In PassportIndex.com, Philippine Passports’ Power Rank is currently at #63. This means holders of this passport can be Visa-Free in only 20 countries, need Visa upon Arrival in 33 countries, and require visa applications in 145 countries. Tedious, lengthy, expensive, and sometimes heartbreaking visa application processes are the norm where I grew up. Nonetheless, it doesn’t deter millions of Filipinos from applying for visas, mainly to seek greater pastures and unite with loved ones. Those that get it, especially to “first-world countries” carry a certain prestige and reflect their socio-economic status (SES).
Why is the Philippine passport ranked low? It’s a combination of factors, I believe. I think some key considerations are our SES, and the fact that a substantial number of Filipinos overstay their welcome and become illegal immigrants, in their bid to create better lives. These factors gave us the reputation of being unreliable travelers / temporary migrants. In an age where opportunities no longer have borders, Filipinos and many other nations with low-ranking passports are unable to access these opportunities. It’s not solely out of our own doing, but because of the preconceived notions about our ability to be dutiful travelers / temporary migrants.
Working in Singapore, a place that is a melting pot of different cultures, allowed me to interact with people from diverse backgrounds and upbringing. I did not experience this in the Philippines as we’re a pretty homogenous populace. As I learned more about the upbringing and lifestyles of these people, I realized how unequal we are when it comes to our financial capabilities, avenues to education and career opportunities, mobility, and potential to succeed. Thus a symbolic question comes up, do our passports dictate our career success?
Coming from a disadvantaged stance as a weak passport holder, I will say yes it does, to a certain extent. Let’s not sugarcoat this. People from several European and American countries and a handful of Asian countries are ahead in terms of the quality of their education systems and SES. I believe these things contribute considerably to uncover opportunities, and their ability to pursue those opportunities. So it’s honestly a bit hard to believe when people of privileged backgrounds say things like “don’t let your background deter you from having a good life” because in reality, it does deter many people, and these disadvantages are all too real for us.
The good news is that though we are at a disadvantage, It’s also in our hands to change our circumstances. It is possible increase our chances to achieve career successes akin to our peers with more powerful passports. First and foremost, network. Yes, it’s tired advice but it does work. Networking and building relationships with people that can help our professional goals help open doors for opportunities we may otherwise miss out on if we are doing it alone. Second, skill-up or pursue career paths that are in-demand or will be in-demand, if possible. Great example: A lot of highly-skilled IT professionals globally do not have powerful passports, but because their skills are so niche and so needed, these lucrative job opportunities, and chances of relocating to prosperous countries open up to them, whether they are actively searching for it or not. Third and last, let’s keep our minds open to possibilities. Most of the time, things are thought of as cannot be done, until it is done. I didn’t think I would be fit to work overseas, let alone in a competitive economy that is Singapore, or to travel to the US but with some prodding, I jumped the gun, tried, and made it.
I’m just using passports here as a symbol of the struggles of “third world countries”. The heart of the matter is that fellow “third-world” citizens need to recognize that the playing field is not level in the first place, and it’s not entirely our fault. Although not all of us are born with privileges compared to others, we can do something to change the direction of our lives. In life as in a career, we are not just products of predetermined circumstances but how we make the most or pivot out of these circumstances.