Why Mexican, Not Filipino Migrants Were Hit in 09

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 8/18/2010 12:17:00 AM
Among lands sending emigres, perhaps none match the Philippines in terms of the geographical spread and variety of occupations filled by its economic migrants. Yes, it even sends a blogger working at a British university you should know of--yours truly! A few months ago, I touched upon both reasons as to why the Philippines did not really suffer large falls predicted by many in the development community in terms of both demand for migrant workers and remittances sent home. That post also suggests why economists mistakenly assumed the worst for the PR in 2009. Unfortunately, our Mexican counterparts did not have share the same fortunate fate as they've been hard hit by putting too many eggs in one basket (the United States) and one occupation (construction).

I somehow missed this New York Times article by Jason DeParle when it first came out, but I guess now is as good a time as any to rectify this omission. He is perhaps the most knowledgeable reporter on global migration. While he tends to dwell too much on the negative--anecdotal evidence on the social effects of mass migration, worker abuse, and so forth--you cannot necessarily generalize across cases. Given the increasingly skilled Filipino workforce going abroad, gains in human capital manifest themselves in concomitantly increasing social protections. Anyway, before I get too long-winded, here is what he writes on the illuminating Philippines and Mexico comparison:
Migrants from the developing world sent home $316 billion last year, according to the World Bank. That was 6 percent less than the previous year, but more than the bank predicted, and $80 billion more than migrants sent as recently as 2006. Since private investment fell much more, the relative importance of the migrants’ money grew.

While remittances to Mexico took an outsize hit (16 percent over two years), the Philippines offers a contrasting model of overseas work. Mexicans are closely tied to one place (the United States), and one industry (construction). Filipinos work across the globe in dozens of occupations. Mexican migration is unmanaged and mostly illegal. Filipino workers are promoted by the state, and most go with contracts and visas.

Mr. Roque has spent his career selling Filipino labor, and as the economy slowed he stepped up his marketing. He won agreements with four Canadian provinces, which took thousands of temporary workers, including nurses, nannies, and coffee shop workers. In Saudi Arabia, a construction boom brought more jobs in the building trades. In 2008, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo made a plea to the emir of Qatar for more work visas.

Despite the downturn, annual deployments of workers rose by a third over the past two years, to 1.4 million. The sums they sent home rose 19 percent, to $19.4 billion, according to the World Bank. “People were projecting a doomsday scenario,” Mr. Roque said.

The Magsaysay Training Center in Manila feels less like a vocational school than a theme park of migrant trades, filled with replicas of foreign work sites. Student sailors in a simulator room steer ships through high-tech storms. Student bakers in toques practice cream puff injections. A glass wall offers a view of a luxury hotel room, where instructors watch trainees wipe the marble bath and stock the minibar.

Brynnerson Cepe, 25, beamed as he bustled about in a crisp gold uniform. He spent four years earning a college degree in hotel and restaurant management and three years as a Starbucks supervisor. But in the hierarchy of Philippine status and pay, the real upward movement would come from making a hotel bed overseas. “You can earn double or more,” he said. “And you can get other opportunities.”
Endless, rather communistic books have been written about how the Philippines exploits its citizens by sending them abroad to send home much-needed foreign exchange. Still, the United Nations designates the Philippines as a country observing best practices in handling migration. While it would of course be nice if there were sufficient opportunities at home for everyone, such is not the case--as it is many parts of the globe, including the land of the gringos itself.

2010 looks like it will be another banner year in terms of the number of migrants sent abroad and the remittances received for the Philippines. As long as pay is remunerative, skills are developed that offer possibilities for upward mobility whether at home or abroad, and social protections are available, then I have few qualms about those exploring migration opportunities. In a globalized world where the labour market is no longer your backyard, you must be prepared to move where the work is and not wait for work to come to you.

I practice what I preach: When you must go, you go.