Profiles of the Diaspora: A Look Into Philippine Migration

Taken from

Philippine migration has its roots in history, from early 20th century work in sugarcane and pineapple plantations in the US and its Pacific territories to the institutionalization of labor migration in 1974 under Marcos rule. These days, despite an educated population, high unemployment and poverty persists, Filipinos migrate in search of opportunities elsewhere.

We know the majority of these voyagers are overseas Filipino workers (OFWs). But out of the rising 10% of the 100 million global Filipino population, surely there is more than just the characteristic OFW profile among them.

Here the question lies: Who are these other emigrants? How have their demographics changed over time? The demographic data presented here is annual ranging almost 30 year on a sample of approximately 1,900,000 taken from

Who are leaving and why?

Age group

As shown, majority of the people leaving are young people, with the 30 year olds and below representing 54% of the population. The number of 19 year olds and below leaving the Philippines has been increasing throughout the years, with its peak at 2010. The numbers of those 70 and above, of retiring age, have remained steady and low over time.

Data suggests that parents with several young children might be increasing this statistic, as more people are capable of bringing the entire family with them. These young people may also include international students seeking educational opportunities abroad, of which I myself am part. Initiatives like College Admissions Mentors for Peers in the Philippines, which promote studying abroad, and the increasing amount of scholarships for international students play into this growth.


Making up 27% of the pie, college-educated individuals leave for abroad, followed by college level with 16%. High school level and high school graduates combined make up 23%. This tells me that people are seeking opportunities to further their education through higher degrees, and that “smart” Filipinos are leaving the country. Increasingly, international students see the appeal of an education elsewhere. The brain drain phenomenon is rampant despite its opposite, brain gain, taking flight.

Educated individuals are leaving.


Unemployment vs. employment and a break down.

There are more people who are unemployed that leave the country, which makes sense as they try to search for labor opportunities elsewhere.

Of those “unemployed” and in line with the education data, more and more students are seeking opportunities abroad, comprising most of the “unemployed” section. Housewives come in second. There is not enough information to determine who exactly is a part of this “housewives” section, but it would be interesting to know whether female domestic workers fall under this category, thus playing into the number of Filipino domestic workers spread across the world.

On the other hand, of those employed, professional, technical and related workers make up most of the pie. These are engineers, scientists, architects, lawyers, doctors and other educated individuals who leave the country, faithfully echoing the brain drain phenomenon.

Civil Status & Gender

Civil status data.

Single and married individuals top the civil status migration numbers, and, in recent years more single individuals are emigrating. This may include the increasing amount of students also leaving the country.

Males vs. females. There are more females!

Lastly, our gender numbers show that more females than males are leaving, related to the number of “housewives” who are also moving away. This builds a strong case for labor migration policies: any policy that considers migration needs to consider women’s issues.

Where are they coming from?

The graph shows the percentage of persons leaving from each region per capita. Naturally, most of those leaving come from the National Capital Region (NCR), the main city area. Despite having the highest population, a big percentage from NCR still leaves the country. The next highest percentage regions are as follows: IV-A (Calabarzon), I (Ilocos Region), III (Central Luzon), CAR (Cordillera Administrative Region).

It is interesting that a huge chunk of immigrants to the US come from the Ilocos region. Up north, the land isn’t very fertile and there are frequent power outages. Instead of searching for other regions to live in, they resort to moving away from the country. If we want to keep Filipinos satisfied with their current surroundings, the local government plays a big role in finding out these problems and optimizing around solutions.

Where are they going to?

USA tops the charts

A vast majority of migrants head to the United States — around 3.5 million. The culture of colonial mentality hits hard as we continue to pay homage to our once colonizers. But US immigration has historical roots and came in three waves. In 1899, following US annexation of the Philippines, the US began sponsoring Filipino scholars in US colleges and universities and an increasing number of Filipinos settled in the West, particularly California and Hawaii. In 1934, this momentum slowed due to the Great Depression and the Tydings-McDuffie Act. The second wave came after World War 2, with Filipinos coming in as “war brides” to US servicemen and as healthcare workers and nurses. The third wave in 1965 saw a considerable jump as a result of the Immigration and Nationality Act’s elimination of the national-origin system, long-held business and governmental relationships, economic and educational opportunities in the US and an overall culture of migration that encourages remittances from the United States.

However, there are other countries that house thousands of Filipinos. According to this particular dataset, the top countries after the US are Canada, Japan and Australia, with Canada seeing higher numbers over recent years.

The total number of Filipino emigrants shows a mostly upward trend since 1981, with 10 million of the global Filipino diaspora living abroad. The pattern of emigration follows economic history, with lows during times of financial crisis, particularly in the 1998 Asian Financial Crisis and the 2008 recession, possibly due to several factors.

Migrant workers are the first to lose their jobs and forced to return to their home countries. They will also be the first ones to get rejected from work opportunities. The impact of crises on migrant members’ jobs lowers the quality of jobs they can take, and thus workers are less willing to find jobs abroad. As noted, more females than males are leaving the country. In a study done by the Asian Development Bank, they cited that women are more vulnerable to shocks due to lower level of education and skills. This builds a case for investment in education and skill development, especially for women. Moreover, women were more vulnerable to exploitation, sexual abuse and physical violence, with the deteriorated employment conditions during the crisis. This deterred many from seeking employment elsewhere, particularly in places like the US where the crises weighed the most. Despite the reason, it is important to note that the country’s dependence on immigration and remittances is unstable during times of financial crisis.

Bring them home vs. letting them go?

Remittances account for 13.5% of our country’s GDP. In 2014, an all time high of $26.93 billion came from remittances alone. Our country’s economy is heavily dependent on migration because of this, and more thought must be put into policies that mitigate migration.

However, as noted, the brain drain phenomenon is clearly present in the data, and this pulls away the intellects our country needs most for development. Additionally, this dependence on labor migration breaks down in times of financial crises and may therefore be unsustainable in the long run.

Depending on the government’s goals, migration policies play strong roles in keeping our countrymen and women in versus encouraging them to leave. Whichever the decision, the data above show some interesting insights in considering these issues:

1. Women issues cannot be separated from talks of labor migration.
2. The local government needs to act to provide resources to current residents if they want them to stay.
3. An increasing number of young people and students are lured by learning opportunities elsewhere.
4. There needs to be a restructuring of incentives for educated individuals to come back and give back to the country to counteract the number of professionals leaving. I advocate initiatives such as Kaya Collaborative, helping bridge the diaspora to development back home and hopefully there are more like those.

As a part of the Filipino diaspora living abroad, an international student in the US, I myself am torn between choosing to keep staying or going immediately back home. One day, my biggest hope is to take all that I’ve learned back to the country I love the most. Migration issues have become a big part of my life since coming to the US, and I hope this data gives a glimpse on recent years’ trends for further conversations on this matter.

Some limitations to this study: what does this not tell us?

  • The dataset is limited to data found on
  • There is no class data. It would be interesting to see which income classes these migrants came from.
  • I did not conclude any correlations between demographic variables.
  • There isn’t data on more recent years namely 2012 onwards. Data only comes from 1981–2012.
  • Country of destination data is limited (ex. Middle East should be part of the picture.)
  • “Migrants” do not just include OFWs; hence some assumptions on OFW statistics may not apply to this study.

Mika Reyes studies at Wesleyan University and dabbles in data, design, diaspora and development (4Ds!!!) She is passionate about technology, startups and innovation, especially in the context of the Philippines. Have questions/corrections/conversation topics/violent reactions? Email her at