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  • Gene Alcantara

Filipinos in Britain

Filipinos in Britain gather in their tens of thousands one weekend annually in July for the biggest Barrio Fiesta of them all in Walton on Thames, organised by Philippine Centre and sponsored by ABS-CBN Europe. The Philippine Centre was established in 1985, with Gene Alcantara as founding chair. [Photo by Gene Alcantara] During the successfully concluded 3rd Global Summit of Filipino Diaspora held in 2015 at the historic Manila Hotel, the United Kingdom and Europe were well represented particularly by officers and members the European Network of Filipino Diaspora (ENFiD). In one of the opening speeches, Rodel Rodis, one of the Filipino-American leaders of the Global Filipino Diaspora Council (GFDC) suggested that instead of the estimated 14 million Filipinos supposedly now living outside the Philippines, we should be using the figure of 20 million. Quite bold, one would think, but since nobody has a handle on the figures really, why not 20 million indeed? That set me to thinking about my own host country, the United Kingdom, and Europe as a whole. I have been saying for many years now that there are at least 300,000 Filipinos in Great Britain. A huge number, you might say. The Philippine Embassy in London uses a more cautious 250,000. The Commission on Filipinos compendium suggests that there are an estimated 218,126 Filipinos [2013 figure] in the UK split as follows: Permanent 161,710 74% Temporary 31,416 14% Irregular 25,000 12% Total 218,126 (74% permanent, 14% temporary, and the rest irregular). But just how many Filipinos are there in the United Kingdom? And how many are there in Europe (CFO’s total figure in 2013 is 866,187)? Since nobody knows for sure, this article attempts to come up with some guestimates. How many Filipinos are there in Britain? A few years ago an article in a British newspaper published some statistics on British citizenship acquisition by nationality. Filipinos figured prominently after the Indians and the Pakistanis, the top two migrants in terms of numbers who migrated to the UK. Following a bit of research, I came up with the following table: BRITISH CITIZENSHIP GRANTED TO FILIPINOS Year Total grants Filipino origin 1990 57,271 1,120 1991 58,642 1,548 1992 42,244 1,039 1993 45,793 1,245 1994 44,033 1,061 1995 40,516 863 1996 43,069 874 1997 37,010 609 1998 53,935 1,113 1999 54,902 1,065 2000 82,210 1,361 2001 90,282 1,382 2002 120,121 1,344 2003 130,535 1,609 2004 148,273 2,011 2005 161,699 3,797 2006 154,018 8,839 2007 164,637 10,844 2008 129,377 5,382 2009 203,789 11,751 2010 195,046 9,429 2011 177,785 7,133 2012 194,209 8,122 2013 207,989 10,374 2014 125,653 3,095 2015 118,053 2,971 2016 149,457 4,250 Total 3,030,548 104,231 3% The figures are very interesting and a revelation. For now here are actual figures of how many Filipinos have become British citizens in the last 27 years that I was able to find exact statistics for. As an average over the 27 years, the proportion of Filipinos acquiring British citizenship comes to around 3%. So taking the total of nationality grants from 1975, when I think Filipinos started gaining permanent residence and then possibly British citizenship, until 1989 (before the statistics were available) of 798,625 and applying the average of 3% gives us a total of 27,467. Adding the actual figures from 1990 until 2016 of 104,231 gives us a revised estimated total of 131,698 Filipinos who have become British. From 1975 to 2016, the Home Office statistics showed there were a total of 871,859 minor children also granted British citizenship. If we applied 3% to this number, we get a figure of 26,156. This makes a total estimated British citizens of Filipino origin of 157,854. But what does this all mean for Filipinos in the UK? Well the answer is it means everything. When we increase our numbers, particularly legal numbers, in the UK or elsewhere in the more enlightened countries of Europe, then so does our clout grow. When we become British citizens, it means that we acquire rights, as well as responsibilities of course. But first of these is the fact that you are a full voter and therefore have a voice in the governance of the country. You can also stand for public office. You can now leave the country for good but will remain a British citizen for life. You also acquire the advantages of being a European Economic Area (EEA) citizen which allows you freedom of movement to live and work without restriction in any of the 28 member countries, at least until Brexit takes effect in March 2019. Europe is not the same Talking of Europe, not all countries allow Filipinos to acquire nationality. In Greece it is practically impossible to become a Greek citizen. I say practically because I know foreign nationals, including a handful of Filipinos, who have managed to acquire Greek passports. But I have met so many Filipinos who have spent over 30 years there and yet they cannot obtain citizenship. Thus the Greeks are depriving them of the ability to participate fully in their national life. It also prevents them from being able to exercise Treaty Rights as full European citizens. In Italy it is