caught between the cracks, surviving between the cracks: Year 6 as a NZ guest worker

One hundred percent NZ pure, for citizens, residents and workers alike.

One hundred percent NZ pure, for citizens, residents and workers alike.

I can’t conceive of a mental picture that’s expressive enough, but imagine being teleported with your fellow Pinoys to a dog sledding race somewhere in the Arctic Circle. In the middle of a surge between giant mounds of snow, your sled falls into a half hidden crevasse more than 10 feet deep.  Before you can collect your wits and assess any injury to you and your dogs, inertia and the slope of the icy floor push you further into another crevasse, this one even deeper.  Can it get any more uncertain from here on?

***               ***               ***

ON PAPER, and on surface level, New Zealand, one of the most liveable and most desirable places to migrate to on our Lonely Planet, has given aspiring migrants probably the widest range of tools with which to become adopted New Zealanders and fulfill the migrant dream of plentiful food, comfortable shelter and a peaceful life. The skilled migrant policy,  working holiday scheme, cultural policy are all manifestations of the welcome given to nomads from overseas.  Athletes, religious, farm workers and different classes of people from all walks of life, assuming the latter are law abiding, healthy and sincere in building a new life, are welcome to become New Zealanders.  Even political refugees stand a healthy chance of at least being heard and hosted while their cases are considered.

But in reality, because of fierce competition from fellow migrants all over the world, the average aspirant to these shores is not unlike a participant in the weekly lottery.  Thousands of applicants for a visa, any kind of visa flood online sites of immigration NZ, and once their papers are sorted and sifted, still a huge number of the original applicants flock to visa processing centers.  After requirements are scrutinized, verified and assessed, the merits of these hopefuls are weighted not just on their own but relative to other, equally deserving applicants.  After that, the moment of truth arrives in the interviews, where everything hinges on the human element : whether or not the applicant and his/her papers match, answers to crucial questions concerning honesty and character, and the X factor of is there anything dangerous lurking within the outwardly innocuous applicant..  If everything passes muster, then and only then are the precious visas issued.

[Before I continue, I must stress that there are several filters that eliminate probably three-quarters of the original applicants before visas are granted, based on the merits.  First, there is the NZ$270 application fee, roughly US$220.  This immediately wards off all but the most serious applicants.  Then, a long wait of processing and verification assures all the candidates that they should have the stablest of incomes or war chest of funds while waiting for the visa result.]

As I had neither the energy or discipline (not to mention the qualifications) to go through the more traditional, albeit time-consuming admission streams,  I chose a popular, though risky method : I was fortunate enough to be granted a visit (tourist) visa, and solicited the help of my brother in finding a job in New Zealand early 2007.  Needle in the haystack and eye of the needle, but Bro pulled through and got me a job in his workplace.

But as mentioned, the trouble with this method is what happens if you can’t find a job suited to your qualifications within the short time of your valid visit?  Remember, the sentinels of New Zealand’s borders, also known as Immigration NZ, already know that your purpose in coming to their country is merely to see the sights and visit relations, which fortunately I had.  To do anything else, like attend job interviews and look for jobs, while not too surprising, raises the proverbial eyebrows and attracts attention.  Luckily for me, even when I wore my welcome out with my first employer, I was able to find still another job that allowed me to apply for a true-blue, certified work visa that extended my stay in New Zealand.

Here’s where the paradox begins: Job it was that provided the legal basis for my stay in Aotearoa, but my trade was on neither the Long-Term or Short-Term Skills Shortage List, meaning my job was no help if ever I wanted to apply for Permanent Resident status someday soon.  And I was already too entrenched in my job to even think about any of the other migrant policy streams.  Yes I was able to work in New Zealand and continue justifying my stay, but only as long as I kept working in my particular job and kept my employer happy.

I hadn’t remained idle in reducing the odds against becoming a PR, or permanent resident when the opportunity to apply ever presented itself.  I started honing my skills, tried to advance my skill set towards certification in my vocation, and made myself available whenever new or lateral development was offered.

The problem was, I had fallen between the cracks.  My situation didn’t correspond with the standard scenarios under which the NZ government makes permanent resident status accessible.  But I had already invested too much blood sweat and tears  to just roll over and give up the ghost.  Hanging over the precipice, I had to harden my steely grasp on the shallow foothold I gained, and claw my way to the distant summit that remained unseen.

