meet maricel the dreamcatcher

Maricel Holger and new PRs

Maricel (light blue shirt in the middle) with her family Holger and Katerina and just a few of the kabayan whose dreams she helped fulfill in New Zealand.

[Note: The second of my two-part padyak series, Wellington to Auckland, meeting remarkable Kiwi-Pinoy Aucklanders. First was on Cong Lito Banal, and second is Binibining Maricel Weischede.  So sorry it took so long, thanks for reading, mabuhay! ]

NO ONE will question us Kabayan when we say that the Pinoy who chases the dream of a better life abroad is the captain of his/her fate, the master of his/her soul (thanks and acknowledgment to that Invictus guy). Blaming no one for our setbacks but sharing the credit for our successes, you and I are the authors of our fate, the makers of our destiny. Given na yan (that’s a given).

But along the way, we owe little and big favors to those who help us carry our load, those who, accidentally or not, eavesdrop on our dreams and help us chase them, those who have the talent and tools to realizing our most cherished goals more realizable. Filipinos may be below-average physically, but figuratively we can always stand on the shoulders of giants who helped paved the pathway towards our rainbow’s end.

If so far you’ve indulged me in this rare mood of poetic flair, please indulge me some more. I came across a kabayan of such a description, who’s spent a good part of the last decade helping fellow Pinoys jump-start their dreams by catching the sparkle of their dreams and filtering it through the sieve of hard realities, useful advice and immigration laws of New Zealand.

If the role of dreamcatcher sounds demanding, that’s because this kabayan has demanded the utmost from herself in terms of training and professionalism. Back in the days when  immigration consultancy was a cowboy, hole-in-the-wall industry, Maricel Weischede was the first fully licensed Filipino immigration adviser in New Zealand in 2008 . Not only that, her proactive stance led her to be the only kabayan to be part of the consultative Immigration Advisers Association (IAA) Reference Group for two terms while also serving as three-term director of the New Zealand Association of Migration and Investment.

Maricel knows that the best way to bridging the gap between dreams and realities of migrant hopefuls was with two weapons: expertise and experience, so the decade-long success she has achieved has been due in part to her being the first Pinoy to obtain the qualification (equivalent to a certification) from Massey University (Certificate of Proficiency in Immigration Law and Policy) as well as the first Pinoy to obtain a Graduate Certificate in Immigration Advice from the Waikato University – Bay of Plenty Consortium.

By far however, Maricel’s signature experience as an immigration adviser is being part of the Cadbury Dream Team that, against all odds, brought a family together two years back. In case you missed it, here’s a video clip, sorry we couldn’t find the whole episode (probably for copyright reasons):

Which doesn’t take anything away from each and every success story from the hundreds of Filipinos and their families she has helped migrate to, and reunite in, New Zealand. Just as every green-lighted application has been as satisfying as her very first (way back in 2006), each denial has brought her down to earth, with a resounding disappointment that only makes her work harder.

Although no service or profession should be judged purely on numbers alone, Maricel’s consultancy has recently brought in its 1000th successful application, counting all immigration and visa categories, and she has no intention of stopping.

As if all these weren’t enough, our kabayan will add value to her services by seeking admission to the New Zealand bar next year, completing all her requirements by the end of this year.

*****     *****     *****

It sounds like a high-tech slogan, but Maricel, for the hundreds of families she has helped, has augmented their reality by adding details, comforts and possibilities that have made their lives so much more enriching, in a land of unlimited potential.

In her own words: Migration is a life changing decision. I wish to make a difference in that life-changing decision by providing immigration advice that is straightforward, with no gimmickry, and just honest to goodness options and presentation of eligibility to various visa pathways.

Duh? You have ALREADY made a difference in so many kabayan lives Maricel. Mabuhay ka!

Thanks for reading!

*It’s not a plug (actually, it is), but you may contact Ms Maricel Weischede and her immigration consultancy NZ Immigration Help Service Limited either by visiting or contacting her Auckland branch +6498364935, her Christchurch branch +6434218138, or emailing her directly at Cheers!

a day in the life of a Pinoy migrant

our brother immigrants, lost at sea.

I’m on my way to accompany Ganda to the bus stop, she’s going back to her mom’s after her weekend with us.  After that, it’s (sigh) time to get ready for twilight shift, and in between I hope to squeeze in a half-hour run around the block.  I only have a few minutes to rave and rant, so whatever appears here will have to do, advance apologies.

