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Stephen J. Sills

A Dissertation Presented in Partial Fulfillment

of the Requirements for the Degree
Doctor of Philosophy


May 2004

Starting from the point of view of the migrant, this study attempts to document the 

everyday experience of labor migrants and to analyze the transition that the laborers 

experience in their self­concept as a result of the migration process. As one of the key 

sending countries, the Philippines is an important case in the discussion of economic based 

migrations. Governmental policies encouraging temporary migration and remittance of funds 

have been instrumental in creating a culture of migration. Taiwan, newly developing as a 

destination for Southeast Asian labor migrants, offers a difficult receiving context where 

economic benefits are meager, and opportunity for social integration is almost nonexistent. 

This dissertation considers the various social, cultural, political, and economic aspects of 

Taiwan as a receiving context and analyzes the lack of incorporation of Filipino migrants, 

especially those working in the manufacturing sectors, into Taiwanese society and the 

subsequent formation of an ethnic enclave in which their national/cultural identity is 

reinforced. The project utilizes a mixed­method triangulation of ethnographic approaches, 

including videotaped face­to­face interviews with participants and those familiar with their 

circumstances, administration of the Twenty Statements Test, visual documentation of 

everyday lives, a comprehensive survey of 389 laborers, interviews with migrant NGO 

activists and government officials, as well as reviews of governmental documents, media 

reports, and reports provided by participating NGOs. Narratives of exit from the homeland, 
exclusion from the host society, search for a sense of community, and, finally, the 

reinterpretation self and identity are discussed.
To my wife, Hui-Jung

For her patience throughout

This long study


For helping me to remember

The individual in larger social processes


To our wonderful son, Ian

For whom I’ve struggled to finish

As quickly as possible

So that we may go outside and play



I’d like to acknowledge and thank a number of people for their support and help

throughout this work. My committee chair, Dr. Victor Agadjanian, who has now overseen

both my thesis and dissertation projects and has pushed me to be academically rigorous

and to set high goals for myself. Dr. Karen Miller-Loessi, whose course on social

psychology and writings on cross-cultural research helped me to shape my theoretical

perspectives. Dr. Jennifer Glick, who has reminded me of the role of structure and

demographics in shaping culture. I would especially like to thank all of the participants 

who volunteered their time and life stories for the goal of improving the conditions for 

employment of future labor migrants in Taiwan. Special among them was Jenny who 

helped to transcribe, photograph, video, and even do a few interviews in Tagalog. Also, 

thanks to Virginia for transcription and lending her beautiful voice and guitar playing to 

the documentary and “Cassandra” for helping with transcription and sharing her difficult 

story. I would like to thank Fr. Bruno Ciceri, and his committed assistants Tessa and 

Angela at the Stella Maris International Service Center, for their 24/7 dedication to 

helping all migrant laborers in Taiwan, regardless of the personal cost. Finally, to my 

parents who taught me to use my skills to serve others, and to my wife Hui­Jung. She has 

helped me with so many elements: from translating documents to explaining Taiwanese 

culture. She has helped me to maintain a balanced perspective on the issues. She has also 

been there for me as I have struggled to define my work and has given her support in 

whatever I do. 

Thank you all!



LIST OF TABLES.................................................................................................xiv

LIST OF FIGURES...............................................................................................xv

LIST OF IMAGES...............................................................................................xvii




1 INTRODUCTION..............................................................................1

Filipino Workers in Taiwan..........................................................2

Recent & Current Studies of Filipino Migrants in Taiwan..........5

General Studies of Labor Migration to Taiwan...............6

Domestic Workers............................................................7

Factory Workers...............................................................12

Overview of Project.....................................................................13

Overview of Document................................................................17


Cumulative Causation..................................................................21



Social Identity Theory..................................................................30

Social Psychology & the Nature of Self..........................30

A General Theory of Self.....................................32



Identity: Group Affiliation & Role


The Effect of the Migration Experience on Identity....................33

The Nature of Reception & Identities Outcomes.........................35

Interpretivist Paradigm.............................................................................37

3 METHODOLOGY...........................................................................43

Exploratory Nature of Ethnographic Research............................44

Collaboration & Reflexivity........................................................46


Survey Analysis...............................................................47


Twenty Statements...........................................................48



MIGRANTS IN THE SOUTH OF TAIWAN..............................................51

Project Participants......................................................................51

Survey Respondents.....................................................................54

Ethnography Participants.............................................................56

Nan Tze Factory Workers............................................................58

Focus Group (March 11)..................................................60

Jenny (March 2; March 17; June 16)...............................60

Ellen (March 2, March 22)...............................................63

Bea (March 2....................................................................63



Carolina (March 21..........................................................65

Marivel (April 7)..............................................................66

Ana (April 7, April 30).....................................................66

Lani (April 8, June 6).......................................................67

Mafe (April 14).................................................................69

“Cassandra” (April 15, July 7..........................................70

Virginia (April 25, July 7.................................................71

Linda (April 28................................................................72

Joice (April 29)................................................................74

Gina (May 6)....................................................................75

Flordeliza (May 12).........................................................76

Grace (May 19)................................................................77

Josephine (Interviewed By Jenny, July 31)......................78

Ernelyn (Interviewed By Jenny, July 31).........................80

Kang Shan Factory Workers........................................................82

“Joshua” (April 26)..........................................................82

Raymond (May 4)............................................................84

Jin (May 11).....................................................................86

Edwin (June 15)...............................................................86

Chi Chin Island Ship Builders.....................................................88

Melchor (June 14)............................................................88

Lody (June 14).................................................................91



Leonardo (June 14)..........................................................94

Rolando (June 28)............................................................95

William (July 5)...............................................................98


“Analynn” (April 10........................................................101

Rosalyn (May 10..............................................................104

Domestic Workers & Caretakers..................................................105

Mama Linda (April 12.....................................................106

Rosalia (May 9)................................................................108

Charito (May 9)................................................................109

Rosario (June 17).............................................................110

Analy (June 17)................................................................112

Taiwanese Spouses.......................................................................114

Sarah Lin (March 19........................................................115

Mama Angel (May 29).....................................................117

Loisa Tai (June 29)...........................................................119

Authorities on Philippine Migration............................................120

Fr. Bruno Ciceri (February 28, June 18)..........................122

Jonah Lin North Center (June 20.....................................123

Pastor Chris Marzo Higher Ground (June 25).................125

Attorney Rómulo Salud (August 5).................................126

Observations & Informal Meetings.............................................128




TO TAIWAN..............................................................................................130

Demographic & Economic Push Mechanisms............................131

Governmental Policies Maintain Culture of Migration...............134

Taiwan: History of Reception......................................................137

The New Administration & Paper Policy Changes......................145



LABOR SYSTEM IN TAIWAN................................................................149

Becoming Indebted: Placement Agencies....................................152

Prolonging Debt: Taiwanese Labor Brokers................................157

Enduring Debt: Employer Relations............................................165

Factory Workers & Their Employers...............................166

Treated as Chattel: Domestic Workers.............................171

Employer Abuses.................................................172

Sexual Harassment of Workers............................173

Psychological/ Verbal Abuse................................175

Forced Illegal Work.............................................176

Ongoing Debate between Governments & NGOs.......................177

The Issue of Runaways....................................................178

The Failure of Direct Hiring............................................180

Improved Rights & More Government Oversight...........182





IMPORTANCE OF SOCIAL TIES...........................................................186

Social Obligation & Economic Necessity....................................188

Adventure & Experience..............................................................193

Social Ties....................................................................................196



EXCLUSION, ISOLATION, & XENOPHOBIA......................................201

Xenophobia in Taiwan.................................................................204

Discrimination & Racial/Ethnic Stereotyping.................205

Taiwanese Ethnic Nationalism & Protection of

Aboriginal Employment...................................................210

Maintaining Class Differences: Government

Restrictions on Migrant Integration.................................213

Cultural Barriers & Culture Shock..............................................215

Social & Cultural Exclusion at Work...............................220

Cross-Cultural Dating & the Cultural Taboos of


Linguistic Isolation..........................................................226

Filipinos Indifference toward Chinese Culture............................229





Self Identification: Ethnic/Cultural Identity................................234

Language Use as A Measure of Incorporation.............................236

Maintaining Homeland Culture & Ties........................................237

Holidays & Cultural Celebrations....................................239


Frequency of Contact & Remittances..............................240

Looking Ahead: Future Plans After Return.....................246




History of Christian Churches in Taiwan.....................................251

The Catholic Church & Stella Maris in Southern Taiwan...........252

St. Joseph the Worker Parish........................................................255


11 BECOMING AN OFW: RENEGOTIATION OF SELF.....................263

Social Role Statements................................................................266

Statements Regarding Personality Traits.....................................268

Other Statements..........................................................................270

Transitions in Self .......................................................................271

Maturity, Independence & Thrift.....................................271

Religious Institutions & Transitions in Identity...............274

Work & Personality Changes...........................................276



Conclusions: The Self as “Other,” The Self as “OFW”...............277

12 CONCLUSIONS & POLICY IMPLICATIONS..............................281

Cumulative Causation & Labor Migration to Taiwan.................283

Reception Experiences & Lack of Assimilation..........................286

Outcomes: Transnational Enclaves & Shift in Self-Concept.......287

Theoretical Implications..............................................................290

Social Concerns Arising from Inquiry.........................................290

Policy Recommendations.............................................................292

WORKS CITED..................................................................................................296



IN TAIWAN...............................................................................................316



C INFORMED CONSENT...................................................................334

D PHOTOGRAPHIC RELEASE FORM.............................................336



Table Page

6-1 Worker Complaints with Broker Services.................................................154

