Title: The global context of gendered labor migration from the Philippines to the United States.
Source: American Behavioral Scientist, Jan99, Vol. 42 Issue 4, p671, 19p, 4 charts
Author(s): Tyner, James A.
Abstract: Situates gendered labor migration from the Philippines to the United States within a global context. Contention that Filipino migration to the US is part of an institutional response to a changing global economy; Uniqueness of the US among labor-importing states; Expansion of political relations between the Philippines and the US.


Throughout the 20th century, international labor migration from the Philippines has exhibited a shift both in global points of destination and in gender composition. Whereas early Philippine immigration consisted predominantly of male laborers to the United States, current flows are directed to more than 130 countries, each revealing distinctive sex differences in composition. To understand fully the gendered dimensions of this global shift, it is necessary to situate current patterns within a global context. The migration of Filipinos to the United States and the rest of the world must be seen as part of an institutional response to a changing worm economy. Findings suggest that the role of government and private institutions is deeply implicated in the gendering of international labor migration. Moreover, a state's position in the global economy translates into different institutional pursuits and, hence, different processes and patterns of international labor migration.

Throughout the 20th century, international labor migration from the Philippines has exhibited a shift both in global points of destination and in gender composition. Initially, large-scale emigration from the Philippines began in response to labor shortages on U.S.-owned sugar plantations in Hawaii. Between 1907 and 1929, more than 102,000 Filipinos were recruited to work on these plantations; approximately 87% of these migrants were men (Teodoro, 1981). During the 1920s and 1930s, additional migratory flows developed as a response to labor shortages throughout the western portion of the continental United States, and this migratory system was likewise dominated by male laborers.[1]

During the late 1960s and early 1970s, Philippine institutions[2] played an important role in shaping the international migration of Filipinos. The global dispersion of Filipinos increased considerably, with migrants living and working in more than 130 countries and territories by the early 1990s. The United States became and remains a prime destination, although the contract labor migration between the United States and the Philippines, and the role of Philippine institutions, is relatively insignificant compared to other destinations. Indeed, larger flows of Philippine labor migrants are directed toward the Middle East and East Asia. These new patterns also reflect distinct sex differences in composition. Philippine labor flows toward the Middle East, Africa, and Oceania are male dominated, whereas flows toward Asia, Western Europe, and North America are female dominated.

How are we to understand this global shift in Philippine international labor migration? How is gender implicated in this shift? The purpose of this article is to situate gendered labor migration from the Philippines to the United States within a global context. I argue that the migration of Filipinos to the United States and to the rest of the world must be seen as part of an institutional response to a changing global economy. Significantly, however, a state's position in the global economy translates into different institutional pursuits. As developed in this article, the United States is in many respects unique among labor-importing states. The combination of a liberal immigration policy and the proximity of alternative cheap labor supplies means that the participation of the United States in the global labor market is fundamentally different from the receiving countries of the Middle East and Asia. Second, the institutional control of international migration is highly gendered; conceptions of masculinity and femininity figure prominently in the organization, regulation, and management of labor flows. Since the 1960s, the Philippines has expanded its political relations beyond the confines of the United States. Consequently, the Philippines has become more fully incorporated within the global economy. Labor export emerged in this era as a development strategy, and this was shaped by the Philippines' institutional response to a shifting, gendered, global labor market.


The study of gender and migration has matured beyond infancy into a period of adolescence. Indeed, the articles in this special issue are testimony to this growth. Previous work sought primarily to identify sex differences in migration systems, and these efforts reflect, in part, changing patterns of international labor migration (e.g., Tyree & Donato, 1986). Consider, for example, that of the approximately 130,000 Sri Lankan labor migrants (circa 1990), roughly 80% are women; likewise, of the 140,000 Indonesian labor migrants, approximately 70% are women. Observations such as these have led some researchers to speak of a feminization of international migration (Boyd & Taylor, 1986). More recent scholarship, building on the significant advances of this earlier work, has attempted to place the gendered dimensions of international migration within broader explanatory frameworks (cf. Chant, 1992), a trend that reflects a greater integration of feminist scholarship into the social sciences in general.