That executive order recently signed by Pres. Call Me Maybe Obama allowing young illegal immigrants a chance to apply for work permits (without fear of persecution) was almost certainly an election year-related stunt, but it changes the lives of 800,000 immigrants, their families, and everyone they love and work with.  Now how neat is that?   These are people who have lived in the US for quite some time, have contributed to its economy, and in some cases have even served in its armed forces.  Immigrants have been welcomed into an adopted nation’s arms for much less.  Instead of constantly worrying about being deported and sent home, spending much of their resources on the underground economy, and occasionally being forced to resort to illegal means (fraud, misrepresentation, etc) to obtain social services for their families, they can now concentrate on advancing careeers, raising families, and building wealth, which is what solid citizens are supposed to be doing right?  So kudos to Pres Obama, son of a Kenyan who was born in Hawaii, grew up partly in Indonesia and Kansas, and now calls Washington D.C. his temporary home.

On the other side of the spectrum, a resurrected NZ politician has once again targetted during his party conference/convention the migrant population of his country, singling out those he assumes as non-English speakers as undeserving of resident status in struggling New Zealand. points out that around 22,000 senior-age dependents of Chinese migrants will be drawing pensions without ever contributing to the country’s social security fund, and implied that he will be prioritizing laws that will make it harder for migrants to enter or even stay in idyllic New Zealand.

It would be credible for one to take seriously this politician’s pro-senior citizen, pro-NZ and pro-labor pronouncements, if he hadn’t been saying the same thing throughout his multiple reincarnations and to justify his Lazarus-like emergence from oblivion, that he has always been “liberal” with facts and statistics, and that to deflect attention to his anti-Asian sentiment by boasting (as if it meant anything) that he was part-Chinese himself.  How could you take him seriously after that?

Even if you tried to take him at face value, how could you account for the fact that New Zealand has suffered a net migration loss for the last two years, meaning more people are leaving the country than entering it, that the government is deriving a handsome revenue from a never-ending visa fee revenue stream (if government is serious about stemming the tide of migration, why does it not discourage applicants by refusing to accept their money, hmm?), that the former Immigration Minister Jonathan Coleman has himself candidly stated that “without immigrants, the (national) outlook is bleak.”  In short, words and phrases show us that this is not the best time to apply to be a migrant to New Zealand, but the body language says otherwise.

Last two things I can think of saying now, both to sum up and to crystallize what I’ve been ranting and raving at your expense, is that first, governments / administrations / parties in power behave quite oddly during election year, especially as regards what they say, what they promise to do, and the groups they address their declarations to.  I notice this applies to as many countries as there are parties in power.  Secondly, to all those who dream of a better life and a better future for their families abroad, don’t stop trying, regardless of the obstacles, stumbling blocks and challenges put in front of you.  There are many twists and turns, but eventually you will reach your destination.

Thanks for reading !

why Mimi & Jarvis Laurilla and the KASAGIP Charitable Trust are my favorite kinoys*

Mimi and Jarvis and KASAGIP help migrants of all kinds and situations, because they know how hard it is to pass through the eye of the needle.

MARICEL (NOT her real name) was three days away from an expiring work visa, and all her dreams 72 hours from similarly dwindling down the drain.  Because of a lucky referral, she rang the subjects of today’s blog.  Each hour from then on was crucial, but they were well-spent.  Clever paperwork was lodged, a proper job offer produced, processed and verified, Maricel saved from a one-way ticket home, and 24 months later the latest in a proud tradition of deserving Asian permanent residents, each day contributing to the choo-chooing of the resurgent New Zealand economy.

Maricel’s is an exceptional case, because she would’ve spent the last iota of her strength to stay in Aotearoa anyway, her friends were prepared to see her through her immigration adventure, and she was fortunate enough to benefit from the passion and zeal of KASAGIP volunteers led by Mimi and Jarvis Laurilla, who have braved fate, fickle bureaucracy and the sometimes treacherous tides of career and fortune, to help new migrants in New Zealand, as they were once migrants themselves.