6-2 Employer Relations ..................................................................................168

7-1 Reasons for Migration (Survey) ...............................................................187

7-2 Reasons for Migration (Ethnographic Interviews) ...................................188

8-1 Intergroup Relations/Attitudes toward Chinese .......................................229

9-1 Cultural Identity ........................................................................................233

11-1 Summary Table of Twenty Statements Tests Responses ........................263




2-1 Influence of Society on the Concept of Self as Reflexive Process ...............31

2-2 The Mechanisms of the Migration Experience and Revised Self Concept...34

2-3 Identity Outcomes by Mode of Reception ....................................................38

2-4 The Nature of Reception and Possible Identities ..........................................39

4-1 Economic Processing Zones in Taiwan ........................................................52

4-2 Educational Achievement .............................................................................55

4-3 Migrant Workers by Industry ........................................................................57

4-4 Industries in the Nan Tze EPZ ......................................................................59

5-1 Overseas Filipino Workers by Type 1984 to 2002 .......................................132

5-2 Population of the Philippines 1900 to 2000 ..................................................133

5-3 Taiwan’s population growth 1900 to 2000....................................................139

5-4 Taiwan’s Educational Attainment 1976 to 2002............................................139

5-5 CLA Conditions for Hiring Domestic Caretaker ..........................................143

5-6 Timeline of Foreign Employment Policy Changes Superimposed on Number of

Filipino Guest Workers in Taiwan ..............................................................144

6-1 Employment Process Flow Chart .................................................................153

9-1 Bicultural vs. Monoculture Strategie.............................................................234

9-2 Distribution of Respondents along Linguistic Assimilation Scale ...............235

9-3 Media Usage by Language ...........................................................................239

9-4 Method of Communication with Friends/Family in Philippines ..................240

9-5 Frequency of Contact ....................................................................................240



9-6 Plans for Return...........................................................................................245

9-7 Respondents’ Identities on Continuum of Migrant Ethnic/Cultural

Identity Outcomes .......................................................................................249

10-1 Church Group Involvement ......................................................................259

11-1 Identity Before Migration with Breakdown of Social Roles ....................265

11-2 Identity During Migration with Breakdown of Social Roles ....................268

11-3 Identity Before Migration with Breakdown of Personality Traits ............269

11-4 Identity During Migration with Breakdown of Personality Traits ............270

11-5 Taiwan Mechanisms of the Migration and Revised Self Concept ............280



1 An especially well-attended service St. Joseph the Worker parish Nan Tze....14

2 “Brain Twister” competition at St. Joseph the Worker Parish..........................19

3 William showing his personal space.................................................................19

4 Sinulog dancers at St. Joseph the Worker Parish..............................................19

5 Checking the equipment at an electronics factory............................................19

6 Virginia helping to record music for soundtrack of documentary....................42

7 Congregation of St. Joseph the Worker Parish.................................................56

8 Virginia shows of the sea of bicycles................................................................58

9 Jenny’s self-portrait with family ......................................................................61

10 Ellen with Father Bruno and Friends .............................................................62

11 Cleaning the equipment after mixing chemicals used in ceramic circuit board

12 The best parts of the lechon at El Shaddai anniversary celebration................81

13 View of Kaohsiung skyline from a water taxi ...............................................89

14 Gathering after work (Chi Chin Island Shipbuilders).....................................91

15 Roland, AKA “Rod” completing the TST at the dorm (Chi Chin Island)......96

16 William shows the local NGOs advertised in the church bulletin..................100

17 Fr. Bruno Ciceri explaining problems with the placement system.................121

18 Attorney Salud explaining an ongoing contract dispute case ........................127

19 Pastora Tessa (or as she prefers Ate Tessa [elder sister or auntie Tessa]).......129

20 Attorney Salud (MECO) addressing the migrants gathered for

Independence Day celebrations.......................................................................135

21 Working in the production department of an electronics factory....................147

22 Factory worker loading machines used for mixing ceramic materials...........166

23 Meeting of Forum on Undocumented Workers..............................................181

24 Forum Members, NGOs, and Others Protesting at CLA................................182

25 A group of close friends from Nan Tze on a fieldtrip to the

Cathedral in Kaohsiung..................................................................................200

26 Domestic workers Rosalia and Charito ..........................................................203

27 A Typical bien dang severed to Chi Chin Island Shipbuilders.......................218

28 William Giving a Tour of the Kitchen ...........................................................218

29 Crab Caught by Workers ................................................................................219

30 “Mama” Angel and her husband.....................................................................226

31 Edwin answering his TST while Julie watches...............................................230

32 “No Laziness” policy posted in the dorms......................................................232

33 A Typical worker’s bunk (Chi Chin Island)....................................................232

34 A Typical worker’s bunk (Green House)........................................................232

35 Nan Tze workers enjoying a meal in their room.............................................232

36 Lantern decorating the streets during Spring Lantern Festival.......................238

37 Original 1950s building of St. Joseph and outside seating area ....................256

38 A group meeting under the shade of trees at St. Joseph’s...............................257

39 A small turn out (due to SARS quarantine) for the ........................................260

40 Teams prepare for the annual basketball competition ....................................260

41 A well-attended service at St. Joseph Church ................................................262

42 Factory workers in Nan Tze in a Taiwanese restaurant..................................295





In 1996, I became a “foreign worker” in Taiwan when I went there to teach 

English in the burgeoning and lucrative market for native English­speaking teachers in 

the many Taiwanese bushibans (補習班)1. Unlike the workers described in this 

dissertation, I was treated, for the most part, as a privileged guest. I was paid a salary that 

was more than twice that of local teachers, provided with a housing stipend, and given 

yearly travel funds for returning to the US. Initially recruited in the States, all the paper­

work for visas, work permits, and travel were arranged by representatives of the school in 

Taiwan. As a Western professional migrant to Taiwan, my experiences were in direct 

contrast to what wai lao2 workers from the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, and other

Southeast Asian countries encounter.

It was during my first stay that I began to read about the plight of Filipino 

laborers in the Kabayan!3 section of the English weekly Taiwan News (財經。文化周刊). I 

was surprised by the disparity in treatment between those of us from Western nations and 

the workers from developing countries. The Filipino domestic and factory workers, I 

read, were subjected to discrimination, mistreatment, strict governmental controls, and 
Bushibans, or cram schools, are private supplementary schools providing general
preparation for high school and college entrance exams or subject-oriented courses
such as math, sciences, English, etc. For more see:
website/5-gp/q&a/page_13.htm Retrieved April 12, 2004.
外勞, Usually used to refer to foreign workers from developing countries
This section appears online now at:

were paid about half the salary of local workers. Moreover, I learned that they had to pay 

excessive fees for the opportunity to work in Taiwan. Awareness of this inequality led me 

to want to know more about labor migration, immigrant incorporation and exclusion, and 

the transnationalization of communities, families, and individuals.


The process of the globalization of capitalism has lead to the creation of many 

international networks of labor migrants (Fawcett 1989; Martin 1993; Stalker 1994; 

Zlotnik 1998; Stalker 2000; Chiswick and Hatton 2001). As one of the key sending 

countries, the Philippines represents an important case in the discussion of economic 

based migrations. The governmental policy of encouraging temporary migration and 

especially remittance of funds earned in the exterior (Martin 1993) has been instrumental 

in continuing a culture of migration. As Philip Martin notes, this circular labor migration 

is both sizeable and historically rooted in the colonial history of the Philippines:

The Philippines is probably the world’s second largest source of migrant

worker: the 600,000 Filipinos deployed annually are second only to
Mexicans, who migrate to the United States for jobs. Emigration has long
been a way of life in the Philippines: under Spanish rule in the 1700s,
Filipinos went to work in Mexico, and some settled there. Later, Filipinos
were recruited to work in Hawaii and California agriculture, and after
World War II there was a wave of migration to the United States. (Martin
1993: 642)

The economic impact of the more than $5.4 billion US in annual remittances (National 

Statistics Office, Republic of the Philippines 2002)4 has been significant in the domestic 

economy and is estimated as accounting for approximately 10% of the Gross Domestic 

Product (Migration News 2001). 

While the majority of the total permanent emigration from the Philippines is 

destined for the United States,5  there is an almost equally sizable flow of temporary 

workers to the Middle East and Asia (Martin 1993). In 2001, 88% of all Overseas Filipino 

Workers (OFWs) were employed in East and Southeast Asia (National Statistics Office, 

Republic of the Philippines 2002).

The system of overseas employment is highly organized and bureaucratized and is 

overseen by an Inter­Agency Committee including the Philippine Overseas Employment 

Administration (POEA), the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), the 

Bureau of Immigration (BI) and governed by the Migrant Workers and Overseas 

Filipinos Act of 1995.6 Martin explains the economics of contract work and the process 

by which a contract worker is hired:

Filipino workers are screened and then go abroad with special contract

Estimated using the figures in the 2001 Survey of OFW at 55 billion pesos for the
six month period from April to September x 2 divided by the April 2001 exchange
rate of 1 USD = 49.369905 PHP from the Historical Currency Converter at accessed on June 28, 2002.
According to Martin (1993) the US accounted for 1.3 million migrants or 93% of
those in core receiving countries in the early 1990s.
See full text of the 1995 Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act at :

worker passports. Private Filipino recruiters go abroad to find jobs for

Filipinos to fill, get the Philippine government to approve the contract,
and then find Filipino workers to go abroad. But these recruitment
activities and protections come at a cost, which is typically borne by the
worker. Since most Filipinos go abroad legally, they cannot escape these
costs. However, as labor exports shift to Asia – where salaries are lower
and employee-paid recruitment fees are higher-the wedge between gross
and net foreign earnings widens to the disadvantage of the worker.
(Martin 1993: 643)

This gap is exacerbated by the decrease in wages following the Asian economic 

crisis of 1996, which resulted in more than a 20% decrease in the value of the Taiwan 

dollar relative to the American dollar.7 As a result of this “economic crisis” the minimum 

wage for foreign workers has remained the same for over six years. At one point, 

according to reporter Belinda Olivares­Cunanan (2001), there was even talk that the 

minimum contract wage in Taiwan for OFWs would be decreased by as much as a third.