It is imperative, at this juncture, to clarify the distinction between gendered migration and the sex differences of migration systems. Gender refers to the ways that society regulates human interaction and allocates resources differentially, based on socially constructed norms of masculinity and femininity. Strictly speaking, a study of gendered migration would seek to explain observed sex differences in migration flows through the incorporation of historically and geographically specific socially created ideals of masculinity and femininity. Studies of sex differences, conversely, examine different patterns of male and female migrants, irrespective of social processes and relations. Gendered migration research must also guard against female exclusivity. There is a tendency in gender research to focus exclusively on women, as if gender were synonymous with "female." At a certain level, this bias is understandable--and perhaps justified--considering the neglect of women within previous migration studies. Nevertheless, an overemphasis on women to the exclusion of men reifies an already existing segregation of research and risks missing important gendered dimensions of the migratory process. More significant is that a focus on women implies that problems, and solutions, are confined to women (Kabeer, 1994, p. 65). To speak only of the feminization of international migration is to discount the thousands of male migrants. Rather, we should uncover the relevant processes that contribute both to the feminization and masculinization of migration.


International labor migration, in all its myriad forms, represents a flexible response to labor shortages. Through the importation of workers--documented or undocumented, forced or voluntary--recipient countries are able to satisfy both absolute or relative labor shortages (Sassen, 1988). Moreover, the importation of labor is highly selective, as labor-importing countries are able to derive four significant benefits from a flexible workforce. First, labor importers are able to hire specialized labor forces for specified periods of time. In periods of economic hardship, or when labor becomes redundant, immigrant workers may be repatriated (Balderrama & Rodriguez, 1995). Second, the reproductive costs of labor (e.g., education, job training) are generally borne by labor-exporting countries (Zolberg, 1991). Third, employers may be able to selectively hire workers from areas of surplus, thereby paying lower wages and saving on direct labor costs (Woodward, 1988). Finally, certain labor-related benefits, such as health care, may not be provided, thus saving on indirect labor costs (Heer, 1996).

The transfer of labor from areas of surplus to areas of shortage is neither a simple nor inevitable process. Government and private institutions, located in both labor-exporting and labor-importing societies, organize, regulate, and manage the international mobility of labor (Abella, 1992, 1993; Huguet, 1992; Shah & Arnold, 1986). It is within this selective transfer of labor that patterns of gendered labor migration are produced. International labor migration must be seen as a socially constituted process, composed of numerous participants-including foreign employers, labor recruiters, politicians, and potential migrants--attempting to satisfy their own agendas as they simultaneously affect the global parameters of labor migration (Goss & Lindquist, 1995; Tyner, 1994, 1996a, 1996b).

Throughout this article, the global labor market is seen as the dominant area of inquiry. It is within this sphere that gender is initially manifest in establishing the structural parameters of labor exchange and population mobility. As Zolberg (1991) and others (Calavita, 1992; Smith, 1993) have argued, international migration--and the selective enforcement of national boundaries, visa requirements, and overall immigration legislation--imparts a level of institutional control that must be acknowledged prior to (or at the very minimum, in conjunction with) understanding individual migrant decision making. This organization, regulation, and management of international migration, as demonstrated in this article, is not gender neutral.

The functioning of the global labor market is similar to the social processes embedded within local labor markets (cf. Peck, 1996). Capitalists seek to hire productive labor forces. However, as Peck (1996) identifies.

The process of assessing a person for a job goes ... beyond whether they are capable of operating the technology in the required way, but also involves consideration of inherently unpredictable factors such as reliability, creativity, socialibility, deference to authority, and adaptability. These traits, and their unpredictability, follow from the fact that labor is not a commodity but a set of capacities borne by people. (p. 34)

Hiring risks are compounded when face-to-face interviews between potential employers and employees are not possible--as is generally the case with international labor exchanges. Existing research indicates that employers use various strategies to reduce the risks involved in the hiring process (Ehrenberg & Smith, 1997; Peck, 1996; Woodward, 1988). One such strategy is to continue to hire workers from the same intermediary or labor recruitment agency. This process contributes to channelized migration flows. Another similar strategy is to hire friends and relatives of current employees. In this case, the social network of actual migrants assumes primacy in the continuation of channelized migration flows. When these strategies are insufficient, employers may use statistical prejudgements--stereotypes--in an attempt to minimize hiring risks (Ehrenberg & Smith, 1997). It is within this process that people, places, and occupations come to be labeled masculine or feminine, and patterns of gendered labor migration may result. When statistical prejudgements are based on ethnic or nationality differences, racialized labor migration results.

Historically, sexual stereotypes have been institutionalized within labor markets (Acker & Van Houten, 1974; Adkins, 1995; Kanter, 1977). Indeed, one of the most distinctive and persistent features of the capitalist labor market has been the sex-based segregation of occupations (Lim, 1983). This results, in part, from the social construction of domestic (sexual) divisions of labor and the segmentation of daily activities into productive tasks and reproductive tasks (cf. Sayer & Walker, 1992). Those activities within the productive sphere are postulated as contributing to the material well-being of individuals, households, and societies. Reproductive tasks are those that provide for the upbringing of the next generation of laborers, and include cooking, cleaning, and child care.

