ESL Pathways student Elizza Mae Asa at VCC's Broadway campus
Moving away to work is a practice as old as work itself, and Canada has been a destination for migrant workers since the 16th century. Today, the global tradition continues with millions of workers from high-unemployment regions like India, the Philippines, and Latin America leaving home to fill labour needs abroad.
Making the choice to leave one’s family is always difficult, but with the allure of secure employment and drastically higher pay, many workers feel they have little choice but to go.
Until recently, Vancouver Community College (VCC) ESL Pathways student Elizza Mae Asa was one of the estimated 1.77 million Filipinos currently working in a foreign country. After spending over a decade as a migrant worker in both Hong Kong and Canada, thanks to the support she’s received in Vancouver, Elizza is now mere steps away from her dream career and a permanent home.
In 2010, Elizza was nearing the end of her nursing degree at Manila Central University. She’d also recently had a baby daughter. Then suddenly, her family fell into financial hardship which drove Elizza to seek full-time employment overseas.
Elizza’s first choice was to work in the United States or Canada but she knew she didn’t have enough experience to qualify, so she went to Hong Kong where the hiring policies were more relaxed.
Like many of the 200,000 Filipino women working in Hong Kong, Elizza was hired as a domestic helper. “When I came to Hong Kong, I had no idea what to expect. I didn’t know how to cook. I had never even washed my own laundry,” she says.
Elizza remembers crying often and missing her daughter constantly. Still, she focused on learning quickly and doing what she came to do. “I trained myself to be tough, strong, and smart,” she says.
In total, Elizza worked for six years in Hong Kong where she was legally required to live in her employer’s home, take only one day off per week, and keep a 9 p.m. curfew.
The ability to work in a foreign country (usually temporarily) relies on formal labour agreements between governments. In recent decades, the Philippine economy, especially, has become quite reliant on money sent home by overseas workers. As part of these government agreements, the working arrangements themselves are made by hiring agencies that often charge significant fees. Many also run scams, and some are even fronts for human trafficking.
Elizza says she tried her best to play it safe when applying to work in Canada. “I waited for the right opportunity,” she says. Then she discovered Kidcoover, a local, women-run company that specializes in both child care and immigration consulting. Instead of charging the worker a “placement fee” commonly up to $8,000 CAD, Elizza was surprised to learn that Kidcoover only charged her a few hundred dollars and the remaining fees were covered by the employer.
During her time in Canada, Elizza worked for numerous families and has recently begun caring for adults with developmental disabilities. “I love this job,” she says. “I’ve never seen how life could be so simple and joyful until I met people with disabilities. It’s my honour to work with them.”
Elizza’s ultimate goal, however, continues to be nursing, and VCC’s ESL Pathways programs have played a major role in supporting her on this career path. In addition to improving her language skills, Elizza was pleasantly surprised to learn professional goal setting, computer skills, and intercultural communication. Elizza also enjoyed participating in real discussions about Canadian history, Indigenous reconciliation, and the environment. “The class dynamic was amazing,” she says.
Exciting things lie ahead for Elizza. Now that she has achieved the English language proficiency requirements for VCC’s Practical Nursing program, she is continuing to work while she earns other prerequisites. Elizza also recently obtained permanent residency in Canada thanks to a new pathway program meant for essential workers.
The main highlight of Elizza’s year, however, is that she will reunite with her daughter. Following a visit to the Philippines this fall, Elizza will bring her daughter, now 11 years old, to Canada where they will live together again. “She’s very excited to come to Canada,” says Elizza, “and I’m excited to have her here.”
Get practical English skills while learning about Canadian society and the job market. Register now for VCC’s award-winning ESL Pathways programs (Canadian Language Benchmarks 5 to 9).