KASAGIP is shorthand for Kapatirang Kabalikat sa Kagipitan, which loosely translated from Tagalog is community partners (or brothers/sisters) in times of need, but SAGIP, the root word, also means rescue.  KASAGIP is a label “of those who rescue”.  The name of their devoted team is both an acronym and a keyword for the passion of those who help with and rescue from, the challenges and obstacles of migration.

It would be misleading to say Mimi and Jarvis have done all the work, but they are the driving force of a potent group which has literally brought out of the deepest hole 20 migrants or hard-luck “cases” of which Maricel is only the latest.  The Skilled Migrant Policy stream that provides NZ migrants with livelihoods is double edged, as it sends home those who fail to find jobs that fit the would-be migrant’s skill set.  Kasagip takes this quirk of fate to heart, as it is prepared to help those who fall between the cracks of good intentions and well-meaning opportunity.

Mimi, Jarvis and their corps of hardy volunteers have undergone no formal training as immigration consultants, counselors, lifesavers or employment advisors, only the hard-knock realworld lessons of experience applying for legitimate migrant status themselves.  Add  to that, a vocation to help those similarly situated, and wanting a better life for themselves in foreign shores far from home.

To finance the logistics of helping hardluck migrant wannabes, the Laurillas and KASAGIP conceived of a thousand-and-one ways to raise money, not the least being the KASAGIP annual garage sale, grants and funding from city governments and foundations, and the goodwill donations of the KASAGIP Golden Club, anything to maintain liquidity and independence from the profit motive.

In return, this incredibly inspiring organization ask for nothing except the satisfaction of seeing an aimless, wandering and hopeless migrant brought back from the depths of despair and into the land of the living.  That is, the land of hope and new life, in New Zealand.

Each migrant sent home represents a dream extinguished, a dream that Mimi and Jarvis are not ready to give up, as long as they have the minimal requisite of passion and initiative.  Without this, KASAGIP would not survive.  And neither would the many migrants it helps.

For this and many other reasons, Mimi and Jarvis Laurilla, their comrades in KASAGIP, and their converts, are truly my favorite Kinoys.  They deserve to be your favorites, too !

Thanks for reading !

PS.  For more info and if you want to help them help others, pls email, visit their Facebook page (Kasagip Charitable Trust) or simply ring them (04)528-5238 in NZ.  Gain the goodwill and pay it forward, woohoo !

*Kinoy, a contraction for Kiwi Pinoy, is a non-racial term for Filipinos who’ve either been born or have migrated to New Zealand

my iskul bukol* reaction paper 2 emerging family policy 4 new NZ permanent residents

[Sorry, Mr Bean clip has no connection to blog below.  Just wanted to get your attention. Thanks for reading !]  

A CUTESY way to describe it would be expectation-challenged, or maybe expectation-averse.  By it I refer to my personal blogging experience and the (un)finished product, YLBnoel’s Blog courtesy of wordpress dot com.  The moment I attempt to hawk anything other than useless information in this here blog, I cringe (with clenched teeth) not because I don’t want to raise expectations or not because I’m conscienceless and blissfully ignorant, but because I’ve let so many people down, disappointed well-laid plans et cetera so many times in the past.  Call me lazy, indolent, effort-wasting, small-minded, but anytime it ceases to be fun, it’s not fun anymore.  And when it’s not fun anymore, it’s hard to justify it, it’s a chore, and you know what they say, as in “I love him / her, I wouldn’t give it up for anything else, but it’s a chore.”  Which is code for I’d rather be doing something else.

Sorry for being a nattering nabob of negativity up there, but I was thinking of the incipient policy of introducing a high-income bracket for prospective applicants bringing in family members as permanent residents in NZ.  Please don’t think I’m attempting to be socially aware / relevant, or helpful to people in the same boat as I (might be), or anything like that.  It’s a purely selfish reason, that the policy will soon be in the neighborhood of affecting me personally, not too soon mind you, but getting there.  That’s why I guess it’s a left-handed way of asking you not to take me seriously.  Just grab a coffee and listen please. 🙂

In so many words, a new, high-income category will be created for NZ permanent residents who want to bring their family over from home, presumably to become permanent residents themselves.  This is a kind way of saying those who won’t belong in the proposed high-income category (my guess is anyone who doesn’t earn at least $50,000 annually, or 90% of the population) shouldn’t expect their papers processed in less than two years.  Really, that’s what, to my fourth-grade understanding, the bottom line’s gonna be.

