Migration and Domestic Work
Second Edition
Rhacel Salazar Parreñas
Stanford University Press
Stanford, California
Stanford University Press
Stanford, California
© 2001, 2015 by the Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior
University. All rights reserved. The first edition was published with the title
Servants of Globalization: Women, Migration, and Domestic Work.
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by
any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying and recording,
or in any information storage or retrieval system without the prior written
permission of Stanford University Press.
Printed in the United States of America on acid-free, archival-quality paper
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Parreñas, Rhacel Salazar, author.
Servants of globalization : migration and domestic work / Rhacel Salazar
Parreñas. — Second edition.
pages cm
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-0-8047-9151-9 (cloth : alk. paper) —
ISBN 978-0-8047-9614-9 (pbk. : alk. paper)
1. Women household employees. 2. Foreign workers, Filipino.
3. Filipinos—Employment—Foreign countries. 4. Women—Employment—
Foreign countries. 5. Philippines—Emigration and immigration—
Government policy. 6. Globalization—Social aspects. I. Title.
HD6072.P27 2015
ISBN 978-0-8047-9618-7 (electronic)
Typeset by Thompson Type in 10.5/15 Adobe Garamond Pro
For my nephew Lakas Shimizu, 2005–2013
The Global Migration of Filipino Domestic Workers
The International Division of Reproductive Labor
The Transnational Family
Gender and Intergenerational Relations
Contradictory Class Mobility
The Crisis of Masculinity
The Aging of Migrant Domestic Workers
References Cited
h e f i r s t e di t ion of s e rva n t s of g l ob alization, published in 2001, looked at the outflow of women
from the Philippines in the 1990s and tracked their entrance into domestic
service in scores of destinations across the globe. It looked closely at the lives
of migrant Filipina domestic workers in Rome and Los Angeles, the two most
prominent destinations for Filipino migrants in Italy and the United States,
countries that historically have had the largest population of Filipinos in Western Europe and North America.1 Nearly twenty years later, Filipino domestic
workers continue to immigrate to both countries, but they also work in larger
numbers in Canada (Pratt, 2012), Israel (Liebelt, 2011), Taiwan (Lan, 2006),
and Hong Kong (Constable, 2007), among others.
This second edition of Servants of Globalization updates the original study,
expanding on the initial set of data that I gathered in 1995 and 1996 (fortysix interviews with Filipina domestic workers in Rome and twenty-six in Los
Angeles) with twenty-five in-depth interviews conducted with Filipino domestic workers in Rome in 2011 and 2012, a survey conducted of 100 Filipino
domestic workers in Los Angeles in 2013, two focus group discussions with
thirty Filipino domestic workers in Los Angeles in 2012, and three follow-up
interviews with domestic workers I had initially interviewed in the mid-1990s.
To provide context for the global migration of domestic workers from the
Philippines, I also draw from interviews I conducted with Filipina domestic
workers in Denmark (seventeen) and the United Arab Emirates (forty-seven).
Many of the theoretical claims I make in Servants of Globalization regarding the international division of reproductive labor, partial citizenship, and
contradictory class mobility still bear much weight in our understanding of
migrant domestic work. The notion of the “international division of reproductive labor,” which refers to the phenomenon of women passing their caring labor as paid or unpaid work to other women in a global context, seems
to have struck a chord in the general public. It was not only featured in The
Chain of Love,2 a film produced by VPRO-TV in the Netherlands, but also
documented in a front-page article in the Wall Street Journal 3 and later by a
working paper titled “Global Care Chains,” by the UN International Research
and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women.4 In Chapter Two of
this new edition, I revisit my original discussion and address the continuing
utility of the concept for examining unequal divisions of labor among women
in globalization.
The idea of partial citizenship is one I revisit in Chapter One. This concept
refers to the liminal legal status that migrant domestic workers occupy when
they are not full members of host countries, but at the same time not fully
protected by their home countries. In its discussion of partial citizenship, the
first edition of Servants of Globalization solely focused on domestic workers
who could freely choose their employers without being penalized by the state,
as this had been their situation in Italy and the United States. What I did not
include in my earlier discussion of partial citizenship is the lack of freedom that
domestic workers experience in most other destinations in the diaspora. The
majority of Filipino migrant domestic workers across the globe—in Canada,
Asia, and the Middle East—are not free; they are bound legally to work solely
for their sponsoring employer. For instance, domestic workers in Singapore
and the United Arab Emirates have to be released by their employers before
they can seek a new sponsor. The restricted labor of migrant domestic workers, specifically those bound to work for their employer without the flexibility
to change jobs, now needs to be in the forefront of our discussion of migrant
domestic work. However, with the exception of Pei-Chia Lan’s discussion of
“legal servitude” (Lan, 2007) in Taiwan and the earlier works of Bakan and
Stasiulis (1997a) on Canada, this remains largely ignored in the literature. Accordingly, I account for the condition of this lack of freedom when revisiting
the concept of partial citizenship.
Discussions initiated in the earlier edition of Servants of Globalization
continue to resonate, partly because much has remained the same for migrant
domestic workers in Rome and Los Angeles. Most Filipina domestic workers are still highly educated, having completed some years of college prior to
migration. This gives continuing credence to my discussion of contradictory
class mobility. As I describe in Chapter Five, this process refers to the simultaneous experience of upward mobility and downward mobility in migration
as earning more abroad usually comes at the cost of a decline in occupational
status. Transnational families also remain the norm, as I discuss in Chapters
Three and Four, but with one significant difference being the increase in children reunifying with their mothers, particularly in Italy. I accordingly update
my discussion to account for the greater presence of youth, specifically teenagers, in Rome.
Drastic changes have also taken place in the Filipino migrant communities of Rome and Los Angeles. For one, in Italy migrant Filipinos are now
eligible for permanent residency. Another change is the greater number of
male domestic workers in both Los Angeles and Rome. Finally, we see a larger
number of older domestic workers in their fifties and beyond. Their presence
raises the question of retirement options for domestic workers. Accordingly,
this new edition of Servants of Globalization includes two additional chapters that look specifically at the situation of male domestic workers and what
happens when men find themselves occupationally segregated into domestic
work (Chapter Six), and examine how elderly migrant domestic workers fare
in old age (Chapter Seven). In my focus on men and the elderly, I illustrate
the continuing challenges that Filipino migrants confront in Rome and Los
Angeles. These include the racial segregation of Filipinos into domestic work
in Europe and the heightened precariousness of labor among low-wage workers in the context of a shrinking welfare state.
August 2014
chapter one
w e n t y-n i n e-y e a r ol d n e n e sor i a no
is one of approximately 4,000 Filipino au pairs in Den1
mark. As an au pair, Nene works only thirty hours a week, during which she
mostly performs light cleaning and occasionally helps in the kitchen and with
afternoon child care. Her workload is a vast improvement over her previous
job in Singapore, where she had been a domestic worker for five and a half
years, working every day from 6 am to 10 pm. Her duties included general
cleaning, cooking, washing all the household laundry by hand, cleaning the
car, and child care. By relocating from Singapore to Denmark, Nene saw not
only a reduction in her workload but also a jump in her salary from US$270
to US$580 per month.
Nene and I met in the Roman Catholic Church of St. Anne’s in Copenhagen during the summer of 2012.2 Nene hoped Denmark would be a launching pad to the European Union and eventually Italy, where she wanted to
global migr ation of filipino domestic workers
secure long-term employment as a domestic worker.3 Italy is an attractive final
destination for someone like Nene not only for the promise of long-term
residency but also for its amnesty programs that regularize the status of
undocumented domestic workers (Codini, 2010). Italy granted amnesty to
undocumented migrants in 1987, 1990, 1995, 2002, and 2009 (Parreñas,
2008b; Codini, 2010). Yet, without established networks, Italy is not an easy
destination to reach.
Not wedded to the idea of being a domestic worker, Nene was also open
to finding a husband to secure long-term residency. Her preference for white
men encouraged her to actively participate in online dating sites, where she
looked for a potential husband from Germany, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, or
the United Kingdom. Nene even maintained communication with a pen pal
serving time in a federal penitentiary in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Nene had also asked
me to introduce her to a potential partner among my friends in the United
States. Though I was unsuccessful in finding her a match, I later learned that
she did not need my help after all. Quite attractive, Nene eventually married a
Norwegian man nearly twenty years her senior in the fall of 2013, after meeting him through an online dating site. Nene now lives with him in Norway,
where she is a stay-at-home mom.
Nene’s story provides a glimpse of Filipino domestic workers’ wide range
of migration. Her goal of becoming a long-term resident outside the Philippines also points to the continued construction of Italy and the United States
as coveted destinations in the diaspora, as they are but two of four locations—
along with Canada and Spain—that have historically provided domestic
workers with a gateway to permanent residency. Lastly, her story shows that
domestic work takes multiple forms, ranging in her case from au pair to child
care worker to all-around cleaner; is a long-term career for migrant women;
and, for some like Nene, is tied to marriage and desires, fantasies that exceed
political-economic approaches to understanding labor markets and migration processes.
A culture of emigration is pervasive in the Philippines. Migrants include
land- and sea-based workers. Women primarily work on land, and the majority of them are domestic workers like nannies, housecleaners, and caregivers
for the elderly. Domestic work, according to the UN International Labour
Organization (ILO), refers to “work performed in or for a household or house-
global migr ation of filipino domestic workers
holds.”4 Filipina women are the domestic workers par excellence of globalization. As they did in the 1990s, they work across the globe, including in East
Asia, West Asia, North America, and Western Europe. In 2010, the top destinations for domestic workers and caregivers from the Philippines included
Canada, Cyprus, Hong Kong, Kuwait, Israel, Italy, Saudi Arabia, Singapore,
and the United Arab Emirates.5 With no migration recruitment program, the
United States has never been an official destination for Filipino migrant laborers seeking domestic work, but it has been reached by those migrating with a
tourist or immigrant visa.