There is historic president for wage cuts and paying workers less than the 

minimum. Many employers imposed monetary penalties and restriction that result in 

salaries far below the minimum contracted wage. One can see an example of the 

restrictive conditions under which a Filipino worker is held in a typical labor contract 

(Appendix A). Under the terms of this general contract, workers may be penalized three 

days wages for missing one day, or fined up to 20% of their salary (3,000 NT, or roughly 

US $85) for breaking any of the company rules. According to worker contracts, OFWs 

have may be fined or deported for attempting to form unions or engage in strikes. For 
27 NTD to 1 USD Jan 1996 compared with 35 NTD to 1 USD Jan 2002 http://www.x-

example, in 1994, 14 OFWs were deported for striking when the factory they were 

working for “changed the way it re­paid wage deductions” (Migration News 1995). A 

February 2002 Migration News brief, details other conditions that liken labor contracts to 

indentured servitude:

Migrants in Taiwan usually live in dormitories provided by their

employers next to the work site, or in private homes, if they are maids.
Migrant policy is controlled by the Taiwan Council of Labor Affairs
(CLA), and on November 9, 2001, the CLA allowed employers to include
the cost of food and accommodation when determining if migrants are
earning the minimum wage of NT$15,840 ($466) a month, set in 1998.
Most employers immediately began deducting NT$4,000 (US$116) a
month. The CLA said that the cut in migrants' wages would be offset by a
new prohibition on Taiwanese brokers charging migrants brokerage fees
of NT$30,000 a person, but migrants would still have to pay NT$1,500 to
NT$1,800 in "monthly service charges" to local brokers. In addition,
brokers in the migrants' country of origin can charge NT$15,840 a
migrant, the minimum wage, and Taiwan employers must pay brokerage
fees to local agents if they want to employ foreign laborers. (Migration
News February 2002)

While living conditions in Taiwan may be harsh and economic benefits of 

working there quite slim, there is still strong significance placed by the Filipino 

government on the workers it sends there. OFWs are repeatedly seen as “modern day 

heroes” for the economic support they give their nation and select workers are annually 

given an award from the POEA presented by the Philippine president (Department of 

Labor and Employment 2003). In 2002, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo addressed 

OFWs in Taiwan specifically. The purposive construction of strong ties between sending 

and receiving nations is quite apparent in her letter to overseas kababayans:8
Literally townspeople or countrymen in Tagalog.

My most cordial greetings to my countrymen in Taiwan on the celebration

of the 104th Philippine Independence Day. As Filipinos living in a foreign
land, you have the distinct role of serving as our country's ambassadors of
goodwill in your host country. You are called upon to serve as agents of
our country in fostering stronger, cultural, political and economic ties
between our country and Taiwan. (Taipei Times, June 12, 2002)


There are a great number of researchers currently exploring the topic of 

transnational labor migration (Borjas 1988; Sassen 1988 Borjas 1990; Stalker 1994; 

Stalker 2000; Valenzuela 2000; Chiswick and Hatton 2001; UN 2002; Castles 2003; 

Taran and Geronimi 2003). Likewise, there are many who look specifically at Filipino 

labor migration as the Philippines has historically been one of the leading sending 

countries (Abella 1993; Martin 1993; Tigno 1994; Saith 1997; Groves and Chang 1999; 

Aguilar 2000; Barber 2000; Parreñas 2001; Tan 2001; Asis 2002; Lindio-McGovern

2002; Tyner 2002; Arnado 2003Weekley 2003; Young 2004). Yet, though Taiwan 

presently has over 300,000 imported laborers, few academic studies have been conducted 

on the country as a receiving context. Little is known then of the social incorporation of 

these migrants into Taiwanese society. Currently, the majority of those studies that are 

being conducted focus only on domestic workers (Cheng 1996; Lin 1999; Cheng 2003; 

Lan 2000a; Lan 2000b; Lan 2002; Lan 2003a; Lan 2003b; Lan 2003c; Lan 2003c; 

Loveband 2003). Though fifty­percent of laborers are employed in manufacturing, to 

date, only a couple of articles are available regarding contract factory work in Taiwan 

(Tseng and Lee 2001; Tierney 2002). Also of interest to researchers of migration to 

Taiwan are the growing number of foreign brides, primarily from Vietnam and Mainland 

China, but also in significant numbers from Indonesia, Singapore Thailand and the 

Philippines (Hsia 1997; Wang and Chang 2002). Though the number of brides has 

growing from under 13,000 in 1994 to over 34,000 in 2000 (Wang and Chang 2002), 

there are again few studies that compare this class of migrant to labor migrants who have 

similar narratives of exit, experiences of exclusion, and development of alternatives to 

incorporation such as forming ethnic enclaves and transnational communities.

General Studies of Labor Migration to Taiwan

A number of reviews have been conducted on the historical and structural factors 

that have lead to Taiwan as a destination for labor migration. Factors that have been 

studied include: economic growth in Taiwan, low levels of unemployment, policy 

changes that have allowed the importation of migrant labor, and the development of the 

placement­broker system (Selaya 1992; Tsay 1992; Tigno 1994; Baum 1995; Lee and

Wang 1996; Chan 1999; Lu 2000). Roger Selaya (1992) documented the early stages of 

transition from an illegal labor migration in Taiwan to that of a limited, but legal, 

importation of workers. Jorge Tigno (1994), of the Department of Political Science at the 

University of the Philippines, specifically looked at how policy change occurred as a 

result of the rapid development and healthy economic conditions in Taiwan during the 

early 1990s. Similarly, Raymond Chan (1999) observed the change in social and 

economic conditions as Taiwan recover from its rule under martial law. He claimed that 

economic prosperity led to a “shortage of manpower” requiring the importation of labor, 

first for major infrastructural projects and later to augment the general labor pool. Further 

review of the demographic, historical, economic and policy changes that have led to 

Philippine­Taiwan migration are undertaken in Chapter 7.

Domestic Workers

Accounting for over half of all migrants, the study of domestic workers in Taiwan 

has presented the greatest number of academic writings. Central issues in these writings 

include the rights of workers, the conditions of their employment, abuse of workers, 

negotiation of cultural and social differences with employers, transnationalization of 

families, gender, culture, and ethnic identity (Cheng 1996; Lin 1999; Cheng 2003; Lan 

2000; Lan 2002; Lan 2003a; Lan 2003b; Lan 2003c; Lan 2003d).

In 1997, Chin­ju Lin, while in the Master’s program at the University of Essex, 

conducted a study of Filipina domestic workers in the Taipei area. Using a mixed 

method, ethnographic approach, she drew upon media reports, and governmental 

documents as well as “twenty six interviews with Filipina and domestic workers, 

employers, brokers, NGOs, Taiwanese maids, and a government official” (1999). Her 

work was descriptive in nature and discusses the narrow social space in which the 

domestic worker must labor caught between employer, the social system and the demands 

of those in the homeland. She detailed “their resistance and strategies for survival in a 

gendered, racialized role as a Filipina maid in Taiwan” and offered advice to the workers 

to maintain the dignity of their position by identifying themselves as professionals 

(following the advice of Dr. Mary Romero from her 1992 book Maid in the U.S.A ).

Dr. Shu­Ju Cheng, a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin and currently 

an Assistant Professor in Sociology at DePaul University, conducted her dissertation 

research on the role of the state in the globalization of domestic labor using Taiwan as a 

case study. Specifically, in 1999 she conducted six­months of ethnographic fieldwork 

(again in Taipei). Like Chin­ju Lin, she drew on a variety of macro and micro level 

sources in English and Chinese as well as participant observation in two Filipino 

churches and “formal in­depth interviews with 35 Filipina domestics, 12 Taiwanese 

employers, 3 government officials, 4 employment agencies, and 5 local labor groups.” 

Her 2003 article, “Rethinking the Globalization of Domestic Service: Foreign

Domestics, State Control, and the Politics of Identity in Taiwan” in Gender & Society,

explored the inequalities of globalized domestic labor. She specifically noted the role of

the state, via the employer and broker, in reinforcing these inequalities while maintaining

control over foreign workers:

State practices of control and exclusion depend on Taiwanese employers

and employment agencies for enforcement. Since Taiwanese employers
have intimate contact with foreign workers, they bear the responsibility of
containing alien labor at home, usually with the assistance of employment
agencies. The government imposes on employers the responsibility of
ensuring that foreign workers do not violate immigration regulations, for
example, by running away or getting pregnant. Specific mechanisms
enable and sanction the transfer of power and authority from the state to
employers. For example, the employers have to pay a guarantee deposit
whose purpose is to defray the living and deportation cost if a foreign
worker runs away and is caught. The government returns the whole
amount of the deposit to the employers when the foreign workers finish
their contracts and return home. The employers lose their deposit if a
worker runs away. They also lose their quota for foreign labor and do not
regain their quota until the workers are found. Employers are also
required to pay a security fee, which is a tax for the employment of
foreign labor, held until these workers leave the island (Cheng 2003).