I was outraged for a few days until I spoke with one-and-a-half immigration professionals (I say half cuz the other person only does it part-time) and they’ve essentially told me the same thing : that in a way, the authorities have been doing it for some time now, imposing income-related requirements and conditions and it’s mostly for your (meaning mine) own good.

The basic premise being how do you reasonably expect to bring family over without being able to support them in a way that they’re used to, applicants for the last few years have been required to commit to supporting family members for at least two years from the time the latter arrive in New Zealand.  That’s reasonable I guess, since your dad/mom, or especially your kids, won’t immediately be able to train themselves to be a productive part of the NZ workforce, much less find jobs instantly after getting here.

Because it’s getting harder and harder to find jobs, the two-year requirement has I’ve heard been increased to five, and with the incoming policy it will probably go up again.

And it probably isn’t news to you that quite a few nationalities in the top ten, migrant-wise, are known to go on the unemployment benefit as soon as they become permanent residents.  Don’t get offended, as Filipinos don’t partake of this dubious honor.  However, those that are known to be athletic (in NZ’s favorite sport), the first to cry unfair! when PC (political-correctness) filters haven’t been cleaned, and those from places that are traditionally the recipients of NZ’s aid largesse, are unsurprisingly part of this clique.  I apologize in advance if some of you feel alluded to, the preponderance just leads in that direction.

I mention it because when you think about it, New Zealand can no longer continue to be a welfare state for the hordes of migrants, and the safety valve of stricter immigration policy, as regards stringent immigration conditions, is one of the more efficient ways to prevent this.  Expecting to support the dependents you petition, even for a temporary period, is merely common sense, and in the long run, a country that’s overburdened with increasing baggage is a country that ultimately loses its appeal as a migrant destination.

Years ago I saw this on a government-sponsored green-conscious ad : Ang basurang kinalat mo, babalik din sa yo.  (Garbage carelessly disposed of eventually returns to you.)  I guess opening its gates too wide and being too friendly to migrants at the expense of its own citizens (and being vote-conscious at the same time), were things uppermost in its mind when the current Government crafted its policy refinements.  Am I making any sense?

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Lest you think I’m being an apologist for those who formulate and execute immigration law, I have two examples below on how sloppy they have been getting lately.  The newspaper where I live is essentially a small-town paper chock full of local references and support for regional sports (as a small town paper should rightfully be), but it’s a darn good paper.  And like any self-respecting publication, it has an online version, but one of its few shortcomings is that it doesn’t reproduce the hard copy Letters to the Editor section, which is one of the more interesting parts of the paper, craziness-wise.  If you don’t mind, I’ll quote liberally below from two letters I chose, and don’t worry, they speak for themselves :

Dear Editor : When my in-laws recently applied to the Immigration Service (sic) for a visa, they were asked to provide details of all family members, spouse, children, siblings, parents, even grandparents and ex-partners (ex-spouses) dead or alive. 

Details were also required about “full education (including place of secondary, high school, or tertiary education even if you did not complete the course and diplomas, certificates and degrees obtained),” employment history (including self, unemployed, housewife or any other unpaid work)”; and past travel history.

This had to be backed up with as many certifed true copies of original documents as they could get hold of, with a certified English translation. 

That was an addition to the information they had already provided in the standard visa application form and the full sponsorship and financial guarantees by their New Zealand citizen relatives.

And they only wanted to spend a few weeks with us over Christmas…

So I was bewildered and dismayed to read how easy it was for Kim Dotcom to obtain residency with his millions despite the service being aware of his character.

What does this paint of our country?

Mr Obrad P, Waterloo

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Here’s a second letter, which makes reference to the above letter.

Dear Editor : I sympathise with Obrad P (Letters, March 13) about the service, or lack of it, from the Immigration Service. We planned to treat our young, university- educated niece from the Philippines (boldface mine, just in case you missed it) to a holiday here.

We, too, went to great lengths to provide details of our private lives on a 12-page sponsorship form signed by a JP (justice of the peace, like a barangay chairman), certified copies of our marriage certificate, proof of citizenship, house- ownership papers, bank statements and the itinerary for a return trip. We had to courier them all to Manila.