The number of newly deployed Filipino migrant domestic workers has
steadily increased through time, from approximately 60,000 in 2008 to 80,000
in 2009 and 100,000 in 2010.6 According to the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), women make up a disproportionate bulk of these
workers: In 2008, 57,354 women left to do domestic work in contrast to only
2,835 men;7 78,389 as compared to 2,395 in 2009;8 and 103,630 versus 2,245 in
2010.9 It is difficult to determine the exact number of Filipino migrants doing
domestic work around the world.10 These official figures do not include rehires
as well as those who leave the country as undocumented workers and those
who secure employment outside official channels, for instance someone who
departs as a tourist and secures employment once in the destination country.
As these Philippine government figures are based solely on migrants annually
deployed as temporary contract workers by the POEA, they also do not include the mostly female au pairs whose outmigration is processed by the Commission on Filipinos Overseas, the Philippine government branch responsible
for the departure of those seeking permanent residency abroad (for example,
spouses of foreigners and those leaving the country with an immigrant visa),
as well as those who are relocating abroad but without the intention of securing migrant employment (for example, students).11
While the Philippine government does not provide an estimated count
of migrant domestic workers, neither does the ILO, which, in its study of
domestic workers, reports that data limitations make it “not possible to give
a reliable estimate of the share of migrants among domestic workers.”12 Yet
it is probably safe to say that at least 50 percent, or 1.4 million, of the estimated 2.8 million female temporary migrant workers from the Philippines
are domestic workers.13
global migr ation of filipino domestic workers
The outmigration of Filipina domestic workers is not a historical accident but
emerged from the state’s promotion of migrant labor exportation. In the early
1970s, President Ferdinand Marcos institutionalized the export of labor as
an economic strategy when he implemented the “manpower exchange programme” (Basch et al., 1994). Government ministers and President Marcos
himself canvased for the importation of Filipino workers into East Asia, West
Asia, Europe, and North America. The establishment of POEA in 1982 only
solidified the country’s economic strategy of exporting labor, which the government promotes not only by assisting departing migrants but also by pursuing
“marketing missions” and securing memoranda of understanding on the hiring of migrant workers with an array of labor-receiving countries. The annual
number of migrants has expectedly increased since the 1970s. Whereas fewer
than 50,000 per annum departed in the early to mid-1970s, this number has
since escalated, jumping from 266,243 in 1981 to more than 700,000 in 1994
and more than a million per annum since 2009 (Martin, 1993; POEA, 2013).
Migrant Filipina domestic workers are located in more than 160 destinations, raising the question of how one chooses a particular destination. In the
diaspora, that is usually based on what one can afford, with the cost largely
decided by potential wage earnings in a particular place. In the mid-1990s,
recruitment agencies charged approximately US$600 in fees to prospective
domestic workers in Hong Kong, where the standard labor contract indicated
a monthly salary of approximately US$410 (Constable, 1997). Today, the fees
have jumped to US$3,000. In contrast, Singapore remains a more affordable
destination than Hong Kong, costing migrants only an initial fee of US$115 to
$230 and a three- to five-month salary deduction (approximately US$350 per
month). Even lower-cost destinations than Singapore are the Gulf Cooperative Council nations, including the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, and Saudi
Arabia, which cost prospective migrants only US$115. This figure covers the
costs of their passport, medical clearance, and other documents required for
migration. But although the Gulf nations cost less, domestic workers’ wages
are lower there.14
A more expensive destination for domestic workers is Israel, which costs
up to US$5,000 in placement fees (Liebelt, 2008: 108). There, domestic workers can earn anywhere from US$500 to US$800 per month (Liebelt, 2011). In
global migr ation of filipino domestic workers
Canada, domestic workers earn more. For this reason, the cost of migration
is significantly higher for those coming directly from the Philippines, reaching up to US$16,000 (Paul, 2011: 1855). Similarly, the fees that travel agencies
charge to go to Italy are enormous, having steadily increased over time along
with Italy’s reputation as a humane destination that offers high wages and
minimal risk of deportation.
The migration costs shouldered by the family of one woman I interviewed,
Michelle, illustrate this steady increase. Although her older sister initially paid
US$3,250 to migrate to Italy in 1986, it cost Michelle US$4,250 to follow her
in 1989. In 1994 a third sister had to pay the exorbitant amount of US$12,000.
Women who migrated to Rome in the early 1990s usually paid anywhere from
US$6,400 to US$8,000 to enter Italy. By 2011, fewer individuals were using
“travel agency” services. Migrants more often entered cost free as the direct hires
of Italian employers. However, I did meet one woman who paid US$12,000 to
enter Italy clandestinely; she used a Paraguayan passport, which exempted her
from having to obtain a visa. Also requiring economic resources, the United
States has long been an elusive destination for prospective migrant domestic
workers. If not entering via family reunification, they enter with a tourist visa
that requires proof of property, investments, and savings in the Philippines.
Cost is not the only factor that determines where migrants go. Educational qualifications matter as well, as those without a high-school degree are
restricted from employment in most destinations in Asia (Singapore, Taiwan,
and Hong Kong, for example), and those without at least two years of tertiary
education cannot be domestic workers in Canada. Aspirations also determine
migration paths. Migrant domestic workers who desire permanent residency
will set migration to Europe or the Americas as their long-term goal. Others
may view migration as a strategy for accumulating enough capital to operate
a business in the Philippines. These migrants would be comfortable setting
their sites on lower-cost destinations. Individuals I met in Dubai, for instance,
would rather invest the money they earn in a business than pay to migrate
somewhere else. Religion can also determine a location, with Muslims preferring to migrate to the Gulf region (Silvey, 2000).
As established in migration studies, social networks and “migrant institutions” determine one’s migration pattern (Goss and Lindquist, 1995; Castles and
Miller, 1998).15 Migrants will relocate to follow friends, family, and neighbors.
global migr ation of filipino domestic workers
This had been the case for many women I met in Singapore,16 the United States,
and Italy, indicating their reliance on social networks. In contrast, migrants in
the United Arab Emirates usually relied on a “migrant institution” and only
went there because it was the first destination offered to them by the recruitment agency in the Philippines. For those relying on a “migrant institution,”
a destination is determined not necessarily by the prospective migrant’s networks but by the institutionalized relationships that the recruitment agency
has forged with partnering agencies in specific destinations across the globe.
Across the diaspora, the migration patterns of most Filipina domestic
workers do not fit the classic assimilation narrative, as their children do not
necessarily follow them and integrate into the society (Portes and Rumbaut,
1996). This is because domestic workers are disqualified from permanent residency in most destinations, including Israel, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, and the
United Arab Emirates. This exclusion results in varying paths of migration for
Filipina domestic workers, with many working in different countries prior to
retiring in the Philippines or before settling in one of the few countries that
grant them permanent residency (for example, Italy, Canada, the United States,
and Spain). Although some migrate directly for a prolonged stay in only one
destination, they do not necessarily settle there permanently. For instance, their
children do not migrate but instead stay behind in the Philippines; moreover,
many plan to retire in the Philippines and not the migrant host society. This
had been the case with Rose, who did domestic work for ten years in Dubai,
as well as Aida, who worked in Singapore for twenty-four years.
Three of the most salient paths migrant domestic workers take include direct migration, serial migration, and step migration. Direct migration applies
to the majority of my interviewees in Rome and Los Angeles, as most migrated
directly from the Philippines to each of these destinations. In contrast, serial
migrants (Siu, 2007) relocate to new destinations between labor contracts.
These migrants are often searching for a “new experience” and a “good employer,” prolonging their stay when they find one and moving on when they do
not. Serial migrants have managed to extend their career in migrant domestic
work by moving across the diaspora; for example, one might work for four
years in Kuwait, then three years in Dubai. Lastly, some are what Anju Mary
Paul (2011) would describe as “stepwise international migrants,” referring to
those who participate in a multistage process of international labor migration.
global migr ation of filipino domestic workers
In this scenario, a typical migration path would begin in a low-cost destination such as the United Arab Emirates, then proceed to a medium-cost one
like Taiwan or Hong Kong, and then eventually move upward to coveted and
high-cost locations such as Canada and Italy.
What differentiates serial migration from stepwise migration is the lack
of upward mobility in the former; a serial migrant moves across borders
within low-cost destinations like Jordan, Kuwait, and Singapore. Conditions from one destination to another do not necessarily improve in serial
migration, suggesting that this type of movement exceeds rational calculation. Conditions that would extrinsically improve the quality of life for domestic workers include wage rates, family reunification policies, citizenship
eligibility, or labor benefits such as health coverage and access to a day off.
Considering the various paths of migration in the diaspora, who chooses
one path of migration over another, and why? What factors determine the
migration trajectory of domestic workers? And what can specific mobility
paths tell us about the organization and segmentation of the Filipina domestic worker diaspora?