Socialization processes have produced and reproduced these sexual divisions of labor. Direct socialization occurs when children are taught that different standards, values, and behaviors exist for boys and girls. These attitudes may be reinforced through government-sponsored education and training programs. Postsecondary education, for example, may not be an option for women on the assumption that they are either incapable of learning advanced skills or that this knowledge is not necessary for them in their daily household chores. Indirect socialization also occurs, as when television shows or films reinforce stereotyped images of women and men. Particular occupations may be expected for women but not for men (and vice versa). Norms have evolved to maintain these separations, many of which have constricted the daily activities of women, and research has documented how these have likewise affected the spatial mobility of women in many different cultures (Pittin, 1984; Pryer, 1992). These norms, attitudes, and assumptions may be subsumed under the concept of patriarchy, whereby the subordinate position of women within households, labor markets, and society at large are based on ascribed characteristics of supposed biological differences between women and men.

Capitalism did not create the patriarchal relations of society. It has, however, benefited from the incorporation of these sexually discriminatory norms, ideals, and attitudes (Lim, 1983; Peck, 1996; Sayer & Walker, 1992). In the job market, employers may benefit from the reduction in labor costs through the employment of women by capitalizing on patriarchal attitudes, social relations, and stereotypes. Employers, for example, may assume that a woman's income is supplementary to the maintenance of a household, thereby justifying lower wages. Women's work is often seen as an extension of household activities; thus, women are consigned to care giving and service occupations such as domestic work, nursing, teaching, and clerical work. Many employment opportunities open to women are classified as nonskilled or semiskilled, thus dictating lower wages. In addition, women are often assumed to be docile and more easily controlled in the workplace (A. Ong, 1987).

Just as capitalism did not create patriarchy, neither did institutions within the international exchange of labor create patriarchy. Labor recruitment-related institutions do, however, take advantage of these sexual divisions of labor. Tyner (1996b) has proposed an institutional-based framework to examine the manifestation of gender within the international exchange of labor. According to this framework, the production of formal contract labor migration consists of three circuits of social organization: contract procurement, labor recruitment, and worker deployment. These circuits effectively bind origins and destinations. Underlying these circuits of social organization are various unwritten rules, assumptions, and principles of interaction that, collectively, lead to the social constitution of international labor migration (Tyner, 1994, 1996b). Patriarchy forms the dominant principle of the contemporary global labor market.

The first circuit, contract procurement, consists of negotiations and bargaining between labor recruiters, foreign employers, and government officials. It is within this circuit that labor-importing firms (e.g., hospitals, multinational corporations) request foreign workforces. Labor-exporting institutions, conversely, attempt to solicit the most attractive employment opportunities in an attempt to deploy migrant workers. Parallel processes are found within local labor markets, whereby intermediaries (employment agencies) attempt to match the specific demands of employers with existing supplies of labor. As research for a variety of locations has indicated, the use of statistical prejudgements, including gendered ideologies, is prevalent within the specific demands of foreign employers (for Sri Lanka, see Eelens & Speckmann, 1990; for the Philippines, see Tyner, 1996b).

The second circuit, labor recruitment, operates mostly within labor-exporting countries. This circuit consists mostly of labor recruiters, government officials, and worker-applicants. To a considerable degree, labor recruiters acquiesce to the demands of foreign employers when developing recruitment strategies (Tyner, 1996b). Thus, although the specific requests of foreign employers during the circuit of contract procurement leads to the initial gendering of labor flows, the second circuit of organization reinforces these patterns. A similar process, again, is found within local labor markets (Bakan & Stasiulis, 1994, 1995).

Worker deployment, the third circuit of organization, occurs when potential migrants gain access to an employment opportunity and must decide whether to take the offer. Considerable research, based on household strategies perspectives, has examined the manifestation of gender within this decision-making process (cf. the collections in Chant, 1992). Throughout this article, I focus exclusively on the first circuit of organization.


Labor markets are systematically structured by institutional action and power relations (Peck, 1996, p. 5). Within the global labor market, these actions and relations are a reflection of a country's level of development and position within the global economy (Sassen, 1988). In the following section, I interpret the changing gendered patterns of Philippine international labor migration. I contend that these patterns reflect the emergence of a labor-export development strategy as a response to global economic restructuring. Moreover, the United States, as a former colonizer of the Philippines, as well as a hegemonic participant in the world economy, has played a special albeit indirect--role in the development of Philippine labor export and the subsequent gendering of Philippine international labor migration.