Our niece completed a 20-page visa application form, provided a medical certificate and police clearance, and paid for a passport, the visa-application fee, and courier charges to have her passport returned.

We expected approval would be a formality, but our niece received a standard letter declining her application because “her financial and economic circumstances . . . are not considered as a return incentive”.

I’d have expected the service to offer this young, talented university graduate permanent residence, but, instead, it dashed her hopes, with a stroke of the pen, of a simple holiday.

I wonder what damage such a haughty attitude towards decent, hard-working foreigners does to New Zealand’s reputation.

Ruud B, Napier

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Oooops, the online version does have a letters section, but I’m not sure if it’s updated regularly.  Well, I just wanted you to know that bureaucratic snarl and shortsightedness affects everyone, including New Zealand’s citizens, not just us.

Happy Easter everyone, I’ve taken enough of your time, thanks for reading !


* iskul bukol refers to a C student or mediocre student, or unserious schooling, reminiscent of a popular Filipino comedy show of the same title.

Dodging the annual bullet

[ Note from Noel : Just fair warning to you precious reader, this rant & rave probably beats all others in self-centeredness and introspection; I might as well put in length and depressingly longwinded as added attractions, pasensya na po; congrats and good luck to the marathon ambitions of Atty Cristina Godinez, Efren and Vangie Gregorio and Richard Yao, happy birthdays to Susan Lao (4th Nov), Ramon Tan Jr (5th) and two of our favorite kabatch across the miles, Annette Sy (7th) and Joy Rosenbaum (10th). Woohoo! ]

When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong.  You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt, I am the Lord your God. – Leviticus 19:33-34 ESV

IF I HAD my way I would run around the block everyday the Lord made (or bawa’t araw na ginawa ng Diyos sounds a little better).  Wind, rain and hale, erratic work scheds and the inevitable laziness creep in sometimes inconveniently but, on the whole, running, besides the obvious fitness and aesthetic aspects (keeps my love handles at a certain size), lends structure to my ADHD life.  I know that if I can’t decide between pigging out, reading, playing Tri-Peaks Solitaire or watching old DVDs, I can just lace up, trot around manicured lawns, wave at dogwalkers (and their dogs), gawk at babysitters (and their babies) and scoot away from aging motorists (and their death machines) and do something productive while marking the time.

[ By the way, it’s just a figurative block.  Actually it’s around 15-20 minutes’ worth of running, more like 5 to 6 blocks + an entire high school grounds worth of perimeter; and if I want to extract at least three-quarter hour’s exercise I have to run the route twice and then some. ]

The last few weeks, I’ve needed the running a little more : it relieves a little of the stress while applying for a new Work Visa.  Not reapplying, which implies some continuity of the old visa, or renewing, which recognizes the existence of the current one, but applying for a new visa, which is in our native Taglish back to zero or zero balance.  Such is the nature of temporary residence in NZ, which should by rights be expected from a First World country, albeit one sorely affected by the 2008 subprime economic crisis and whose primary industries are sensitive to the movements of international debt markets and rates of exchange.

There’s been no exact date since I started applying, but definitely it’s around this time of the year.  Fittingly, everything comes to life in Wellington: birds dogs and humans are warmer and therefore happier, days are longer, and nights are toastier.  Barbecues are inevitable and ball games of every sort pop up everywhere.  But I can never allow the general aroma of bliss (sort of like everything’s right in the world) to completely overwhelm me.

Roughly half of the 30,000-plus ethnic Filipinos in NZ came here on a “Work To Residence” Visa (WTR), meaning they met the requirements set by Immigration NZ, were invited to search for employment here that matched the set of skills they possessed, and promised permanent residence if they were successful in their search. Theoretically it sounds quite promising, but in practice… (I’m making kibit-balikat, waving my palms around and whispering Bahala na if you can see me now… better yet, click here for a personal account.)

The other half came here courtesy of various visas (Visit Visas, Student Visas, Working Holiday Visas, there are a few more) ,  and were somehow able to obtain Work Visas based on skills deemed crucial to the New Zealand economy.  Those skills are listed under the so-called Short-term Skills Shortage List and Long-term Skills Shortage List.

For better or for worse, I’m in the second class of workers.  Yup, the visit visa was turned into a work visa, another work visa and yet another work visa.  Yehey!

