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

Just Posted

Flowers and candles were laid on the driveway of the Weber home, where Kerri Weber was found dead in November 2020. (Black Press Media file photo)
Langford man to stand trial for death of his wife last November

Ken Weber is charged with second-degree murder of his wife, Kerri Weber

Police dog Obi assisted in an arrest Tuesday night after a man reportedly damaged a Victoria restaurant with a large steel beam. (Courtesy of VicPD)
Police dog called in after Victoria restaurant damaged with steel beam

Suspect reportedly entered restaurant and started damaging walls

Police dog Hitch helped arrest a man who had reportedly threatened the security guards of a Victoria shopping centre with a knife on June 15. (Photo courtesy of VicPD)
Man with knife arrested after reportedly threatening Bay Centre security guards

The K9 unit’s police dog, Hitch, was deployed to assist with the arrest

Kidspace, which took over the YMCA-YWCA childcare centre at Eagle Creek Village, plans to reopen the Y’s fitness centre as the Eagle Creek Athletic Club in September. (Photo courtesy of Kidpsace)
Former Y fitness centre in View Royal aims to reopen in September

Kidspace taking over both the gym and the childcare facility at Eagle Creek Village

GardenWorks nursery in Oak Bay at its home until August. (Black Press Media file photo)
GardenWorks puts down new roots in Oak Bay this summer

Nursery shifts down The Avenue to fill former fitness studio space

Maxwell Johnson is seen in Bella Bella, B.C., in an undated photo. The Indigenous man from British Columbia has filed complaints with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal and the Canadian Human Rights Commission after he and his granddaughter were handcuffed when they tried to open a bank account. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Heiltsuk Nation, Damien Gillis, *MANDATORY CREDIT*
VIDEO: Chiefs join human rights case of Indigenous man handcuffed by police in B.C. bank

Maxwell Johnson said he wants change, not just words, from Vancouver police

For more than a year, Rene Doyharcabal and a small group of neighbours in Langley’s Brookswood neighbourhood have been going out every evening to show support for first responders by honking horns and banging pots and drums. Now, a neighbour has filed a noise complaint. (Langley Advance Times file)
Noise complaint filed against nightly show of support for health care workers in B.C. city

Langley Township contacted group to advise of complaint, but no immediate action is expected

A nurse prepares a shot of the COVID-19 vaccine at the Yukon Convention Centre in Whitehorse on Wednesday, March 3, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mike Thomas
Vancouver couple pleads guilty to breaking Yukon COVID rules, travelling for vaccine

Chief Judge Michael Cozens agreed with a joint sentencing submission,

An inmate in solitary confinement given lunch on Tuesday, May 10, 2016. THE CANADIAN/Lars Hagberg
22-hour cap on solitary confinement for youth in custody still too long: B.C. lawyer

Jennifer Metcalfe was horrified to hear a youth had spent a total of 78 straight days in isolation

The discovery of a missing woman’s body in Nanaimo earlier this month is now being treated as homicide, say Nanaimo RCMP. (File photo)
Discovery of woman’s body in downtown Nanaimo now being investigated as a homicide

Amy Watts was found dead near Albert Street and Victoria Crescent on June 3

People line up to get their COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre, Thursday, June 10, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Vaccines, low COVID case counts increase Father’s Day hope, but risk is still there

Expert says people will have to do their own risk calculus before popping in on Papa

B.C. Premier John Horgan listens as Finance Minister Selina Robinson presents the province’s latest budget, April 20, 2021. The budget projects $19 billion in deficits over three years. (Hansard TV)
B.C. government budget balloons, beyond COVID-19 response

Provincial payroll up 104,000 positions, $10 billion since 2017

COVID-related trash is washing up on shorelines across the world, including Coldstream’s Kal Beach, as pictured in this May 2021 photograph. (Jennifer Smith - Black Press)
Shoreline cleanup finds COVID-related trash increased during height of the pandemic

Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup reports litter from single-use food packaging nearly doubled

Doctor David Vallejo and his fiancee Doctor Mavelin Bonilla hold photos of themselves working, as they kiss at their home in Quito, Ecuador, Wednesday, June 9, 2021. Doctor Vallejo and Doctor Bonilla suspended their wedding in order to tend to COVID-19 patients and in the process Vallejo got sick himself with the disease, ending up in an ICU for several days. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)
Love, sacrifice and surviving COVID-19: one couple’s story

COVID hits Ecuadorian doctors who delayed wedding to treat sick

Most Read