After 350 years of colonization, Philippine political independence came in 1946. As a newly independent country, the Philippines structured its economy around a strategy of import-substitution industrialization, a scheme based on capital-intensive, large-scale manufacturing of products earmarked for domestic consumption. A rising tide of nationalism accompanied the protective tariffs, which were established to nurture domestic industries. By the late 1960s, however, this economic strategy had failed to meet the growing demands placed on economic development (Jayasuriya, 1987; Jose, 1991). Most of the older, established manufacturing industries were unable to expand beyond the protected home market, and industrial growth could not absorb the expanding labor force--estimated at 700,000 new workers per year (Jose, 1991; Villegas, 1986).

Politicians could not agree on how to redirect the economy. Local supporters of foreign business interests, multinational corporations, and international monetary agencies such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund sought to dismantle the protective barriers, whereas Philippine nationalists were adamantly opposed to any form of increased foreign intervention (Bello, Kinley, & Elinson, 1982; Wurfel, 1988). Compounding the political and economic tensions, the social climate of the Philippines also deteriorated. Demonstrations by landless peasants, students, and workers were escalating to apparently dangerous levels (Bello et al., 1982, p. 138). Terrorist acts throughout the country--supposedly by communist insurgents--and threats of revolution further heightened the anxiety of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

By 1972, events in the Philippines reached crisis proportions. Numerous actors, all operating under the guise of political stability and economic development, attempted to gain control of the Philippines. The convergence of three growing conflicts--(a) power-holding elites and the increasingly discontented landless peasants, (b) foreign investors and economic nationalists, and (c) President Ferdinand Marcos and his political opponents--came to a climax in September 1972 with the implementation of martial law.


The U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act of October 3, 1965, represents the most significant and unexpected change in the history of U.S. immigration legislation. The chief thrust of the act was to eliminate the racist national-origins quotas (established in 1921 and 1924) and replace these with an emphasis on family reunification. Even so, the immigration of Asian peoples was not expected to increase significantly (Hing, 1993).

To many scholars, an emphasis on family reunification signified that labor market aspects were not of primary importance. Yet the 1965 act did precipitate the large-scale recruitment of technicians and professionals, many of them from the Philippines. Changes in U.S. immigration legislation occurred during a period of profound changes within the Philippines. As discussed above, political and economic conditions had worsened during the late 1960s and early 1970s, and Philippine industrialization could not absorb the increasing number of students in many professional sectors, such as engineering. The educational system eventually came to be seen as a stepping-stone for overseas employment (Gupta, 1973, p. 183). The liberalization of immigration laws in the United States and in other countries (e.g., Canada, Australia) intensified Philippine migration. The number of Philippine entrants to the United States, for example, rose tenfold between 1964 and 1970, increasing from 3,000 immigrants per year to more than 30,000.

After the passage of the 1965 act, Philippine immigrants to the United States were concentrated in particular occupational categories. Between 1970 and 1974, slightly more than half of the 100,700 Philippine immigrants who were subject to numerical limitations entered under the third and sixth preference categories. The percentage of immigrant professionals to total immigration from the Philippines more than doubled in the years following the 1965 act--from about 12% between 1961 and 1965 to 28% for the 1966-1970 period (Carino, 1987, pp. 307-308).

Women arriving from the Philippines outnumbered their male counterparts. During the 1960s, two thirds of all Philippine immigrants to the United States were women. According to Pido (1992), this reflected changing structural conditions in both the Philippines and the United States. Women in the Philippines had obtained educational and occupational credentials in "preferred" sectors (e.g., health-rated fields) and were able to take advantage of the third and sixth preference categories. These immigrants were assisted by private recruitment agencies in collaboration with travel agencies, both in the United States and in the Philippines (L. Ong & Azores, 1994; Pido, 1992; Shockey, 1989). Direct recruitment also selectively channeled Filipinas into hospitals, health organizations, and nursing homes (L. Ong & Azores, 1994; Pido, 1992). The incorporation of Philippine women into the U.S. labor market was a response to structural changes in the overall provision of health management (cf. L. Ong & Azores, 1994). Native-born U.S. workers were either ill prepared or less willing to satisfy labor demands. Government reductions in educational spending created a shortage of trained personnel (especially within health-related sectors), and the lack of decent wages in many of these sectors--including nursing--induced many qualified American women and men to shun these jobs. Additionally, native-born American workers were less motivated to work in the increasing number of part-time, low-paying jobs available. The continued use of foreign workers in the health-related sectors of the U.S. economy also offered more flexible control over the supply of physicians rather than the continued expansion of medical schools (L. Ong & Lui, 1994, pp. 60-61). At no (or minimal) cost to the United States, Philippine-based medical schools were able to provide a plethora of highly skilled workers.

