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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

What Fuels the Passion of Filipinos to Pursue Studies and Work in UK

To search for a better life, to earn for the family – husband/ wife, kids, parents and siblings who need support.

This is a meaningful statement affirmed by almost everybody when asked why they opt to go away to a distant land. There is no other significant factor stronger, no other reason more compelling than the genuine aspiration to provide for loved ones and seek a better life.

When Did Filipinos Start to Migrate?

The trend of Filipino’s leaving for other parts of the world can be traced back way into the early 1900′s, when successive waves of Filipinos have migrated to other countries in search of employment opportunities. Overseas migration goes back to the 1920s under American colonial rule, when Filipinos opted to work as laborers in pineapple plantations in Hawaii. The movement of agricultural workers then branched out the mainland–orange groves in California, vineries in Washington and as far north in Alaska to work in fish canneries.

It can be considered that it was during the 1960s, that the beginnings of professional workers going abroad to work began. The new wave of those leaving included Filipino nurses, doctors, medical technicians who filled in skill gaps in the United States, Canada and other European countries.

This then evolved in the 1970s, when the first organized form of overseas contract workers (OCWs) emerged. The number of Filipino’s leaving substantially increased, as the oil boom in the middle east required labor for oil work and construction. In other parts of the world, increased production in the industrial sector needed skilled workers in manufacturing plants and assembly lines.

Continuing in the 1980’s and up to the 1990’s, the outflow of Filipino’s increased when unskilled workers such as nannies and domestic workers and even entertainers, joined the workforce of semiconductor and other plant workers leaving for Taiwan, Malaysia, Hong Kong and fast developing Asian countries.

The 2000’s saw the rise of digital technology and with it the increase of Filipino’s working in the computer, communications and technology industries. This was marked clearly when Filipino’s wanting to join the new labor force saw the change, when the needed familiarity with the tools of work went from a wrench to a keyboard and the worksite from an oil derrick to a computer station.

A Little Historical Trivia: Who Were the First Filipinos in the UK?

Did you know that as early as the mid-1800s, many Philippine born seafarers formed a Filipino community around Frederick Street in Liverpool? According to the research done by Nestor P. Enriquez, the Filipino community thrived and was referred to as the “Little Manila of Liverpool.” Among the prominent ones are the Dela Cruz family, who managed lodging houses for the sailors.

Dr. Jose P. Rizal also came to London from New York in 1888 and he became a leader of a group of Filipinos in the area of Dalston, East London.

In 1960s, David Medalla, internationally renowned Filipino artist, came to London. The couple William and Celia Pomeroy, having received Presidential pardon for their role in the HUKBALAHAP came to London in 1963. The Legarda family (Carmen Legarda and her 4 daughters) came to live in Oxford in 1964 as they pursued studies at the University of Oxford.

These migration of Filipinos in the past can be seen as a precursor to the sustained Filipino migration to the UK which continues up to the present time.

How Big Is The Filipino Community In The UK?

The number of Filipinos across the United Kingdom has grown over the years. Since the start of the migration into the UK, majority of migrant Filipinos settled around the Greater London area. Since the influx of nurses and carers, the presence of the Filipinos have extended to the remotest towns and villages where hospitals and nursing homes are located.

According to estimated figures:

From 1968-1980, the Department of Employment issued over 20,000 work permits to Filipinos.

In the early 1980’s, 14,000 tourist visas were given annually to Filipinos, of which around 2,000 stay in the UK

From 1998-2005, the POEA showed 69,000 Filipinos were deployed to the UK and this included nurses and carers

In a speech by Ambassador Edgardo Espiritu during the visit of PGMA to London in September 2006, the Ambassador reported that about five (5) Filipinos are born in the UK. This then equates to 1,825 British-born Filipinos every year.

Taking into consideration the figures above, one can estimate that there is about 200,000 Filipinos in the UK.

Why Filipinos Choose UK over US, Australia or Canada

While a majority of Filipinos considered the United States as their country of choice should they go abroad for work or migration, the 1970’s saw the beginnings of Filipino’s going to the United Kingdom.

Until the late 18th century, the United Kingdom only had a small population of Filipinos. The number started to grow in the 1970s when immigration restrictions on Commonwealth citizens meant that employers had to find workers from other countries.