Not to be overly dramatic about it, but my blessing is also my curse.  I nearly gave up March 2008 on finding a job that would allow the (remote) possibility  of permanent residence before a referral by a kabayan ( Thanks Ross C! ) led me to being hired as a trainee miller, then as an assistant miller in Wellington.  But because the job was taken off both the short-term and long-term lists, I could never use the job as a springboard to staying in NZ permanently.  In short, I could choose to shoot for the moon and look for another job in the lists, or stick with the job that landed on my lap, and hope against hope to have luck on my side every time I needed to apply for a new Work Visa.

Which was what I was doing now, and unlike previous years, I was more or less prepared to meet any uncertainty (but how do you know if they’re by nature uncertain, hmm?).

Proof that Kiwis weren’t interested in my job?  I had newspaper, internet and Work and Income ads, even internal circulars that advertised a vacancy for a milling career, promising humble wages but lots of responsibilities (not good attractions for the locals).

Evidence of stability and consistency in my employment?  I had been in the same position since 2008, , enrolled courses to be certified in my trade, and had taken Health and Safety and accessory courses to help me improve my performance.

Just to be on the safe side, I secured declarations from the employer that there simply wasn’t enough interest in the job among Kiwis and locals and not more was expected, now or in the near future.

Just two weeks before my Visa was to expire, the carefully laid plan for me to seamlessly weave between my old and (hopefully) new Visa hit a snag.  My NBI / police clearance was two years old, and I had to get a new one.

I moved heaven and earth to get a substitute document, but because I was cutting it close, every effort had to be nanoseconds fast, and I had to use multiple approaches.  I requested the Ministry of Justice here to issue a document stating I had no criminal record, a process that inexplicably took 10 working days; I asked a big favor from a bro back home for a police clearance from their local PNP precinct, and I of course spun like a trumpo trying to renew my NBI clearance, which believe you me wasn’t easy with a window of less than two weeks.

All told, I was able to lodge my application with the deficiencies requested a week before Doomsday.  Unlike previous years, TWO lives were dependent on such application, mine and that of esposa hermosa.  Of course, another two academic careers back home (that of Ganda and Bunso) would also be drastically affected by a negative decision, so it’s only the most important decision of my life. 😉 For all the hospitable working environments so far that I have encountered here, political realities dictate that every effort is made to accommodate locals before foreign guest workers continue working here.  I know how the game is played, especially during election season.  But to be blunt about it, I don’t want to go home ; the work visa is my all-or-nothing ticket to stay, for now.

It’s the bullet I dodge, every year.

Thanks for reading !