That these new entrants into the U.S. health-labor market were predominantly women is a reflection of women's segmentation into nursing professions in both the Philippines and the United States. As Morrow (1988) notes, essential care functions are sex-role stereotyped as female; society assumes that feminine characteristics and traits are required to carry out these functions (p. 22). It is thus not surprising that in the Philippines young women are encouraged to partake in health-related educational opportunities and that in the United States hospitals and nursing homes prefer to recruit these women over their male counterparts.


During the 1970s, the Philippine government, under the control of Marcos, attempted to stabilize the Philippine economy. Expansion in agribusiness and in export-oriented industrialization benefited Marcos and his cronies, but the effects on the Philippine economy were less favorable. As Sassen (1988) has argued, these "modernization" policies are extremely destabilizing to populations. Agribusiness is capital intensive and requires large tracts of land; consequently, the number of landless peasants tends to increase, with a subsequent increase in migration from rural to urban areas. Export-oriented industrialization is also destabilizing as it incorporates new segments of the population (mostly young women) into the paid labor force. High employee turnover, as a cost-reducing practice, is often encouraged in these factories. Thus, export-oriented industrialization can also lead to greater levels of rural-to-urban migration and a concomitant rise in urban unemployment.

A third economic strategy was the emergence of labor export in 1974. Although the Philippine government had initiated foreign employment programs as early as the 1950s, government involvement was minimal. This was partially due to the very real possibility (particularly following martial law) of losing too many qualified individuals--the brain-drain phenomenon. Although the export of labor was allowed, it was far from encouraged.

By the early 1970s, however, the Philippine government reversed its position and actively supported a policy of labor export. The Philippine government wished to simultaneously reduce internal tension and take advantage of changing global employment opportunities. Internally, labor export was expected to reduce levels of unemployment and underemployment (especially of the educated, professional surplus population), to improve the stock of human capital as workers returned with skills acquired from abroad, and to promote Philippine development and alleviate the balance of payment problems through mandatory remittances.

Globally, the Philippines attempted to strengthen ties with the changing world economy. In particular, the Philippine government realized that it could not remain completely dependent on a single country--the United States. In the wake of the imminent American defeat in Vietnam, an effort was made by the Philippine government to diversify its foreign relations, even to include China and the socialist bloc (Timberman, 1991, p. 91). Marcos sought to use the international economy, through foreign policy, to contribute to domestic economic growth (Wurfel, 1988); labor export was one such means.

The Philippines capitalized on newly emerging employment opportunities throughout the Middle East and Asia. The 1973 oil embargo led to a quadrupling of oil prices. With increased revenues, many Middle Eastern states (e.g., Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain) initiated massive infrastructure projects. Faced with acute labor shortages, governments turned to the import of labor. Asia, likewise, was industrializing. In Singapore and Hong Kong, export-oriented industrialization benefited from the increased labor force participation of female workers.

By the mid-1970s, the Philippine government, along with numerous Philippine private employment agencies, was able to tap effectively into these dynamic, and rapidly growing, labor markets (see Table 1). Between 1975 and 1982, the total number of workers processed for foreign employment increased by 1,900%, going from 12,501 processed applicants to 250,115.[3] The increase in labor out-migration can be linked to the growing government involvement and its working relationship with the private sector. In 1974, two agencies were created: the Overseas Employment Development Board (OEDB) and the National Seaman Board (NSB). Combined, these two agencies were responsible for activities within the first circuit of organization, contract procurement. The Bureau of Employment Services (BES) functioned as a transitory government run employment agency while regulating private labor recruiters (Alegado, 1992), thereby assuming many of the functions of the second circuit of organization, labor recruitment.

The growth in labor export was highly gendered (see Table 2). Occupational demand in the Middle East was construed as masculine, with workers recruited to the construction and production sectors. Female workers, fewer in total numbers, were recruited as clerical assistants. The changing Asian labor market sought women to replace the Chinese women who had entered other sectors of the labor force. By the 1970s, Chinese women rejected paid domestic work. Yet as more Chinese women sought entry into higher paying, higher status factory work arid clerical jobs, their movement from the home to the workplace created greater demand for paid domestic workers (Constable, 1997). As incomes rose in many countries, including Singapore and Hong Kong, the ability to hire a foreign domestic worker also became, in many social circles, a status symbol (Eviota, 1992; Tan & Devasahayam, 1987). Sexual and racial preferences aligned so that women, and especially the lighter skinned, English-speaking women from the Philippines, were perceived as the ideal domestic workers.