In the meantime, I know I can no longer fall back on any other possible skills or blame myself for whatever missed chances fallen by the wayside.  I’ve fallen further into a tighter spot, but I’ve made my choice.  Besides, six years after my original work visa, I’m still in New Zealand.

***     ***     ***

Last week I lodged yet another work visa application, my seventh in the same job and with the same employer, a record of sorts for me.  Fate has been kind to me, with all the uncertainties and whirlwind changes in both my particular line of work and the New Zealand economic climate.  Nearly all the kabayan I started out with, in different lines of work, have become permanent residents.  Some have even become citizens and have called New Zealand their permanent home.

For me to do that, I have to continue struggling, continue fighting the good fight.  The obstacles are challenging, because the rewards are great.  Despite myself, I have acquired the patience and discipline required to stay in the game of migration.  I have blazed a trail towards my destiny as a migrant, and have no choice but to soldier on.

Mabuhay to Pinoy migrants, all over the world!

groundhog day for your OFW kabayan

they had time to pose for a team-building pic. Thanks and acknowledgment to!

Oh, dear.  I promised esposa hermosa I would finish it today, bundle it up and throw it into the dropbox at Immigration NZ tomorrow.  But it’s taking all of my energy to just sort the documents today.

I shouldn’t have too much problems with this, as I’ve been doing it, not counting the first time when I was a new hire, three times previous, applying for a work permit, now called a work visa, as a guest worker in the Land of the Long White Cloud, or New Zealand.

Unlike many of my kabayan (countrymen) who’ve gotten here under the Work-to-Residence policy stream, my right to work depends largely on whether the visa officer thinks there aren’t enough locals who can do the job and fill the position I currently occupy.  Failing that simple test, my status as a work visa-holder ceases to exist and I go home.

It’s as simple as that, every year.  Most years the case officer just follows the script, respects that procedure has been properly followed and ticks all the boxes in my favor.  Every now and then though, there is someone who is even more than a stickler for the letter of the law, who thinks that New Zealanders enjoy the first, second and last priority for jobs all and sundry, and that as it is, there are already too many migrant workers in Enzed (NZ).

this theoretical visa / case officer is correct on all counts, except for the following: the basic law sometimes bows to the reality that there is no one currently qualified to perform the work for which the permit/visa is being applied for; that the jobs are there for Kiwis and Maoris to take, but what if they’re not interested in particular jobs? and three, it is true that there seem to be a tad more foreign workers, maybe too much for comfort for the previous generation of New Zealanders, but if you take away all of us, who’ll be left to work?

Regardless of the wisdom of the strict officers, and how politically correct it is to allow migrant workers in a country that has unemployment problems up to here (point to neck), I’m just happy to avoid the above kind of bureaucrat, and to keep my nose clean and my application airtight.

By airtight I mean all documents updated, that I’ve done my part to improve my training and education, and that I enjoy the support and endorsement of my employer, which incidentally, I’ve done and I do.

I’ve kept on file my employment contract, which contains all the bells and whistles (anti-harrassment, opportunities for advancement, legal terms of work, etc etc) but also all the bail-out clauses in case the employer doesn’t like me anymore.  It’s pretty dated, because it’s deemed renewed if no one objects to it, and since I’ve signed it 2008 it’s been good as gold

I’ve passed at least one training module every year that consists of a written exam and optional quizzes spread throughout a five-month period, supported by the worldwide guild with branches in Australia and Europe, and I only need two more to be certifed in my trade.  I’ve kept copies of my passing certificates for the officer’s scrutiny.

Back home, I remembered to update my National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) clearance to prove my nose has been clean all of my adult life, or at least proves I’ve never been caught  😉

Experience has taught me to keep copies of unanswered job ads for my position in publications to show the case officer that no one is qualified, or even interested in my job.  It helps him/her a whole lot in deciding in my favor, in short to issue me a new work visa.

Once, my previous boss even went so far as to advertise in Work and Income NZ, a job placement agency staffed by the national government, for eight straight weeks just to show that the physical and technical aspects of the job attracted very few local applicants.  That year it was enough to clinch my precious work visa.

