Special Migration Report: Liza Palomata

Liza Palomata and her husband Ding Dong had never left their home country of the Philippines until they moved to Kuwait in 1995. Their decision was motivated by a sense of adventure, but more so due to the difficulty in being able to find and maintain a stable job

The relocation was not unusual for citizens of the third-world nation, where more than 13 million Filipinos have migrated overseas hoping for more opportunities and a better life. Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) now live and work in more than 200 countries in a variety of jobs, predominantly non-skilled labour.

“We didn’t tell them we were leaving them there, we just told them we were going for a holiday. They cried a lot,”

The strong culture of migration in the Philippines is a consequence of high unemployment rates. In a population of more than 100 million people, 6.4 per cent are unemployed. Wages are low and there is little protection for employees who are unfairly terminated or mistreated in the workplace.

In Kuwait, Mrs Palomata worked as a senior hygienist in a dental clinic owned by the Kuwaiti royal family, and Mr Palomata worked odd jobs while taking care of the children. But while their standard of life was okay, the couple was never able to own a house because they were not Kuwaiti citizens.

“We couldn’t really have a future there because we were not citizens, only contractual workers,” Mrs Palomata said.

“There was no point staying there forever.”

In 2009 the couple, along with their two children Shannon, now 16, and Lance, now 12, moved to Australia.

The legal process took about three years and it was an anxious, but not a difficult, wait. The couple applied for sponsored skilled migrant visas, with the family successfully sponsored by Mrs Palomata’s uncle, who lives in Sydney’s North West.

Mrs Palomata found the first few weeks in the new country hard and drastically different to Kuwait and the Philippines.

“In every corner you have to pay; Sydney is very expensive,” she said.

Apart from adjusting to a different lifestyle, both Mr and Mrs Palomata found it near impossible to find a job in the early days. When Mrs Palomata left the Philippines, she was a qualified dentist. In Kuwait and Australia, her qualifications were not recognised.

“It’s not easy to apply for a job. We had to start from the bottom, we struggled a lot,” she said.

As part of the visa conditions the family had to move to Albury in regional NSW for two years. In order to save more money to buy a house and to secure themselves financially, the couple sent their children back to the Philippines to study.

“We didn’t tell them we were leaving them there, we just told them we were going for a holiday. They cried a lot,” Mrs Palomata recalls.

“We were only able to visit them once in the two years they were there.”

Mrs Palomata was required to complete the Australian Certificate III in Dental to become a dentist, despite already having a dentistry degree from the Philippines. For a permanent citizen, the certificate costs about $700. As she was still under a skilled migrant visa, the certificate would have cost ten times more. She waited until she became a permanent resident last year to get her certificate.

Mrs Palomata now works as a dentist’s assistant in a clinic in Westmead and she and her husband were able to bring their children back to Australia from the Philippines in 2013. They now live in Western Sydney and are patiently waiting to receive permanent citizenship. – Jion Legaspi