In both the Middle East and Asia, many employers used gendered and racialized statistical prejudgements in their labor requests. As evidenced by help-wanted advertisements in newspapers and letters of intent directed toward labor recruiters, potential employers were often very specific in their solicitations for workers (Tyner, 1994). Typical requests printed in Hong Kong newspapers read: "Cheerful, live-in Filipina maid/cook wanted" or "Temporary Filipina maid wanted ... clean, tidy appearance" (Mission for Filipino Migrant Workers, 1983). In the Saudi labor market, Filipinos were perceived as being more productive than other workers (e.g., Bangladeshis) and also were found to exhibit better English-speaking abilities and better appreciation for U.S. technology and administration (Woodward, 1988, p. 48).

Philippine immigration to the United States also remained highly gendered, although statistical evidence suggests a change in the migratory process. During the late 1970s, many Filipinos came to the United States as entrants in family preference categories, and relatively fewer came as occupational-based entrants. This is commonly explained by factors in the United States, such as labor agitation, union complaints, and general anti-immigrant sentiment associated with the economic recession following the 1973 oil crisis. The proportional rise in family preference categories to the decline in occupational categories in this period, however, is not completely explained by a tightening economy. Despite the recession, a demand for immigrant workers still existed; other channels of entry were simply more accessible to Philippine immigrants (L. Ong & Azores, 1994).

Throughout the 1970s, the U.S. economy was affected by increased Asian imports and a concomitant period of deindustrialization (Bluestone & Harrison, 1982; Sassen, 1988). U.S.-based firms responded by relocating their factories to sites with cheaper labor and fewer union activities. Administrative headquarters remained in key urban areas (e.g., New York, Los Angeles). The U.S. labor market, in response, has become more polarized, marked by the expansion of highwage, high-skilled occupations and low-wage, low-skilled jobs. Philippine immigrants (and other Asian immigrant groups) were able to satisfy much of the demand within the professional sectors. The large number of Philippine-based educational and training programs ensured a continual supply of workers.


As economic conditions in the Philippines worsened in the early 1980s, the importance of labor export as a development policy increased in scale and scope. To increase efficiency and to address the increased competition of other labor-exporting countries (e.g., Sri Lanka and Pakistan), the OEDB, NSB, and BES merged in 1982 to form the Philippines Overseas Employment Administration (POEA).

A primary task of the POEA has been the active encouragement of diversifying geographic destinations and occupations. Although the majority of destinations remain in the Middle East and Asia, the overall number of destinations increased from 74 countries and territories in 1975 to 130 in 1987.

The occupational profile of Philippine labor migrants likewise reveals greater diversity. Although numerically dominated by male workers in the production and construction sectors, Philippine labor migrants have increasingly entered the service sector. This includes the phenomenal growth of female migrants deployed to Taiwan, following its liberalization of foreign worker policies, as well as an overall commodification of domestic economies and the increased demand for domestic workers in places experiencing economic growth, such as Singapore, Hong Kong, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan (Constable, 1997; Humphrey, 1991). The overall diversity of occupations and the feminization of current Philippine international labor migration, however, is explained primarily by a shift occurring within the Middle Eastern labor market. By the mid- to late 1980s, the oil-rich Gulf states had completed massive infrastructural projects (e.g., airports, hospitals, hotels), and they no longer needed male migrant workers for production and construction. The gendered demand for Philippine migrant workers then switched to the female workers who would maintain and service the infrastructure.

Statistically, the United States remains an insignificant market for contract labor migration, as indicated by numbers processed by the POEA. In 1993, for example, the POEA registered only 3,049 deployed contract workers to the United States, representing just 0.4% of all deployed Philippine contract workers. For the entire period of 1975 to 1987, only 32,572 Philippine labor migrants were processed for the United States compared to more than 1.6 million workers processed for Saudi Arabia during the same period.