All the above, plus the crucial written endorsement from The Man that I’ve been a good little boy and that it would cost them more to lose me and train someone from scratch, I’m to compile, complete all the applications, and not the least, add the application fee, zip to the office in Wellington City, and dump the package onto their dropbox

I hope to be as lucky and blessed as I’ve been the last four years.

Thanks for reading !


2011 in review

Thank you and maraming salamat po to all who’ve visited our crazy little blog in 2011.  I am pleased to share with you a lovingly-prepared report by my landlord WordPress.  Please show any appreciation through comments at the end of this report.  Happy 2012 !

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Syndey Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 13,000 times in 2011. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 5 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

(Barely) Legal Again this 2012

Magingat sa paputok, mahirap magtext sa paa. – modern Filipino proverb.

Magpaputok sa labas, huwag magpaputok sa luob – another modern Filipino proverb.

[ Note : This is probably one of the least-organized conversations I will have with you, but that doesn’t make it any less personal.  Thanks to all the Yahoo! and Facebook groups the past 2011 who’ve so graciously allowed me to post (voluntarily or otherwise), on their pages.  Maraming maraming salamat po for your continued readership all this time, if I have added a little light of levity in the dark seriousness of our lives, it is my pleasure.  Happy 2012 ! ]

IF NOT for Galileo, Copernicus, other stargazers and skywatchers, and later Pope Gregory XIII, we wouldn’t know about the time it takes Mother Earth to revolve around Sol, the phases of Luna, and most practical of all, a convenient way of counting the seasons, marking the stages of our lives, and justifying the constant renewal of our wishes, hopes and dreams, no matter how vain they are.

We wouldn’t have one of the most efficient and God-fearing (“in the Year of our Lord“) inventions of Man, the Gregorian calendar of 12 months, 52 weeks and 365 days.  We wouldn’t have birthdays, anniversaries, national holidays, spring festivals, summer solstices, harvest fairs and winter wonderlands, vainglorious dynasties (The Thousand-Year Reich), lofty imperial greetings (May the Emperor live Ten Thousand Years!) and our well-loved religious traditions (Christmas, Hanukkah, Ramadan).

Notwithstanding the long-winding and elaborate intro, I have a reason for paying homage to the invention of the calendar year.  You see, I am starting it quite auspiciously , having been issued a freshly-minted Work Visa, formerly known as a Work Permit but for all legal intents and purposes the same thing.  Ever since, I’ve usually been issued one near the middle or around the last quarter of the year, so this is the first time I can remember one being issued so close to the end (and therefore the start) of the year.  It’s a good time for banishing the bad old habits and welcoming good new habits, but before that I thought you’d want to know why the new visa came so close to year-end.

First was the troublesome passport, but which I daren’t badmouth since it’s one of the most important symbols of Pinoyhood, right up there with my skin color (mocha), eyes (chinito) and height (very average, actually below average 🙂 ). I would never give up my Filipino citizenship. . . well maybe take on dual citizenship if ever the opportunity presented itself, but you know what I mean.  I had to renew my passport, good thing the Philippine Embassy was already in Wellington.  But since renewals are centralized in the Inang Bayan from all over the world, a waiting time of at least two months was needed, and my grand plan to apply for a work visa way ahead, in advance, fell behind schedule by two months as well.

Then I think I told you that I almost jeopardized my application by forgetting to apply for a new NBI / police certificate / clearance, which delayed lodging my application for another month, and if not for the help extended by kabayan would’ve been longer.

But as soon as submitted my documents for the last time, I didn’t feel the same dread that I felt in previous years.  A large part of it had to do with bringing the Philippines to New Zealand, courtesy of esposa hermosa.

Not my picture, but Mahal's creations look a lot like this. Thanks to for the pic!

Whether it was the nostalgia-inducing spicyness, the euphoria generating gata (coconut milk) on hipon or fish, or the explosion of flavors that sinigang, tinola or adobo create, Mahal had gone over and beyond the call of duty to elevate our upbeat and confidence levels while waiting for the work visa.  Either that or the fact that this was the 4th attempt to register ourselves as a guest worker, each year bringing increments to our skill and competency levels for the job.  We had at least even odds to get legal anew.

But 50-50 is still 50-50, sez the half-empty half-full glass beholder.  And slim-to-none odds from a lenient, open-minded visa officer are better than odds-are-even from a strict, no-nonsense bureaucrat, who cares little that foreigners contribute substantially to NZ’s national economy, or that the net migration figures of a former 1st World powerhouse had gone down for the second straight year (in favor of Australia, almost surely).  Given the fact that my visa / case officer was a youngish-sounding Ms Joshika Prasad, I liked my chances.

