Engaging the Filipino Diaspora


By Elisa Mosler Vidal

Arriving alone in a new country can be daunting, but sharing experiences with people who have gone through the same journey can be helpful and comforting. In looking to build communities of social support, dynamic diaspora groups have sprouted up across the world, helping migrants from Hong Kong to Santiago. United by the experience of migrating to and settling outside of one’s “homeland,” these communities often form support systems for migrants, helping new arrivals navigate the language and customs of the host country and providing them with friendship over the years.


Apart from helping fellow migrants, however, these diaspora communities also play a crucial role in the development of their home countries, as is the case with the Philippines.


One way they do this is through financial engagement. As members of the diaspora send money to their families back home through remittances, they help pay for household, education, and other important expenses. This is especially relevant in Asia Pacific, which as a region sends the highest amount of remittances in the world; over US$120 billion every year.


Additionally, diaspora members can finance longer-term growth in their home countries through investment, putting money into certain sectors or local businesses. In the Philippines, online “one-stop shops” encourage financial engagement of the diaspora by simplifying investment, philanthropy and entrepreneurship options. For example, the platform Peso Sense provides financial literacy training and user-friendly videos to help Filipinos manage their finances and remittances better and learn about investing and starting a business in the Philippines.


A second way diaspora communities support development is through the transfer of skills and knowledge. When an individual migrates, they take their specialized knowledge and skills with them – whether they are nurses, engineers or teachers. However, rather than being lost forever through what some call “brain drain”, these skills can actually be transferred back to people in one’s origin country. Popular ways to do this include programs where skilled diaspora members temporarily travel home to teach or train others in their area of expertise.


The Philippine government set up an online portal for diaspora engagement that facilitates this exchange, called BaLinkbayan (a play on the Filipino word balikbayan meaning return migrant). The site connects Filipino professionals abroad, for example those working in education or health sectors, and assists them in setting up mentoring, lecturing and other training opportunities back in the Philippines. It also runs the Balik Scientist Program, which helps Filipino scientists abroad visit the Philippines to share their expertise with local scientists.


These are just two channels through which diaspora members can strengthen development back home. Migrant workers can simultaneously support new migrants in destination countries, while helping drive development in their home country. Whether we are talking about a young Cambodian worker in Thailand hoping to become an entrepreneur back home, or a Vietnamese dentist in the U.S. returning home to teach a summer clinic, different diaspora members support their home countries in different ways. The diaspora illustrates how migration contributes to development in multifaceted ways, but also how the shared experience of migrating creates new, powerful social bonds.

Changing perceptions about migration

Global Migration Film Festival-52

By Dana Graber Ladek

No matter how you look at it, migration is a journey, and this is a good time of year to think about migratory journeys, as many of us – particularly foreigners like me – have made long journeys back home to visit loved ones.

International Migrants’ Day is marked on 18 December each year because on that day in 1990, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.

This is a particularly special time for IOM to be celebrating migration with you. On 19 September, we became a United Nations agency, and on 5 December we celebrated our 65th birthday. In addition, 2016 marked 30 years since Thailand became an IOM member state.

To mark this important year and International Migrants Day, IOM held a Global Migration Film Festival in December. This festival aimed to change negative perceptions and attitudes towards refugees and migrants, and to strengthen the social contract between host countries and communities, and refugees and migrants.

Changing perceptions about migration is an extremely important aim, and I would like to look at what is happening in our world right now to explain why.

We are peering into a world in tumult and crises. The effects of climate change, the increasing frequency of disasters, and the emergence and reemergence of killer diseases are constant threats. Society at large seems to be reacting by voting in a different sort of leadership, one that promises tough, firm action, at the expense of migrants.

So now more than ever it is important to embrace, rather than resist, the inevitability of migration. We need to change the perception of migrants among our public and better integrate migrants in our societies. Most migrants simply want an opportunity to improve the lives of their families back home.

IOM, the UN Migration Agency, today calculates that one in every seven people on our planet is a migrant – someone living, working and starting a family somewhere other than his or her habitual place of residence. And, even though so many are just trying to live, too many are dying on their migration journey.

IOM’s Missing Migrants Project attempts to identify every dead, missing or “disappeared” migrant in the 165 countries where we operate. In 2016, for the third straight year, the Missing Migrants tally will top 5,000 fatalities.

Think about that: every day for the past three years, a dozen migrants have died, on average, or one man, woman or child every two hours.

And these are only the fatalities that we know about. Many more deaths go unrecorded by any official government or humanitarian aid agency.

Along with our sorrow and our shock at these deaths, we must recognize that migration is the mega-trend of our time. It’s a mega-trend which has pushed migration into the public’s consciousness and to the top of every government’s agenda. It is also a trend that contributes greatly to society – migrants promote economic development. They build the apartments we live in, they take care of our children and elderly, they pick the fruit we eat, they sew the clothes we wear.

With the right support, those migrants who stay will contribute to whatever society they settle in, whether it is economically or culturally. Therefore, it is important that partnerships are built between migrants, host communities and governments to nurture the benefits of their presence in the country.

As we commemorate International Migrants Day, let us recognize that we have enough opportunity for all – we need only to share it.

Dana Graber Ladek is Chief of Mission of IOM Thailand. She has spent most of her adult life living and working outside of her home country, the U.S.