Regardless of their different social, economic, and political circumstances, Filipinos abroad tend to be lumped together as "Overseas Filipino Workers", or OFWs.
Based on 2017 data from the Philippine Statistics Authority, OFWs comprise roughly 2 per cent of the total Filipino population. They are hosted by several countries worldwide, including New Zealand, where many are increasingly attracted not only to work, but also to "settle" with their families.
However, despite the growing "Kiwinoy" community and the recognition that Filipinos now comprise the third-largest Asian population in New Zealand, there have been few studies on Filipino settlement in the country that go beyond usual reports of when they came, what they came for, and what they contribute. This is especially true for recent Filipino immigrants whose stories are distinct from those who came in the 80s, 90s, and even early 2000s, and whose mobility patterns are much more complex than their predecessors.
The following are some personal observations based on our interaction with Filipinos who have either acquired permanent residency or citizenship in New Zealand.
New Zealand is a third home for many OFWs
Three out of 10 Filipino couples we met between 2017 and 2018 in Auckland - the region where most Filipinos in New Zealand reside - had previously worked and lived in some of the top host countries for OFWs. These include Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE, Singapore, Yemen and Japan.
The majority of these people left the Philippines as singles in the early to mid-2000s primarily for better career opportunities, and met in their host countries, where they stayed for at least five years before moving to New Zealand together.
Working previously in the IT, accounting and medical fields, many said that while they were satisfied financially, their priorities changed as they started to have children, in which case their migration motivation shifted from mere economic security to family wellbeing. This saw them relocate from their countries of work, where they had been "permanent contractual workers", to another where they could bring their families to settle long-term.
"Unlike most other labels used to characterise Filipinos of mixed descent, 'Kiwinoys' does not elicit a stigma."
As well as couples, we also met individuals who shared the same story of third country migration for the purpose of reuniting with loved ones whom they had left behind as OFWs. One woman left her husband and two children in the Philippines in the early 2000s to go and work as a nurse in the Middle East, but eventually got a job in New Zealand, where she has been living with her family for more than 15 years.
In other cases, political instability and security were mentioned as main factors driving overseas relocation. In all cases, these Filipinos have become either permanent residents or citizens of New Zealand, contributing in various ways to local industries and communities.
Male and female OFWs have equal opportunities
In contrast to the alleged "feminisation" of Filipino labour overseas, Filipino labour in New Zealand is not stereotyped based on gender. For instance, it is not uncommon to meet Filipino male nurses, caregivers, and even daycare teachers in Auckland, and we have observed the same with Filipinas in so-called "male-dominated" sectors like IT and banking. This observation also seems to hold true for migrants of other ethnic backgrounds and is not surprising given New Zealand's consistent performance in terms of gender equality, ranking 7th among 149 countries in 2018 based on the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap report.
OFWs have a strong national identity but weak interest in homeland affairs
In our engagement with Filipino residents, we have observed how they remain proud of their Filipino identity while at the same time taking pride in New Zealand as their home. Unlike most other labels used to characterise Filipinos of mixed descent, the term "Kiwinoys" does not elicit a stigma. However, despite their strong cultural rootedness, what we have discovered is their seeming disinterest in, or apathy, towards homeland affairs.
For example, in a mini-survey we conducted on the 'Concerns of Filipinos in New Zealand surrounding the upcoming mid-term elections', 86 per cent of our respondents - all of whom are permanent residents - expressed strong concern about corruption in the Philippines but admitted they will not vote and are not actually registered voters.
It is to be noted that even permanent residents remain qualified to vote, as stipulated by the Overseas Absentee Voting Act, for as long as they are duly registered. But a significant number shared the view that the outcomes of the elections will not directly affect them and neither does it bother them since their immediate families are already in New Zealand.
"I am no longer updated on issues [in the Philippines]. Maybe, the elections would affect me but I do not think of it since I am no longer residing there," explained one Filipino software tester who has been living in Auckland for five years.
While inconclusive, we hope these observations will draw attention to the complex makeup of the estimated 60,000 Filipinos living in New Zealand. Permanent residents are just one of the cohorts and certainly, there are many issues to address, making a case for more in-depth and nuanced studies on Filipinos in New Zealand.
Sarah Domingo Lipura and Gay Marie Francisco are Filipino international students and doctoral scholars at the University of Auckland.
- Asia Media Centre