How a labor shortage in Nuuk made Filipinos the second largest nationality in Greenland | Polarjournal
After spending one winter in Greenland, Kelly Neil Lacsina from the Philippines has discovered that the land is not as green as he first thought. Image: Ole Ellekrog

Researcher Kristine Juul points to chain migration, favorable job opportunities, and a fast track visa process as reasons for the sudden rise of Filipinos in Greenland. Once the economic cycles turn bad, many will need to return, she warns.

Thriving Asian supermarkets and multiple options for bubble tea is not what you expect when you arrive in Nuuk, Greenland’s capital. But, in many of the town’s cafés, orders are taken in a unique combination of Greenlandic, Danish and English, all spoken with a Filipino accent. 

It is clear to anyone that, currently, the Filipino community in Nuuk is thriving. And the statistics back it up.  According to Statistics Greenland, seven people born in the Philippines were living in Greenland in 2003. In 2013 that number was 114, and this year, 2023, the number has shot up to 697. At the moment, the number of Filipinos in Greenland is rising at what looks like an exponential rate. 

This graph, extracted from Statistics Greenland’s database, shows the number of people born in the Philippines living in Greenland each year since 2000. Source: Statistics Greenland

These figures may not sound that high. But when you consider that just about 57 000 people live in the entire country, this new community now makes up more than one percent of the population. That’s more, as a percentage of the population, than the Filipino communities in the US, the UK, France and most other Western countries.

Easy to get to Greenland

If you ask Kristine Juul, Associate Professor at the Department of People and Technology at Roskilde University in Denmark, who has spent the last year researching the Filipino community in Greenland, the reason for the sudden burst in population is clear: the easily accessible and well-paying jobs. 

“You wouldn’t think so but it’s relatively easy for Filipinos to get to Greenland because jobs are available and the salary is good. This is in contrast to their home country where a lot of them have struggled since the covid epidemic,” Kristine Juul told Polar Journal. 

Kristine Juul’s field work has consisted of in-person interviews with members of the Filipino community. So far, she has focused mainly on retail workers living in Nuuk, but soon she will go to the town of Ilulissat where she plans to expand to the large cohort of Filipinos working in fish factories. 

But how would so many Filipinos even know that they could go to as remote and far-flung a part of the world as Greenland? 

The answer to this question is, according to Kristine Juul, the phenomenon of chain migration, a process in which family members or friends help each other find jobs in a new part of the world. 

“It is often families who help each other move. As more people move to Greenland, the knowledge back home of this option also grows. It’s a process that slowly accelerates,” Kristine Juul said. 

Kelly got a job through his sister

For Kelly Neil Lacsina, a shop clerk at Arctic Sari Sari Store, a Filipino supermarket in an outskirt of Nuuk, it was also through family that he found his job. His sister was already running the supermarket so she provided Kelly and his wife with a job and through that a visa. 

“Come over here. Do you also want to be interviewed?” He asks two women behind another counter, gesturing eagerly. But in the end, he agrees to do a short solo interview. “My wife is over there,” he tells Polar Journal, pointing to one of the women behind the other counter where colorful bubble tea is available for purchase: “but the money I make here, I use to help other relatives back in the Philippines. My cousins, my friends, and so on,” he says.

The experience of snow

Kelly Neil Lacsina is from Pampanga in the center of Luzon, the largest island in the Philippines. He came to Greenland about one year ago, mostly because of the higher salary. Without going into details, he explains that he makes about three times more in Greenland than he did back home. 

Kelly Neil Lacsina is working full-time at the Arctic Sari Sari Supermarket in southern Nuuk. Sari-sari Stores are typical to the Philippines and usually sell a variety of different goods, both food items and otherwise. Image: Ole Ellekrog

However, the experience of living abroad was also enticing to Kelly Neil Lacsina and, knowing little about the country, he had no quarrels about the Arctic environment he was moving to. 

“Before, I thought that it was a green country. But when I searched on Google I saw that there was lots of snow in the winter.”

In spite of the confusion, though, the foreign environment did not dissuade him.“I wanted to experience the snow. This is the first time I feel snow because I am from a tropical country and we don’t have that. But now that I am here, it’s a bit too cold,” he said, laughing. 

Greenland needs workers

But it takes two to tango. For such a rapid population growth to occur, it is not enough that the Filipinos want to move to Greenland; Greenland also has to want them to come. And, because of low unemployment rates and a consequent labor shortage, Greenland does. A few years ago, the government created a so-called “fast track” policy to make it easier to import foreign labor. The policy allows anyone who has been offered a job in Greenland by an approved employer to enter on two-year working visas. 

This also means that a lot of the Filipinos may only be in Greenland on borrowed time. 

“This fast track policy also includes a clause that makes it possible to stop any renewals of contracts if the economy changes. This could mean that the Filipinos wouldn’t get their working visas renewed once their two years are up,” Kristine Juul explains.

Second largest nationality in the country

The recent rise in Filipinos (697) means that they are now the second largest nationality in Greenland (as Danes (4.107) and Greenlanders (50.160) share a passport, being part of the same realm). 

They are followed by Thais at 310 residents, Faroese at 238 (also part of the Danish Realm), Icelanders at 130, Poles at 97, and Srilankesi at 96. 

Note that the figures above track birthplace, not nationality. Statistics Greenland only record nationality for the population in Nuuk. Here, the number of Filipinos has also risen sharply from 78 in 2013, over 137 in 2018 to 442 in 2023.  

Ole Ellekrog, PolarJournal

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