I couldn’t be facing any better prospects back home anyway, where at least three-quarters of my contemporaries in high school and university were paying off their mortgages, sitting atop a modest pile of earnings, looking forward to a handsome retirement nest egg, or simply living off the fat of their productive careers.  Given their hard work, strategic planning / positioning and my poor choices in life, I could hardly begrudge their easy streets and golden years.

But back to the present. For such an important document, Mahal and I hardly made arrangements in the event that our passports (to which the visas hopefully would be stickered) were delivered and neither of us were at home.  And that’s exactly what happened one Thursday morning in December and AGAIN (unbelievably) on a Friday when a frustrated courier left a Second Notice claim card on our doorstep.

Naku anu ba yan suspense pa, kung package baka andun na yung papel (document) diba, ventured Mahal.

I hadn’t the heart to tell her that it (the package) could just as easily contain our rejection letters and deportation notices for good measure.

Yun na yon Mahal I responded with automatic cheery reassurance.

Coming out the door of the CourierPost pickup center, I purposely waited until I was back in the car, so that we could open the package together.

Eeeeeeeee, di ko na kaya, tingnan mo na lang at sabihin mo na agad Mahal, the suddenly-anxious better half of my life said.

I couldn’t stand the pressure anymore, and so I just tore up the plastic wrapping and beheld the items inside that dared to pass judgment on the paths our lives would take, for at least the next 12 months.

And as soon as I saw the blue stickers with hologram stamps and security paper bannered across the first few pages of our E-passports, I knew that manna from heaven had fallen for yet another year.  Before I could say another word, Mahal, who had already seen the blue-and-silver of Kiwi visas wrapped around the maroon of our passports, was already delirious, screaming with happy excitement.

After what seemed like an interminable wait, we were legal in NZ again, and hard though we would work, another gateway opened up on the long, unfinished expressway towards our Destiny.

Thanks for reading, and isang mabiyayang 2012 sa lahat !

Able to Exhale

Ian McKellen as Gandalf the White in Peter Jac...

Image via Wikipedia

Dear batchmates, schoolmates, brods, officemates, kabayan and friends :

IT’S debatable, but for Pinoy fortysomethings like us, jogging is truly a low-cost, high benefit activity. It’s not very demanding timewise, you literally run on your own pace, and if you stay with the program, you acquire or regain a fitness that takes years off your birth certificate.

[NOte : We distinguish from and avoid the word running as the latter connotes discipline, devotion and intensity that are alien to our species, homo sapiens sarapus matulogus umagus, native to Philippine concrete jungles and smokey mountains.]

It’s better said than done, the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak and all that, but it takes all our middle-ager’s energy to fight gravity, Wellington’s biting wind, chemically induced post-night shift wakefulness, and lastly but not the leastly, prematurely aging joints and knees when we go jogging towards a new day.

We were planning to catch a few zzz’s after coming home from night shift, but there persisted the danger of sleeping straight through the day and waking up just before another night of work.

Grimly, there was a good chance we wouldn’t have many more jogging opportunities like this, between the greenest valleys and the bluest seas we’ve ever seen, breathing the coldest, purest air that sprayed our windpipe, and smiling among the friendliest and most down-to-earth First Worlders we’ve known. [Not that we’ve known many.]

So we abruptly found ourselves from the bedroom to jogging on the footpath, and who should we see but a wrinkly, long-haired wizard lookalike on the side of the road, smoking a long-stemmed pipe and chewing lemon drops.

Don’t know if it was the adrenaline rush created by the cold, cold morning air, but the old man reminded us both of Gandalf the White and Albus Dumbledore.

We lost no time, between gasping for air, asking is there a work permit in my future? From his deepest pockets he fished out what at first glance appeared to be green and red playing cards, but on closer inspection were actually Pinoy passports. He shuffled and snapped them around his gnarly hands, and looked through them without opening them, if you could imagine such a thing.

He whispered hollowly: steady work and years of plenty come for these souls… but not for you, dawn jogger… Not yet. And with flowing robes and all, he jogged away into the obscure foggy distance before we could ask how so many passports came into his possession, or even how he could jog so fast in his strange garb.