Most prolific among researchers writing on the topic of domestic workers in 

Taiwan is perhaps Pei­Chia Lan. She graduated in 2000 from the doctoral program at 

Northwestern University and now teaches at National Taiwan University. In addition to 

her dissertation and conference papers, she has authored more than six published 

academic articles on Filipina domestic workers in Taiwan9 Her articles are based on one­

year of field research conducted in 1998­1999. As a volunteer in a Taipei NGO that 

services migrant laborer, she conducted 58 interviews with Filipina domestic workers and 

42 interviews with Taiwanese households that had Filipina workers.

All are available via her website at:

In her 2000 article “Remapping Identities across Borders and at Home: Filipina 

Migrant Domestic Workers and Taiwanese Employers” presented at the Fifth Annual 

Conference on the History and Culture of Taiwan,10 Lan discussed how domestic workers 

and their employers negotiated concepts of class and ethnicity in constructing their social 


Taiwanese employers attempt to validate their newly achieved class status

and racial superiority by spending their economic capital to hire foreign
maids; in contrast, Filipina domestic workers develop strategies to cope
with their downward class mobility when they work as maids overseas.
The symbolic struggle around English further illustrates contestation and
ambiguity in the process of racial and class formation. Taiwanese
employers’ purchase or attribution of class and racial superiority may be
challenged by the fact that some Filipina domestic workers possess a
higher education or a better command of the linguistic capital of English
than their Taiwanese employers. These phenomena, as local consequences
of transnational migration and global economic restructuring, present a
small piece of the complex picture of identity construction in the
contemporary world, a further globalized yet more divided world.

Similarly, Lan’s 2003 work “Negotiating Social Boundaries and Private Zones:

The Micropolitics of Employing Migrant Domestic Workers” in Social Problems, further

delineated the boundary between worker and employee and defined the identity of the

worker by the structure of their position. She explained:

I have established two typologies to describe variations in boundary work,

and identified three major factors to account for why particular employers
and workers lean toward a subtype of boundary work: the class
positioning of employers and workers; the ratio of care work to
housework in the job assignment; and the time-space composition of the
employment setting. The employers who would like to showcase their

A similar argument is presented in Lan, Pei-Chia. 2003d. "‘They Have More Money
but I Speak Better English!’ Transnational Encounters between Filipina Domestics and
Taiwanese Employers " Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power online at

advanced position in the class ladder tend to highlight their differences

from the maids, while younger generations of employers try to confirm
their middle-class identity by downplaying the class hierarchy. Among
upper-class employers, those who spend less time at home and have more
space in the house are more likely to maintain a distant hierarchy, whereas
homemakers who spend a lot of time around the workers often develop a
maternalistic relationship. Among middle-class employers, those who hire
workers for childcare tend to adopt an attitude of instrumental
personalism, while others who seek help with housework only favor a
business-like relationship to minimize the time-consuming burden of
personal interactions.

As her research looks not only at the Filipina domestic worker, but also at the 

household in which she works, Pei­Chia Lan has been able to document the transitions in 

domestic cultural labor practices. As Taiwan experiences a transition from traditional 

roles of filial piety and much proscribed gender­roles and domestic duties, Lan notes that 

the importation of domestic work has adapted to fit the cultural needs of the household 

structure. Kinship ties determine this structure and responsibilities for which the 

domestic worker will be a surrogate member of the family:

The first is “filial kin work,” which I define as care work to maintain
intergenerational ties in the patrilineal line. The filial duty of serving
aging parents is transferred first from the son to the daughter-in-law
(gender transfer) and later outsourced to migrant care workers (market
transfer). The second is “kin labor,” which is labor provided by extended
kin to sustain their ties to other kin members, such as unpaid domestic
labor offered by enabled parents to their adult children. Modern
daughters-in-law prefer migrant workers to the kin labor offered by their
mothers-in-law in order to safeguard the conjugal family from the
intervention of extended kin. The third is “fictive kin,” which describes
how non-family migrant workers provide family-like care for their elderly
clients in lieu of the filial kin work of adult children (Lan 2001).

In the 2003 article, “Maid or Madam? Filipina Migrant Workers and the 

Continuity of Domestic Labor” in Gender & Society, Lan observed that domestic 

obligations of the Filipina wife/mother migrant worker become transnational as a result 

of the migration process. She noted that, “taking on domestic work, a feminized 

occupation in both the local and global labor market, migrant women become 

transnational breadwinners but remain burdened by their gendered duties as mothers and 

wives back home.” This international role, moreover, bridges the boundary of public vs.

private work and helps to define the identity of the Filipina domestic worker in the global


In the 2003 article “Political and Social Geography of Marginal Insiders: Migrant

Domestic Workers in Taiwan” published in the Manila-based Asian and Pacific

Migration Journal, Pei-Chia Lan provided an overview of the Taiwanese labor system

and, similar to Shu­Ju Cheng explained how government surveillance and control work to 

marginalize the workers. Based on additional research she conducted in 2002, she 

established the “social geography” of migrant communities segmented along 

ethnic/national lines and occupying separate geographic spaces within the city of Taipei. 

Much as I have found in Kaohsiung, she found a “weekend enclave with vibrant business 

activity” focused around St. Christopher’s Church. The setting around the church is 

reminiscent of what I found in the Nan Tze EPZ: “The surrounding area, called 

Chongshan among migrant workers, has acquired nicknames like “little Manila” and 

“Filipino town” among Taiwanese. Tagalog characters are seen on many signboards of 

Filipino grocery stores, delicatessens, karaoke clubs, and remittance and cargo services.” 

Factory Workers

Very little has been published in the academic press on the more than 150,000 

manufacturing workers in Taiwan. In a broad search of international journals,11 only one 

article emerges ­ Winston Tseng and Meng­Fen Lee (2001) “Transnational Migration, 

Social Conditions and Foreign Labor Workers: Filipino and Thai Food Processing 

Workers in Taiwan.” This study, conducted in southern Taiwan as opposed to Taipei, was 

limited to eight ethnographic interviews with Thai and Filipino factory workers. It 

outlined the importance of social networks, the socio­political climate of reception, as 

well as some of the limited social and cultural impact that resulted from migration. 

Contrary to my findings of a growing ethnic community in 2003, they noted an absence 

of institutions serving migrant workers. This may be due to the time period in which they 

were conducting fieldwork (one month in 2000) or the location (a rural “agricultural and 

livestock company”):

The growing foreign labor migrant population is transforming the cultural

and economic dynamics in Taiwan. Migrant networks within Taiwan and
across Asia are growing, but no major migrant community organizations
have yet become firmly established by the foreign labor workers in
Taiwan. The major networks foreign labor workers in Taiwan primarily
There may be other academic writing that are either forthcoming or in the local
Taiwanese journals, but in computerized searches of literally thousands of journals
using periodical indexes of leading publishers

depend on for social support are extended family and ethnic friendship
networks. Currently, only a few formal organizations (e.g., Taiwan
government agencies, economic/trade offices representing the countries of
origin, and faith-based organizations) provide social and legal assistance
(but still very limited) for the foreign workers in Taiwan

In addition to lacking support infrastructure and a sense of community, Tseng and Lee’s 

study found the workers to be isolated from the Taiwanese population, experiencing 

friction with their employers as well as maintaining regular ties with the homeland via 

weekly phone calls. 


I set out then, in this project, to understand the process of labor migration beginning from 

the point of view of the migrant. I wanted to understand their every­day lives and how the 

experience of migration affected them individually. In this way, I sought to understand 

their narratives of exit from the homeland, exclusion from the host society search for a 

sense of community, and finally the reinterpretation self and identity that

Image 1 An especially well-attended service at St. Joseph the Worker

parish in Nan Tze

they experience. To truly comprehend this progression, then, I decided upon a research 

plan that involved immersion in the context of reception, participation within the 

community, face­to­face interviews with Filipino migrants and those familiar with their 

circumstances, and visual documentation of their everyday lives. Thus, while this 

framework essentially utilizes what Miller­Loessi and Parker (2003) call an etic 12 

“The emic approach involves studying behavior from within the system, examining
only one culture at a time, discovering rather than imposing structure, and using
criteria relative to internal characteristics. The etic approach involves studying
behavior from a position outside the system, examining two or more cultures and
comparing them, imposing a structure created by the analyst, and using criteria that
are considered absolute or universal (Berry 1969). The emic approach has
traditionally been used by anthropologists, in their quest for understanding what is
unique to each culture. On the other hand, the thrust of both sociology and
psychology as disciplines has generally been etic , i.e., to search for general
relationships that transcend particular circumstances” (Miller-Loessi & Parker 2003).

approach by looking for general principals within the particular individual cases of 

migrants’ daily lives, it does contain many of the elements of an emic study, as its 

evidence comes from essentially relative and highly interpretive narratives and 

reflections from the individuals themselves. The intent was to include the subject as a 

participant in the research as much as possible and therefore provide both a depiction of 

the general process of identity transition among labor migrants, while not ignoring the 

uniqueness of this phenomenon as experienced by the individual. 

