by Noel Tarrazona in Manila

When Filipino immigrant Edwin Nodora first landed in Vancouver, his future seemed promising. The value of Canadian currency was high as compared to the Philippine Peso (PhP). After getting employed at a mall, Nodora was excited about the prospect of saving enough money to support his family back home.

But this dream may no longer be a reality now that the Canadian currency has fallen to its lowest levels in 11 years.

Over the last 10 years, more than 400,000 Filipinos migrated to Canada to seek greener pastures and to provide better economic security for their children and their children’s children. But this future is threatened, now that the Canadian dollar has dropped from CAD 1.00: PhP 43.00 in 2011 to CAD 1.00: PhP 35.00 today.

The effect on Filipino immigrants

For most immigrants to Canada, life will need to face financial adjustments. For Nodora, an engineer who is celebrating his fourth year in Vancouver, the Canadian dollar devaluation adversely affected the Filipino immigrants’ remittances to the Philippines.

He said that for most Filipinos, they felt upset because the value of the Canadian-dollar remittances sent to their relatives in the Philippines has decreased. As a result, the fruits of their labour will be comparatively little help to their families back home.

“It is part of our culture to help our less fortunate relatives in the Philippines, so sending money to them is always part of the Filipino spirit,” Nodora said. “[Now] the money we send them will have less impact on improving their quality of life.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"Devaluation did not stop immigrants from coming to Canada."[/quote]

The Vancouver Sun reported that Canada is one of the world’s greatest source of remittances and that the country remains a major source of remittances for the Philippines, totalling around $2 billion CAD a year.

The same sentiment was also shared by Filipino immigrant Joy Uy who has worked as a nurse in Saskatchewan after arriving in the province in 2011.

Uy explained that she was upset with the recent devaluation of the Canadian dollar, but remained hopeful that the currency will bounce back sometime next year. Despite the Canadian dollar devaluation, she said she is still witnessing increasing number of Filipino immigrants landing in Saskatchewan almost every week.

“This only shows that the devaluation did not stop immigrants from coming to Canada,” Joy added.

Canadian statistics show that Canada received 40,035 landed Filipino immigrants in 2014, increasing by around 30 per cent from 2013 when 29,545 Filipino immigrants arrived. Filipinos remain one of the the largest foreign-born groups in Canada since 2011, despite the struggling Canadian currency.

Hotel executive and Filipino immigrant Evelyn Yadao has been a resident of Vancouver for more than 20 years. She resigned from her Vancouver work in 2013 to volunteer in the Southern Philippines in her hometown of Zamboanga to help in the post-war rehabilitation.

During the war, 400 separatist rebels had stormed the city, causing the displacement of more than 100,000 locals including children.

After two months of humanitarian work in the Philippines, she flew back to Canada and immediately found a higher paying hotel executive job in Victoria, BC. She claimed that this kind of opportunity was what made Canada different from her hometown.

Even though she was in her early 50s, she was able to start a brand new career — an opportunity she doubts she would have been able to find back home.  

Yadao claims that despite the Canadian dollar devaluation, the other benefits of coming to the country will still outweigh any monetary challenges. She is confident that more prospective Filipino immigrants will land in Canada and is preparing to launch her immigration consultancy business in BC as well as a sister branch office in the Philippines that will cater to Filipino students and professionals who wish to land in Canada.

The other side of the coin

On the contrary, for some Filipinos planning to migrate to Canada, the maple leaf state is no longer a viable destination. Instead, potential immigrants are choosing to work in countries where their dollar goes farther.

Abdul Naing, who works as a hotel staff in Brunei, said he had planned to apply as immigrant to Canada as a skilled worker after his working contract expired in early September this year. However, after learning of the devaluation of the Canadian dollar, he dropped his application, choosing instead to renew his contract with his Brunei employment for another two years. 