Sociologist Anju Mary Paul (2011) describes a four-tier hierarchy of destinations
for Filipino domestic workers. At the bottom are the low-cost destinations of
countries in West Asia, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates,
and Bahrain; at the third tier are the Southeast Asian destinations of Singapore, Malaysia, and Brunei; in the second tier are the East Asian destinations
of Taiwan and Hong Kong; and finally the top and most coveted in the diaspora are the United States, Canada, Spain, and Italy. Paul (2011) argues that
Filipino domestic workers engage in “stepwise migration,” meaning the process of embarking on a hierarchical progression across countries in the diaspora as they make their way toward their preferred destination. The concept
of “stepwise migration” adds an element of intention to the long-established
concept of “step migration,” described by the International Organization of
Migration as “the mobility from an original residence to first one and then
another destination, e.g. in a ‘stepwise’ or sequential fashion” (International
Organization of Migration, 2008: 51).
global migr ation of filipino domestic workers
In this schema, Paul asserts that migrants follow a pattern of step migration that goes from the bottom toward the top of the hierarchy of destinations. She places countries in a tier according to their affordability; average
wage—the higher the tier, the higher the wage; labor conditions—the lowest
tiers offering the least labor protection; and, lastly, citizenship—the highesttier countries being distinguished by the possibility of permanent residency.17
As Paul’s research establishes for Canada, Hong Kong, and Singapore, many
in the diaspora chose the path of stepwise migration. My research, however,
indicates a greater number of direct or serial migrants.
Migrant domestic workers may aspire to earn higher wages and accordingly
move up the hierarchy of destinations, but what they want does not necessarily
reflect what they do. Various factors may preclude them from moving up, such
as a lack of either financial or social capital. My original research in Italy and
the United States yielded just a handful of “stepwise migrants.” Although my
recent survey of domestic workers in Los Angeles indicated that thirteen of
100 migrants had worked elsewhere, they did not use the social and economic
capital they acquired in the process of step migration to get there. Instead,
they entered the United States via happenstance, fleeing an abusive employer
on vacation in the country or being petitioned by a family member, usually a
sibling, to join them in the United States. Likewise, in Italy, the four migrants
who had worked elsewhere in the diaspora had gotten there by jumping ship
(as a seafarer) or legally following a family member, either as a family dependent or a direct hire. In the United Arab Emirates, only two of forty-seven
interviewees intended to migrate elsewhere as “stepwise migrants”; they specifically wanted to relocate to Canada for the promise of permanent residency.
The majority of domestic workers I have met had neither the desire nor the
aspiration to relocate to a higher-tier destination. This is perhaps because of the
location’s inaccessibility. For instance, most did not plan to move to Canada,
as they had not achieved the minimal educational level—seventy-two units
of postsecondary training—required to participate in the Live-In Caregivers
Programme. Highly educated migrants were more likely to aspire to work in
Canada, as the opportunity for permanent residency gives them the promise
of transitioning out of domestic work.
Filipino migrant domestic workers in Dubai are fully aware of the wide
span of destinations in the diaspora and have somewhat of a sense of the oppor-
global migr ation of filipino domestic workers
tunities available in various destinations (such as permanent residency, wages,
and better working conditions). Despite their knowledge, not all aspire to relocate to what would seem to be the most desirable destinations (Canada and
Italy). Even if they are eligible to enter Canada or have the resources to go to
Hong Kong, many are risk averse, preferring to stay where they have become
accustomed to living but also wanting to minimize the expense of their migration. Relocating would not only add to their migration cost but also might
not yield the stable employment they are looking for. Among my interviewees
in Dubai, the majority did not wish to relocate to a higher-tier destination.
For instance, second-tier countries are less preferable given the higher cost of
entry, the risk of deportation imposed by policies like the “two-week rule” in
Hong Kong, and the undesirable restriction of employment options in Israel
and Taiwan to elder care work.18
Significantly, labor conditions do not necessarily improve as one moves
up the hierarchy of destinations. Returning to Nene’s case, she described her
situation in Singapore as more humane than it had been in the higher-tier
destination of Denmark, despite her higher salary and fewer work hours. In
Singapore, she had a “good employer,” while in Denmark she told me she
was “like a slave” because she did not have complete control over her physical movements. As she told me, she could consume food from the refrigerator only with her employer’s permission and use the toiletries her employer
selected, and she could not move around her home—that is, her employer’s
home—freely. Her employer would even kick her out of the house, regardless
of weather conditions, whenever she wanted to be alone. For Nene, freedom
is defined by her ability to control her corporal movements, which she could
not do in Denmark. In contrast, Nene felt much freer in Singapore, despite
her lower pay, longer work hours, and the absence of a day off during her first
two years of employment. According to Nene, she had freedom in Singapore
because her employers neither screamed at her nor dictated how and when to
cook or clean.19
Nene’s situation and the differences between her labor experience in Singapore and that in Denmark point to the significance of employer–employee
relations in determining the conditions of labor migration. Domestic workers aim to secure and hold on to “good employers” as much as they want the
highest extrinsic rewards (for example, salary, citizenship, labor conditions).
global migr ation of filipino domestic workers
Those who secure “good employers” usually hold on to them, suggesting that
intrinsic rewards, which are centrally defined by the relations of mutual respect they cultivate with employers, may sometimes supersede the extrinsic
standards Paul uses to measure the desirability of destinations in the diaspora. In this scenario, a domestic worker with a “good employer” in a low-tier
destination like the United Arab Emirates may decide to stay long term. This
is the case, for example, with Rose, who now earns US$1,000 as a domestic
worker for a retired British couple in Dubai. Jocelyn is another example; she
sacrifices a day off and stays with an Emirate employer who lets her leave the
house only to do grocery shopping every morning because they “treat [her]
well” and pay her US$680 per month. For instance, not once have her employers screamed at her or limited her access to the Internet and a mobile phone.
Finding a “good employer” is the primary factor shaping their migration path
and has encouraged their long-term employment in Dubai.
Despite the near absence of stepwise migrants among my interviewees in
Italy and the United States, I recognize migrants’ aspirations to reach destinations where they would have greater labor-market flexibility, more humane labor
standards, pathways to permanent residency, and the ability to participate in
society. In the Philippine diaspora, migrants consciously measure and compare
the costs and benefits of settling in various destination countries. They try to
learn about opportunities to resettle in other destinations, as demonstrated
by the vast knowledge domestic workers in the United Arab Emirates have of
the labor systems and standards in a variety of destinations in the diaspora.
Interestingly, domestic workers in Italy and the United States tend to know
less about the conditions elsewhere, suggesting they are indeed more likely to
be direct migrants.
Direct migrants are those who migrated to one destination in the diaspora
and continuously renew their contract with one employer there, those who
seek other employers but in the same host country, and those who have likely
reached their target location in the diaspora. Migrants stay in one place for
many reasons, including the presence of a robust network of family and friends,
the cultivation of good working relations with employers, and their social and
global migr ation of filipino domestic workers
cultural integration in a locale. For example, as I have already noted, migrants
may select a particular destination for religious reasons. Indonesians, for instance, choose to work in Saudi Arabia because the practices there agree with
their religious beliefs and allow them to uphold a pious lifestyle (Silvey, 2000).
Most of the domestic workers I have met in Los Angeles and Rome are
best described as direct migrants. They did not need to settle somewhere else
first to amass either the human, social, or economic capital they would need
to enter these more desirable destinations. Instead, they often already had a
robust social network of family and friends there, as well as the economic resources to cover the high fees recruitment agencies charge to go to Italy, or
the financial capital they must demonstrate to obtain a tourist visa to enter
the United States. Indeed, sixteen of the twenty-six domestic workers I interviewed in 1996 entered the United States with a tourist visa.20
Whereas most women I interviewed in Los Angeles entered the United
States legally with a tourist visa, most of the women in Rome entered Italy by
crossing the border clandestinely. Many initially entered a country in Eastern
Europe, then traveled to Italy with the prearranged assistance of a “coyote.”
Of forty-six female interviewees in Italy, thirty entered illegally with the assistance of recruitment agencies, or “travel agencies,” as they are referred to in
the community. Other research participants entered with a valid visa: eleven
with a tourist visa, two as direct hires, and three with a family visa.
Among the twenty-five domestic workers I interviewed in Italy in 2011
and 2012, most were direct migrants who followed a family member who had
sponsored their migration or found them a sponsoring employer. Only four
had worked elsewhere: one in Taiwan, one in Dubai, another in Saudi Arabia,
and one as a seafarer. Two of the four had followed their spouses to Italy. Of
those who participated in the survey I conducted in Los Angeles, only thirteen had worked somewhere other than in the Philippines. It is unlikely that
the direct migrants I met in Los Angeles and Rome would consider relocating
elsewhere; they are more likely to choose a path of assimilation and integration
instead of serial or step migration to another destination.
Despite their restricted geography, most direct migrants are aware of the
wide scope of domestic-worker migration. Many are part of multinational
kinship networks that link them to far-flung destinations in the diaspora. As
they increasingly rely on migrant institutions (Goss and Lindquist, 1995) and
global migr ation of filipino domestic workers
not their social networks to determine their path of migration, friends and
family may end up in different locations. Vanessa, a single woman who followed two sisters to Rome in 1990, is the seventh of eleven siblings who opted
to work abroad, as two of her sisters and a brother live in Kentucky while
an older brother works as a seafarer. The youngest among her siblings, Ruth
works in Rome while one sister resides in Switzerland and another in Saudi
Arabia. All three send remittances to their parents in the Philippines. Gloria,
a nurse who failed her board exam, is a domestic worker in Rome, while her
older sister works as a nurse in the United States. Randy, a vendor who sells
Filipino food outside the Philippine Embassy in Rome, shares the responsibility of supporting his parents in the Philippines along with siblings in the
United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, and the United States. Libertad, a
domestic worker in Los Angeles, at some point had children working in the
Philippines, Greece, and Saudi Arabia. Together with her children in Greece
and Saudi Arabia, Libertad sent money to her children in the Philippines.