We gave up on the encounter with Gandalf/Dumbledore and resumed our normal route, which was around the block, and soon jogging astride us was a fellow busybody, clad in No Fear shorts, Darlington socks and prominent headband. He smelled of Alaxan Gel, and we think he was humming a Dan Hill tune (for the Gen Xers, he popularized Sometimes When We Touch & a few other Mellow Touch classics).

Surely, this couldn’t be…? For some reason we asked him the first question that popped into our mind, without the usual niceties of an unexpected meet-and-greet with a world-famous kabayan.

Muole ba ko bay? Not that he would know.

Dili, he countered right back. Daghan ka pa agian ug tabangan.

We knew he was a boxer for the ages, but was he psychic as well? We had places to go and promises to keep, and the best way to do this was to stay in NZ. How could he know that? Well, after Gandalf/Dumbledore, we were ready for anything, and sure enough, our temp co-jogger zipped past us in his knee-lengths and warmups, and scooted to the nearest gym.

[By the way, we were already feeling funny about this jog, Inception style, because as far as we could remember we don’t speak a word of Visayan, and besides, we’ve never met a Filipino on the jogging path, much less a superduper famous one.]

A combination of disorientedness, starstruckness and lightheadedness (remember, we just came off eight hours of night shift) convinced us to call it a day, despite having gone around the block only a couple of times, and we were on our way back inside when we saw an Asian couple doing a lively walk just a few meters ahead of us.

It can’t be, we said.

The heights and body shapes were unmistakeable, and yet they should’ve been thousands of kilometers away.

( Are those two Mom and Dad ??? )

Sure enough, we caught up with them and unsurprisingly (both are devoted walkers) they paid us no mind, despite the fact that they hadn’t seen their prodigal prince for almost a year now.

Fighting for their attention (especially among four bros) was nothing new to us, so we just got into their faces, and unsurprisingly broke into the inevitable topic, without even kissing their hands.

Mom, Dad, I’m in a dream aren’t I? (without missing a beat) Are you coming to take me home? (still between breaths) Are you mad because I can’t stay here much longer?

That last one hurt a bit, ‘cuz they supported our decision and the residual consequences all the way. Without looking at us, Mom answered in short bursts, partly in Bicolano (which she almost never does) and mostly in Taglish.

Hi, Noel. For sure, you’re not in OUR dream, so we must be in yours. Dai ka pa ma-uli. And your dad and I will ALWAYS support you, kahit anong mangyare, as long as you listen to God and do the right thing.

We were about to ask, but what’s the right thing? And how come you can walk faster than I can run? when we caught Dad murmuring something unintelligible, with a curious accent which we later realized was Kiwi English. (He hates even listening to that.)

What is it Dad? we asked, regardless of the fact that whatever he said would be pointless, dream to diba? (How clueless we were.) He looked like he was doing some reading from some remote location, and relaying the text to me :

We have endorsed your passport with a work permit… (which) allows you to work in New Zealand in the occupation and workplace specified on the permit. The permit does not entitle you to remain permanently in New Zealand… if you wish to travel overseas and return to work in New Zealand, you mush apply for a work visa before you leave.”

Time to wake up, son.

** ** ** ** **

I sat up bolt upright, my eyes confronting the rays of the 9:00 midmorning sun. I had unconsciously kicked aside the blanket, the precious Wellington summer was imminent.

I had been asleep less than 45 minutes.

Out of my bedroom window I chanced to see the rickety mailbox hold something thick and bulky, and even though I could not make out the postmark, I was fairly sure the sender was Immigration New Zealand. The package could not but be heavy with news and anticipation, such heaviness threatening to pull the package down from the mailbox and straight into the footpath below.

I ran.

Thanks for reading !


Darkest Before Dawn

Joseph McGonagle, Passports and Visas, Saturda...

Image by Dr John2005 via Flickr

[ NOte from NOel : Thanks to all, especially to Hogwarts batchmates and schoolmates, AKLnzPINOYz kabayan, brother Alphans and UPalumniNZ co-Maroons for the mabuhays, wansui’s, banzais, and saluds going our way in our quest for new work visa. God bless you all ! ]

Dear batchmates, schoolmates, kabayan, brods, and friends :

I DON’T REMEMBER with sufficient accuracy if it’s Matrix Part 2 or 3, but there is one scene there where the protagonist (Keannu Reeves, of course) sits in an antiseptic train station waiting between realities, travelling from one to the other, although he is never sure which is which, why he is doing so exactly, or if the train operator will even allow him to board.