A Brunei dollar currency is equivalent to PhP 35.00 when converted. In addition to his salary, Naing gets free food and accommodation from his company. As such, his earnings can all be set aside for savings, since almost everything is provided for in Brunei. According to Naing, these are advantages he could not avail of if he migrated to Canada.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]For some Filipinos planning to migrate to Canada, the maple leaf state is no longer a viable destination.[/quote]

Australia has also become an alternative destination for Filipino immigrants. Newly-landed Filipino immigrant Rafael Oclarit told New Canadian Media that upon hearing of the Canadian currency devaluation, many Filipinos like himself are choosing to take a chance in Australia instead.

“The minimum wage here is AUS 17.00 per hour and winter is not that bad,” Oclarit added. There are now more than 225,000 Filipinos who have chosen Australia as their new home and the number continues to rise.

Not only does Australia have a fairly stable economy but the distance to the Philippines is only 8 hours compared to the 15-hour flight time from Vancouver to Manila.

While for some, the Canadian currency devaluation may pose too great of a challenge for many Filipino immigrants and their relatives back home, many determined Filipino immigrants believe their bright future still lies in Canada.

For those who've waited so long to migrate to Canada, the current dip in the dollar is just a hurdle to be overcome on their way to creating a new life for themselves and their families. 

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Published in Economy
Friday, 05 June 2015 13:28

Pinoy Cash Flow Gets a Canadian Boost

Filipinos in Canada are expressing concern about Ottawa’s intention to support lower costs for remittance services.

Ed Fast, Minister of International Trade, told a Filipino gathering at the St. Mary’s church in Vancouver that Canada is working on measures to ensure safe, reliable and low-cost services to transfer money to family and friends outside of the country, helping to improve economic conditions abroad.

These transfers, known as remittances, represent a major source of income for millions of people around the world, and support a sustainable path out of poverty for the poorest and most vulnerable, he said.

To help reduce the costs of remittances services, Canada’s Economic Action Plan 2015 will invest $6 million over five years to introduce measures that will help enhance access to low-cost remittance services for Canadians, the minister said.

The Philippines is one of the top destinations for remittances from Canada.

"We will be comparing all the fees that are charged by companies and banks that are doing remittances to make sure that you know where to get the best price in terms of the cost of sending remittances back to the Philippines," Fast said.

Lower Fees Doesn't Mean Better Service

Some kababayans however said that the government may not be totally aware of what it takes to send and receive money in the Philippines, according to Balitang America.

Salve Didcott has been in Canada for 26 years and sends money to her family in the Philippines monthly. She said there's more to sending remittances than just the fees.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Those in the money remittance business meantime say fees have actually been going down the past years as more and more money transfer companies enter the market. But they say lower fees don't necessarily guarantee better service.[/quote]

"Some are actually charging more, less exchange; and the other is the charge is less, but the exchange is high. There are too many (factors), as I've said the location, the price, the exchange rate as well," she said.

Those in the money remittance business meantime say fees have actually been going down the past years as more and more money transfer companies enter the market. But they say lower fees don't necessarily guarantee better service.

Canada's Filipino Community Growing

World Bank estimates show Canada's remittance industry is growing with about $24 billion sent in remittances in 2012. The Philippines is in the top three receiving countries of remittances from Canada with $2 billion sent that year.

Meanwhile, another report said more than 40,000 Filipinos became permanent residents of Canada in 2014, making the Philippines the top source country for Canadian immigration last year. 

The Philippines had previously been the top source country in 2012, with China having been the top source country in 2013. Canada also issued nearly 47,000 visitor visas to Filipinos in 2014, a 56 percent increase since 2006. The number of new permanent residents from the Philippines is up from 14,004 in 2004, a near three-fold increase in just one decade.

Many of the Filipino newcomers originally came to Canada under the Live-In Caregiver Program, now simply the Caregiver Program after modifications made last November. The government of Canada’s immigration plan for 2015 states that it aims to convert between 26,000 and 30,000 caregivers to permanent resident status this year. In just a few short decades, Canada’s Filipino community has grown to become one of the country’s largest immigrant demographics. 

