Filipino Migration to US

A long history of migration is deeply ingrained in the social, economic, and cultural climate of the Philippines.  As one of the countries with the largest origin of migrants, migration has greatly affected the Philippines. The history of Philippine migration helps us understand how it has shaped the social landscape of the Philippines today. This explains the motivation of Filipinos to go overseas, despite the challenges they face.

Migration in the Philippines is characterized in four significant waves.

First wave

The first ever recorded Philippine migration occurred in the 1417 when Sultan PadukaBatara initiated a mission to improve trade relations with the Chinese emperor, consisting of Sulu Royalties and their families. Under the Spanish rule in the 18thcentury, Manila maintained trade relations with Acapulco which started the migration of Filipino seafarers to Mexico. Following this, the Filipino seafarers started settlements in Louisiana while other Filipino migrants were working as fruit pickers in California. At the end of the 19th century Filipino students, professionals and exiles migrated to Europe.

Second wave

From the beginning of the 20th century until the 1940s, large scale systematic migration of Filipinos to the US occurred.  During this American colonial period, the first Filipino migrants arrived in 1906 to work in sugar plantations in Hawaii. Shortly after, more Filipino migrants arrived in Hawaii to work as fruit pickers. Between 1906 and 1934, more than 100,000 Filipinos arrived in the US, most of whom in Hawaii. Other Filipino migrants were working in Alaska’s fish canneries. As a colony of the US, Filipinos were considered US nationals.

Third wave

Following the end of the Second World War, the US government instituted a national origin quota system, limiting immigration for Filipinos who joined the US Navy. The national origin quota led to a significant decline in Filipino migration to the US. The immigration restrictions of the US resulted to more Filipinos starting to migrate to Asian countries in the 1950s. Around 250,000 Filipinos were employed in logging camps in Sabah and Sarawak, serving five year contracts. Many more Filipinos were employed on American army bases in Vietnam, Thailand and Guam during the Indochina war. At the start of the 1970s, Filipinos also migrated to Iran and Iraq to work as engineers and technicians. In the 1960s, the US and Canada relaxed immigration regulations, allowing family reunification, which led to a significant increase of Filipino migration to North America. In the same period, Filipinos started migrated as nurses or domestic workers to Western Europe.

Fourth wave

In the 1970s, former President Ferdinand Marco institutionalized a policy to encourage emigration to stimulate the economy. While these policies were aimed to be of temporary nature, labor migration has been steadily increasing since. High unemployment and poor living standards combined with a government policy of emigration encouraged thousands of Filipinos to seek employment overseas. In 1972, former President Marcos imposed Martial Law leading to the exile of political opponents.

The political, social and economic uncertainty under martial law rule of President Marcos pushed opponents and middle class Filipinos to leave the country. Economic development in Asian neighbouring countries, the emergence of the Gulf region after the oil crisis and the change in immigration policies of destination countries further stirred migration.

Even after the ouster of President Marcos, the Philippine government remained increasingly reliant on remittances. While the current administration refutes migration as a development strategy, it cannot deny its dependence on it.


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