Changing face, fortunes of Filipinos in the UAE

By Angel L. Tesorero of Khaleej Times for Kodao Productions

DUBAI, UAE—Filipinos have helped shape the UAE for years now. A vital force in nation-building, their presence can be found across almost all industries – from the service sector to construction, health, education, media, entertainment, and so on.

As of last year, around 620,000 Filipinos were living and working in the UAE, up from 525,000 at the end of 2013. According to official figures provided by the Philippines Consulate in Dubai, around 12 to 15 per cent of Filipinos in Dubai and the northern emirates belong to the professional sectors. These include doctors, nurses, architects, engineers, accountants, and others.

Some 45 to 50 per cent are semi-skilled, working as office and administrative assistants, sales and retail personnel, hotel staff and in other related industries. The rest of the OFWs (overseas Filipino workers) in the UAE belong to the low-skilled category, such as household service workers, nannies, and cleaning personnel.

But the image of a migrant Filipino is constantly changing – from doing household chores to making their marks as competent professionals. Moreover, an increasing number of Filipinos are now running their own businesses. “A growing number of Filipinos are into the creative industries business. These include fashion designers, artists, musicians, web designers, animators, and the like,” Philippine Consul-General Paul Raymund Cortes said.

“The growing number of Filipino professionals in the UAE is definitely a reflection of the trust and confidence of the UAE business community in their skills and expertise. Construction companies, trading offices, financial operations, and many other Dubai-based companies increasingly rely on the expertise and work ethic of the Filipino,” he adds.

Another growing segment is human resources professionals. The Filipino talent and skill in managing human resources is legendary, Cortes notes.

However, despite their large numbers here and their famous hardworking image, big establishments owned by Filipinos are a rarity in the UAE.

Filipino education consultant Dr Rex Bacarra says: “It is unfortunate that despite our talents and potential, we (Filipinos) are mostly related to and known for only the hospitality/service sectors. We are capable of becoming captains of the industry.”

One Filipino tech entrepreneur has shown that Filipinos are not only labour exporters. Mannix Pabalan, CEO of Hashtag Digital FZ LLC is a pioneer in digital commerce, one of fastest rising industries in the world, particularly in the Middle East.

He says: “There is an unprecedented growth of digital marketing in the region, but there are only a few professionals who can claim expertise in the wide spectrum of digital commerce, so we decided to penetrate the GCC market in 2014 and put up our digital marketing firm.”

Another burgeoning industry that Filipinos are making their mark in is education, according to Bacarra. “The Filipino diaspora make up a sizeable number of teachers and professors in the UAE,” he says.

“I can think of three reasons why Filipino educators are – or strive to be – excellent. Firstly, there is the drive to succeed. An innate desire to prove that being away from our own country means avoiding failure at all costs. As professors, we look at the classroom as the core and an extension of this desire to succeed, so we innovate in our teaching styles and find ways to connect with students.

“Secondly, we have very good foundations in the Philippines. We were taught that teaching is not just a profession, but a vocation. As educators, we went through rigorous trainings on the philosophy and principles of genuine education. We were taught that we are forming the young and we need heart to understand the full extent of that responsibility. Money is secondary; the genuine love for the future of the young generation is a priority.

“Thirdly, we are Filipinos, and we proudly wear that badge which we swore to uphold. We have values that we impart. In the Philippines, we consider students as our own children, and we impart to them the same values we give our own kids.”

Filipinos also love food. In fact, they have helped changed the gustatory landscape in Dubai, where we see many Filipino restaurants sprouting left and right.

One ‘hot’ Filipino restaurant right now is Hot Palayok in Karama, an area once dominated by Indian and Pakistani restaurants. It’s just one of the many Filipino restaurants in the area that are doing well.

“I think it’s not just for tastes of home or nostalgia that people come here, because we have customers from other nationalities as well,” says Hot Palayok chef de cuisine Michael delos Santos. “In fact, we have customers coming in from all over the UAE – from Abu Dhabi, Fujairah and Al Ain.

“Other nationalities are also now being introduced to Filipino cuisine and this is a big market,” he adds. # (Originally published in The Khaleej Times)