hard enough to acquire Italian citizenship, what with their language and the requirement to have certain square meters of accommodation. It seems Spain is the best place to go, since a work permit holder could acquire residence within 2 years although it seems they are starting to get stricter even with a former colony like the Philippines. For those ready to brave being undocumented, France would be ideal as they do not consider being an illegal alien a crime and therefore they will not pick you up on the street or raid your workplace or home. Otherwise all very strict and very difficult, but if you succeed in becoming European citizens then the payoff is immense. Routes to citizenship How easy is it to obtain British citizenship? Well, there are numerous ways to approach this question and I list some below which would require naturalisation. Previously it was the easiest thing to do. Once you have completed 4 years on a work permit, you would be entitled to Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR). Spouses completed 2 years and then obtained ILR. Since the disastrous open door policy of the Labour Government which allowed a massive influx of European migrants and changed the balance of the population which stretched employment, local education, social services, housing, and salaries, the Conservative-Lib Dem Coalition Government tightened up on immigration. From open door to almost complete shutdown the Tories more recently attempted to staunch the inflow of migrants to no avail. It is because the Europeans themselves cannot be restricted this way under the Free Movement rights enshrined in European legislation. This has unfortunately resulted in the United Kingdom voting by 52% to 48% to leave the European Union during the EU referendum on 23 June 2016. So the government can really only tighten the screws on non-European migrants, as softer targets, until Brexit in March 2019, when they hope to ban Europeans from free movement into the UK. All this has created friction and resentment against migrants in the natives. But then there are still legal ways to meet the ever stringent immigration requirements and eventually obtain British nationality. Below are some of the routes into the UK, many of which lead to ILR, and then finally British citizenship. Some of the routes indicate potential magnitude of Filipino entrants and stayers: 1. Work Permit holders. Once you have spent 5 years on sponsored employment (“work permit”), you can apply for ILR. This requires you to have passed the Knowledge of Language and Life requirements -- Life in the UK Test which is to ensure you have knowledge of life and society, as well as an English test. Considering that some 60,000 Filipino nurses were allowed into Britain in the last decade or so, one can safely assume that there are at least 60,000 Filipino nurses who may have since acquired British citizenship and passports. To that we could add spouses, and perhaps an average of say one to two children. We know also that the National Health Service Trusts and hospitals continue to recruit Filipino nurses in the hundreds, if not thousands, and that this profession is now in the Shortage Occupation Category (job code 2231). Let’s estimate 120,000 people. 2. Employment not requiring a work permit such as domestic workers. Although they were being brought into Britain regularly since the 1970s under the work permit system, the influx of domestic workers intensified during the first Gulf War and then the 2nd Gulf War, and thousands of domestic workers are known to have been brought here by their employers. It all stopped in 2012 when the Coalition abolished the domestic worker visa. It has been claimed that 15,000 domestic worker visa were issued on an annual basis. How many are Filipinos? If we estimate say 20% are Filipino domestic workers entering the UK, in the last 10 years alone that would equate to 30,000. Many of them bring spouses or partners or children into the country once they are stable enough financially or when they become permanent residents. Of course most of them being brought in now since 2012 end up going back home or staying as undocumented. 3. Spouses. Previously you would get a 27 month leave to enter and after 24 months you became entitled to ILR and then one year after to British citizenship. Now it has been equalised with other immigration categories so that you would need 5 years to acquire ILR and then another year for British citizenship. When mail order brides were all the rage, a lot of Filipino wives I believe were brought into the country by lonely British husbands who longed for the caring of an oriental woman, known for their submissiveness etc etc. Nowadays this is more restricted in view of the financial requirement (minimum salary of sponsor £18,600), and it has become illegal to dabble in mail order brides, although the internet has probably made it in fact easier to meet Filipinas and bring them over. But just how many came/come through this route? I have no figure so let us say 10,000 are involved. 