Direct migrants might not physically circulate in the diaspora, but they function within its terrain because many participate in the circulation of money,
information, and emotions across multiple nations.
Anthropologist Nicole Constable (1999), capturing the ambivalence of settlement for migrant domestic workers in Hong Kong, describes how they long to
return home to the Philippines only to yearn for their life in Hong Kong once
they return. Working in Hong Kong involves a process of learning “to make
themselves at home, away from home” (224). Constable found that Filipina
domestic workers continuously renew their labor contracts to work in Hong
Kong for most of their adult life. Serial migrants share these same sensibilities
of home. Yet, unlike the domestic workers Constable observed in Hong Kong,
they look to other countries when prolonging their stint abroad.
Of the forty-seven domestic workers I had interviewed in Dubai in June
and July 2013, almost half of them had worked elsewhere prior to the United
Arab Emirates, and most did not see themselves returning home “for good”
anytime soon. Some intended to renew their contract at the end of their current two-year agreement, whereas others hoped to stay in Dubai but under
global migr ation of filipino domestic workers
the sponsorship of a different employer. Some planned to return to the Philippines for a three- to six-month hiatus, after which they would apply to work
elsewhere in the diaspora. The serial migratory paths of domestic workers in
Dubai were often limited to low-cost destinations. Prior to the United Arab
Emirates, they had worked in a plethora of other countries in West Asia, including Bahrain, Kuwait, Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar.
A handful had worked in the slightly more costly destinations of Singapore,
Malaysia, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Israel, relying on the “fly now, pay later”
system of recruitment agencies. Describing the “fly now, pay later” system, PeiChia Lan (2007) notes that domestic workers in Taiwan pay for the costs of
migration via a salary-deduction system, under which all of their wages during their first year of employment would go toward covering the recruitment
agency fees. Other destinations, including lower-cost ones, also have such a
system in place. In Singapore, for instance, Filipino migrant domestic workers
do not usually receive a salary during their first three to five months of employment, being restricted instead to an allowance of US$40 per month during this time; employers give the rest of their salary directly to the recruitment
agency to pay their migration cost. Likewise, in Hong Kong, domestic workers can pay the US$3,000 fee via a monthly salary deduction during their first
year of employment, which gives access to prospective migrants with limited
Although salary-deduction systems make more expensive destinations accessible, serial migrants still avoid them to minimize the risks of migration.
Serial migrants tend to have a low level of economic capital. For this reason,
they limit their range of prospective destinations to those with minimal fees
to avoid being saddled with debt, despite the lower pay they will receive. They
also avoid destinations with risky employment systems, including Hong Kong
and Taiwan. When I asked why she did not go to a higher-paying destination
like Hong Kong, Mary, who had been a domestic worker for nearly twenty
years in Singapore and had recently migrated to the United Arab Emirates,
responded, “I would never go to Hong Kong. It is because there I would face
the Terminator.” When I asked her to explain what she meant by the “Terminator,” as I doubted that she was referring to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s famed
film character, Mary explained how domestic workers in Hong Kong are made
particularly vulnerable by the “two-week rule.”
global migr ation of filipino domestic workers
Under this policy, a domestic worker terminated by his or her employer,
regardless of reason, will be deported if he or she does not secure a new sponsoring employer within two weeks of termination (Constable, 2014). Deported
employees could include those who had amassed significant debt to cover the
US$3,000 recruitment fee. Another serial migrant, Elaine, likewise avoided
Hong Kong, opting to go to Dubai after seven years in Lebanon. Explaining
why she will not consider going to Hong Kong, she stated pointedly, “Termination. If you get terminated, then it is over for you. I have a friend who
got terminated after three months. She was forced to go back to the Philippines. She still had not paid off the [US$3,000] she borrowed to go there. She
pawned her house and the land of her in-law. She had no payment because
she was terminated. . . . It costs a lot to go to Hong Kong. . . . Then if you get
terminated, you have no fight. You have to go home.”
In contrast to the threat of termination in Hong Kong, domestic workers also avoided Taiwan due to the six-year residency cap it once imposed on
unskilled migrant workers, which was extended to twelve years in 2012. They
also avoided Taiwan due to the greater demand for elder care work—a twentyfour-hour job that many do not want. Lastly, serial migrants are unlikely to
migrate to the high-cost destinations of Canada, Italy, and the United States
either because they do not meet the educational requirements to enter Canada
or because of the networks and resources they would need to enter Italy or
the United States.
Serial migrants do not move in an upward trajectory from a less desirable location to a more desirable one. Their migration plans rarely involve a
strategic plan to reach a target destination. The serial migrants I encountered
in Dubai had relocated there after being displaced by wars in Iraq and Lebanon, having to end their last contract due to a family emergency, or hoping
to secure better employment after completing a two-year contract in another
country. The United Arab Emirates had not necessarily been their destination
of choice, but it was one determined by the recruitment agency that processed
their deployment.
Without a high level of education, many of the serial migrants I met in
Dubai saw their job prospects limited to domestic work. Their primary goal
had been to secure a “good employer,” which they were more likely to find by
extending their labor market to encompass multiple nations. However, secur-
global migr ation of filipino domestic workers
ing a good employer is made more challenging by the job-placement system for
migrant workers; as it is now, employers learn a lot about the domestic workers
they hire, as recruitment agencies provide them with information including
job history, health record, and skills. Domestic workers, however, do not learn
much about their employer until they arrive at their household. This system,
in turn, encourages domestic workers to change jobs more frequently, which
some are willing to do across multiple nations for minimal financial cost until
they secure that “good employer.”
The category of human trafficking had not yet legally existed in the United
States, or Italy, during the time of my original field research. Yet the experiences of some of the domestic workers I had initially interviewed in 1995 and
1996 would arguably fit our common understanding of trafficking victims.
The UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons,
especially Women and Children (otherwise known as the Palermo Protocol)
defines “trafficking in persons” as:
The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring, or receipt of persons, by
means of the threat of use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud,
of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving
or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control
over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a
minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude
or the removal or organs.21
According to this definition, trafficking involves three essential elements: There
must be transportation of a person; that transportation must involve force,
fraud, or coercion; and it must be for the purpose of exploiting him or her.
Adapting the principles of the Palermo Protocol, in October of 2000 the United
States signed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act into law, criminalizing the
forced or deceptive movement of individuals into exploitative labor conditions.
Filipina domestic workers who accompany migrant Filipino professionals or business owners and their families to the United States are arguably
global migr ation of filipino domestic workers
vulnerable to human trafficking. Often of a lower class status than middle-class
domestic workers who enter the United States with tourist visas, the domestic
workers of professional Filipinos tend to have limited networks and lack the
resources and autonomy needed to change jobs. As a result, they are usually
more vulnerable to exploitative work conditions and forced labor. Additionally, employers can easily deceive them by saying that they will sponsor them
for a green card when they have no intention of doing so. The migrant has no
way to hold employers accountable to this promise. One woman I spoke to
who was deceived and subjected to forced labor is Marilou Ilagan, a domestic
worker in the United States since 1972:
MI: I came in through a Filipino family . . . . The woman was pregnant,
and so they also wanted someone to take care of their baby.
RP: How long were you with them?
MI: Seventeen years.
RP: They were that good to you?
MI: They were OK, but I couldn’t just leave them. I did not know anyone
here. I had no friends. I had no outlet. I could not just go out if I wanted
to because I had nowhere to go. So, I had no day off. I had no place to
go to since they took me along with them. So, I did not go out. I did not
know anyone.
RP: They did not take you out with them?
MI: Yes, they took me out here and there. When they go out as a family,
they would take me with them once in a while. But just by myself, I did
not go out. I was with them for seventeen years. After seventeen years, after I finally was able to legalize my stay, I left.
RP: How did you get papers?
MI: They helped me. This was in 1989 with the amnesty.
RP: How much did you earn?
MI: Very little. Unbelievably low, very, very, very low.
RP: Five hundred dollars a month?
MI: Not quite.
RP: Less?
MI: Four hundred dollars a month.
RP: This was until 1990?
MI: Yes.
global migr ation of filipino domestic workers
RP: Wow.
MI: That was it. I made a $100 a week. No, they only paid me $300 a month
for my services. That is why when I was able to leave them I was happy.
RP: More like ecstatic?
MI: Yes. [Laughs.] . . . That is why when I was finally able to leave them, I
felt like my life was beginning. You know what I mean—my life changed.
I felt free. And can you imagine the first job I got after that paid me $400
a week? Can you imagine that? And my salary with them was only $300
a month.
Although Marilou could have sought employer sponsorship elsewhere, the
isolation enforced by her Filipino employers ensured her dependence, guaranteed her continued service, and accordingly denied her the option of seeking higher-paying jobs. It was only after her employers’ children were older,
almost in college, and her services were no longer needed that they helped her
obtain legal status. From the interviews I conducted in the mid-1990s, this
pattern of isolation emerged among three of the four other women who entered the United States with professional Filipino migrants. For example, one
who worked in New York was expected to stay at home at all times; in the two
years she worked for them, her employers never gave her a coat or winter boots.
Notably, none of the domestic workers I met in Italy in the mid-1990s faced
the same vulnerability. Their lesser vulnerability in Italy is perhaps because
the legal residency of domestic workers in this country does not bind them to
work for only one sponsoring employer, as is the case for their counterparts
elsewhere, including Canada, Denmark, Singapore, and, among other destinations, Qatar. In most destinations, migrant domestic workers are bound to
their employer in servitude, as they can work for only one sponsoring family.