These numbers downplay, however, the importance of the United States as a prime destination for labor migrants. Labor migration appears insignificant because flows are hidden in other forms. Indeed, the United States participation in the global labor market is fundamentally different from the receiving countries of the Middle East and Asia. Two key institutional factors set the United States apart. First, whereas the majority of other labor-importing countries rely almost exclusively on government-sponsored contract labor to satisfy their needs, the United States is able to satisfy its labor needs through a liberal immigration policy. In effect, the role of government and private institutions in the first circuit of labor organization is circumvented through an emphasis on family reunification and kin-based social networks. When we examine flows of settlement migration, the United States emerges as a prime destination for employment. During the same period, 1975 to 1987, more than 500,000 Philippine settlement migrants entered the United States, in addition to thousands of other immigrants on tourist and student visas. As L. Ong and Azores (1994) correctly identify, immigrants arriving under the family preference categories should still be seen as part of the labor market process because they are indeed working on arrival (p. 176). "Third World" countries--such as the Philippines--with relatively well-advanced educational systems but a lack of domestic employment opportunities are able to supply the United States with an inexpensive cadre of trained labor.

Second, the geographic situation of the United States relative to other "developing" countries ensures a steady supply of labor through unofficial channels (e.g., undocumented workers from Central and South America). More proximate and impoverished countries, particularly throughout Central America and the Caribbean, provide the United States with a supply of low-wage, low-skilled workers. These institutional factors are clearly visible in the subsequent sex-based occupational distribution of Philippine immigrants (see Tables 3 and 4). In general, a larger proportion of Philippine immigrants in the United States--male and female--find employment in higher status and higher skilled occupations; conversely, Philippine contract workers to most other countries are predominantly employed as low-skilled and menial laborers. Moreover, female Philippine immigrants in the United States are decidedly more concentrated within professional sectors, unlike their counterparts in the Middle East and Asia. Thus, even though there is a large demand for household workers in the United States, similar to the Middle East and Asia, U.S.-based employers are able to meet their needs through the incorporation of Central American and Caribbean immigrants rather than importing Filipinas. In total, the differences in the sex-based occupational structure of U.S.-bound Philippine immigrants and Philippine contract workers suggest that for the U.S. labor market, there is less institutional channeling, or segmentation, of the migratory process. As such, the overall status of immigrant legislation--whether liberal or restrictive--will greatly influence the parameters of government and private institutions in the organization, management, and regulation of labor migration.


To appreciate fully the changing gendered dimensions of Philippine immigration to the United States we must situate it within the shifting geographies of a gendered global labor market. In this article, I have argued that the gendering of Philippine international labor migration to the United States and other destinations reflects an institutional response to global economic restructuring. Philippine government and private institutions organize, manage, and regulate gendered patterns of labor migration as they pursue a labor-export policy that fits into a global economy. Institutional behavior, however, must operate within the boundaries established by immigration legislation. The more liberal basis of U.S. immigration policy translates into a less institutionalized occupational segregation by sex.

In retrospect, we can see the rise of government-sponsored Philippine labor export as a panacea for decades of economic development problems and political corruption. The Philippines has more fully integrated itself into the global economy as it seeks out employment opportunities for its unemployed and underemployed labor force. Indeed, the growth and regulation of the government's labor export program has been a function of market growth (Alegado, 1992), so much so that currently more than 500,000 Filipinos--men and women--leave their country each year, usually on temporary visas, to work in more than 130 countries and territories. From Argentina to Zambia, they find employment as doctors, nurses, and engineers or as janitors, gardeners, and maids.

The Philippine government's attempt at economic growth and development is hindered by its (semi-) peripheral position in the world system. Although labor-exporting countries such as the Philippines retain a considerable amount of flexibility and control in the global exchange of labor (Abella, 1992, 1993), we should not lose sight that international labor migration, and international migration in general, is more a reflection of specific demands within immigrant-receiving societies (Zolberg, 1991). As Hondagneu-Sotelo (1994) argues.

It is not the influx of immigrants that has created the concentration of immigrant workers in certain jobs, firms, and industries; rather the processes of national and global economic restructuring have transformed the occupational structure that sustains and encourages immigration. (p. 28)

Thus, the changing structural conditions in the United States and elsewhere will significantly influence the procurement of contracts and the recruitment of labor. Moreover, we should also recognize that the Philippine government and its attendant private institutions have created neither the capitalist economic order nor the segmented, gendered, global labor market. The Philippine government does, however, in an attempt to achieve economic growth and development, operate within these gendered parameters of labor demand (i.e., in its contract procurement and labor recruitment policies and practices) and, as such, does reinforce existing patterns and processes of sex segregation within the global labor market (Tyner, 1996b). Ultimately, studies of gendered labor migration--and subsequent policy formulation--must be cognizant of how institutions affect the simultaneous geographies of gender and migration.


1. In 1934, the Philippines fell under restrictive U.S. immigration legislation. With few exceptions, Philippine international migration between 1934 and 1965 remained insignificant, constrained by the Philippines' colonial and, later, postcolonial relations with the United States.

