OFW risking COVID-19 in Canada to send money back home

OFW risking COVID-19 in Canada

Edeline Agoncillo, an Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW) in Edmonton, Alberta, regularly sends money back home to her family in the Philippines, keeping only what she needs to survive in Canada. She’s an OFW risking COVID-19 in Canada just to send money back home to family members during the pandemic.

Like many OFWs in Canada, Agoncillo works many jobs to make ends meet. One of her jobs is cleaning houses. The money she earns cleaning houses supports her parents and children back home, one who has already given her a grandchild.

The COVID-19 pandemic affected most people, including Agoncillo. As restrictions were imposed by the federal, provincial and territorial governments, OFWs like Agoncillo were forced to apply for government cash aid programs including the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), which gave her CAD$500.00 a week.

Agoncillo spoke with CTV News saying that pandemic or not, her responsibilities to her family in the Philippines doesn’t stop.

“They have to eat every day; the medication of my parents has to continue every day, and nobody sent their money, just me,” she told CTV News.

1 out of 10 Filipino households in the Philippines rely on OFWs like Agoncillo to regularly send them money.

Wire transfers from foreign workers, including OFWs, are a large part of the global economy. In 2019, remittances exceeded foreign direct investments in low and middle income countries like the Philippines for the very first time.

The World Bank is forecasting that remittances will drop by as much as 20% due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Foreign workers, including OFWs, often send more money back home when their families are in crisis, such as when natural calamities happen in the Philippines.

The COVID-19 pandemic has left no economy unscathed, and experts thought that remittances would slow down significantly. While this happened, remittances seems to be picking up in the second half of 2020.

Even though OFWs in Canada are earning less, they’re still sending money back home. Agoncillo is no different.

Working as a cleaner, she found that her clients declined her offers to work in their homes for fear of COVID-19. To help make up for the lost income, she’s had to resort to asking for recyclable bottles to make an additional CAD$40.00 a week.

Agoncillo’s sister, who is also an OFW in Dubai, has also lost her job, so she has no choice but to pick up the slack.

Fortunately, she splits the rent with two other people, and has already cut every corner she possibly can. She told CTV News that she feels very deprived and asks prayers from her family back in the Philippines.

OFWs have been pressured to provide more support to their families back home in the Philippines, including those in working in Canada who receive government cash aid such as the CERB.

According to a report by the August Labour Force Survey, the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionally affected racialized Canadians. The report stated that 1 in 3 of Filipino and Latino families in Canada were struggling financially during the pandemic, as well as 1 in 4 Black households.

OFWs and the families dependent on their remittances have benefitted from government cash aid programs like the CERB, which Agoncillo received for five months.

The Alberta branch of Migrante, a grass roots Filipino advocacy group, points out that undocumented workers are not eligible to receive such government cash aid programs.

CTV News reports that CAD$1.35 billion was sent to the Philippines by OFWs in Canada in 2019. This dropped by 6.6% in 2020, before rising again in June.

A report by the Canadian International Development Platform estimates that foreign workers, including OFWs, sent more than CAD$36 billion back to their home countries.

In the meantime, Agoncillo finds herself still very much stressed out by the entire situation. Many an OFW risking COVID-19 in Canada are still looking to receive additional help from the Government of Canada.

The CERB ended in September 2020, so Agoncillo asked for more work from her Canadian employer. She was recently exposed to a client who had tested positive for COVID-19, but due to provincial public health directives, she has to self isolate for a minimum of 14 days.


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