By being bound to the will of another person, domestic workers are rendered
vulnerable to human trafficking. Yet servitude is not a uniform condition but
varies in degree according to the conditions of citizenship across nations, including employer flexibility, permanent residency eligibility, and, among others, family reunification eligibility. Notably, the servitude of migrant domestic
workers points not only to their vulnerability to human trafficking but also to
their limited citizenship rights, specifically their partial citizenship vis-à-vis
the receiving nation-states of migration.
global migr ation of filipino domestic workers
Rendered partial citizens in the process of migration, Filipina domestic workers are neither fully integrated in receiving nations nor completely protected by
the Philippines. In other words, they are denied full citizenship at both ends of
the migration spectrum. However, not all destinations are equally exclusionary. More desirable destination countries like Italy, Canada, and the United
States offer higher wage rates for domestic workers, as well as the option of
permanent residency. In Italy, migrant domestic workers can gain permanent
residency, and obtain a carta di soggiorno, after six years of legal residency. This
notably had not been the case in the 1990s, when Filipino domestic workers
had been restricted to a permesso di soggiorno, which is a temporary residence
permit that they had to renew with the sponsorship of an employer. In Canada,
domestic workers can enter under the Live-in Caregivers Programme and become eligible for landed immigrant status after working continuously for one
sponsoring family as a live-in domestic worker for two years.22 In the United
States, domestic workers can most easily have access to permanent residency
via marriage. In the past, domestic workers qualified for permanent residency
in the United States if sponsored by their employers under the Labor Certification Program. In this situation, a migrant worker becomes an “out of status”
migrant until her or his petition is approved, which according to a representative of the nonprofit organization Damayan in New York City took an average of ten years for migrant domestic workers. During this time, the migrant
worker is not eligible to sponsor her or his dependents. Approximately 40,000
domestic workers received immigrant visas via this program between 1988 and
1996 (Kuptsch and Pang, 2006: 94).
In contrast, domestic workers in almost all other destinations cannot easily transition to permanent residency. They are instead limited to a renewable two-year residence permit that binds them to work for their sponsoring
employer. This is the case in East Asia and West Asia, with the exception of
Taiwan, which grants domestic workers a twelve-year residency permit, and
Israel, which allows a domestic worker to reside in the country until the death
of his or her employer (Liebelt, 2011). Table 1.1 provides a comparison of labor
migration standards for domestic workers in key destinations, indicating that
conditions of partial citizenship vary according to ineligibility for long-term
4 years
12 years
Pathway to
Right to Family
State benefits
State benefits
State benefits
State benefits
(if unmarried)
and deportation
State Policy on
Two-month wage penalty. Requires employer permission to change sponsors before and after the end of a contract.
Only between contracts. Otherwise requires employer permission.
Must identify new sponsor within two weeks to avoid deportation.
If a domestic worker stays employed with the same sponsoring employer, the employer can petition for an extension past the limit of sixty-three
This has been the case since 2014.
Limited by requirement that domestic worker remains employed by one sponsor for two continuous years within a span of four years to qualify for
permanent residency.
Temporary visa program for domestic workers sponsored by ex-pat employers, foreign investors, and diplomats.
United States7
63 months4
Hong Kong
United Arab
Labor migration standards for domestic workers.
to Change
table 1.1.
global migr ation of filipino domestic workers
residency, the absence of employer flexibility, denial of the right to family
reunification, limited reproductive rights, and, among others, their status as
bound laborers whose legal residency is contingent on their continued live-in
employment with a citizen sponsor.
Italy and the United States are considered more desirable than other destinations not only for their higher wages and the possibility of permanent
residency but also for their higher standards of employment. In Italy and the
United States, domestic workers have more residence flexibility than in other
destinations, where the legal residency of migrant domestic workers is usually
contingent on their live-in employment. The latter is the case, for example, in
Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and
even Canada after 2014 (Lan, 2006; Constable, 2007; Pratt, 2012). Notably,
this is also the case for migrant domestic workers employed in the United States
with a temporary migrant visa.23 Also distinguishing Italy and the United States
are the higher wages of migrant domestic workers relative to other destinations, averaging more than US$100 a day for elder caregivers in Los Angeles
and reaching US$13 an hour for domestic workers in Rome.
In contrast to Italy and the United States, other destinations offer less favorable conditions for migrant domestic workers. In most other places, conditions
of partial citizenship are starkly more exclusionary. First, average wages are
significantly lower, limiting the mobility of domestic workers, deterring their
ability to accumulate savings, and maintaining the cycle of their dependency
on migration. In Singapore, domestic workers can expect to earn no more than
an initial monthly salary of US$365; in Hong Kong, their starting salaries are
slightly higher at US$520; and in Gulf Cooperative Council countries salaries
reach a monthly average of only US$215.
What also differentiates Italy and the United States from other destinations
is the recognition of domestic work as labor (Rinolfi, 2007; Covert, 2013). In
Italy, domestic workers have the right to various benefits, including employerpaid social security, an extra month’s pay per year, and a weekly day off, among
others. The United States offers weaker legal protection for domestic workers
than does Italy, disqualifying domestic workers from the right to collective
bargaining and excluding them from the right to overtime pay (Glenn, 2012).
However, in the United States domestic workers are protected by the Fair Labor
Standards Act, which gives them the right to a minimum wage. In contrast,
global migr ation of filipino domestic workers
many other locations do not recognize domestic work as labor, resulting in
fairly low standards of employment including the absence of a minimum wage,
exclusion from overtime pay, and no days off. Those include the top destination
countries of the United Arab Emirates, where domestic worker immigration
was handled by the Ministry of Interior instead of the Ministry of Labor until January 1, 2015; Singapore, where domestic workers received the right to a
weekly day off on January 1, 2013, but remain exempt from the Employment
Act (Singapore Ministry of Manpower, 2013); Taiwan, where domestic workers
are not covered by the Labor Standards Law (Taiwan National Immigration
Agency, 2012) and the newly enacted Domestic Workers Protection Act gives
domestic workers only the right to negotiate for their employment conditions
but does not grant minimum labor standards; and Israel, where domestic workers have the right to a weekly day off, although a 2009 Supreme Court ruling
excluded them from the Work and Rest Hour Law (Kav LaOved, 2010). In
Asia, only Hong Kong and Malaysia grant labor protection to migrant domestic workers, guaranteeing them a minimum wage and a weekly rest day (Asia
Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development, 2010).
Another distinction between Italy and to a lesser degree the United States
from most other destinations in the diaspora is the flexibility workers have to
change employers. In other destinations, migrant domestic workers are not
only occupationally segregated but also bound laborers with restricted employer
flexibility. In Hong Kong, domestic workers are limited by the “two-week rule,”
which requires they secure another sponsoring employer within two weeks to
avoid deportation (Constable, 2007). In Gulf Cooperative Council countries,
domestic workers can change employers only with the permission of their current employers, making it quite difficult to leave abusive employers (Sabban,
2012).24 This is also the case in Singapore, where domestic workers suffer a
one- to two-month salary reduction when they change employers. In Taiwan,
migrants can work for only one employer, which they cannot change, unless
their employer declares bankruptcy, dies, relocates to a foreign country, or cannot pay their wages (Taiwan National Immigration Agency, 2012).25 Likewise,
domestic workers in Israel cannot easily change employers (Liebelt, 2011).
Notably, domestic workers cannot participate as freely in the labor market in the United States as they can in Italy. For instance, domestic workers participating in the U.S. Foreign Labor Certification Program lose their
global migr ation of filipino domestic workers
sponsorship once they change employers. In the United States, temporary
migrant workers, specifically B-1, A-3, and G-5 visa holders, also do not have
labor-market flexibility (Glenn, 2012). B-1 visa holders are “servants” of former
ex-pats who return to the United States with domestic staff who had worked
for them for at least one year outside the country. As nonimmigrant visa holders, they cannot transition to permanent residency, must remain an employee
of their sponsor, and do not have the flexibility to change employers. A-3 visa
holders (household staff of diplomats) and G-5 visa holders (servants of officials and employees of international organizations such as the World Bank)
are in a similar situation.26
As another condition of partial citizenship, some countries impose a residency cap on migrant domestic workers. In Israel, domestic workers lose their
residency status on the death of their employer (Liebelt, 2011). In Taiwan, domestic workers can stay in the country for no more than twelve years (Taiwan
National Immigration Agency, 2012). In most other destinations (Singapore
and Hong Kong, for example), domestic workers can continuously renew their
residence visas but without the option of permanent residency. They would
have to return to the Philippines only once they are mandated to retire (sixty
years old in Singapore, for example). Notably, domestic workers in Italy and
the United States, with the exception of nonimmigrant visa holders, do not
have a residency cap and can transition to permanent residency.27
Most destination countries deny domestic workers a family life, also contributing to their condition of partial citizenship. For example, only Italy
grants migrant domestic workers the right to family reunification. However, if
they do not yet have a carta di soggiorno, meaning permanent residency, or the
required housing, they can sponsor a family member only with the approval
of their sponsoring employer (Parreñas, 2008b). In Canada, domestic workers did not historically qualify for family reunification until after they obtain
landed status. In most other destinations, family members cannot join domestic
workers. This would include nonimmigrant visa holders in the United States
and historically those whose status was still pending under the Foreign Labor
Certification Program. The limited citizenship rights of migrant domestic
workers are also reflected in their limited reproductive rights. Singapore, for
instance, automatically deports pregnant domestic workers and likewise bars
foreign domestic workers from marrying Singaporean nationals.
global migr ation of filipino domestic workers
Lastly, the “postnational membership” (Soysal, 1994) accorded to undocumented domestic workers in Italy and the United States, meaning their
ability to walk the streets freely without the threat of deportation and to
have access to a robust informal economy as well as health care, draws prospective migrants to these destinations. In other host countries, domestic
workers’ partial citizenship is aggravated by the lack of opportunities in the
informal labor market. Not all destinations offer domestic workers a robust
economy for undocumented workers. In other words, they cannot opt out
of domestic work and seek other forms of labor as undocumented workers
in the informal economy. This is the case in Singapore, Hong Kong, Saudi
Arabia, and arguably the United Arab Emirates—where absconding from a
sponsoring employer, as it is illegal, leaves undocumented domestics in too
precarious a situation. Other countries, however, do grant undocumented
migrants postnational membership. For instance, in Malaysia and Taiwan,
undocumented workers have the opportunity to work in the informal labor
market (Lan, 2007; Chin, 2013); according to sociologist Pei-Chia Lan (2007),
illegal workers who escape their sponsoring employers are in a better position
to negotiate for fair working conditions than legal workers under contract to
their citizen sponsor. The situation in Israel is quite similar (Liebelt, 2011),
as domestic workers there could also escape into a robust undocumented
migrant economy.