The umbrella of hypotheses regarding the integration of migrants into a receiving 

community has been labeled Assimilation Theory. Application of assimilation theory has 

concentrated on the transition of migrants from the linguistic, social and cultural 

practices of the home country to those of the receiving context (Park and Burgess 1921; 

Gordon 1964; Gans 1979; Portes and Zhou 1993.). Traditionally it has been studied at the 

group level (Waters 1995; Kosic 2002), within the life course of individual migrants (Das 

Gupta 1997; Min and Kim 2000), and more commonly from a multigenerational 

perspective (Rogler et al. 1980; Rumbaut 1980; Waters 1994; Brubaker 2001). Yet, it was 

my assertion that the simple contact between any migrant and the host society will result 

in a shift within the identity of the individual. Social Psychological studies have  noted 

that the process of  acculturation  “concerns the changes that result in both people and in 

groups of people as a result of contact among people of different cultures” (Smith and 

Bond 1998). Smith and Bond identify three outcomes of cross­cultural contact at the 

individual level:

• rejection of native culture and outright adoption of host culture

• marginalization in both cultures as migrant is unable to reconcile differences
found to be especially strong among returnees
• reinforced cultural identity and even isolation and ethnocentrism (i.e. enclaves)
Likewise, my previous research into the nature of economic, social, familial, and 

symbolic ties to the homeland influenced this project. As Philippine­Taiwan labor 

migration occurs within an increasingly embedded global context, it was logical to expect 

the development of transnational networks by which goods, services, information, and 

individuals would circulate (Kivisto 2001; Portes; 1999; Faist 2000a; Faist 200b). The 

study of these networks of multinational ties has been termed transnationalism and has 

been seen in some cases to reinforce the immigrant identity through cultural retention 

(see Faist 2000b). In other scenarios, they provide greater resources to the immigrant, 

allowing them more easily integrate or assimilate into the receiving society. 

Documentation of the transnational community of Filipinos in Taiwan was therefore 

conducted. Interviews with community leaders, observations of community events, 

discussion of community participation and documentation of institutions and 

organizations within the community was carried out over the course of my stay. 

Armed then with a series of “guiding questions,” and some broad assumptions on 

the way in which the nature of reception would affect the shift in self­concept among 

labor migrants (See Fig. 2­1), I set out to document and explore this phenomenon. In late 

January of 2003, my family and I moved to Kaohsiung, Taiwan for what would be seven 

months of data collection. After contacting local relief agencies in Kaohsiung, I was 

introduced to the community of factory workers in the Nan Tze Economic Processing 

Zone (or NEPZ) in February and made almost daily trips to the area for the next six 

months. Over that period, I conducted more than sixty hours of taped interviews with 38 

participants, collected 350 images of “objects of importance” from them, recorded 

observations of community events, tours of dorms, religious services and festivals, 

cultural performances. I was allowed the opportunity to conduct a survey with a large 

number of Filipino workers, allowing me to look for more universal experiences. than the 

smaller sample of interviewees and focus group members would allow. Finally, as a 

peripheral member of the community, I was allowed to participate, for a short time, in the 

every­day social life of the workers having many frank conversations about their 

experiences in Taiwan.


This dissertation is partitioned into three sections. In the first, theories of 

transnationalism, assimilation, acculturation, and the nature of the self are presented 

(Chapter 2). Likewise, a detailed methodology (Chapter 3), will explain the techniques 

used to gather data as well as the procedures used for analysis. The following section, 

gives short biographies on each of the  research participants (Chapter 4), details the 

history of labor migration to Taiwan (Chapter 5), and outlines problems with the current 

contract­employment system (Chapter 6). 

Part III involves analysis based on the first person narratives of thirty­six Filipino 

participants, nine focus group members, and the exhaustive survey of 389 laborers. It 

focuses first on individual motivations for labor migration and the process of leaving the 

Philippines from the viewpoint of the migrant (Chapter 7). Next, I recount the 

experiences of reception ad exclusion that they experience in Taiwan (Chapters 8). It is 

proposed that this rejection leads to an ambivalent attitude toward Taiwanese and simply 

strengthens the national identity of Filipinos (Chapter 9). Following is an examination of 

the importance of enclave institutions, principally the Catholic Church, in maintaining 

ethnic identity, building solidarity, and creating community (Chapter 10). After that , the 

focus shifts to the transitions in self­concept and identity that have occurred as a result of 

migration experiences (Chapter 11). The conclusions (Chapter 12) summarize overall 

findings, fitting the findings to the broader discourse on transnationalism and immigrant 

incorporation and finally present policy recommendations for NGOs, churches, and the 

Taiwanese government.
Image 2 “Brain Twister” competition at St.
Joseph the Worker Parish Image 3 William showing his personal space

Image 4 Sinulog dancers at St. Joseph the Image 5 Checking the equipment at an electronics
Worker Parish factory


This project borrows from the language of a broad range of theoretical traditions. 

From migration theory, Cumulative Causation ­ the many economic, demographic, 

cultural, and social factors which increase migration flows over time ­ is used to explain 

the flow of labor migrants from developing nations to more industrialized countries 

(Massey 1988; Massey et al. 1993, Massey et al. 1994). Immigrant assimilation, defined 

here as the process by which an immigrant is incorporated into the host society, is 

borrowed from a long history of assimilation theories (Alba and Nee 1997; Portes and 

Zhou 1993; Portes and Rumbaut 1996; Rumbaut 1994; Waters 1994). Unlike most of 

those theories, this project focuses not on the phenomenon as it occurs over the course of 

generations, but on the individual migrant’s incorporation (or isolation) as a result of 

their reception by the host society. Transnationalism is used to identify the forces that 

orient the migrant toward the homeland and toward the host community, as well as the 

social space that they created while living in their new land (Portes 1999, Faist 2000a; 

Faist 2000b). While assimilation sees migrant incorporations (via straight, bumpy, 

segmented lines) as the end result of the process, transnationalism (manifested as 

biculturalism, hybridization, blended cultures, etc.) is seen as an alternative to the 

possible outcomes. It is perhaps more dynamic that assimilation theories as 

transnationalism is much more dependent upon the nature of exit and reception of the 

migrant. Importantly this project is situated within the conceptual landscape of Symbolic 

Interaction ­ principally, Social Identity Theory (as reformulated by Burke and Stets) 

while utilizing the critical poststructural interpretive ethnography proposed by Denzin 

(1997). Symbolic Interaction is employed to better understand the transitions in identity 

that occur at the micro­level, while Interpretive Ethnography, as the method of analysis 

and mode of presenting the findings, is more a multi­voiced narrative reflecting the 

experiences of migrants rather than the observations of the outsider.


The influence of contact between peoples has widely been discussed in the

literature. Cumulative Causation Theory (Massey 1988; Massey et al. 1993, Massey et al.

1994), a comprehensive approach to explaining the many types of migrations and the

multiplicity of migrant trajectories, combines elements of earlier economic and social

theories (wage differentials, push-pull mechanism, migration networks, etc.) explaining

migration systems from early short-term labor migrants to long-term settlers. Causation

explains that earlier migration experiences create the potential for future migrations by

the establishment of strong ties between sending and receiving regions. Massey argues

that this process begins at the individual level and extends to the level of the community.

He and his colleagues explain:


Cumulative causation refers to the tendency for international migration to

perpetuate itself over time, regardless of the conditions that originally
caused it. At the individual level, this self-perpetuation exists from the
fact that each act of migration alters motivations and perceptions in ways
that encourage additional migration. Migrants are changed by the
experience of living and working in an advanced industrial economy. The
knowledge and skills they acquire increase their productivity and raise
their value to employers, and thereby elevate their expected wages.
Through migration, they also gain valuable information about how to
arrive, get around, and find work, thereby reducing the costs and risks of
movement. In addition, they acquire tastes for modern consumer goods
and new aspirations for socio-economic mobility, thus changing their
motivations. As a result of these changes, people who migrate once are
quite likely to do so again. Although international migration may begin as
a short-term strategy for income generation, one trip leads to another and
over time the duration of trips grows and foreign experience accumulates
(Massey et al. 1994).

Cumulative Causation then attributes some of the eventual migrations to the

adoption of consumer practices and development of tastes for the goods and services of

the “advanced” consumer host society, arguing that migrants who were initially

sojourners may in fact become settlers as they develop preference for these cultural

commodities as well as influencing those in the homeland community by sending

remittances (thus affording them the ability to purchase new goods) and by returning

with these new tastes and imparting them upon others. Culture, in this sense the material

culture of the host society, is experienced by individual actors on a daily basis, thus

observation of the daily lives of short-term labor migrants should result in evidence of

the cultural shift as it is occurring. As Massey et al. indicate this cultural shift begins

evidence early on in the migration experience as the migrant is exposed to the new

culture. Most importantly this shift in material culture leads to an eventual change in the

cultural values and practices (i.e. nonmaterial culture) of individual migrants and whole

communities. Massey and his co-authors note that one of the possible outcomes of this

cultural shift is transnationalism or the creation of new cultures:

One final avenue of cumulative causation that has been discussed in the
theoretical literature is culture. According to postmodern theorists, the
circulation of people, goods, and ideas creates a new transnational culture
that combines values, behaviors, and attitudes from sending and receiving
societies to create a new, largely autonomous social space that transcends
national boundaries (Georges 1990; Rouse 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992;
Goldring 1992a, 1992b). This transnationalization of culture changes the
context within which migration decisions are made (Massey et al. 1994).


