Many Filipinos immigrating to Canada for better future

Despite its cold climate, Canada is fast becoming the country of choice for many middle-class professional Filipinos. They are leaving the tropical Philippines to immigrate to Canada in hopes of finding a better future, reports AFP.

Unemployment is running at about 11 percent in the Philippines and rising, and, with 700,000 new college graduates every year, the country 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 moving permanently from a country where 51 percent live on two dollars 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 sadness about leaving the land of their birth.

The seminars are offered free of charge twice a week to those approved immigrants to Canada. They prepare Filipinos about 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.

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 househelp 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 which 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 dollars a month in the Philippines, about half what they can earn as domestic helpers in Hong Kong. Government doctors earn 400-500 dollars 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 which suffers from slow economic growth, political fighting and corruption.

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 Sto. Tomas.