In turn, it brings to mind waiting to keep our appointment in an oncologist’s office for a second opinion (apologies to all batchmates, kabayan and friends in the medical professions). You’re not sure if the second doctor will give you a more pathologically pleasing diagnosis, you don’t know if you’re better off just sticking to the first analysis, in fact you’re agonizing between giving up going to a physician and just going to the nearest faith healer.

It is in more or less the same state that I see myself right now, being neither here nor there, coming or going, or perhaps leaving or arriving. Pardon me for bothering you with these trifles, but I’ve always occupied myself with the trivial, the parochial or the frivolous, and whatever else commands the attention of my ADHD befuddled mind for 16 of 24 possible hours in the day — assuming that I use eight for rest or ( somewhat relatedly ) dreaming.

And now that you’ve mentioned it, even in dreams I’m a Nowhere Man. I frequently “play out” unresolved scenarios of my youth back home in dreams. A frequent theme of my dream portfolio are frustrations, failures and great unfulfilled plans. I say frequent because recently, my real-world issues are beginning to overlap into the alternate world of dreams.

Waiting interminably at interview rooms for visa interviewers that will never come, waiting in airport terminals bound for destinations years too soon and with wallets too light for comfort, and greeting family, friends and godchildren half-meant and half joking, but actually waiting for overdue aguinaldo and expired pasalubong.

Waiting, waiting and waiting. That’s the dominant theme, by far.

** ** ** ** **

I hope you’ve saved some money, or at least you’ve recently set aside some wages for yourself in your time of uncertainty, Bisor said to the wall, mostly out of boredom and for lack of anything else to say, but knowing for sure that I would hear.

I avoided his gaze and mumbled something inconsequential, too culturally handicapped to tell him that I sent all disposable foreign exchange home to the suplings.

Like a shark in waters stained crimson by thrashing, bleeding prey, he sensed hyperquickly that my answer was too horrible to verbalize. His look shifted at an awkward angle from murky scepticism to outright incredulity. You mean you haven’t saved anything? Not a one? (Don’t know what that meant exactly but I had a good idea.) Not a thing? Well how are you going home? Inshallah and Bathala na, I gestured, concealing from him that I preserved the return portion of a previous ticket.

Relatedly, he seemed not to grasp the concept that most Pinoys underwrote the matriculation of offspring till university and sometimes beyond, not unlike the blood oath sworn to by clansmen and kin, in protecting the tribe against the elements and rival clans.

After going through the motions of explaining, I left him to his incredulity. I had more pressing problems, foremost of which was not just earning my bread back home but finding how to go about, between seasons of plenty (elections and holidays) finding ways to earn such bread.

Amidst such a depressing atmosphere, surely some remaining breaths of hope survive?

Such as: A more compassionate visa officer; a more relaxed visa regime in the light of The Hobbit’s return (before saner heads prevailed, Warner Bros considered moving filming to the Czech Republic or thereabouts, dooming the hopes of trickle-down beneficiaries of the industry’s most awaited prequel in the magnitude of Star Wars and Harry Potter)? How about the realization that some tradesmen and their skills were never going to return from Aussie till their pension coffers were filled up and ready to start golden years?

In the face of increasing difficulty, still we tried to occupy ourselves with these admittedly more pleasant thoughts, while waiting it out till V-Day (Visa Day).

Hard to deny, but in our idlest moments our soft underbelly felt most deeply the poison-tipped and serrated claws of the demons of bitterness, jealousy and self-doubt. Bitterness. Did our friends and colleagues not try their hardest to help us stay in this Land of Opportunity? Jealousy. Were we not at least equal to those humblest and least qualifed to stay here? Self-doubt. Did we not have the minimum abilities needed to justify being allowed to stay in the land of our hosts?

And yet all those we knew, despite their best intentions, were limited by the nature of immigration policy. Merit and self-help, after all, are the absolute measures of how much longer our stay here would be determined.

Who were we to say who deserved or were undeserving of this land’s blessings?