Much theoretical debate centered on the nature of transnationalism. Some discuss

transnationalism as a unique and new social space distinct from both sending and

receiving cultures, while others view it simply as one of the possible expressions of

assimilation and acculturation. The concept of transnationalism combines historical

concepts of cultural blends and hybrids (Glick-Schiller et al.1995) and includes elements

such as biculturalism, bilingualism, reinforcement of national identity in the exterior (i.e.

trans-local solidarity), as well as social, political, and economic practices that are

transacted by migrant networks across national boundaries (Portes et al. 1999; Vertovec

1999; Roberts et al. 1999). This study (following my treatment of transnationalism in an

earlier project) chooses to treat it as a midpoint between the culture of the homeland and

adoption of the socio-cultural characteristics of the host society (or some segment

therein). In this social space we find several possible expressions of transnationalism. In

the case of the migrant or migrant community that is in some way marginalized by the

society, we may find evidence of material and non-material culture of both communities,

but little in the way of integration into the host society and even possible exclusion from

the society of the homeland (thus, what Smith and Bond called the marginalized

migrant). Another possible outcome occurs when the individual recognizes the different

social spaces in which they operate and then selects from a palette of cultural practices as

determined by the social setting. This especially situated form of transnationalism may

be expressed as a form of biculturalism, whereby the migrant has internalized the

multiple expressions of self and, dependent upon setting, demonstrates unique cultural

practices of the immigrant and host communities. Finally, there is evidence as well of

“new” expressions of culture that are not entirely that of the immigrant community nor

of the host society but something more, an amalgamation or hybridization of cultures

(Glick-Schiller et al.1995) or even a new form of culture (Popkin 1999; Nagengast and

Kearney 1990; Kearney 1991; Smith and Guarnizo 1998). Thus, cultural outcomes in the

context of reception have been treated as a continuum with transnationalism as one of the

possible outcomes.

Thomas Faist (2000b) explains that transnational activities create distinct social

spaces that transcend geographically bound nations. He creates a typology of

transnational social spaces based on the kind of social relation and types of activities in

which migrants may be engaged: transnational kinship groups, transnational circuits and

transnational communities. Transnational kingship groups rely on reciprocity, obligation

and familial responsibility for the sending of remittances to members in the home

country and the mutual support networks provided to family members newly arrived

migrant in the destination country. Transnational circuits also rely on social obligations

among co-nationals (based on common language and cultural practices), but may result

in the exploitation of the newly arrived by the more established and experienced

migrants. According to Faist, transnational circuits often include entrepreneurial

activities that offer goods and services for the consumption of co-nationals and may

provide them with potential employment (similar to the ethnic enclaves of Portes 1990

and Massey et al. 1994). Transnational communities, on the other hand, are characterized

by a collective solidarity in which shared “ideas, beliefs, evaluations and symbols” are

demonstrated in a common collective identity. In the US context, this solidarity may take

the form of what has alternately been called ‘resilient ethnicity,’ ‘reactive formation’ and

‘reactive ethnicity’ (Portes and Rumbaut 1996; Popkin 1999) as well as a mobilization of

resources and individuals around abstract symbolic ties to the home country such as

nationalism, religion, and culture (Faist 2000b).

I anticipate that short-term labor migrants may be involved in activities that

coincide with any or all or the overlapping social spaces outlined by Faist. However, I

anticipate that the size of the co-ethnic community, the formal regulation of that

population, and the existence of a permanent population (with a higher degree of

institutionalization and more formal organizations) will play a large role in the

opportunities for transnational activities that may be present in a given locale.13

Likewise, identities expressed within these structures may be distinct. For example, a

migrant embedded within an active transnational community may express an identity

similar to that of their pre-migration experience or, if she also has regular contact with

individuals from the mainstream, she may exhibit a degree of orthogonal biculturalism.

For more on context of reception see Portes, Alejandro and Jozsef Böröcz. 1989.
“Contemporary Immigration: Theoretical Perspectives On Its Determinants and
Modes of Incorporation.” International Migration Review 23:606-630.

All of these expressions of ethnic identity, then, fit within a continuum (or perhaps even

multiple continua) of assimilation and acculturation, as mediated by the context of

reception and the kind of transnational space and activities available to the migrant.


In the article “Rethinking assimilation theory for a new era of migration”, Alba

and Nee (1997) undertake to detail the history of assimilation theory and how it has been

revised to accommodate recent migrant flows to the US context. They explain that many

social scientists view assimilation theory as “ethnocentric and patronizing” (826) and do

admit that early formulations of the theory did view the dominant culture as superior.

However, they assert that assimilation theory is still the best way of understanding the

process by which immigrants become part of the host society. Yet, there is some

confusion within the literature as to whether assimilation is the process of becoming like

the dominant culture (or some subculture within the society) or whether it is simply the

degree of incorporation of a people within that structure. This difference is noted by

Roger Brubaker (2001) in his article entitled The return of assimilation?:

In the general and abstract sense, the core meaning is increasing similarity
or likeness. Not identity, but similarity. To assimilate means to become
similar (when the word is used intransitively) or to make similar or treat
as similar (when it is used transitively). Assimilation is thus the process of
becoming similar, or of making similar or treating as similar. In the
specific and organic sense, the root meaning is transitive. To assimilate
something is to ‘convert {it} into a substance of its own nature, as the
bodily organs convert food into blood, and thence into animal tissue . . . to
absorb into the system, {to} incorporate’ (Oxford English Dictionary).
Assimilation in this sense implies complete absorption. In the general,
abstract sense, the accent is on the process, not on some .final state, and
assimilation is a matter of degree. Assimilation designates a direction of

change, not a particular degree of similarity. In the specific, organic sense,

by contrast, the accent is on the end state, and assimilation is a matter of
either/or, not of degree. (Brubaker 2001).

According to Alba and Nee (1997) assimilation theory had its roots in the early

Chicago school with Robert E. Park and W.I. Thomas. In 1921, Park and Burgess created

a formulation of assimilation theory that looked at the social process of becoming part of

the mainstream in a very linear and “irreversible” fashion beginning with the initial

contact between groups and ending with the minority group becoming assimilated into

the mainstream. In the 1960s, Milton Gordon applied assimilation to the micro-level in

the development of seven “dimensions” of assimilation. Most important was the

distinction between acculturation and structural assimilation. As Alba and Nee explain,

acculturation as used in Gordon’s theory is “the minority groups’ adoption of the

‘cultural patterns’ of the host society, [which] typically comes first and is inevitable.” A

distinction was made between intrinsic and extrinsic traits of cultural identity. Gordon

explained that while intrinsic traits (“vital to group identity” such as religion, musical

tastes, etc.) do not readily change, extrinsic characteristics such as language, dress, and

outward presentation of self do shift as a result of contact with host culture. I would note

here that my own research of the Mexican Community in the Phoenix area showed little

distinction between extrinsic and intrinsic traits in this way. Some interviewees showed

preference for American mainstream music and food, and joined protestant evangelical

movements, while maintaining language and national identity of the homeland, thus

blurring Gordon’s distinctions between intrinsic and extrinsic characteristics (Sills 2000).

Structural assimilation, on the other hand, was defined by Gordon as the entrance

of the immigrant group into the social groups of the host society. Daily interaction leads

to a familiarity, eventual acceptance and finally an integration into primary group

interaction (including membership in clubs and organizations and even intermarriage).

Once structural assimilation had occurred, Gordon hypothesized that the other

dimensions of assimilation would naturally follow in this linear process (Alba and Nee


Alba and Nee point out that it was unclear whether this process of assimilation

and acculturation occurred at the group level or individual level. The do, however, show

that the formulations to follow (Gans 1973; Sandberg 1973; Lieberson 1973, as cited in

Alba and Nee 1997) saw assimilation as a “straight line” process in which “generations

are the motor for ethnic change, not just the time frame within which assimilation takes

place.” Assimilation itself was broken down and studied in its constituent parts

including: socioeconomic assimilation, residential assimilation, intermarriage and

amalgamation, etc. Criticism over the deterministic and rigid “straight line” theories lead

to revisions to accommodate ethnic groups that did not assimilate or did not fit the linear

pattern (“bumpy line assimilation” of Gans 1992, as cited in Alba and Nee 1997).

It was soon realized, however, that there were very great differences between past

migration flows (pre-1965) and those of today. There is greater diversity in the ethnic

and cultural origins of those who migrate today. Likewise, today’s population movement

is a perpetual feature of the international system whereas previous flows were short lived

historic events. Accordingly, “there are likely to be strong incentives to keep ethnic

affiliations alive even for the third generation” (Alba and Nee 1997). In addition to

maintaining cultures, researchers noted that immigrant groups may not assimilate only

toward the dominate culture but also to sub-cultures within a society. As Roger Brubaker

(2001) explains:

Recent work on assimilation, by contrast, is agnostic about its directions,

degrees, and modalities, and ambivalent about its desirability. There is
nothing today comparable to the complacent empirical and normative
expectancies of mid-century. Of course, this is partly because the notion
of a universally acknowledged ‘core culture’ has lost all its plausibility
since the late 1960s. This, in turn, has raised the question of the reference
population towards which assimilation is said to occur. Characteristic of
the newer literature on assimilation is its willingness to consider multiple
reference populations and correspondingly segmented forms of
assimilation (Portes and Zhou 1993; Waters 1994; Zhou 1997; Neckerman
et al. 1999).10 It is no longer true that assimilation (or integration, a term
that often, especially in the European context, refers to much the same
thing) is ‘inevitably’ conceptualized as occurring ‘into one, single,
indivisible (national) “state”, and one, simple, unitary (national) “society”
’ (Favell 2000).

