Made up of over 7,000 islands, the Philippines is an archipelago that has always been poised for multiculturalism and travel. Over the years, Filipinos have migrated far and wide in search of a better everyday life, with Filipino communities becoming integral parts of many cities across the globe.
Read on to discover how this island country transformed into a major source of international migrants and a key beneficiary of global remittance corridors.
A (Very) Brief History of the Philippines
Over the course of its long history, the Philippines has been inhabited by many nations and ethnic groups; the Aeta, the Tumandok, the Ati, the Agta and the Mamanwa, among others. Many of these groups formed complex trading settlements, with the coastal states Maynila and Tondo particularly flourishing in the 14th and 15th centuries due to their connections with other Asian civilizations, notably the Ming dynasty in China.
In the mid-16th century, these coastal states fell to Spanish forces and the archipelago was named the Philippines in recognition of Prince Philip II of Spain. Under Spanish rule, autonomous entities were brought under a single administration and the capital Manila was transformed into a major international port.
The archipelago remained a stable protectorate until the late 19th century, when a series of conflicts between Spain, the United States and local independence movements ultimately led to the Philippines becoming a US territory. The trend of large numbers of Filipinos migrating overseas for work began during this period as connections with the United States allowed many to migrate to Pacific states like Hawaii to work in sugarcane and pineapple plantations. For instance, it’s estimated that Hawaii received around 120,000 Filipino workers between 1906 and 1934.
Modern Migration History and Remittance Corridors
Still reeling from the effects of World War II, the Philippines became an independent state in 1946. In particular, the newly founded nation struggled with rural instability, and opportunities for Filipino workers to move overseas for improved living standards were limited until the signing of the Immigration and Nationality Act in the United States in 1965. This provoked another migration surge toward Pacific states, and the North American giant has remained the number one destination for migrants from the Philippines ever since. The importance of these migrants is clearly reflected in the country’s remittance inflows. In 2022, 41% of all remittances to the Philippines came from the United States ($14.88 billion).
While the United States does boast the largest Filipino diaspora community, it is by no means the only avenue for labor-seeking Filipino migrants to explore. In the 1970s, the Philippines was hit hard by the collapse of crude oil prices and the resulting economic stagnation led to the creation of an Overseas Employment Program as the government sought to forge closer ties with the Gulf Cooperation Council. As a result, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have both become key destinations for Filipino migrants, with many of them currently working in the hospitality and services industry, but also increasingly the health sector. Combined, Filipino migrants in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates sent nearly $4 billion home in 2022.
Remittances from these corridors and other diaspora communities have become an intrinsic part of both the national economy and household income. In total, migrants sent home more than $36 billion in 2022, accounting for nearly 9% of GDP. These sums provide an important layer of economic security that helps local populations recover from unexpected costs and environmental shocks.
Future Migration from the Philippines
In 2019, the Philippines suffered from a series of earthquakes as well as the costliest typhoon season on record with more than $38 billion worth of damage. In that same year, more than 2 million Filipinos migrated overseas, also the highest figure on record. According to the UN, figures like these show that migration has become a coping mechanism that helps to alleviate the impact of the country’s climate vulnerabilities.
These frailties are particularly apparent in the fact that 60% of the country’s municipalities and cities are located along coastal areas, with many towns and urban centers also situated below the annual flood level. This means that natural disasters tend to hit livelihoods hard, damaging property, critical infrastructure, and crops.
However, it is not only the increasing frequency and intensity of natural disasters that could impact future migration patterns, as a single meter rise in sea levels would result in 60 million people needing to move before the end of the century. Displacement and overcrowded inland settlements are likely to further compound existing reasons that compel Filipinos to uproot and seek new pastures overseas.
Ria Money Transfer and the Philippines
One societal group particularly affected by extreme weather patterns is young children. In many cases, schools and early learning centers are damaged by typhoons, earthquakes, and floods, preventing children from receiving a quality education.
To support these children, Ria and Save the Children are collaborating on a project that provides much-needed care and development opportunities to those aged between 3 and 8 in Antipolo, one of the regions most affected by the climate crisis. Learn more about our involvement in the Sustainable Early Education and Development for Children project on our blog.
Ready to send money to the Philippines? We’re here for you. Download our app for iOS or Android today to get started!
This post is part of our History of Remittances series. Previous posts include the remittance history of Malaysia, Morocco, Senegal, Dominican Republic, Georgia, Colombia, Ukraine, Poland, Canada, India and Italy.
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