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The Philippines now Canada's top source of immigrants Add to ...

There were no balloons or confetti to mark the occasion but at some point late last year the Philippines become Canada's top source of immigrants.

If its climb up the charts comes as a surprise, it's understandable. China and India, both more than 10 times the size of the Philippines, have dominated Canadian immigration streams for years. There are well-known neighbourhoods and public figures associated with those communities. But Filipinos have settled in Canada in a way that tends to minimize their profile.

There is no identifiable Filipino-Town in any Canadian city and, according to one expert, only a handful of neighbourhoods with significant population concentration. Only one Filipino-Canadian has been elected to Parliament. With trends suggesting Filipinos will be at or near the top of immigration rolls for years to come, it's worth examining how they've integrated so quietly.

Much of the community's growth in Canada is due to Filipino dominance of the caring industries. The Live-In Caregiver Program, a stream that brings in nannies and care-workers for children and the elderly, is consistently more than 90 per cent Filipino.

Academics have called these emigrant caregivers the "servants of globalization" for the way they're enticed, economically, to spend years separated from their own families while tending to the children of the wealthy. The Philippine government prefers the term "heroes of the nation." Remittances sent back by overseas Filipinos - including $1.5-billion annually from Canada - add up to more than 10 per cent of the country's GDP.

The first large group of Filipinos to arrive in Canada came in the late 1960s. They were mainly well-educated professionals, people like Aprodicio Laquian, who got his PhD in the U.S. before being hired to teach at the University of British Columbia.

Nearly 85 per cent of that first wave had university degrees, according to Prof. Laquian's research. The next big wave coincided with the movement to import domestic workers and live-in caregivers, primarily women with lower educational levels, which began in the early 1980s.

Mabel Jesalva was an elementary school teacher in a rural area of the Philippines when she decided to abandon a middle-class career to be a nanny in Canada. She said she was prepared to accept several years of hardship to help her family.

"We were very poor back home. My dad was the only one working and we were seven in the family. When I was young I always said I want to go abroad because I want to help my family. My neighbours, I saw them go abroad and when they came back they had so much," she said.

She arrived in Canada in 1988 and struggled for several years. What kept her going was the dream of becoming a teacher again and owning her own home. More than 20 years later, Ms. Jesalva, 47, has achieved that dream.

The integration process has been smooth for many Filipinos, according to Roland Sintos Coloma, a professor at the University of Toronto, because they grow up with English in school and an affinity for Western culture, by-products of the long U.S. presence in the Philippines.

"The integration process is relatively easier. But the irony is that even though Filipinos are coming highly educated with English fluency, we still see de-skilling of Filipinos who can't practise in their area of employment," he said.

Although the jobs they take may not match their expertise, Filipinos tend to find work quickly in Canada. Their employment rates are above the national average.

Michael Villanueva, a 36-year-old Philippines-trained engineer, arrived in Winnipeg a year ago under the provincial nominee program. He works the night shift as a maintenance man at a Winnipeg bread plant, then spends his days in a college course for electricians. He said he knew that emigrating might mean stepping down a rung professionally, but he's still frustrated. He hopes to take a Canadian engineer's certification exam once his English skills improve.

The connection to the Roman Catholic church - about 85 per cent of migrants are Catholic - has also been a unifying force for the community, which has simultaneously rejuvenated shrinking congregations. Outside of church, Filipino-Canadians have formed more than 1,000 ethnic associations organized around work, sports or other interests.

Having such robust community networks may be one reason Filipinos don't tend to concentrate in neighbourhood enclaves, according to Prof. Laquian. Also, the nature of the caregiver program, which places migrants in peoples' homes, may play a role in the community's geographic dispersal.

In recent years, the education level of caregivers accepted as immigrants has skyrocketed. Philip Kelly, a York University geographer, said the proportion of caregivers with a university degree has risen to 63 per cent in 2009 from 5 per cent in 1993, making it an even better educated group than the skilled-worker class.

But as the human capital of newcomers has jumped, concerns have intensified about the fate of the children of previous waves. Prof. Kelly said research shows their outcomes are not what one would expect.

"In terms of statistical evidence, it looks like the story is not a happy one. Outcomes for Filipino youth are often quite poor, high levels of high-school dropouts and low levels of university graduation," Prof. Kelly said. In Toronto, 37 per cent of first-generation Filipinos have a university degree, but that number dips to 24 per cent in the second generation, he said.

Some experts blame the struggles of the next generation on the family dislocation caused by the caregiver program. Stories of women exploited in Canada and families damaged by years of separation have surfaced more frequently in recent years.

For women such as Salve Fungo, the caregiver program is just a way-station on the path to a better life. A computer technician in the Philippines, Ms. Fungo, 36, moved to Canada in 2007. After a little more than two years caring for an elderly woman, she's re-training as an IT specialist and embarking on the path to citizenship.

She describes it as an attractive proposition: A few years of sacrifice for life in a stable country with free health care and a salary that will allow her to send relatively vast sums home. She already paid her brother's way through college.

"Most of my friends wanted to come here," she said. "It's the 'in' thing in the Philippines to come to Canada."

 

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