These various formulations of Assimilation Theory (straight line, bumpy line, and

segmented) recognize the economic, residential, and socio-cultural transitions of migrant

groups toward the dominate culture or toward some subculture within a society. Most of

these theories agree that the process of assimilation occurs over the period of generations

and with the exception of Gordon, look for evidence at the group level. The Brubaker

(2001) definition given previously indicates that the theories of assimilation are focused

not on identification with the target culture, but either the process by which a people

becomes similar to another or the end product of that process. However, Waters (1994)

and Portes and Zhou (1993) found that various social factors including social, cultural

and human capital, original social class, existence of social networks, and organizational

or institutional involvement all affected the degree of assimilation and importantly the

self-perception and self-identification of immigrants. Likewise, Waters also found that

second generation immigrants adopted one of three different ethnic identities or

orientations: that of the host society; that of a hyphenated home-host identity (such as

Caribbean-American); or that of an immigrant identity. I believe that this self-

identification may in fact begin with the first generation migrant. I would argue that the

individual does experience a reinterpretation of self as a result of proximity to another

culture and the designation of “other” within the destination country. Moreover, I believe

that it is here in the first generation that we will see evidence of the process of

assimilation beginning, perhaps not on the level of integration into the institutions of the

social structure so much as that of identification with the culture or a sub-culture of the

host community.


The transition in identity discussed in this project may be explained to some

extent by application of the Social-Psychological perspective, more precisely by the

general theory of self as proposed by Burke and Stets. Burke and Stets (2000), in their

reformulation of Henri Tajfel’s theory, stress that individuals define themselves in terms

of their group memberships. They assume that the self is reflexive and involved in the

process of self-construction. This meta-theoretical assumption is central to the

methodology employed in this project, as much of the data comes from reflective and

introspective interviews.

Social Psychology and the Nature of Self 

William James (1890) introduced the concept of the individual self as directly

influenced by society and thus helped to define identity for the perspective later known

as Social Psychology. As he explained, “a man has as many social selves as there are

individuals who carry an image of him in their mind… he has as many different social

selves as there are distinct groups of persons about whose opinion he cares.” James

identified key elements involved in the construction of self such as interpersonal

relationships, group membership, the social interpretation of symbols and objects and he

importantly defined self as a process that is inconstant and situational.

Building upon James, George Herbert Mead, Herbert Blumer, and subsequent 

Symbolic Interactionist further refined and enhanced the concept of identity. In addition 

to developing a scheme of the stages of identity development, Mead is attributed with 

describing the self as active and creative, rather than a passive entity shaped by the social 

environment alone. Blumer’s explanation of this concept is best demonstrated in the 

following diagram (Fig. 2­1) in which he shows that society influences the individual by 

imposing norms, values, roles and statuses that are interpreted by the individual in a 

process of self­interaction (reflexivity) that results in a presentation of self that is 

influenced by the structure, but mediated by the individual’s own identity. 

All of these elements (group membership, interpersonal relations, interpretation

of symbols, and self reflexivity) are of importance in discussion of the concept of self

throughout the process of migration. For example, as the individual changes geographic

place she enters a different social space in which new interpersonal ties are established,

group membership is renegotiated, and new symbols and objects are encountered.

NORMS Interactio

ROLES Interpretation Behavior


Figure 2-1 Influence of Society on the Concept of Self as Reflexive Process (Based on Fig 5-1:
Blumer’s View of the Individual, Wallace and Wolf )
Likewise, self must be reconsidered in a reflexive process as the migrant encounters the

cultural norms and values of the receiving country and undergoes a shift in role

expectations and status involved with being defined as the alien or “other.”

A General Theory of Self

Useful in the analysis of migration and identity is a synthesis of Identity Theory

and Social Identity Theory discussed by Jan Stets and Peter Burke (2000) of Washington

State University. They state, “in social psychology, we need to establish a general theory

of the self, which can attend to both macro and micro processes, and which avoids the

redundancies of separate theories on different aspects of the self.” In their formulation,

they focus on combining the fundamental aspects of several of the leading theories of

self including: bases of identity (social group vs. individual role), identity salience vs.

activation, and cognitive vs. motivational processes of identity. This project specifically

incorporates the theories on bases of identities.

Identity: Group Affiliation & Role Identification

Stets and Burke identify two principal bases for the formation of identity within

the theories: group membership and social roles. These bases, in this arrangement, act

together in a reflexive process. They point out that, “although the basis of self-

classification is different in the two theories (group/category versus role), theorists in

both traditions recognize that individuals view themselves in terms of meaning imparted

by a structured society.”

Social Identity Theory focuses on attachment to a group. Members of social

groups, for example, share common identification established through a process of

comparison along the lines of in-group versus out-group. In-group identification is

viewed as positive to one’s self-esteem and is reinforced by perceived similarities in

attitudes, beliefs, norms, language, use of symbols, etc. Inversely, out-groups are those

with significant differences and are seen as negative for the individual’s self-esteem and

self-concept. Stets and Burke emphasize that groups operate in relation to one another

within a structured society. Thus, the relative status of the group with which one

identifies may play a significant role in identity formation.

Identity Theory, on the other hand, looks at self as occupying a role. Identity is

derived from the internalization of role expectations and the performance of that role.

Whereas self is defined by similarity to the group in the previous theory, self and other

social objects are defined in relation to the social role in Identity Theory. This then is a

micro-level mechanism which helps to shape the identity internally. Social hierarchy and

position do also have importance as the roles may be determined by the level of control

of social objects (resources) that an individual maintains. Identity then is determined by

the role one assumes and the relative control of resources inherent in that role.

The Effect of the Migration Experience on Identity

Migration involves for the individual a complete reinterpretation of self as her 

social place has undergone significant change from both micro and macro forces. Firstly, 

one’s expected social role as the migrant is transformed from that experienced when 

living in the homeland. As the “foreigner,” the “outsider,” and the “other,” in the 

receiving context, the individual is forced, even in very similar cultural settings, to 

reconsider her reference groups. 

For her, the generalized other of Mead has to be adapted and changed so that she 

may see herself as the foreign presence. This mechanism of identity construction, though 

heavily influenced by the social structure of the receiving context, involves review and 

re­assessment of self that occurs in an internal process and thus on a micro­level. 

Meanwhile, group membership and the naming of in­group versus out­group, also goes 

through a reinterpretation. The migrant may experience this as an initial loss of self­ 

esteem (as they become the minority out-group) and a process of re-building sense of

worth by a strengthening of group identity by a commitment to co-national expatriates.

Notably this loyalty to the group does not stop in the first generation migrant, but may

even be strengthened in subsequent generations as migrant groups find “voice” within


Understanding of Social
Role & clear idea of
Group Membership

Change in social space

= Change in expected
RECEIVING SOCIETY social roles and
reference groups

NEW CULTURAL Reinterpretation of Social

INFLUENCE Role & Group


Figure 2-2 The Mechanisms of the Migration Experience and Revised Self
the social landscape. Portes and Rumbaut (1996) and Rumbaut (1996) call this

phenomenon reactive or resilient ethnicity (following Fordham and Ogbu 1986

“opposition identity”) and explain that it is highly dependent upon such factors as social

and human capital, relative size of the migrant population, and the nature of reception in

the destination country.

The Nature of Reception & Identities Outcomes

The way in which a social space welcomes or rejects a particular migrant or

migrant group may be seen, at least for heuristic purposes, as a continuum from greater

receptivity to greater rejection. Along this line, individual migrants must contend with

expected roles (such as stereotypical occupations, abilities, access to resources, etc.) and

out-group definitions (often pejorative) imposed on them by the receiving society. If that

reception is more inclusive, assimilation and acculturation of the migrant self to the

majority culture may be expected. The eventual self-concept that develops among those

who are most similar in social characteristics and culture to the receiving population, and

therefore the most welcomed, will be logically most like that of the host citizens. For

evidence we may look to early 20th century European migrants (Irish, Italians, and

European Jews) in America who in a little less than a generation were incorporated into

mainstream society and today identify themselves as Americans.14 Conversely, those who

are least welcome maintain a sense of otherness” that is pervades their concept of self

both in their expected social role and their group membership. This exclusion and

rejection may lead to return migration, onward (step) migration, or the formation of an

ethnic enclave. It may also lead the migrant to develop a negative self-concept and an

eventual rejection of the homeland culture in favor of an attempt at assimilation. This

idea is explained in original Tajfel’s theory:

Under certain circumstances it may be impossible for members of a group

to find a positive basis upon which to compare their group with other
groups. This might occur for instance in groups that had low status in
society. Under these circumstances, [Tajfel] envisaged that group
members would do one of three things. Firstly, they might seek new bases
for comparison which would give a more favourable outcome, such as
emphasizing the beauty of traditional clothing or the liveliness of the
group’s language, an option that he termed social creativity. Secondly,
they might leave the group and join another with more positive qualities,
an option which he termed social mobility. Individualistic cultures with
their emphasis on equal opportunity and freedom of association may
provide more opportunities and support for such an option! Thirdly, they

One may also look to “invisible” migrants such as Mainland Chinese in Taiwan,
Canadians in the US, etc.

might seek to change the attributes of their group so that it would

command more favorable evaluations in the future, an option that he
termed social change. (Tajfel 1981 as cited in Smith and Bond 1998)

For example, Rosa a middle-aged woman who has lived in the US since she was

a teen and married a non-Hispanic white man, says she has purposively discarded many

of her cultural practices in an attempt to integrate more easily: She explains, “I am

Mexican. Firstly, I was born in Mexico and have family and ancestors in Mexico. My

blood is Mexican…my language, more than anything my language…is I have tried to get

rid of Mexican traditions a little. If I compare myself with my mother and my sisters [in

Mexico] I am completely different.” (Sills 2000). Between these poles of acceptance and

rejection lies a social space that includes such possibilities as segmented assimilation or

transnationalism. As previously discussed, transnationalism may include various patterns

like biculturalism, blended or hybridized cultures, or even the formation of new cultural

identities. In these cases, the migrant may have various ‘situated’ selves that are

dependent upon the social place that she occupies.When among co-nationals she may

have one sense of identity, while among the majority population she may present another

entirely separate self. This situational nature of identity is very apparent in an interview

with one Mexican migrant in which he says, “I believe I have no real identification... I

am able to adapt, from Latino to Hispanic to Mexican-American, depending on the

situation and who the people are that I am talking to. Actually, I have been able to take

on all of those identities” (Sills 2000).



