Rommell and John. Photo from bbc.co.uk
LONDON - A Filipino overseas worker was among a handful of migrants and British natives who took part in a social experiment exploring the pros and cons of immigration in the country through a television documentary from the BBC.
Rommel Abellar, 43, did his best to convince the British public of his worth as a migrant worker by opening up on camera about his cultural background from the Philippines, and his successful career in the health sector.
“Migration brings economic benefits,” he told ABS-CBN Europe. “Let’s take the National Health Service as an example. The minute you arrived at the waiting room, you are far more likely to be treated by a migrant worker, or to boast about it, be looked after by a hardworking Filipino nurse. If not for these migrant doctors, nurses and other staff, the NHS would close.”
In the program, “Nick and Margaret: Too Many Immigrants?”, five migrants from the Philippines, France, Poland, Somalia and Pakistan were paired up with a British native who harbor strong views against immigration in the UK.
For a period of three weeks, each participant was immersed into the world of their respective partner to determine whether migrants are a “gain or drain” to British society.
Abellar was paired with a man called John, who believes there are far too many immigrants in the UK taking opportunities from the British, and all the while draining the country of its already scarce resources.
“The only issue I had with John was the first two hours of filming. He has straightaway thrown the punch and said: 'I want you to go back to your country. What we need here are nursing schools with British born students studying to become nurses',” recalled Abellar.
The pair seemed to get along throughout the program, however, but in between civilized meals and trips to the seaside, tensions arose between their opposing views.
At one point, Abellar found himself defending the right of his children to speak Filipino at home, after John criticized him and other migrants for teaching their children a foreign language as a mother tongue other than English.
“Filipinos are a product of too many revolutions. We certainly know how to fight. However, we pick our fights and when we have had enough, you will regret messing up with Filipinos,” he said.
Migrants meet British natives. Photo from bbc.co.uk
Abellar lives in Norbury, north London, with his wife and two children. Originally from Compostela Valley in the Philippines, he moved to the UK in 2001 to join the health service. He now works as a team supervisor at a care home specializing on people with epilepsy and special needs.
“This country is built by the blood, sweat and tears of migrant workers. The fact is, England’s Patron Saint, St. George, is from East Turkey, therefore a migrant himself,” Abellar said while explaining why migrants are a gain.
He continued: “Migrant workers are more focused, hardworking, highly motivated, always come up with fresh ideas and the skills set available to us are topnotch. We tend to raise productivity levels. Most migrants, like myself, are happy to start from the bottom then work our way up. A good number of these care homes now are managed by Filipinos.”
Abellar also works as an international relations officer in UNISON, a well-established labor union in the UK. A self-confessed activist, he can often be seen in protests around the country, fighting against various issues like racism, inequality, and war.
“My role in the union is to organize communities and employees working for private contractors like care homes. I am passionate with what I do. I always encourage migrant workers to better their lives. More often than not, it is the migrant worker who accepts the challenge,” he explained.
Immigration has once again become a key issue in the UK, particularly due to the recent economic crisis which amplified socioeconomic problems in the country, from higher unemployment rates to budget cuts in government spending and the strain in free public services like the NHS.
A recent wave of migration from eastern Europe also heightened anti-immigrant mentalities, with more and more people attributing their woes to excessive immigration.
And with national elections looming in 2015, immigration is set to remain a major talking point. Several political leaders from the Conservative and Labour parties have already acknowledged the issue while promising to address public concerns.
In the UK, 13% of the total population have been born outside the country, according to a study from the University of Oxford. In London, one in three were born outside the UK.
There are an estimated eight million immigrants in Britain today, with the highest proportion coming from India, Poland and Pakistan.
Latest figures from the Commission on Overseas Filipinos suggest there are approximately 250,000 Filipinos living in the UK.
Nick and Margaret: Too Much Immigrants? was hosted by Nick Hewer and Margaret Mountford, best known for their appearance in the original TV series of The Apprentice UK.
The two-part documentary debuted on BBC One on July 15. Its next UK airing is scheduled on Friday, August 1, on BBC Two. Both episodes are also available online via BBC iPlayer.