4. Students. At the height of the student visa deluge, the British Embassy in Manila was supposed to be issuing around 10,000 visas a year for possibly 2-4 years. So just how many students obtained visas to the UK, and how many of them have eventually left? In my immigration work, I come across so many former students who have stayed on without authorisation when the Home Office closed down private colleges and could no longer afford to be students. Shall we say 10,000 have remained? 5. Tourists. I read many years ago now that around 14,000 tourists are allowed into the country by the British Embassy Visa Section in Manila. Out of this, it is believed that 2,000 do not return home and get absorbed into the system in Britain somehow, probably ending up as undocumented. So if we talk about 2,000 a year, there may be 24,000 in the past 10 years alone. This figure is probably underestimated. The British Embassy has from April 2013 to March 2014 issued more than 49,000 visas to tourists and business visitors to come to the UK from the Philippines. How many are likely to stay on once they land on British soil? This category is the main source of undocumented Filipino migrants. 6. Birth and children. There was an old statistic that the Philippine Embassy released a few years ago now. Apparently 5 Filipino babies were born in the UK every day. That was a staggering figure, meaning that at least 1,825 babies were born every year of Filipino origin. The statistic needs to be updated, but using the figure of 5, can we say this for every year of the last 20 years? That means 36,500 have been born in the last 10 years alone. From the above table of Filipinos who acquired British nationality and the list of visa routes into Britain, we can make guestimates of how many Filipinos there might be in the UK. So we know that there are an estimated 157,854 Filipinos who have acquired British nationality. Then we have the 60,000 nurses who came in the last decade with their families; let us use 120,000. Domestic workers 30,000. Spouses, say 10,000. Students, say 10,000. Tourist, let’s stick to 24,000. Babies are another 36,500 although you would expect them to apply for citizenship as soon as eligible. That makes a grand total of 388,254. Category of Filipino in Britain Numbers Actual number of Filipinos given British nationality 1990-2016 104,231 Estimate of those given British nationality from 1975-1989 27,467 Estimate of minors given British nationality from 1975-2016 26,156 Nurses who came in the last decade with their families 120,000 Domestic workers 30,000 Spouses 10,000 Students 10,000 Tourists 24,000 Filipino babies 36,500 Total estimated population 388,254 Perhaps I am doublecounting some of the figures above. It is hard to tell, that’s why the other figures will remain guestimates. The only accurate figure based on Home Office records is the figure for British citizens of 104,231. However we know that temporary and undocumented migrants abound, so a figure of 350,000 Filipinos or Filipino origins in the UK is as good as anybody’s guess. Of course, people die out too and some like nurses emigrate also to other countries from the UK, but we have no statistics on these at all. But what does this all mean for Filipinos in the UK in terms of the Philippines? Well our power as a community will also grow exponentially as politicians back home realise that we have become a powerful voting bloc. For if we "20 million" Overseas Filipinos all become dual Filipinos and exercise our votes, we could swing votes everywhere from the Senate to the Presidency. OFs are supposed to be more difficult to buy or bribe, having been exposed to more mature democracies abroad, and could make or break politicians, although I wonder if Filipino island or provincial mentality would always be a factor. They were already a formidable block in the 2016 Presidential elections. Economically our might also increases. We are no longer just remitters of US$25.1 billion a year, but investors in the Philippines. Businesses realise this, from airline companies to condominium and real estate companies, to telecommunications, and of course the banks. It is the government and indeed politicians that are perhaps the slowest to realize the power of the OFs. President Benigno Aquino himself regularly forgot to include OFs in his State of the Nation addresses, and was shamed by Pope Francis who during a recent visit praised the contribution of Filipino migrants. It remains to be seen whether President Rodrigo Duterte would recognise and value the contributions of Overseas Filipinos, and not just Overseas Filipino Workers. So going back to how many Filipinos there are in the United Kingdom, the number will always matter and increasingly so if we want to play a full role in both our host and home countries and get the recognition we deserve. Perhaps if there is ever another Global Summit I should insist that there are 400,000 Filipinos in the UK to drive home my point. And as for Europe, shall I say 1 million? [First published in Aura Magazine, May 2015; Updated Nov 2017; Feb 2018] [Any comments:] References: - In de Olde Worlde: Views of Filipino Migrants in Europe, Edited by Filomenita Mongaya Hoegsholm, Philippine Migration Research Network (PNRB) and Philippine Social Science Council (PSSC), 2007

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