FDM) program with the intent of working as a live-in caregiver. This program was initially a partnership between the Canadian and Philippine governments but the placement process was relinquished by both governments to private recruitment agencies. Excessive placement fees often become issues for migrant workers and act as barriers to their finding employment or leave them in debt.

Marites was lucky and did not have to go through a recruitment agency because she was introduced to her first employer by Jane. Jane had been working as a live-in caregiver in Toronto for two years at the time of Marites’ arrival and was ready to move on to another career. At this point, Marites decided to take this opportunity to leave the Philippines with larger aspirations of finding better job opportunities in Canada.


How has the Philippine’s colonial past set the stage for Filipinos working abroad?

What are the future implications of this brain drain on the Philippines, its economy, its culture and the families left behind?

A program established in 1981 that allowed for domestic workers with temporary work permits to apply for landed immigrant status after two years of working in the country. This program was replaced by the Live-In Caregiver Program in 1992. The Live in Caregiver program accepts between 2,500-3,500 applicants each year and as of 2008, 95.6% of Canada’s live-in caregivers were women from the Philippines (Reed, 2009; Kahn, 2008).

Every June 7, the government of the Philippines award 20 outstanding migrant workers who have demonstrated moral fortitude, hard work, and a track record of sending money home, as a way of celebrating the signing into law of the Migrant Workers Act of 1995.

There are more than 1,000 government-licensed recruitment agencies in the Philippines (and an unknown number of unlicensed ones) that match workers with foreign employers. Recruitment agencies charge migrant workers “placement fees” up to $6,000.

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