The more than 700,000 people of Filipino descent in Canada make up one of the country’s larger diaspora communities, and this number is increasing constantly. Filipino workers in Canada are important to both the Canadian and Philippine economies. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]During President Aquino’s historic visit, Canada and the Philippines signed a mutual accountability framework reaffirming the foundations of transparent, effective and sustainable international development cooperation between the two countries.[/quote]

While workers in Canada help to fill important labour shortages, families and friends in the Philippines benefit from remittances sent from Canada. About half of Canada’s Filipino population lives in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), with Vancouver hosting the second-largest Filipino population in Canada and Winnipeg also home to a large number of Filipinos. 

“Oftentimes, individuals will first come to Canada as temporary workers, leaving spouses and children behind. But many Filipinos have also worked hard to bring their immediate families to Canada. Once permanent residence is achieved, they are then able to reunite with their families in Canada,” said Attorney David Cohen.

Canada’s generous family sponsorship rules allow permanent residents to sponsor not only children and spouses, but parents and grandparents as well. These include the popular Parent and Grandparent Sponsorship Program as well as the new Super Visa Program, which offers long-term visitor visas to qualified applicants. The introduction of these family reunification programs has contributed to the upsurge in new arrivals from the Philippines.

Quick Facts

  • According to World Bank estimates, remittance flows to developing countries reached close to US$440 billion in 2014.
  • Canada ranks among the 10 largest outbound markets in the world, with remittance flows totalling an estimated US$23.1 billion transferred in 2014. It is also one of the top remittance-sending countries on a per capita basis.
  • At the Brisbane Summit in November 2014, the G-20 re-committed to reducing the global average cost of sending remittances to 5 percent of the amount sent.
  • The Philippines is a priority emerging market under Canada’s Global Markets Action Plan and is a country of focus for the Government of Canada’s international development efforts.
  • During President Aquino’s historic visit, Canada and the Philippines signed a mutual accountability framework reaffirming the foundations of transparent, effective and sustainable international development cooperation between the two countries.
  • In 2014, Canada welcomed more than 40,000 permanent residents from the Philippines, making it Canada's top source country for permanent residents last year.

Published in Partnership with The Filipino Post.

Published in The Philippines

by Our Special Correspondent

Politically-mobilized diaspora communities have the potential to act as “spoilers'” in conflict resolution and post-war reconciliation in their home countries, Sri Lanka's Ambassador to the UN in Geneva has said.

Ravinatha Aryasinha told the first-ever Diaspora Ministerial Conference in Geneva last week that Sri Lanka offered an instructive example, of both the scope as well as the complexities encountered in the nexus between diaspora, home state and host states.

 Aryasinha’s warning came as the International Organisation for Migration said earning the trust of diaspora populations is the singular challenge it put before governments, organizations and others working with these communities.

“Knowledge about diasporas is not sufficient to foster collaboration; the foundation of effective engagement strategies is trust building,” a background paper for the conference said.

The Sri Lankan ambassador said politically mobilized pro-LTTE Tamil diaspora sustain hatred and prevent reconciliation and that meaningful engagement was not possible with groups having such a pre-disposition.

Noting that the transnational political opportunity structures prevalent in host states help shape and sustain such diaspora activism, Aryasinha said countries that continue to condone the hostility and disruptive tendencies shown by such elements are giving a wrong signal.

He cautioned that while in general the diaspora can play significant roles in developing their country of origin, in the case of countries that remain conflict affected or have recently emerged from protracted conflict, the academic discourse clearly demonstrates that diaspora are rarely autonomous actors.

They are known to be compelled by organized networks to fund, arm, engage in propaganda and be electoral vote blocks in host countries, there-by having the potential to act as “spoilers” in conflict resolution and post-conflict reconciliation in their home states.

He said there are ample instances where even when home states might want to end a conflict or pursue reconciliation, diaspora resist such moves, for it is not their sons and daughters who die, and often keeping the pot boiling in the home states helps them retain greater leverage, particularly in their quest to legally reside or gain citizenship in their host country.