This was when the National Health Service (NHS), hotel and catering industry and clothing manufacturers started to recruit Filipinos, According to the UK Department of Employment, 20,226 work permits were issued to Filipinos between 1968 and 1980. Half of which were issued for those who came to work in hospitals and welfare homes as hospital auxiliaries, catering workers and to nurse-trainees. The second biggest category of work permits were for the Hospitality and tourism related industries.

What attracts Filipinos to migrate to the UK? There are multiple reasons and one of this is the English language, being the lingua franca of the Philippines. Finding a job and studying in a foreign land, where the major spoken language is English is a determining pull factor for migration. It is easy to find a job and navigate through studies and living overseas when one speaks the language. UK is also very cosmopolitan, at least in London and the major cities and assimilating into the society is easier. Another pull factor is the sense that one is never alone in trying to cope being away from the family or loved ones.

Compared to the United States, the United Kingdom has less rigorous immigration policies, even if major changes have been adopted over the past months. Filipino nurses hoping to work in the United States have to wait five to seven years for H1-B working visas and two to three years for EB-3 immigrant visas before they can enter the U.S.

In the UK, Filipino nurses interested to improve their academic qualifications can enter the UK within 2-3 months provided that requirements for a Tier 4 (student visa) are complied. Work permit for Filipino nurses are also within reach after they have passed the licensure process to be a UK Registered Nurse after about 6-8 weeks of training.

The UK Border Agency reported that the annual average number of Filipino nurses who went to the UK reached 7,000 from 20007 to 2009. By contrast, there was an annual average of less than 300 registered Filipino nurses entering the United States from 2003 to 2009 using H1-B work and EB-3 immigration visas, according to the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA).

This relative ease in application, abundant opportunities and welcoming attitude of the British government has made the UK the favorable choice among Filipino nursing students and professionals. With more and more applications being recieved by the UK Embassy in Manila, this trend will likely continue up to the next decade since the demand has not abated. The long term benefit for this then is that as more Filipinos gain a foothold in the UK, the more exposure is gained for Filipinos, further strengthening their reputation of being higher quality workers and students than their counterparts coming from other countries.

Options Filipino’s Pursue in the UK:


In recent years, the United Kingdom has increasingly become a favorite destination of Filipinos seeking jobs abroad in the care service sector. From 2001 to 2007, UK ranked fourth in the world in terms of the most number of Filipino caregivers working in the country.

The face of the Filipino community in the UK was forever changed by the arrival of an estimated 50,000 nurses from 1999 to 2004. The nurses took on the jobs that British nurses had been slowly abandoning over the years, working hard and facing day-in day-out the risks, for example, of MRSA. Many brought their families along with them; many came on single status. Practically every Filipino nurse from the Philippines to Singapore and the Middle East wanted to come to the UK, and many of them did, with recruitment agencies having a busy profitable time. Then news started filtering out of the worksites of the Filipino nurses about problems they encountered with their employers. It turned out that many suffered as “victims of exploitation and other oppressive cases in the United Kingdom.” These have been reported in the British media, and the Philippine Embassy confirmed that there were over a hundred Filipino nurses victimised by abusive UK employers in 2002.


With work/employment being the top reason why Filipino’s go to the United Kingdom, the opportunity to pursue an education at British educational institutions has recently gained a strong following. While schools in the United Kingdom have long accepted students from other countries, it was only during the previous decade that students coming from the Philippines have increased.

A recent study made by the British Council determined that most students get their information about overseas study opportunities mainly from family and friends who studied abroad. The internet also is a major source of information. The growing number of Filipino nurses in the UK seems to have an effect on the number of students interested in UK education. There is an estimated 55,000 Filipino nurses in the UK, and with Filipino’s strong sense of family ties, these nurses encourage and are even willing to fund their relatives’ education in the UK.

With this surge in interest, many local entities have decided to jump into the bandwagon and have begun offering United Kingdom study programs that offer courses ranging from Hospitality and Tourism, Health and Medicine and Information Technology.

The agency that oversees and regulates the entry of students in the United Kingdom is the United Kingdom Border Agency (UKBA). Other than securing the borders of the United Kingdom, the UKBA controls the migration in the UK and this includes entry of students wishing to pursue further and higher education.

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