Sanna Saksela-Bergholm is a postdoctoral researcher in sociology at the Swedish School of Social Science. In January and February 2017, she travelled to the Philippines and interviewed eight families who have a family member working in Finland. Saksela-Bergholm’s objective was to examine how informal social networks and contact between Filipino migrant workers in Finland and family members in the Philippines contribute to a secure future for the Filipinos. She also wanted to study the impact of this contact on the migrants’ and their family members’ lives.
“Each family had a story of their own,” Saksela-Bergholm says. In her work, the researcher was assisted by a local research assistant. Without the research assistant and modern technology such as Uber and Google Maps, it would have been considerably more difficult to conduct research and travel back and forth across the country to visit the families.
Informal income support
The Philippines is known for its large-scale labour migration, and the country is dependent on the remittances that emigrant Filipinos send to their families. Annual remittances from emigrant workers to the Philippines are worth approximately €27 million. The main reasons for emigration are unemployment and underemployment. The Philippines is a former American colony, and one of the legacies of that period is a neo-liberal market economy in which most services are offered by the private sector. Many families cannot afford healthcare or education. Since 2007, Finland has actively recruited Filipinos to fill jobs in the service industry such as healthcare, cleaning services and the hotel and restaurant industry.
In order to gain more insight into the migration process, Saksela-Bergholm also interviewed representatives of four human rights organisations who work with migrant workers and their families, four return migrants who had previously worked in Finland, and four families who did not have a family member abroad.
The preliminary results of the interviews indicate that the families are very much dependent on the remittances from their overseas family members.
“The remittances are a form of informal income support. The money is used to buy medication and pay for healthcare expenses and to pay for the children’s education,” Saksela-Bergholm says.
Many families use the money to repair or build extensions on their house.
"You can tell which families have family members abroad just by walking in the street and looking at the houses and what condition they are in."
Growing social inequality
The remittances make life easier for most families. However, there are also cases where the money has been misused, such as when money sent by the wife is spent on drink for the husband. The integration of returning migrant workers is also a problem. These people often possess valuable skills that they have learned abroad, and they are an untapped resource.
“The remittances from emigrant family members are good for their families’ finances, but this also leads to increasing inequality between those families who have members working abroad and those who do not,” says Saksela-Bergholm.
Labour migration from the Philippines to Finland continues to increase. Through immigration, Finland gains new taxpayers, and occupational sectors suffering from labour shortage gain new workers. But this does not solve the basic problems in the Philippines, where there are not enough jobs to enable families to live together.
Emotional support from fellow compatriots
In a previous study, Saksela-Bergholm interviewed 30 Filipino migrant workers in Finland. The results of her research show that informal networks of family members in the Philippines and of their compatriots and communities in Finland are very important. Not all immigrants are conscious of the laws, regulations, rights and obligations that apply in Finland. In such a situation, contact with their compatriots and communities in the host country is a valuable aid.
The informal networks and intensive contact with other Filipinos proved to be crucial for integration. They create a feeling of solidarity and provide the emotional support that is needed to cope with daily life in a foreign country.
“Integration is often approached in terms of practicalities, such as acquiring a social security number or dealing with the authorities, but at the same time, contact with family back home plays a very important part in a person’s wellbeing,” Saksela-Bergholm says.
Today it is possible for most people to keep in touch with their family on an almost daily basis, thanks to the internet, Skype, Facebook and other services.