Although partial citizenship exists to varying degrees, it does set a tone of
exclusion from the host society. Partial citizenship reminds us of the limited
rights migrant domestic workers have, even in the most inclusive of nations.
This is illustrated in Canada, where eligibility for landed status had been contingent on two years of live-in residency until 2014. During this time, they
are ineligible for family reunification. As noted earlier, this was also the case
for migrants sponsored via the Foreign Labor Certification Program in the
United States. As sociologists Stephen Castles and Alastair Davidson (2000)
argue, destination countries impose a process of “differential exclusion” on
migrants and accept them only within strict functional and temporal limits;
they welcome unskilled migrants, including domestic workers, as laborers but
not as persons, and as temporary sojourners, not long-term residents. Without
question, destination countries do not accord migrant domestic workers the
same rights as their own citizens.
global migr ation of filipino domestic workers
Partial citizenship is admittedly less severe in Italy and the United States,
but more pertinent to those whom we can consider unfree laborers, such as
domestic workers whose legal residency ties them to a sponsoring employer
as a live-in worker. Still, the condition of partial citizenship is significant as
it helps us understand the idealization of Italy and the United States in the
diaspora and explains why they are coveted destinations. Moreover, it is the
negotiation of partial citizenship that prompts individuals to find “good employers” as direct, stepwise, or serial migrants. “Good employers” and the cultivation of relations with them ease the restrictions that conditions of partial
citizenship enforce.
The reality of partial citizenship in economic globalization puts the Philippines in a tenuous position.28 On the one hand, the denationalization of
economies compels the Philippines to respond to the demand for low-wage
laborers by extending their range of exports to include able-bodied workers.
On the other hand, the renationalization of politics renders the Philippines
incapable of protecting its exported citizens. Though international human
rights codes may protect migrant workers (Soysal, 1994), the fate of Filipina
domestic workers remains largely dependent on the conditions of membership set by receiving nations, which as we see impose policies that render the
workers vulnerable to servitude. This is not to say that sending nations like the
Philippines do not advocate for the safety and well-being of migrant workers
or discourage their pursuit of vulnerable occupations such as domestic work.
On December 16, 2006, the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration
Governing Board voted to implement a US$400 minimum salary for all migrant domestic workers, a doubling of the prevailing wage rate in destinations
in Southeast Asia and West Asia (POEA, 2007). A government representative
informally told me that this had been done in hopes of reducing the demand
for domestic workers from the Philippines, rendering them “too expensive”
for undesirable markets.
One could argue that the Philippines’ lack of juridical power in various
receiving nations makes this minimum wage nothing but symbolic. Indeed,
the average salaries of migrant Filipina domestic workers in several destinations
remain below the minimum wage. In the United Arab Emirates, the terms of
employment for migrant domestic workers rarely abide by the written contract,
which guarantees them a salary of US$400 and a weekly rest day; they usually
global migr ation of filipino domestic workers
follow the oral agreement domestic workers make with their employers prior
to migration. Still, most migrant domestic workers in places like the United
Arab Emirates are conscious of the minimum wage and use it as a standard
when renewing their contracts or to justify their need to change employers.
The Philippines’ power to determine migrant workers’ labor conditions is extending not just because of the demand for their labor but with the increasing
influence of human rights discourse, spurred by the antitrafficking movement
and charges of enslavement of migrant domestic workers in West Asia (ILO,
2012). Events in Saudi Arabia illustrate the extension of this influence.
In protest of the minimum-wage hike contractually demanded by the Philippine government and the consequent rejection of Saudi Arabia’s petition to
reduce the minimum wage to US$200, on July 2, 2011, the Labor Ministry
of Saudi Arabia initially banned Filipino domestic workers from entering the
country (Agence France-Presse, 2011). Yet, just four months later, on October 1, 2012, it lifted the ban and agreed to the US$400 minimum wage demanded by the Philippine government (Ruiz, 2012). This case suggests a more
complicated relationship between sending and receiving countries and indicates
that employment standards are not solely determined by market demands.
Yet, without question, employment standards for migrant domestic workers
in Saudi Arabia continue to stay low, and protectionist policies remain difficult to implement.
Discussions of Filipino migrant domestic workers should not ignore the wide
scope of their global migration. Still, most studies on their experiences are contained to one destination, focusing solely on Hong Kong (Constable, 2007),
Taiwan (Lan, 2006), Malaysia (Chin, 1998), Israel (Liebelt, 2011) or Canada
(Pratt, 2012). Yet, the similar experiences of migrants across various destinations, including their shared exclusion of partial citizenship across the diaspora,
make the need for a global perspective particularly pertinent. In Rome and
Los Angeles, for instance, most migrant workers maintain transnational families; as such, their labor migration entails the negotiation of the pain of family
separation. A substantial number of them are also mothers who directly care
for other children and not their own. In both cities, most Filipino domestic
global migr ation of filipino domestic workers
workers have completed a few years of postsecondary education, leading to their
shared experience of contradictory class mobility or inconsistent social status
in the labor market; these remain as salient now as they were in the mid-1990s.
My analysis of the experiences of migrant domestic workers does not concentrate solely on domestic work as an occupational issue. Instead, it examines
various aspects of their migratory experience, including their family life, gender
relations, labor-market incorporation, and the precariousness of retirement for
workers outside the formal labor market. I specifically focus on what I refer
to as dislocations, meaning the positions that marginalized members of society occupy as a result of external forces. My analysis of dislocations looks at
how they are constituted and the means by which migrant Filipino domestic
workers resist or negotiate their effects in everyday life.
It surprised me to find similar dislocations for migrant Filipina domestic
workers across destinations with remarkably different government policies,
labor-market conditions, attitudes toward different ethnicities, and societal
makeup—or what Portes and Rumbaut refer to as “contexts of reception”
(1996: 86). Italy and the United States, for example, have quite different contexts of reception for Filipino migrant workers. Italy is notably a country of
emigration, whereas the United States is a country of immigration. The former
channels Filipinos solely into domestic work, whereas the latter accommodates
Filipinos across diverse labor-market sectors. Accordingly, one migrant community is comprised mostly of the working class, whereas another includes
members across a wide range of class backgrounds. Additionally, Italy only
recently granted Filipino domestic workers the right to permanent residency,
while the United States has long included them into the social polity. Lastly,
among their many differences, one has to consider the gender composition of
the community; in Italy, approximately two-thirds of all entering migrants
from the Philippines are women, whereas in the United States there is a more
proportionate balance between men and women.
One of the underlying questions this study asks is why migrant Filipino
domestic workers in cities with different contexts of reception share similar
dislocations of migration. The answer lies mostly in their shared role as lowwage laborers in global capitalism, or, to put it in other terms, as servants of
globalization. By identifying the shared dislocations of migrant Filipina domestic workers, this study underscores the similarities engendered by global-
global migr ation of filipino domestic workers
ization among low-wage migrant domestic workers in the economic centers
of global capitalism (Portes, 1997).
This book thus analyzes how particular subject positions and dislocations
are constituted for Filipino domestic workers in migration. I frame this analysis around two related questions: What are the particular dislocations that
define the experience of migrant Filipino domestic workers, and how do they
deal with these conditions?
In the first edition of Servants of Globalization, I described how partial
citizenship resulted in an imagined diasporic community of migrant domestic
workers, one that materialized through the circulation of magazines, like Diwaliwan and Tinig Filipino, across the diaspora. Although these are no longer
in print, migrant domestic workers continue to communicate and build allegiance with one another through other means, including social media. Many
migrants thus are aware of the conditions of partial citizenship they will face
but are not deterred by them. Instead, they manage their limited citizenship
rights and the partial citizenship in a variety of ways. Their strategies are not
uniform; some become serial migrants, whereas others pursue stepwise migration. Notably, partial citizenship also potentially deters prospective migrants
from leaving the Philippines or encourages some to return home and live life as
an “ex-abroad.” Still, many aspire to reach the coveted destinations of Canada,
Italy, and the United States. As we will see in the subsequent chapters that
detail the dislocations of family separation, distance mothering, contradictory class mobility, the crisis of masculinity among male domestic workers,
and the precariousness of retirement, domestic workers in these countries,
particularly Italy and the United States, still confront a number of challenges
similar to their counterparts in other destinations, albeit not necessarily to the
same degree of difficulty.
chapter two
n r esponse to the question “w hy did
you migrate?,” interviewees often interspersed their economic
reasons with examples of the gender inequalities that also spurred their migration. They spoke, for instance, of fleeing domestic violence, labor-market
segmentation, and the unequal division of labor in the family. These responses
do not fit traditional discussions of the causes of either male or female migration, which usually avoid gender issues and are based solely on economics. Yet,
the stories I heard make it difficult for us to ignore the fact that gender is a
constitutive element of the larger structural forces behind migration. In light
of this reality, how do we structurally account for gender in our discussions
of the causes of migration? How do we systematically include gender in our
analysis of the political economy of migration?
