The Migration challenge

On cleaners and the distribution of income and stories

When asked about migrating to Australia, ‘Inday’, a single mother from the Philippines, exclaims “It is frustrating!”. This frustration, she explains, is due to her current job as a cleaner despite being a skilled migrant.

Although a widespread story, it is not a story that skilled Filipino migrants struggling to make ca-reer, and money, in Australia like to make known. This leads me to ponder; What is the narrative that drives these migrants?

The story of Inday’s migration to Australia started taking shape five years ago when she left the Philippines as an Overseas Foreign Worker. While working in research and development in the Philippines, she was expected to take care of her son and her family. The relatively low wages in the Philippines led her to leave the country in pursuit of financial prosperity.

She took up a position at a US Naval base where she worked at a laboratory in quality control and research and development. When her 2-year contract ended she decided to move on as life at the naval base was isolating putting a strain on her son who has accompanied her ever since she left the Philippines. After the two-year stint, she worked as a chemist in Singapore for another three years.

This trajectory is not uncommon, as a large percentage of the Philippine population works abroad – Australia being one of the top destinations. A report published by the World Bank, which ranks the Philippines as the third largest recipient of remittances, states that OFW’s contributed up to $29.7 billion to the Philippine economy in 2015. This figure transpires in the everyday stories of Filipino cleaners that I have been speaking to over the course of this year.

After working in her line-of-work for five years as an OFW, Inday felt confident about moving to Sydney and continuing her career. She migrated to Australia after obtaining a Permanent Residen-cy as a Skilled Migrant with her son as a dependent.

The frustration, she explains, is derived mainly from the challenge of landing the right job at the right company. While she has years of experience in her field, she has no local experience. After being shortlisted for positions, Inday followed up and found that she was over-qualified but did not have local experience.

She took up cleaning in order to support herself, her son and family back in the Philippines.

A similar story runs parallel among a number of Filipino cleaners in Sydney. One such story is of a Filipino cleaner who worked in IT for 11 years whilst in the Philippines but has been unable to work in IT in Sydney. Another Filipino cleaner is a qualified Nurse in the Philippines but does not meet the criteria to work as a Nurse in Australia.

These Filipino cleaners, while struggling professionally, contribute to the economic backbone of the Philippines by sending money home. Meanwhile, they share with me the frustrations of climbing the professional ladder in Australia and their family’s high expectations.

On the one hand, this group of Filipino cleaners tells me with pride that they support their families. While on the other hand they struggle to cope with expectations from their family; buying land, building houses, sending family to school et cetera – all in the hope for stability and prosperity. Simultaneously, they are keen on creating the impression that life in Australia is (only) good in fa-vour of the frustrating reality of cleaning.

The numbers and stories add up to a complex sum. The Filipino diaspora’s remittances reflect not only an economic contribution to the Philippine economy, but also reflect familial needs ultimately representing social reality and Philippine development.

Migration then it seems, though ultimately revolves around employment, income and its redistribu-tion, is also about the capacity to build careers and lives and an increasing capacity to have con-versations among families about the reality of this type of development.

For now, “Inday” and the other cleaners are happy that they able to help their families regardless of the challenges.

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