Filipinos Preparing for Life in Canada

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In 2011, the Philippines overtook both China and India as the country with the most regular immigrants bound for Canadian soil, and it is expected to remain a top migrant sending country for years to come. Many Filipinos head to Canada through regular immigrant channels in search of permanent immigration and Canadian citizenship.    

Immigrants must overcome several hurdles on the way to a new life abroad, even via legal channels — there are socio-political factors to consider too, like the requirement to speak one of Canada’s two official languages fluently and other cultural differences. Preparedness, before travel, is key, and it is an inextricable factor of modern Filipino emigration.

The Canadian Orientation Abroad (COA) programme was established in 1998 and has since trained nearly 230,000 immigrants to Canada, from various immigration categories including Refugees, Family Class and Economic immigrants. The COA was first launched in the Philippines in 2002, and has since provided a pre-departure orientation session to over 115,000 Filipino immigrants to Canada.

In 2015, on the immigrant training side only, the COA programme entered a partnership with the Canadian Immigrant Integration Programme (CIIP), an Ottawa-based organization, to deliver a new joint product called Planning for Canada. Planning for Canada is a free service, also funded by the Government of Canada and implemented in various immigrant-sending countries by IOM, the UN Migration Agency. Currently, Planning for Canada is delivered by COA in Colombia, Haiti, Lebanon Mexico, Moldova, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, Romania, Russia, Sri Lanka and Ukraine. It consists of a one-day group orientation, followed by a one-on-one planning session to discuss education, work experience and how the immigrants’ credentials need to match the demands of the Canadian labour market. The orientation also addresses licensure in specific professional fields and sectors and seeks to provide specialised advice to individual immigrants regarding their specific settlement needs.

This enhanced pre-arrival service goes on to link future emigrants in the Philippines (and elsewhere) to Focal Point Partners across Canada before their scheduled departure. It goes a long way to lessening anxiety, building networks and preparing these economic migrants for their upcoming settlement and employment integration in Canada.

Mary Garlicki, a consultant facilitator with the Manila Planning for Canada team, understands just how important these group and individual seminars can be. She remembers coming to Canada as a child, and how difficult it was for her parents to adjust to a new country without any guidance.

“I think that Planning for Canada is invaluable, because people learn who to turn to, what agencies can help them, what literature they should read before departure and what steps they need to immediately take, while still in the Philippines, to make their employment integration smoother,” she said.

“We didn’t have that,” added Garlicki, whose family came to Canada after being displaced from Poland after World War II. “In [the 1950s] they didn’t have a pre-departure orientation programme like the one we give through IOM.”

Garlicki remembers how her family found comfort and support within the Polish community. The more she works with groups of soon-to-be Canadian emigrants, the more she hears about their desire to move where there is an already established Filipino community. Finding people with a similar background, language and culture can be a big source of support for any migrant arriving in a new country. There is strength in numbers, not only abroad but back in the islands too, as Filipinos in Canada send home billions of dollars each year in the form of remittances.

The government of Canada has helped thousands of Filipinos and approved immigrants from around the world start an informed migration journey, but this is not always the case. For all the positive aspects associated with increased migration flows from the Philippines, there is a darker underbelly that cannot be ignored. Lured with promises of jobs and other economic opportunities in different regions of the world, some Filipino migrants find themselves trafficked into modern-day slavery by criminals looking to profit from their optimism — and vulnerability.

Laorence Castillo is a caseworker in Manila with Migrante International, a Filipino NGO which aims to raise public awareness about the experiences Filipino workers abroad. Filipino migrants, also referred to as “Overseas Filipino Workers” (OFWs) leave their families behind, planning to provide for them with higher wages earned in other countries. Castillo’s office receives multiple visits weekly, from OFW families seeking advice about loved ones who are in distress abroad.

“Every day, around three to five people come to our office to seek our help,” Castillo explained. “We need to do something: to educate them, to empower them, to inform them of their rights, so that they to know how to assert themselves.”

Most of the complaints that Castillo fields come from the families of OFWs who go to find work elsewhere in Asia or in the Middle East, and end up being exploited for their labour under harsh conditions. Yet this can happen not only for low-skilled labour migrants, but their high-skilled counterparts, anywhere in the world.

“We have cases of trafficking involving teachers and doctors going to Canada, the U.S. and Europe,” Castillo said. “The problems of low and high-skilled workers are the same, even if the [situation is less] grave among the professionals.”

A lack of opportunities at home drives Filipino workers in both categories to seek jobs outside the country, leaving them vulnerable to mistreatment. A clear solution is to further fortify the local economy, but paradoxically the Filipino economy currently relies heavily on the remittances sent by its workers from abroad.

It is estimated that there are over 10 million OFWs in the world, making the Filipino diaspora one of the most robust in the world. In line with global trends, which placed the number of international migrants at 244 million people in 2015, these numbers are likely to continue growing along with the risks. Information and preparedness are vital if migration is to be a safe and orderly proposition.


The persons cited in this article were interviewed in Manila for the I am a migrant/UN TOGETHER campaign in June 2017.

Participants of Planning for Canada sessions in Manila, Philippines. Photo: Planning for Canada 2017