Here I examine the causes of migration, calling attention to the unequal
gender relations that prompt domestic workers to leave home. To account
international division of reproductive labor
for the gendered political economy of migration and the resulting dislocations, I go beyond discussions of economic globalization that consider only
productive labor to include reproductive labor—the labor needed to sustain
the productive labor force. Such work includes household chores; the care of
elders, adults, and youth; the socialization of children; and the maintenance
of social ties in the family (Brenner and Laslett, 1991; Glenn, 1992). Relegated to women, particularly women of color, reproductive labor has long
been a commodity that class-privileged women purchase. As Evelyn Nakano
Glenn (1992) has observed, white class-privileged women in the United States
have historically freed themselves of reproductive labor by purchasing the
low-wage services of women of color. In doing so, they maintain a “racial
division of reproductive labor” (Glenn 1992), which establishes a two-tier
hierarchy among women.
The globalization of the market economy has extended the politics of reproductive labor to an international level. Thus, my analysis extends Glenn’s
(1992) important formulation to consider issues of globalization and the feminization of migration. I argue that Filipino women’s migration and entrance
into domestic work constitute an international division of reproductive labor.
This, which I also call the international transfer of caretaking, refers to the
three-tier transfer of reproductive labor among women in sending and receiving countries of migration. Whereas class-privileged women purchase the lowwage household services of migrant Filipina domestic workers, these women
simultaneously purchase the even lower-wage household services of poorer
women left behind in the Philippines. In light of this transnational transfer
of gender constraints, the independent migration of Filipina domestic workers
could be read as a process of negotiation for different groups of women in a
transnational economy. In both sending and receiving countries, most women
have not achieved a gender-egalitarian division of household work; instead,
they have used their race and/or class privilege to transfer their reproductive
labor with responsibilities to less privileged women.
The international transfer of caretaking links two important but separate
discourses on the status of women—Glenn’s discussion of the “racial division
of reproductive labor” and Sassen’s earlier discussion of the “international division of labor”—and demonstrates that these foundational formulations need to
be expanded to take into account transnational issues of reproduction (Glenn,
international division of reproductive labor
1992; Sassen, 1984, 1986). To develop my argument, I first analyze the gender
constraints that confront migrant Filipina domestic workers in both the sending nation of the Philippines and the receiving nations of the United States and
Italy. I then illustrate how these gender constraints lead to the international
division of reproductive labor. This division links women in a transnational
hierarchy across race and class; as noted by Glenn (1992), women with means
pay poor immigrant women of color to help reproduce their family, and I add
that these women in turn transfer their care to women left behind in the Philippines. By presenting this division of labor, I establish that global capitalism,
patriarchy, and racial inequalities are structural forces that jointly determine
the subject-positions of migrant Filipina domestic workers in globalization.1
This chapter focuses not on the dislocations of migration but instead situates
our discussion of domestic work in the macrostructural context of the global
economy. By introducing the concept of the international division of reproductive labor, it foregrounds how gender constraints determine migration. At
the same time, it shows how the global economy is formed not only by the
trade in material goods and productive labor but also by the purchase of services and reproductive labor
The concept of the international division of reproductive labor has gained
significant outside traction. Take, for example, its documentation in a film
called The Chain of Love (2000), directed by Marije Meerman and produced
by VPRO-TV in The Netherlands. I originally introduced the concept of the
international division of reproductive labor in my dissertation (Parreñas, 1998),
which Arlie Hochschild (2000) later renamed “the care chain.” Although that
iteration has brought greater attention to the concept, it has also unfortunately
eliminated the political-economic foundation of my original analysis by narrowing the framework to the distribution of care and redirecting the focus
away from reproductive inequalities. Thus, I make a case against the misappropriation of the concept as a “care inequality” and call for the continued
examination of the reproductive inequalities that the migration of domestic
workers elicits among women and households across a global terrain. A return
to reproductive labor inequalities in our discussion of the “care chain” allows
us to better account for the constitution of transnational, regional, and local
inequalities in the commodification and racialization of the household division of labor in globalization.
international division of reproductive labor
Filipino men and women share the economic displacements that spur labor
migration in global restructuring. Neither group is immune from the economic
disparities that distinguish the quality of life for the middle class in developing countries like the Philippines and industrialized countries like the United
States and Italy. In the Philippines, only 20 percent of the population belongs
to the middle class (Kimura, 2003), which has not constituted a comfortable
and secure lifestyle in the last thirty years (Israel-Sobritchea, 1990; Kimura,
2003). Not surprisingly, in response to my question, “Why did you migrate?,”
most interviewees shared stories about the economic insecurities they had faced
as members of the middle class in the Philippines. Among them was Michelle,
a single woman who followed her sister to Rome in 1989, who told me, “My
sister was the first one here. The truth is that our family had a lot of debts in
the Philippines. Our land was just about to be confiscated by the bank. My
sister couldn’t afford to pay for the debt on her own. So what she did was she
took me over here. When I got here, we helped each other out, and we were
able to pay for the debt on time.”
Michelle’s story of economic precariousness resonated among most of my
interviewees. This is not surprising if we consider the decline of the middle
class in the Philippines that began in the mid-1980s when the International
Monetary Fund (IMF) devalued the peso after the GDP plummeted due to the
political and social upheaval sparked by the assassination of Senator Benigno
Aquino Jr. in August 1983 (Kimura, 2003). It is not surprising then that “by
the 1980s, even a schoolteacher could not afford to buy more than two chickens
a month and could only purchase low quality rice” (Basch et al., 1994: 232).
However, despite the economic displacements that men and women shared
in the Philippines, it is important that we account for gender and identify the
different meanings of “economic” migration for them. Gender, as I illustrate,
is a hidden cause of migration.
“I migrated to support my family”—a frequently stated reason domestic
workers provided for their migration—means something different to women
than it does to men. In the Philippines, women confront the traditional gender ideology of the patriarchal nuclear family: Men are expected to sustain
the family, and women to reproduce family life. The traditional gender division of labor haunts women in the Philippines, as a recent report released by
international division of reproductive labor
the Human Development Network (2010) noted, “The tasks of taking care of
children, the sick, and the elderly, preparing meals, and general housecleaning are still predominantly carried out by female household members. In addition, the traditional view that women’s primary role is that of homemaking
while that of men is ‘breadwinning’ continues to have a strong influence in
many households” (31). Consequently, gender distinguishes the meaning of
independent labor migration for men and women. For women, labor migration
in itself questions gender prescriptions in society. As ideological constructs of
feminine identity are molded from mothering and caring roles in the domestic arena, the independent migration of women constitutes a direct liberation
from them (Israel-Sobritchea, 1990).
In Rome and Los Angeles, most respondents migrate to help sustain the
family, an obligation that stems from the strong bond of family allegiance
and filial piety in the Philippines (Chant and McIlwaine, 1995; Paz Cruz and
Paganoni, 1989). Yet the meaning of migration as a strategy of family maintenance is very different for men and women. By migrating to sustain the
household, women reconstitute the traditional gender division of labor in the
family as they take on the role of income provider. Because independent migration frees working women of household constraints, migration is not only
a family strategy but also a covert strategy to relieve women of their unequal
division of labor with men in the family. As Filipina feminist scholar Carolyn
Israel-Sobritchea observes, “Despite the growth of female labor force participation, there has not been a commensurate decrease in their child care and
household responsibilities” (1990: 35). Women in the Philippines, according
to the economist Jeanne Illo, do more housework and child care than men
do: “A study conducted in the early 1990s suggests that the time allotted by
mothers for child care jumps from 9 percent to 21 percent in rural areas and
from 12 percent to 15 percent in urban areas with additional young children in
the family. . . . In contrast, fathers in rural or urban areas spend no more than
6 percent of their time with their young children” (Illo, 2010: 6, citing a study
conducted by a team of economists at the University of the Philippines in 1994).
Migrating to negotiate the unequal division of labor in the family applies
not only to mothers and wives but also to single and childless women. In the
traditional Filipino household, daughters—more so than sons—are expected
to care for their parents in old age. As the only daughter in her family, Lorna
international division of reproductive labor
Fernandez felt a great sense of responsibility for her family but simultaneously
felt suffocated by the duties they expected her to perform:
I am the only girl and the oldest in my family. I have all brothers. There were many
reasons why I came [to Rome]. I had a good job. [She finished in the top ten of the
national board exam for midwifery.] I was employed in a private office for seven
years. I was making decent money. But I wanted to leave because, even if you have
a decent salary in our country, it does not allow you to save any money. And then,
I kept on thinking that my parents are not going to see their situation improve very
much. . . . So one of the reasons I came here was for my family. . . . I came here also
for the change. I was very tired. I was sick of the routine I was in. Every month, I
received my salary and divided it up to my parents, brothers, and then hardly any
would be left for me. . . . The first thirty-seven years of my life was given to my family, and I feel this is just when I am starting out for myself.