Dead Man Walking

Canadian visa for single entry

Image via Wikipedia

(originally written 18th July 2009)
For the second time in 16 months, I was Dead Man Walking.
Apologies for the drama, but for all intents and purposes, I no longer belong among the people I walk, for the simple reason that I had lost my right to stay in The Land of Milk & Honey.  ( Not any particular place, actually, just any environment where your desired future becomes more distinct and reachable. )
                     *                     *                   *                   *                   *
A DEPRESSION cum recession is never so treacherous as when an incumbent or sitting government defends itself for it, or looks around for excuses and scapegoats to deflect attention from itself.
As you may guess, migrants and and temporary workers are an easy target, once the local populace looks for the usual suspects for their lack of disposable income.
Just as a First World country welcomes its migrants, expats and seasonal workers in times of plenty ( as productive additions to its evolving workforce ), it sees them in hard times as pabigat, liability & usurpers of their natural resources.  Namely, their right to the life to which they are accustomed, viz comfy homes, a pair of cars, and sturdy paychecks.
By way of explanation. . .
Like many citizens of the Third World, we set up camp via the time-tested and honored manner: the back door.  This was the visit / tourist visa, then found a reason for overstaying legally.  In my case, a helpful brother who’d been here the last 14 years produced for us the precious job offer that produced a work permit.
Welcome Noel, you accidental migrant you !
Unluckily, my employer ran into hard times as well and went bankrupt a few months into our new job.  Redemption came in the form of another company looking for someone to train from the ground up, no skills necessary, just someone willing to learn, take instructions without question, and work for minimum wage
Not that I had much choice, and it sounded good to me.
Well, stranger things have been known to happen, but the job kept us from leaving here.  We learned the ropes, improved our work ethic, and allowed us to send home much needed foreign exchange in the meantime.
We were also able to start the first of a series of qualifying exams that would certify us in our trade, assuming we passed of course.
Eerily, early this year, the country began to suffer from one of its worst unemployment droughts in history, no doubt an aftershock produced by the worldwide economic downturn.  Also, various industries the country relied on were taking a turn for the worse, the dairy industry not being the least .
The media wasn’t much help, either.  Headlines like Nine Filipinos Retained in New Plymouth While Locals Made Redundant were both race-insensitive and inaccurate, and only served to unfairly cast us in a (more) negative light.  Was it our fault if we reported to work unfailingly, on time and volunteered for overtime work whenever?  Sure, it made them (everyone else) look bad, but hey, don’t know bout you, but I could certainly use the extra money.  On the other hand, locals never thought twice about taking time off, weren’t always tardy but sometimes cut it close when giving notice they were coming late, and were always on the lookout for a better job. Didn’t look very good against the spectrometer of job loyalty.
Too, the usual 45 working day lead time for applying for a new work permit / visa no longer applied, not only because there were lots and lots more refugees reaching the gates of  the palace, but also because each application was being scrutinized as new, never mind that you’d been working here a year or more, back to zero lahat.  The waiting time to clear your papers now stretched to three, maybe four agonizing months. 
I didn’t want to rush the ops manager into producing an endorsement letter and supplementary form (where the employer provides additional information about your work details, something you can’t furnish without being self serving) as he was presiding over, in no sequential order : potential redundancies , major repairs (the machinery was reliable but needed constant maintenance), visitors from the main office (we were sort of in the boondocks) and swiping business away from competitors. A work permit renewal, I thought, didn’t rank high on a list like that, but I reminded him just the same. I couldn’t blame him if the letter, a pro forma one actually, wasn’t prepared till around two weeks later, but it was two weeks that was lost forever.
Then came the long wait. A total of five weeks passed before we were told, in a phone conversation ritual we held daily (Please, has my case been allocated to a case officer? Well, may I know when it will?) that Client Number 27948091 (that’s me) had been assigned to an Immigration Officer, whose name I was familiar with, that person having handled a few Filipino applications here.
The ritual, however, didn’t stop, in fact in only became more purposeful and frenetic as I was not only chasing a deadline ( I committed to attend my folks’ 50th wedding anniv June ), I also didn’t want a gap between the expiry of my old permit, and the issuance (if I was lucky) of a new one.
Turned out that that was the LEAST of my problems.
I would have found out later rather than sooner (by mail), but my persistence brought me the needed information first hand:
In light of the current (economic) situation, and the fact that your position doesn’t meet the minimum Skill Level 6, I honestly feel your job should be given to a (local) citizen, and therefore I cannot issue you the work permit you seek.
In those few words, as I said, I became Dead Man Walking.  Frankly, throughout the 11+ months I was bundying in and out, I hardly gave a thought to working anywhere else, at the same time I hadn’t been able to save a cent.  The case officer’s words came out in slo-mo, like an audio tape slowing down.  I was hearing them, but belief was temporarily suspended. Life as I currently knew it was over.
She said that of course, I could still appeal or ask for a reconsideration, but not only was the issue pretty cut-and-dried, lots of Filipinos being in the same boat, there was also the trip back home, for which I hadn’t been able to save.  I should start worrying about that daw.
