Filipino migration is extraordinary

Data from the Human Development Report 2014

The population of the Philippines is surpassing 100 million in late July 2014. That’s a reminder of the country’s importance in global migration. Emigration generally has the strongest impacts in countries with relatively small populations, such as El Salvador, Armenia and Samoa. In fact, as the scatterplot shows, only five countries have remittance inflows representing at least 10 % of GDP and a population of at least 10 million people. Among them only Bangladesh and — as of July 2014 — the Philippines have populations of 100 million or more.

The Philippines has a particular position also in research on migration. I have never done research on Filipino migration myself, but the rich literature has been a source of inspiration and influence on my work on transnational families and gender, for instance. In my report on gender dimensions of international migration for the Global Commission on International Migration I used research on migration from the Philippines to analyze the diversity of approaches to gender in migration studies.

Photo by Angela Sabas (seasonalplume) via
Balikbayan box (Angela Sabas via

Issues of gender relations, family and parenting remain central in research on Filipino migration. Perhaps because there is so much existing research to build upon, many new studies are particularly innovative and bring new perspectives to the study of migration worldwide.

Below, I have compiled a selection of five recommendations from recent research on Filipino migration. These are all articles in academic journals, and, unfortunately, require a subscription.

Among the freely available resources on Filipino migration is Jason DeParle’s A Good Provider Is One Who Leaves, published in the New York Times Magazine.

A reading list of recent research on Filipino migration and transnationalism

Aguilar, Filomeno V. (2013) ‘Brother’s keeper? Siblingship, overseas migration, and centripetal ethnography in a Philippine village.’ Ethnography, 14(3): 346-368.

Abstract: The Western optic of ‘nuclear family’, which is devoid of the individual’s embeddedness in the larger kin group, fails to explain the commitment of overseas Filipino migrants to the ‘extended family’. Yet, it underpins much of the qualitative field methods today. To explain interdependencies as well as tensions within kin groups, this article proposes a shift in theoretical ground from a ‘sociology of the family’ to ‘cultures of relatedness’. To understand migrants’ culture in the destination also necessitates that culture in the origin be given primacy, in a methodological shift referred to as ‘centripetal ethnography’. This dual and conjoined shift in perspective and method is applied in studying Paraiso, a rural-upland village in the Philippines, where overseas migration commenced in the 1970s. The interplay of autonomy and solidarity in siblingship is illumined by focusing on the house as practised in the village and, moving outward, in the overseas context. (Full text on publisher’s web site)

Fresnoza-Flot, Asuncion (2009) ‘Migration status and transnational mothering: the case of Filipino migrants in France.’ Global Networks, 9(2): 252-270.

Abstract: Recent studies on transnational mothering have explored the various strategies migrant women use to negotiate their absence from home; however, there is limited knowledge on how migration status diversifies transnational mothering practices. To fill this gap, I conducted in-depth interviews and observations of Filipino migrant mothers working in the domestic service sector in and around Paris. The consequences of migration include the prolongation of a planned stay in France, emotional difficulties due to family separation, and distant mother-child relationships. Transnational family life appears more complicated and difficult to manage for undocumented migrant mothers since they cannot easily visit their family back home, which they try to compensate by resorting to more intense transnational communication and gift-giving practices. Hence, migration status plays an important role in shaping transnational motherhood. (Full text on publisher’s web site)

Madianou, Mirca (2012) ‘Migration and the accentuated ambivalence of motherhood. The role of ICTs in Filipino transnational families.’ Global Networks, 12(3): 277-295.

Abstract: This article is concerned with the impact of information and communication technologies (ICTs) on Filipina transnational mothers’ experience of motherhood, their practices of mothering and, ultimately, their identities as mothers. Drawing on ethnographic research with Filipina migrants in the UK as part of a wider study of Filipino transnational families, this article observes that, despite the digital divide and other structural inequalities, new communication technologies, such as the internet and mobile phones, allow for an empowered experience of distant mothering. Apart from a change in the practice and intensity of mothering at a distance, ICTs also have consequences for women’s maternal identities and the ways in which they negotiate their ambivalence towards work and family life. In this sense, ICTs can also be seen as solutions (even though difficult ones) to the cultural contradictions of migration and motherhood and the ‘accentuated ambivalence’ they engender. This, in turn, has consequences for the whole experience of migration, sometimes even affecting decisions about settlement and return. (Full text on publisher’s web site)

McKay, Deirdre (2007) ‘‘Sending Dollars Shows Feeling’. Emotions and Economies in Filipino Migration.’ Mobilities, 2(2): 175-194.

Abstract: This paper analyses the conceptualization of gender, relationships, and emotions that underpin ‘care chains’ approaches to Filipino labour migration. In a case study of long‐distance intimacy and economic transfers in an extended Filipino family, I show how contextualizing migration within local understandings of emotion fractures expectations created by care chains accounts. This case instead reveals agency, diversity, and new forms of global subjectivity emerging through long‐distance emotional connections within the translocal field shaped by labour mobility. (Full text on publisher’s web site)

Paul, Anju M. (2013) ‘Good Help is Hard to Find: The Differentiated Mobilisation of Migrant Social Capital among Filipino Domestic Workers.’ Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 39(5): 719-739.

Abstract: Migrant social capital can reduce the costs and risks of migration and thereby increase the likelihood of cumulative migration among network members. However, several ethnographic studies of transnational migrant networks have highlighted repeated and regular instances of current migrants refusing to provide migration assistance to network contacts in the home country. Extending this nascent body of research, this article proposes a multi-factor framework at the individual, dyad, network, job, market and country levels that influences current migrants’ helping decisions, particularly when it comes to labour migration assistance. This framework is constructed using interview data from 95 Filipino migrant domestic workers in the Philippines, Singapore and Hong Kong. These interviews showcase the dynamic and differentiated nature of migrant social-capital mobilisation in terms of the volume, type and conditionality of the assistance provided. (Full text on publisher’s web site)


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