Although the family is considered a central site of support and assistance, some
single women simultaneously wanted to reconstitute how to fulfill their responsibilities, which they often complained exceeded those of their male siblings.
The different positions of men and women in the Philippine labor market
also distinguish the reasons for their economic migration. Although the lack
of opportunities in the Philippine economy affects both men and women, the
sex segmentation in the Philippine labor market further aggravates women’s
already limited opportunities. In the Philippines, the ideology of women as
caretakers constrains their productive labor activities in many ways, including
their segregation in jobs resembling “wife-and-mother roles” such as household
work on plantations and professional work in nursing and teaching (Eviota,
1992; Chant and McIlwaine, 1995; Human Development Network, 2010).
Women are concentrated in sales and service, and among professionals in the
lower-paying rungs of nursing and teaching (Human Development Network,
2010). In the Philippines, women earn less, have a higher unemployment rate,
and are financially constrained by their occupational segregation in “feminine”
jobs (Human Development Network, 2010).
Despite these constraints, women do participate in the labor force. In 1992,
the female share of total employment in the Philippines reached 37.7 percent
(Chant, 1997). In 2012, women saw an increase in their rate of labor-market
participation to 49.7 percent, a figure that remains substantially lower than
international division of reproductive labor
that of men, who participate in the labor market at a rate of 78.3 percent (National Statistical Coordination Board, 2013). Like migrant women from the
Dominican Republic, most migrant Filipina domestic workers have premigration paid work experience (Grasmuck and Pessar, 1991). Because they have
more means than others do to migrate, educated women in the Philippines
may turn to employment opportunities outside the Philippines to negotiate
their low wages. Many research participants in Rome and Los Angeles had
been employed in “female professions” (as teachers and administrative assistants, for example) and sought the higher wages that they could earn outside
the Philippines, even if only as domestic workers.
Women’s intense responses to the question of why they migrated corroborate the assertion that independent female migration is a way to negotiate
gender constraints. In Rome, fourteen of the twenty female respondents who
were legally married when they had migrated wanted to leave an abusive or
unfaithful husband or had irresponsible partners and could no longer afford
to raise dependents as single mothers. For example, some migrated because
they could no longer tolerate their husband’s infidelity. As Trinidad Borromeo
explained, “You know why I came here? I had to leave the Philippines. If I
didn’t, I would have ended up killing someone. I had caught my husband with
another woman.” Clarita Sungkay likewise dealt with infidelity and violence:
My husband used to beat me up and have affairs. Then he left me for another
woman. . . . I went to Kuwait after my husband and I separated. See, I tried to
commit suicide two times. The first time I swallowed poison, and the second time I
slashed my wrists many times. At the hospital, my mother was able to talk to me, and
she told me that if I can’t take the actions of my husband, I should just go abroad. I
was still very young, and I already had my children.
Then there is Ruby Mercado, who had to escape an abusive husband:
I came to Italy in 1983 to look for a job and also a change of environment. . . . You
have to understand that my problems were very heavy before I left the Philippines.
My husband was abusive. I couldn’t even think about my children. The only thing
I could think about was the opportunity to escape my situation. If my husband was
not going to kill me, I was probably going to kill him. . . . My problems with him
were so heavy. He was abusive. He always beat me up, and my parents wanted me
to leave him for a long time. My children, I left with my sister. I asked my husband
international division of reproductive labor
for permission to leave the country, and I told him that I was going to be gone for
only two years. . . . I was just telling him that so I could leave the country peacefully. . . . On the plane. . . I felt like a bird whose cage that had been locked for many
years had just recently been opened. Nine years he abused me. He was very strict,
and he tried to control every situation. Often, I could not leave the house. When I
was able to escape, I felt free and felt so loose. Deep inside, I felt homesick for my
children, but I also felt free for being able to escape the most dire problem that was
slowly killing me.
These disturbing testimonies from the 1990s suggest a pattern of abusive male
behavior that pushed women to leave the Philippines to escape the debilitating
situations in their households. Unfortunately, this still seems to be the case. For
instance, a great number of women I interviewed in Dubai had been victim to
domestic violence prior to migration. And in Rome, the problem of domestic
violence remained a prominent cause of migration among some newcomers I
encountered in 2011.
According to British sociologists Sylvia Chant and Cathy McIlwaine, institutionalized practices of “male superiority within the Filipino household
include the practice of wife-beating. Domestic violence is viewed as ‘ordinary’
and ‘normal’ within the context of marriage and stems from the polarized
socialization of men as aggressive and assertive and women as passive and
submissive” (1995: 13). As the Human Development Network notes, “Recent
estimates in the Philippines show that anywhere from one to six out of every
ten women face physical, sexual, and psychological assaults in the home. . . .
the study also found that the most common perpetrator of assaults on women
were their male spouses or partners, accounting for more than half of the
abuses” (2010: 38). The problem of domestic violence in the Philippines truly
establishes that gender cannot be reduced to economics. Patriarchy persists
despite Filipino women’s higher level of educational attainment and high rate
of formal labor-market participation (Eviota, 1992; National Statistical Coordination Board, 2013).
Women, at least those with resources (such as networks and funds) emigrate instead of facing ostracism in the community for getting a divorce or
separation, for which they are more often blamed than men (Israel-Sobritchea,
1990).2 Divorce is not a legal option for couples in the Philippines, even though
legal separation can now be granted on the basis of physical violence and
international division of reproductive labor
incest. Moreover, legally separated individuals do not have the option of remarriage. Legal restrictions and the burden of cultural expectations (for example,
the tremendous value placed on family cohesion for the children’s benefit and
the immense influence of Catholicism) constrain the options women have for
leaving abusive spouses permanently. Chant and McIlwaine add, “It should
also be noted that grounds for separation on the basis of sexual infidelity are
strongly weighted in favour of men, in that a wife only has to have sexual intercourse with another man for this to be granted, whereas a charge of adultery
against a husband has to involve concubinage” (1995: 14–15). It is not surprising, then, that some women believe that they can escape their marriage only
by taking advantage of the migrant networks and agencies that are well in
place in the Philippines.
Other interviewees decided to emigrate after their husbands abandoned
them and left them to raise children on their own. Jennifer Jeremillo, for
example, sought the higher wages of domestic work in Italy because she
could no longer support her children with the wages she earned as a public
school teacher:
After three years of marriage, my husband left me for another woman. . . . My
husband supported us for just a little over a year. Then, the support was stopped,
everything was stopped, the letters stopped. I have not seen him since. . . . I think of
my children’s future. There I would be the only one working, without a husband and
supporting my children on my own. I knew that my salary was not enough for their
future, for their schooling and everything. So I decided to come here even though
I had to borrow a lot of money. It cost me 200,000 pesos [US$8,000] to come here.
Just to pay for the agency was 150,000 pesos [US$6,000].
Although on the surface women who are abandoned by their husbands seem
to be motivated solely by the economic benefits of migration, that motive
cannot be situated only in the overarching world-system of global capitalism.
It must also be placed in the context of gender inequalities that have shaped
their experiences and positions as single mothers. Because husbands are more
likely to abandon their wives than vice versa, it is important to emphasize how
this is caused by double standards in male and female sexual practices in the
Philippines.3 Thus, it is this gender inequality that places these women in a
position of needing to migrate for economic reasons.
international division of reproductive labor
The case of married women in Rome is actually not reflected in my Los
Angeles sample, which includes only two women who cited similar reasons for
migration. This is not caused by social differences between the two groups but
is likely the case because it is more difficult to migrate to the United States.
More stringent requirements for prospective migrants delay the migration of
women who want to leave the Philippines quickly.
My findings in Rome are supported by the observations of Linda Layosa,
the founding editor of Tinig Filipino, a now-defunct publication once based
in Hong Kong and Italy that featured the writings of Filipina domestic workers across the diaspora:
In my casual talks with lots of my fellow women overseas contract workers especially
the married ones, I found out that there seems to be a certain common factor that
binds them—that leaving their families for overseas gave them temporary relief from
the sacrifices that go with their marriage. Others are blunt enough to share that their
main reason for coming abroad is not merely to earn money but to escape from their
bitter relationships with their husbands. Very rightly so. For no mother could ever
afford to leave her young children and her home if the situation at home is normal.
(Layosa, 1995b: 7)
Given these realities, I argue that theoretical discussions of the causes of
migration must consider the system of gender inequality in the Philippines,
which, in the case of these women, manifests in the limited options they have
for divorce and the double standards in male and female sexual activities.
Highlighting the gender relations and divisions in the Philippines complicates
discussions of migration. Patriarchy, as it operates within a discrete system
in the sending country of the Philippines, is a hidden cause of migration for
women. And although this system must be included in any formulation of the
macrostructural reasons for female migration, we must equally consider the
system of gender inequality in receiving countries. Migrant Filipina domestic
workers depart from a system of gender stratification in the Philippines only
to enter another one in the advanced capitalist and industrialized countries
of the United States and Italy. In both sending and receiving nations, they
confront societies with similar gender ideologies; that is, reproductive labor
is likewise relegated primarily to women. Yet racial, class, and citizenship inequalities aggravate their position in receiving nations.
international division of reproductive labor
Migration initiates Filipina domestic workers’ incorporation into the transnational labor market not only to serve the needs of the highly specialized professionals in “global cities” but also to relieve their mostly white female employers
of household work. In the industrialized countries of Asia, the Americas, and
Europe, the number of gainfully employed women has climbed dramatically
in the last forty years (Licuanan, 1994; O’Connor, 1996; P…
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