At this point, I must admit that from time to time, especially during my first long wait for a work permit, I took on casual jobs that were in the gray area of semi-legal,  to keep body and soul together.  Working in the same environment wasn’t anything new for me, but for how long could I do the same?
First, I planned what I would do when I got home, where the prospects weren’t many : my last jobs were in a law firm, a multi-national and finally a call center, where the dead end moods associated with the job / s became deader and deader.  For my colleagues, mostly career lifers (in the first two gigs) and people half my age (in the last, who called me dad and tatay  ) who were just happy with a job, the situation / s was OK, but for me, 40something and no easily marketable skills, how could you stay perky ?  Being an accidental migrant was the thing that saved me from an even more uncertain retirement, but obviously I didn’t realize how lucky I was to stay here. 
And now I was being asked to leave.
Back to the casual and semi-legal, I subscribed to the view that there is honor in hard work, and I joined the ranks of the day-to-day conscripts while waiting for good news from the case officer.  Chinese takeaway, fruit stalls, weekend markets, whose exact locations will remain a secret forever locked away in my heart, were my sometime employers practical enough to take in manpower at a sidelong glance at my gaunt desperation, and Asian enough to look the other way when time came to ask for (any) documentation.  We do after all come from the same continent, Comrade ?   Hard-earned cash at day’s end, no questions asked, just stay scarce when anyone gets too nosy.
A lifejacket came a few days later (although at the time we didn’t know it yet) in the form of a brief email from our main office HR Advisor, who asked us: didn’t you know that your item (position) has always been Skill Level 6, anywhere on either state (the skill level assessment scheme binds two countries) ? And why didn’t u cite in your form that you took the first 2 exams of the Certification Course?
But I hadn’t passed them yet, I feebly protested.
Well, start acting like you have !  And winked at me she did, electronically of course.
It was too late by then, sadly.  The manager of our out-of-the-way post had no choice but to cut me loose, as my Wapa (what a Kapampangan friend called his Work Permit) had finally expired.  He had already cut me some slack by way of “neglecting” to attend to office matters the first 72 hours, but the risk was, like an infected boil, accumulating more pus by the day : a hefty fine, and censure on the firm (if I was discovered) hung above all our heads like Damocles’ Sword.
With a heavy heart, I left midday with my knapsack carrying my safety gear, hi-viz jacket and workboots out of the factory, probably for the last time.  Sad smiles and words of encouragement (we’ll be waitin’ for ya mate) was my sparse menu for the day, as I had little appetite to see what lay ahead.
But feeling sorry for myself were not items on my forced agenda, as I had an urgent email to write to the immigration officer.  I had the required Skill Level, and (wink-wink) sat the exams on my way to certification.  Wala pa lang nga results, though it was a real start.
**                    **                    **                    **
12 HOURS before the 6th of June (the olds’ anniversary), when I had officially reached Day 8 of becoming a McDonalds bum, the e-mail came.
“Please collect your passport here asap Noel, as I am issuing a work permit and you will need a work visa if you want to go home soon? “
OMG.   From down-in-the-dumps with aimless wanderings scheduled for the day, I instantly morphed into a Tasmanian devil with a jillion-and-one things to do without a clue on what to do first.
But what had just transpired?
The case officer obviously had on her own reconsidered, owing to the sterling advice our HR person had offered and the fact that I had already embarked on steps to qualify myself towards certification.
Just as obviously, me awa pa rin ang Diyos as she could’ve have just thrown my paper in the rubbish bin and consigned my fate to those of scores and scores of other nameless migrants sent back home as it was of course the politically expedient thing to do.
Just to show that not every bureaucrat was of the cold-hearted, clinical type, she told me :
It’s not the easiest thing to do, take away a person’s job as this sometimes has the effect of changing the lives of many more people back home (Top 10 Understatements for 2009 yan, Ate ! ) But all factors considered, and admitting that it is not that easy to train someone for a semi-skilled job like yours, and hoping that you will continue to work towards certification, consider yourself welcomed back to our country.
If I could kiss a government officer over – the – counter, I would have, just that protocol might not allow it .
                    **                    **                    *                    **
6 hours later, after last-minute confirmations, rushed goodbyes and listings of pabilin, I was sleeping on plastic benches in the cavernous waiting area of the airport, which, if you can believe it, was closed (as in doors locked and windows shuttered) between 11 pm and 4 am… not enough flights to keep it open ( I told you it was a small town ) .  I was on my way to join 4 bros, 3 kids, and 4 nieces and nephews and catch the tail-end of my folks’ 50th, which probably won’t be celebrated in as grand a fashion till the 75th, a good quarter-century away.
From Dead Man Walking I was granted a reprieve, a new lease on Life if you may.  Given all the sad news about recession related lay-offs, retrenchments, redundancies and closures of businesses, this was one scary tale that ended happily .  At least for me, and not a local who might have, in his dreams , applied for my job.
Not for this makulit na Pinoy.
Thanks for giving me the time of day, everyone, and don’t ever give up hope.
PostScript. Salamat sa Diyos, we passed the first 2 exams. Kudos to Ross C, Rey G and Juanito C, and all other compatriots who aced their exams with flying colors ! Mabuhay Kayo!