Edeline Agoncillo is pictured in Edmonton on Saturday October 24, 2020. Agoncillo has been under a lot of pressure during the pandemic, working when she can and collecting CERB, but still needs to send money back to family in the Philippines. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

Edeline Agoncillo is pictured in Edmonton on Saturday October 24, 2020. Agoncillo has been under a lot of pressure during the pandemic, working when she can and collecting CERB, but still needs to send money back to family in the Philippines. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

CERB, extra hours and bottle returns: supporting overseas family during the pandemic

Canadian incomes have also fallen, putting those helping relatives abroad in a tight spot

Edeline Agoncillo sends up to $1,400 of her wages to the Philippines every month and keeps only a few hundred dollars for herself, even during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The money Agoncillo sends without fail — a remittance, it’s called — ordinarily comes from cleaning houses in Edmonton. It supports her elderly parents, her daughter, her son and his child.

During the pandemic, as work dried up, she drew on the federal government’s $500-a-week Canada Emergency Response Benefit to support not only herself, but also her family across the Pacific.

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

The Agoncillo family is like many in the Philippines, where one in 10 households relies on a relative overseas. Remittances are a huge part of the global economy, exceeding foreign direct investment in low- and middle-income countries for the first time last year.

But then the pandemic struck and The World Bank made a gloomy prediction in April that these transfers would plummet by 20 per cent this year because of COVID-19.

Migrants often give more when their home countries are in crisis. But with the pandemic pummelling economies everywhere, economists thought the flow of money would slow down. Initially it did, but remittances largely recovered by the middle of the year.

People may be earning less, but they are still sending money home.

“We don’t really have a choice,” said Marjorie Villefranche, director of Maison d’Haïti in Montreal, describing the responsibility of the diaspora to send money back to Haiti, one of the world’s poorest countries.

Agoncillo was scared to work when the pandemic started, and families didn’t want her to clean their homes. When she does work, she asks her clients for their deposit-return bottles to make an extra $30 to $40 a week.

She has been sending her parents about 30 per cent more each month since March, because one of her sisters, who is jobless in Dubai, can no longer help. Agoncillo can manage because she lives with two others and she spends as little as possible on herself.

“I’m very deprived,” she said. She asks only that her family pray for her.

Remittances sent from Canada amounted to more than $36 billion in 2018, based on data compiled by the Canadian International Development Platform. Four out of every 10 Canadian residents born in a developing country support loved ones overseas, according to Statistics Canada research.

Pressure to send money has increased during the pandemic as governments worldwide imposed crippling lockdowns, many without emergency relief programs that wealthy countries such as Canada offered.

Canadian incomes have also fallen, putting those helping relatives abroad in a tight spot.

Some migrants dip into meagre savings to find money, said Ethel Tungohan, a professor who studies migrant labour at York University in Toronto. Remittances are “not just an economic contribution, but a sign of love and care,” Tungohan said.

Visible minorities are primary senders of remittances, government data shows, even though they have experienced more unemployment due to COVID-19 than other Canadians. The August Labour Force Survey found that approximately one-third of Filipino and Latin American families, as well as more than one in four Black households, were struggling financially.

Financial support from the government has also played a role in sustaining remittances. The CERB was a lifeline for Agoncillo, and thus her family in the Philippines, for five months.

The Haitian community has also benefited from government support. Haiti depends on its diaspora: remittances in 2019 amounted to 37 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product. Canada is the third-largest source of funds.

Federal pandemic programs eased the pressure on Haitian-Canadians, Villefranche said.

Not all migrant workers qualify for government support. Marco Luciano, the director of Migrante Alberta, a Filipino migrant advocacy organization, points out that undocumented migrants can’t access federal benefits and have taken on extra jobs.

“They had two jobs. Now they have three jobs. And many of them are unstable jobs because of the shutdown,” said Luciano.

Because of migrants’ efforts, the Philippines and Haiti have registered only modest decreases in money transferred. The Philippines, which received $1.35 billion from Canada in 2019, reported a decline of only 6.6 per cent between January and August. Remittances bounced back in June.

Data is similar for Haiti. Transfers from Canada have decreased by only four per cent during the pandemic, according to economist Manuel Orozco of Creative Associates International, a Washington-based international development organization.

Agoncillo requested more hours from her employer when the CERB ended in September. But then she was exposed to COVID-19 when cleaning the house of a client who subsequently tested positive. Her results came back negative, but under Alberta’s public health guidelines, she still had to stay away from work for 14 days.

