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Filipina Guest Workers

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In most places throughout the world, the term “migrant” conjures images of men, while the phrase, “migrants and their families” introduces women and children into the picture. Yet, statistics show that half of all migrants globally are female and studies document that women are active participants in migration, both within and between countries. Philippine migration started as early as 1900s during the time of American colonial rule. The first Filipinos to migrate came from Ilocos and they worked in pineapple plantations in Hawaii, agriculture in California and fish canneries in Washington and Alaska in 1920s. During 1960s, different category of Filipino workers migrated to America, Canada, and some European countries

They were the so-called professionals working as nurses, doctors, and medical technicians. In 1970s, Filipinos were in demand in industrialized countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, and Malaysia. They filled up the labor shortages in these countries and worked as construction workers, nannies, domestic workers, nurse and entertainers. The phenomenon in Philippine labor migration started during these years since large numbers of workers leave the country for employment.

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Migration from the Philippines to the United States began in the late 19th century and has been driven in large part by longstanding political, military, and educational ties between the two countries, including a decades-long period of U.S. colonization. There have been several waves of immigration, but the pace escalated towards the end of the 20th century. In 2018, just over 2 million Filipinos lived in the United States, accounting for 4.5 percent of the country’s 44.7 million immigrants. This was a quadrupling since 1980, when there were 501,000 Filipino immigrants in the United States. The Philippines was the second-largest origin country for immigrants in 1990 and throughout the first decade of the 21st century but was overtaken by India and China in 2010. Today, Filipino immigrants represent the fourth-largest origin group after the foreign born from Mexico, India, and China. The first wave of Filipino immigrants arrived in the United States following the U.S. annexation of the Philippines in 1899. Many Filipinos came to work in agriculture, primarily on fruit and vegetable farms along the West Coast and sugarcane plantations in Hawaii, though some came to the United States to obtain education. The 1934 Tydings-McDuffie Act put the Philippines on track to independence, which it achieved eight years later, but also imposed a limit of 50 Filipino immigrants per year. This new law, combined with the Great Depression, brought immigration from the Philippines to a trickle. However, World War II reopened migration channels both for family and work-related purposes. First, American soldiers stationed in the Philippines came home with their Filipino wives after the war. Second, some Filipinos came to the United States as military recruits

Finally, some Filipinos who came to study and obtain professional experience in the health-care field remained in the United States after completing their training. In more recent years, the combination of the removal of national-origin quotas in U.S. immigration law in 1965, on the one hand, and Filipino policies that encouraged labor emigration, on the other, contributed to even higher levels of migration from the Philippines to the United States. The Filipino immigrant population increased fivefold from 105,000 to 501,000 between 1960 and 1980. From there, it nearly tripled to almost 1.4 million by 2000. Today, most Filipinos in the United States who obtain lawful permanent residence (LPR status, also known as getting a green card) do so through family reunification channels, either as immediate relatives of U.S. citizens or through other family-sponsored channels. Many also get green cards through employment preferences. Meanwhile, Filipinos are more likely than other immigrants to have strong English skills and have much higher college education rates than the overall foreign- and U.S.-born populations. They are also more likely to be naturalized U.S. citizens than other immigrant groups, have higher incomes and lower poverty rates, and are less likely to be uninsured.

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Migration is associated with a number of stress factors which can affect mental health. There is therefore the concern that immigrants are at greater risk of mental health problems than the native population and simultaneously face barriers to accessing appropriate mental health care (Bhugra D., 2004). Yet, the level and type of, and response to, migratory stress varies with, among other factors, individual characteristics, the circumstances of migration and the welcoming in the new country

An individual’s ethnicity, gender and socioeconomic status also intertwine with and influence the process of migration, adaptation to the host society and thus, mental health. Despite Filipinas being the largest group of non-EU immigrant women in Norway, little is known about their mental health. This study focuses on Filipinas living in Norway and explores the stress and distress experiences associated with being an immigrant woman and how these women cope with their difficulties. The Philippines is one of the biggest export countries of labour, with over 10 million Filipinos working or living abroad. Migration is encouraged by the government, since the sending home of remittances helps to support the country’s economy. In 2014, personal remittances from overseas Filipino workers accounted for 8.5% of the gross domestic product. Early labour migration consisted predominately of men but due to the changing global labour economy, women now outnumber men. In Norway, 80% of immigrants from the Philippines are women. Gender ideologies, including the traditional division of labour, shape migration patterns. Many Filipinas moving overseas help meet the shortage of skilled nurses as well as the demand for unskilled, low paid domestic work in high income countries (Llácer A, Zunzunegui MV, 2007). Increasingly, Filipinas also become the wives of men from high income countries, including Norway. It is not known if Filipinas’ underrepresentation is because they have better mental health, if their distress is not recognised by a professional, if they experience barriers to care or if they seek help elsewhere. An improved understanding of the factors that influence Filipinas’ mental health can help the identification of mental distress and effective coping, with implications for the prevention and treatment of mental health problems. The purpose of this exploratory qualitative study is to illuminate the contextual factors that influence immigrant Filipinas’ mental health and their coping strategies. Ethical approval was obtained from the Regional Committee for Medical and Health Research Ethics, West Norway.

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Summing up, these are important milestones that need to be fleshed out and sustained over time. At the local level, mainstreaming and upscaling projects for local institution capacity building, the setting up of Migration Resource Centers and similar structures in local government units and integrating migration in local development plans, among others, have been implemented in selected regional and local governments. In other words, the groundwork for the expansion of migration policies in the Philippines has been started; the next task is to keep up the momentum to maximize the development potentials of migration, while continuing to look out for the well-being of migrants.

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Bhugra D. Migration and mental health. Acta Psychiatr Scand. 2004;109(4):243–258.

Lindert J, Schouler-Ocak M, Heinz A, Priebe S. Mental health, health care utilisation of migrants in Europe. Eur Psychiatry. 2008;23:14–20.

Scheppers E, Van Dongen E, Dekker J, Geertzen J, Dekker J. Potential barriers to the use of health services among ethnic minorities: a review. Fam Pract. 2006;23(3):325–348.

Llácer A, Zunzunegui MV, del Amo J, Mazarrasa L, Bolůmar F. The contribution of a gender perspective to the understanding of migrants’ health. J Epidemiol Community Health. 2007

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