And after all is said and done, beyond submitting the sum of our efforts and abilities, what else could we do but hope that we justified our status as guest worker?

** ** ** **

As they say, it is always darkest before dawn. The faintest hope that we dare nurture is that the deepest dark of doubt will soon surrender to the brilliance of dreams and wishes fulfilled.

Thanks for reading !


The Moment That Defines a Kinoy

We've never been to this part of NZ, we're waiting for you :)

Image by Stuck in Customs via Flickr

[ NOte :  Just to be asked to contribute a piece for the Pistang Pilipino 2010 sa North Shore ( Auckland ) Labour Weekend event  ( 22nd-24th Oct ) is certainly an honour for us ; whether or not it’s actually used we don’t know, but it appears below.  We did our best to stay close to the theme of capturing what it means to be a Kiwi + Pinoy. Thanks for reading ! ]
THERE are many emotional highs and few lows when one contemplates what it means to be a Kiwi + Pinoy — or as more popularly known these days, a Kinoy.
Is it when one is granted, after a dramatic Work-to-Residence period, life-changing Permanent Residence (PR) status, the crowning achievement of every Kinoy migrant?
Is it when one receives the acknowledgment of both Kiwis and fellow guest workers in the workplace, crystallizing the overachieving role played by many kabayan in various fields of endeavor in the Land of the Long White Cloud ?
Is it the extended blessings enjoyed by every Filipino family whenever one of their own marries a Kiwi, who is only too willing to share the benefits and benevolence of a First World country with his new relatives?
Since the answer to all of these is undoubtedly yes, we can’t help but select instead a defining moment that links all who seek a second life as members of one of the most hospitable nations in the First World.
What captures the moment, as one searches through the personal adventure of heartaches, dreams and hopes towards being a Kinoy?
Again, it could be a thousand and one scenarios, too many to mention. 
Attaining an NZ driver’s license, a first Kiwi home, or even a first child born on Aotearoa shores?  Just three of the numerous benchmarks that indelibly mark our album of memories.  But do they define one’s existence here?
Arrayed against the good memories are the painful ones : for every permanent resident status awarded are ten rejections, equals 10 kabayan going home starting from scratch. 
 For every work permit granted are probably a dozen expired and unrenewed, sending home our frustrated countrymen despite excellent work and an even more admirable work ethic. 
And everyone knows that not every mixed-culture marriage between Kiwi and Pinoy ends in permanent residence.  All the signs of love and commitment must be there, lest the institution of marriage be abused for less romantic ends.
Now that we have the wide-screen view, having witnessed the peaks and valleys of the Kinoy migrant experience, we ask anew what moment for us defines being Kinoy?
It’s a bit more abstract than all those previously described, and it can happen any point in the migration timeline. 
But it seems to be this : when you discover that you are no longer just part of your homeland, but evolving into someone part of a new land; not merely Pinoy but not fully a New Zealander; not yet a transplant but no longer rooted in the land of your birth… this particular moment in time, whenever it may be, defines your existence as a Kinoy.
It is being part of both worlds, yet laying claim to none.  For that is the blessing and curse of migration, of coming and going, leaving and arriving.  More particularly, it is the essence of being Kinoy, a mixture that we don’t mind at all.
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The interesting part of our Kinoy adventure is that we have yet to reach our goal.  For three years running, we have held a work permit, but not fortunate enough to deserve permanent resident status.
No rush though.  Just as success is a journey and not a destination, so is migration.  If being Kinoy means taking Life’s best shots and taking advantage of every break that goes our way, so be it.
There is a confident sign that aspiring  to be a Kinoy is consistent with the Pinoy spirit of migration.  This is the fact that despite the ambiguous policy adopted by the NZ government, our numbers continue to increase.  Each of the 40,000 Filipino souls in the land of our hosts serves as an inspiration for more to come.  Like an idea whose time has come, Kinoy growth is strong and for the moment, has no limits.
God bless each and every one of the 40,000 Kinoys ; may there be 40,000 more.  Mabuhay !
[ Noel B is a work permit holder currently based in Wellington, but still holds out hope that some day, the permit will transform into a Returning Resident’s Visa.  In the meantime, he thanks every Kiwi, co-migrant and kabayan who has taken time to enrich his life by showing him their personal version of New Zealand.  Maraming salamat po! ]

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. )
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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.
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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 .
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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!