Explaining Filipino Deprofessionalization

Calendar Community News & Features Videos Nov 16, 2005 at 11:53 am

By Dr. Philip Kelly

It is a story that is all too familiar for many Filipinos in Canada – the engineer turned machine operator, the accountant turned billing clerk, the registered nurse turned nursing assistant. The same is true for many other skilled professionals from around the world who enter Canada on the strength of their qualifications and experience, but then find themselves unable to practice their professions. A lot of attention has been focused on this issue in academia, the mainstream media, and even in policy circles. But the specific circumstances of Filipino immigrants has not been addressed, until now.

In September and October, the Community Alliance for Social Justice orchestrated a survey of Filipinos in Toronto. The purpose was to find out how Philippine-educated individuals had fared in the Canadian job market and how they themselves explained the process of deprofessionalization. The response was overwhelming, with over 400 surveys completed – all recording the experiences of accountants, midwives, engineers, nurses, caregivers and many more. In this short article, I will share a preliminary analysis of the survey (final results will be made available in a report for CASJ in early 2006).
The first purpose of the survey was to quantify the problem for which we have so much anecdotal evidence – just how many Filipinos professionals are being underutilized in the Canadian labour market?

The answer confirmed suspicions, but also raised a few surprises. Overall, 48 per cent of Filipinos judged themselves to be “over-qualified” for their current jobs. But then came some more surprising results – if we compare Filipino men (47 per cent From page 1 “over-qualified”) and Filipino women (49 per cent), the numbers are not much different. If we compare principal applicants under the caregiver category (60 per cent “over-qualified”) and the skilled worker category (52 per cent), the numbers are still consistently high. And if we compare those who arrived before 1990 (41 per cent) and those after 1990 (53 per cent), again there is a difference but at the same time a consistency to the picture. The conclusion, then, is that deprofessionalization is an issue for ALL Filipinos in Canada – men and women, caregivers and independents, newcomers and old-timers.
The second purpose of the survey was to seek explanations for this process of deprofessionalization. Overall, we believe 7 factors are at work:

1) Financial Obligations and the Need for Survival Jobs. Immigration is an expensive process and many arrive in Canada with few savings left and lots of debt. One quarter of our respondents had used an immigration consultant or recruiter, which increased the cost still further. Indeed, one third of all respondents had worked outside the Philippines before entering Canada in order to raise the necessary funds. The costs of immigration and obligations to family members left behind in the Philippines means that new immigrants must find survival jobs rather than waiting for an opening that matches their skills. Upgrading those qualifications by taking expensive courses is often financially impossible. In the survey, 18 per cent of respondent cited family finances as the prime reason that led to for their deprofessionalization.

2) The Job Search Process. New immigrants rely heavily on family and friends when they first arrive. More than 80 per cent of our respondents were aided in this way when they landed in Canada. And 44 per cent found their first jobs through friends or relatives. Almost half (47 per cent) had found their current job in a similar way. The implications are not immediately apparent, but they are important. Finding jobs through networks and referrals is an effective way of finding only certain kinds of work – usually at the lower paid and less secure end of the labour market. Also, kababayan networks tend to create concentrations in particular kinds of work – which is one reason for the heavy concentration of Filipinos in the healthcare sector.

3) Regulatory Barriers to Professional Recognition. Various institutions in Canada create barriers to Filipino professionals. The Live-In Caregiver Programme (LCP) is one example, with severe restrictions imposed on retraining and obtaining professional experience. In the survey, 80 per cent of respondents who had finished the LCP had university degrees, but less than 10 out of 64 now have jobs commensurate with their professional status in the Philippines. Another set of barriers are created by professional regulatory bodies such as the College of Nurses, or the Professional Engineers of Ontario. Many bodies fail to recognize the quality of Filipino institutions and credentials, and they demand (often inconsistently and arbitrarily) that applicants take costly upgrading courses. For over half of our respondents (52 per cent), non-recognition of qualifications was a major factor in their deprofessionalization.

4) Discrimination and Cultural ‘Fit.’ Even if their qualifications are formally recognized, Filipinos must then go about finding a job or seeking a promotion. Close to half of all respondents (45 per cent) reported that they had experienced some form of discrimination or unfair treatment when applying for a job or a promotion in the last five years. But such discrimination within a workplace was often subtle, and related to ‘fitting in’ with cultural expectations of behaviour, appearance and even hobbies rather than ability to do the job.

5) Racializing Filipinos. More than half of respondents (54 per cent) reported experiences of discrimination or unfair treatment either ‘sometimes’ or ‘often’ in society at large over the last five years. In many cases this will translate into racial stereotyping. That is, Canadians assuming that Filipinos are ‘naturally’ good at certain things (caring, nurturing, healing) and less suited to others (supervising, managing, policy-making). Ironically, the skill with which large numbers of Filipina caregivers and nurses do their work has accentuated such stereotypes.

6) Limited Collective Action. Only 16 per cent of our respondents listed memberships of Filipino associations, and even fewer for Filipino professional organizations. This is more significant than it would appear, as it is often specific groups, like the Association of Filipino-Canadian Accountants, who have been able to push for changes in the ways regulatory bodies view Philippine qualifications. In other words, Filipinos could do more, collectively, to lobby for professional recognition.

7) Coping Mechanisms. Coping with deprofessionalization can take various forms, many of which may perpetuate the problem. Sometimes there is a necessity to take on multiple jobs in order to make ends meet – thereby leaving no time to look for more appropriate work, let alone taking courses to meet accreditation requirements. Other coping mechanisms are more psychological – taking solace from the idea that our children’s future will be better; telling ourselves that lots of others are in the same position, and it is natural to start over again in a new country; or, taking heart from the material possessions that are affordable even with lower paid work in Canada. All of these thoughts are to be expected, but at the same time they naturalize the process of deprofessionalization and create a fatalistic attitude.

A final, and quite startling, statistic from the survey is worth noting. A remarkable 36 per cent of respondents declared that they had seriously considered leaving Ontario and Canada in order to seek greener pastures where they might more easily practice their profession. This is despite the time, the sacrifices, and the separations that were necessary to get to Canada in the first place. If any of these statistics should make the Canadian government sit up and take notice as it seeks to recruit more and more immigrants, perhaps it will be this one.

(Dr Philip Kelly (pfkelly@yorku.ca) is Associate Professor of Geography at York University. The CASJ survey was a collaboration between Dr Kelly, CASJ research coordinator Mila Astorga-Garcia, CASJ board members, and the CASJ Task Force on Access to Trades and Professions. Many thanks to all who participated!)

(Condensed version of a paper presented at the International Metropolis Conference in Toronto, Oct. 17-21, 2005)