2. The term institution as used in this article refers to both private and government organizations that affect policy change.

3. Data on Philippine contract workers is separated into processed workers and deployed workers; the former includes all applicants who are processed by the Philippines Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), whereas the latter term consists of workers who actually leave the Philippines. Although data collection began in 1975 on processed workers, it was not until 1982 that the POEA began monitoring deployed workers. As such, analysis of historical trends is generally based on processed workers.

TABLE 1: Processed Land-Based Philippine Contract Workers by Region, 1975-1987

Legend for Chart:

A - Year
B - Africa
C - Asia
D - Europe
E - Middle East
F - Americas
G - Other
H - Total

A              B           C          D          E
               F           G          H

1975         342       4,217      3,160      1,552
           2,285         945     12,501

1976         473       5,399      2,902      7,813
           2,165         469     19,221

1977         515       5,290      2,482     25,721
           2,265         872     36,676

1978       1,305       9,994      1,268     34,441
           3,369         584     50,961

1979       1,134      12,604        673     73,210
           3,738       1,152     92,519

1980       1,612      17,708        846    132,044
           3,706       1,478    157,394

1981       2,144      20,322      1,126    183,582
           2,363       1,399    210,936

1982       1,098      31,011      1,463    211,003
           3,782       1,758    250,115

1983       2,353      40,814      2,878    323,414
           5,654       5,150    380,263

1984       2,146      43,385      3,724    311,517
           5,832       4,461    371,065

1985       2,054      54,411      3,675    266,617
           6,890       4,107    337,754

1986       2,072      76,650      4,225    262,758
           6,595       5,387    357,687

1987       2,125      96,018      6,610    306,757
           7,562       6,809    425,881

Total      19,373     417,823     35,032  2,140,429
           56,206      34,110  2,702,973

SOURCE: Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (1987).

TABLE 2: Deployment of Philippine Contract Workers by Occupation, Sex, and Selected Region, 1987

Legend for Chart:

A - Occupation
B - Africa: Number of Workers
C - Africa: Percentage Female
D - Asia: Number of Workers
E - Asia: Percentage Female
F - Europe: Number of Workers
G - Europe: Percentage Female
H - Middle East: Number of Workers
I - Middle East: Percentage Female
J - Americas: Number of Workers
K - Americas: Percentage Female

A                                B        C       D      E     F
                                 G        H       I      J     K

Professional, technical        414     20.3   1,646   19.1   292
                              74.7   65,031    42.2  3,343  88.8

Entertainers                     1    100.0  33,607   93.4   172
                              80.8      106    47.2      5  20.0

Administrative, management      29      3.5     119   20.2     3
                               0.0    1,066     5.9     10  20.0

Clerical                        45     17.8     223   40.8    49
                              59.2   13,203    26.9     12  66.7

Sales                            0      0.0     189   79.9     3
                             100.0    3,512    51.0      1   0.0

Services                        82     23.2  52,471   98.3 4,738
                              89.7   68,424    70.5  1,832  95.0

Agriculture                      0      0.0       2    0.0     0
                               0.0    1,911     0.5      5  20.0

Production, construction     1,285      0.1   2,177    1.3   386
                               4.1  118,795     3.9    413  26.6

Total                        1,856      6.1  90,434   92.4 5,643
                              82.5  272,038    31.5  5,621  85.9

SOURCE: Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (1987).

TABLE 3: Occupation of Foreign-Born Filipinos' in the United States by Sex, 1980

Occupation                               Total      Female (%)

Managerial and professional             78,743   46,653 (59.0)
Technical, sales, and administrative    93,182   59,933 (64.3)
Services                                47,070   25,562 (54.3)
Farming, forestry, fishing               8,067    1,946 (24.1)
Precision production                    21,022    5,589 (26.6)
Operators and general laborers          38,615   17,559 (45.5)

Total                                  286,699  157,242 (54.8)

SOURCE; U.S. Department of Commerce (1980, Table 27)

a. Employed persons 16 years and older.

TABLE 4: Occupation of Philippine Contract Workers by Sex, 1987

Occupation                            Total       Female (%)

Professional, technical              71,614    31,221 (43.6)
Entertainers                         33,924    31,579 (93.1)
Administrative, management            1,503        131 (8.7)
Clerical                             13,694     3,806 (27.8)
Sales                                 3,722     1,949 (52.4)
Services                            128,704   106,800 (83.0)
Agriculture                           2,215         13 (0.6)
Production, construction            126,853      4,942 (3.9)

Total                               382,229   180,441 (47.2)

SOURCE: Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (1987).


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