Agoncillo says the experience has been stressful: “I need my job. I need my job.”

———

Bryony Lau is an independent researcher on conflict in Southeast Asia. She is currently a fellow in global journalism at the University of Toronto.

Bryony Lau, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Do you have someone you would like to thank? Or maybe something to get off your chest? Email your rose or rotten tomato to edit@surreynowleader.com.
Roses and Rotten Tomatoes (March 4, 2021)

Our weekly collection of compliments and complaints sent in by readers

Bob Jadis, along with a team of painters and an etch artist, are selling firefly lanterns with 100 per cent of the funds allocated to the Sources South Surrey White Rock Food Bank. (Contributed photo)
Lanterns flying of the shelves as White Rock fundraiser gains momentum

Decorated bottles are on sale for $50, with all of the money donated to the food bank

Image Surrey.ca
LETTER: Connecting 84th Avenue through Surrey park is a terrible idea

Reader says one of the city’s crown jewel is under fire again

Teachers at Maple Green Elementary in Surrey stage a walk-in before school on Wednesday (March 3, 2021), as Fraser Health continues to announce variant exposure cases at Surrey schools throughout the district. (Submitted photo: Julia MacRae)
Surrey Teachers’ Association calls for district-specific COVID-19 safety measures

STA holds third and fourth walk-ins after multiple COVID-19 variant exposures

Photo: Surrey RCMP
Surrey RCMP arrests two boys, age 16, during dial-a-dope investigation in Whalley

Sergeant Elenore Sturko said one boy is ‘alleged to have been in possession of a loaded handgun at the time of his arrest’

Health Minister Adrian Dix looks on as Dr. Bonnie Henry pauses for a moment as she gives her daily media briefing regarding COVID-19 for British Columbia in Victoria, B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
7 additional deaths and 542 new COVID-19 cases in B.C.

Provincial health officials reported 18 new COVID-19 cases linked to variants of concern

A recently finished $4.3-million taxiway extension at the Victoria International Airport (not pictured) is unusable because of a blind spot. (Black Press Media file photo)
Blind spot leaves Victoria airport’s new $4.3-million taxiway extension unusable

Solution has been put on hold by COVID-19 pandemic, says airport authority

The City of Vancouver estimates there are 3,500 Canada geese in the city right now, and that number is growing. (Bruce Hogarth)
Help tame Vancouver’s Canada goose population by reporting nests: park officials

The city is asking residents to be on the lookout so staff can remove nests or addle eggs

Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson (Office of the Chief Justice)
Judge questions whether B.C.’s top doctor appreciated right to religious freedom

Lawyer for province says Dr. Henry has outlined the reasons for her orders publicly

A sample of guns seized at the Pacific Highway border crossing from the U.S. into B.C. in 2014. Guns smuggled from the U.S. are used in criminal activity, often associated with drug gangs. (Canada Border Service Agency)
B.C. moves to seize vehicles transporting illegal firearms

Bill bans sale of imitation or BB guns to young people

BC Housing minister David Eby is concerned that Penticton council’s decision to close a local homeless shelter will result in a “tent city” similar to this one in Everett, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / Black Press file)
‘Disappointed and baffled’ B.C. housing minister warns of tent city in Penticton

Penticton council’s decision to close a local homeless shelter could create tent city, says David Eby

A recently published study out of UBC has found a link between life satisfaction levels and overall health. (Pixabay)
Satisfied with life? It’s likely you’re healthier for it: UBC study

UBC psychologists have found those more satisfied with their life have a 26% reduced risk of dying

A vial of some of the first 500,000 of the two million AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine doses that Canada has secured through a deal with the Serum Institute of India in partnership with Verity Pharma at a facility in Milton, Ont., on Wednesday, March 3, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Carlos Osorio - POOL
Federal panel recommends 4-month gap between COVID vaccine doses due to limited supply

The recommendation applies to all COVID-19 vaccines currently approved in Canada

Emergency crews are on scene at Walnut Grove Secondary School after a report of a bomb threat at Walnut Grove Secondary School on March 3, 2021. The school was safely evacuated. (Shane MacKichan/Special to Langley Advance Times)
UPDATE: Bomb threat forces evacuation of Langley high school

Police asked the public to avoid 88th Avenue and Walnut Grove Drive

Most Read