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Tuesday, 29 April 2014

The struggles of Filipino migrants in the UK

Since the UK government introduced a points based immigration system in 2007 it has become increasingly difficult for migrant workers from outside the EU to work in the UK. Financial cuts, coupled with EU expansion and the widening of the free movement of labour to A8 and A2 nationals has meant that there are also fewer nursing vacancies available for workers from outside Europe. Nevertheless, many Filipino migrants continue to arrive on short-term student visas, which allow them to work part-time for no more than 10 hours a week in term time and 37.5 a week outside term time (until 2011 they were allowed to work 20 hours a week during term time). All but one of those recruited to explore these changes in a recent research project had been in the UK for between 8 months and 3 years. Almost 90% were under 35 years of age; all had arrived to study and find work.

The Philippines is one of the major global exporters of migrant labour; it is recognised as a labour brokerage state that mobilises and exports workers through an established and efficient migration bureaucracy. One of the major motivations for individual migration overseas is find to work and send remittances home to extended family networks. Many Filipinos continue to pay agency fees in the Philippines for EU jobs that no longer exist, and when they arrive in the UK many are encouraged to take out expensive loans of up to £9,000 to pay for college and university fees. Some of those engaged in the research had unexpectedly found themselves in this situation and there were numerous complaints about the lack of part-time jobs and restricted working hours; most also work in jobs for which they are greatly over qualified.

This situation underpins many of the problems recent migrants from the Philipines face in the UK. A small number arriving on student visas are lucky enough to stay with established family members who now have dual citizenship; many others live in poor quality private sector housing or expensive accommodation provided by educational institutions. The lack of jobs, combined with lack of entitlement to benefits, means that Filipino migrants can easily end up in debt and/or on the streets if things go wrong (The Guardian 2011). Some students from the Philipines are being charged excessive fees to stay in student accommodation over the summer months, and we also heard reports of Filipina women entering into illicit relationships with men to overcome financial difficulties; figures obtained from Citizens Advice Bureau confirm that many migrants from the Philippines struggle to cope.

This situation also creates barriers and tensions between established migrants from the Philipines and newcomers. When migrants become established in the UK they often disappear, thus leaving newcomers to fend for themselves and undermining the wider development of a national community. This situation appears is made worse by a strong culture of self-sufficiency and a reluctance to ask for help when things go wrong. There is little awareness from within the community of the localised forms of support that are still available and support services often have little knowledge of the problems migrants from the Philippines face. As one interviewee stated: 'I think the culture is like this because if you don’t work you don’t have anything… if you don’t earn, you don’t have any food.'

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