Aryasinha said we should recognize the complexity of this challenge, acknowledge the pre-disposition among some diaspora categories to make meaningful engagement difficult, and try to explore modalities through which both home and host states could better influence diaspora in processes of conflict resolution, reconciliation and development in their home states.

Call for Jewish forum

In news about the actual Diaspora that lent the word to describe immigrant communities, the Jewish People Policy Institute recommended in its 2013 Annual Assessment that Israel should establish a forum for regular consultations to discuss matters that could affect Jewish communities worldwide. The Israel-based think tank presented its report in Jerusalem this week.

With regards to Jewish identity, the report states that programs like “Birthright” and “Massa” are having a positive effect on the younger generation, despite the trend of weakening identification of people of Jewish descent with the Jewish people.

“Today's young generation sees the link with the Jewish People and the State of Israel as an option, for them this is a choice of being Jewish," Einat Wilf, one of the reports contributors, said. "Despite the fact that the trend is negative, there are indications that this is changing, we see that the different programs are having an effect."

Diaspora bonds planned

Money talks and bonds people together. The country which attracts the most remittances from its diaspora is planning to issue “diaspora bonds”.

India, which received $ 69 billion in remittances in 2012 [followed by China at $ 60 billion] as per a World Bank report, is considering the bonds to funds its infrastructure sector.

Overseas Indian Affairs Minister Vayalar Ravi said New Delhi is examining longer-term investment instruments for overseas Indians so that the community can participate and benefit from India's "growth story".

"The bulk of diaspora investments are in portfolio investments of a short-term nature. We are considering longer term investment instruments like 'diaspora bonds' to provide opportunities for overseas Indians," Ravi told the 5th biennial Jamaican diaspora conference.

Overseas Indians worldwide are brand ambassadors and produce an economic output of about $ 400 billion, Ravi said. While India's growth story so far has been driven primarily by its domestic industry, the diaspora holds far greater potential, he said.

"The cumulative Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) by Non Resident Indians is a modest $10 billion constituting less than five per cent of the total FDI in India,” he said. Lauding achievements of about 25 million overseas Indians spread across 130 countries, he said the community can serve as an "important bridge" between the "home" and the world.

Visa bonds decried

In news about another kind of bonds, a British proposal to slap £3,000 visa bonds for visitors from targeted non-white Commonwealth countries has attracted the expected flak.

The pilot scheme will initially cover India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nigeria and Ghana.

“They have been designated ‘high-risk’ countries, from which visitors aged over 18 on six-month visit visas will be forced to pay the £3,000 from November. The countries are being targeted by the Home Office because of the high volume of visitor visa applications and relatively high levels of fraud and abuse,” The Sunday Times newspaper said.

The plan was in disarray Monday after the Liberal Democrats, part of the ruling coalition, denied the policy had been formally agreed and Indian businesses accused Britain of discriminating against them.

The pilot scheme, announced over the weekend by the home secretary, forms part of wider Conservative Party efforts to bring down net migration to less than 100,000 by the next election.

As the coalition quibbled over the status of the policy, Indian business groups and would-be tourists responded with outrage to the idea.

The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) was one of the first organizations to hit out, saying the bond was “highly discriminatory and very unfortunate.”

“The suggested changes are not only discriminatory they are also against the ‘special relationship’ publicised by the U.K. government,” a CII spokesperson said. “We share U.K.’s concern on illegal immigration but surely there are other more effective and non-discriminatory ways to put a check on it.”

On social media, a flurry of angry Tweets from Indians made pointed references to Britain’s two centuries of colonial rule over India, and suggested New Delhi impose a reciprocal measure on British visitors.

“UK wants a bond of £3,000 for a visa. We should do the same. Their citizens often overstay their welcome here,” Ian Pereira, a professional photographer, tweeted. -- New Canadian Media

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Published in International

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