In dealing with cultural beliefs and values at the level of the individual, I felt that 

the Interpretivist paradigm would provide the best approach for analysis. Within this 

paradigm, meanings are treated as situated and socially constructed, culture is viewed of 

as an abstract built by social interactions and reflection, and evidence of such is found in 

the polyvocal narratives of subject/participants (LeCompte and Schensul 1999). As 

LeCompte and Schensul (1999) explain Volume One of The Ethnographer’s Toolkit :

Interpretivists view culture as both cognitive and affective, as reflected in

shared meanings and as expressed in common language, symbols, and
other modes of communication. They believe that culture is created in a
process as many individuals share or negotiate multiple and overlapping
socially based interpretations of what they do and what occurs in local
situations. Culture, then, is an abstract “construct” put together or
“constructed” as people interact with each other and participate in shared
activities (49)

This definition recognizes the importance of the social structure (as explained in

the previous sections) as well as the characteristics of the individuals as they interact:

“shared meanings and constructs are “situated” “that is they are located in or affected by

the social, political, cultural, economic, ethnic, age, gender, and other contextual

characteristics of those who espouse them.” LeCompte and Schensul (1999) identify the
Figure 2-3 Identity Outcomes by Mode of Reception


Assimilation & Segmented Assimilation & Return Migration, on-ward

Amalgamation Transnationalism (Including migration, & Enclave
orthogonal biculturalism, blending of (limited possibility of
cultures, hybridization, and creation of mobility)
‘new’ cultures)

Figure 2-4 The Nature of Reception and Possible Identities

goals of the Interpretivist paradigm as making comparisons of results of similar

processes and phenomena (such as identity transition in multiple contexts) and

“development of workable and shared understandings regarding regularities in human

behavior in specific settings.”

Denzin’s Interpretive Ethnography (1997) adds to this a critical edge which

questions even the researchers place within the construction of knowledge. His “critical

poststructural interpretive ethnography” assumes a postmodernist stance in that: “the

writer can no longer presume to be able to present an objective, noncontested account of

the other’s experiences. Those we study have their own understanding of how they want

to be represented.” LeCompte and Schensul (1999) further explain:

Important to interpretive research is that the constructs or meaning

systems of researchers, participants, and research partners all carry equal
weight, because negotiated meaning cannot occur unless the researcher is
a full participant in the process. The nature of this interaction blurs the
distinction between researcher and researched, subject and object,
bringing all parties together as equal partners in the process of generating
and interpreting data.

It is, however, important to emphasize the importance of the ethnographer and the

“outsiders” perspective in this process of interpretation. Jay Ruby explains that in

interpretive ethnographic filmmaking:

The move to give greater voice and authority to the subject has now
reached a logical, but extreme point. There is an unspoken assumption
about the validity of interviews, particularly with those outside the
mainstream. These films seem to suggest that what subjects say about
themselves and their situation is to be taken at face value. While it is clear
that the balance needs redressing and the victims of Western oppression
should represent themselves, it should not be assumed that any one group
has a privileged insight into its own history. People seldom understand
their own motivation. No particular group of people has the corner on
being self-serving or adjusting the past to fit the needs of the present. To
assume otherwise denies the role of the unconsciousness. What people say
about themselves are data to be interpreted, not the truth. (Ruby 1991)

LeCompte and Schensul clearly outline the tasks and roles of researcher and

participant involved in ethnographic projects in the interpretivist paradigm:

• Definition - participant
• Description - participant
• Classification/ codification - researcher with checks by participant
• Enumeration/ correlation/ association/ interpretation - researcher in
conjunction with participant

While LeCompte and Schensul demarcate the roles and responsibilities of the

ethnographer and participants, Denzin (1997) clearly defines the text or document that

may result from such an undertaking. He explains that it would be somewhere between

the “messy text” of the ethnographer acting as “scribe for the other” and a moral

document in which the researcher acts as “coauthor with the other, producing a joint

document, which has long been the tradition in critical, participatory research.”

Explaining further the polyvocal nature of these writing Denzin notes that they “are often

grounded in the study of epiphanal moments in people’s lives” and that “they attempt to

reflexively map multiple discourses that occur in a given social space… they are always


As part of the “text” that this project seeks to produce is a documentary of the

lives of individual undergoing transitions of identity as a result of their migratory

experiences. The Interpretivist paradigm, therefore, is a good fit for this type of visual

ethnography as there is an established tradition of reflexive and subjective documentaries

and direct application of this approach in film.15 Denzin notes, that Interpretivist films are

unique from more positivistic documentaries as they recognize the nature of film as a

simulacrum that is often mistaken as reality: Citing Trinh T. Minh-Ha (1991), Denzin

explains that traditional documentary style: “like ethnography, starts with the real world:

It uses an aesthetic of objectivity and a technological apparatus that produces truthful

statements (images) about the world…. These aesthetic strategies define the

documentary style, allowing the filmmaker to create a text that gives the viewer the

illusion of having ‘unmediated access to reality.’” However, this technological,

positivistic view is false as it is equally constructed and manipulated through the lens of

‘objectivity’ of the ethnographer. All texts of modernist ethnographers, he explains

“attempt to capture and re-present, through photographs, transcribed interviews, and

audiotapes the authentic, original voices heard, seen, and felt in the field setting” yet fail

as they are filtered and reconstructed by the situated viewpoint of the ethnographer.

Thus, he explains that “firm claims about truth, knowledge, consequences, causes, and

effects can no longer be made.” Rather, by incorporating the subject and researcher as

See for example Richard Chaflen in Crawford & Turton 1992; Chapters 5 & 8 in
Loizos 1993; “reflexive” film in Barbash and Taylor 1997; Trinh T. Minh-Ha 1991 in
Denzin 1997; Chapter 3 in MacDougall 1998; and finally Chapters 8 & 9 of Ruby 2000

participants and writing a pluralistic text that disregards the boundaries between subject

and object we arrive a situated truth more akin to a journalistic storytelling. Denzin

describes this form of writing as:

…local, participatory, civic, journalistic ethnography [that] answers to a

new readership – the biographically situated reader who is co-participant
in a public project that advocates democratic solutions to personal and
public problems… This writer, as a watchdog for the local community,
works outward from personal, biographical troubles to those public arenas
that transform troubles into issues. A shared public consciousness is
sought – a common awareness of troubles that have become issues in the
public arena. This consciousness is shaped by a form of writing that
merges the personal, the biographical, with the public.

Image 6 Virginia helping to record music for soundtrack of documentary



This project relied on a mixed­method triangulation of approaches. It was felt that 

a mixed­methods approach would allow for a range of creative solutions to the 

difficulties of conducting field research in a foreign country. A variety of research tools 

were utilized to facilitate data collection. From social psychology, the Twenty Statements 

Test was employed to document the migrants’ shift in self­identities. Follow­up 

interviews which discussed the respondent’s statements in great detail allowed for an 

understanding of the changes in self­concept that one experiences as a result of 

migration. Qualitative survey research (LeCompte and Schensul 1999) was employed to 

gather general demographic information and common migration experiences, as well as 

to gauge the importance of various community institutions in the everyday lives of 

factory workers. A comprehensive survey of laborers was conducted in May at the St. 

Joseph the Worker parish. On this occasion 389 surveys were distributed with 355 

returned (73% response). Small non­representative follow­up surveys with other 

protestant and non­religious groups (N=34) were conducted thereafter. This survey 

helped to grasp group level experiences of isolation, linguistic assimilation, religiosity, 

and the economic of labor migration (placement fees, broker fees, incentives and salaries, 

as well as remittance patterns and daily spending habits). Traditional ethnographic 

techniques commonly employed in Sociology (interviews, observations, and content 

analysis of periodicals), as well as more innovative visual ethnographic methods (photo­

documentation, video observations, and photo­elicitation) were used to document the 

everyday life experiences of the labor migrant and form the bulk of the research 

materials. Seven months of immersion with Philippine migrant communities in Southern 

Taiwan allowed for direct observations, participation in activities as a peripheral group 

member, formal and informal interviews with participants as well as video and 

photographic documentation. In­depth interviews with 38 migrant laborers, a focus group 

of nine women, meetings with migrant NGO activists and government officials were 

videotaped, transcribed, and coded (using Atlas.ti). Additional information came from an 

all­day meeting of the Second Annual Diocesan Coordinators Meeting at Stella Maris 

International Service Center in July of 2003. 


As ethnography, the research follows the characteristics outlined by LeCompte 

and Schensul (1999) that are common to such projects.16 First, the research is carried out 

in a naturalistic setting. It involves face­to­face contact between researcher and 

participants. It attempts, through a triangulation of perspectives, to represent a credible 

See also Agar, Michael. 1986. Speaking of Ethnography. Sage Publications,
Newbury Park p. 11-13.

reflection of the nature of the social phenomenon of acculturation and assimilation. It is 

recursive in nature: driven by theoretical concerns yet empirically grounded. It relies on 

multiple data sources and multiple methods of collection. It frames the phenomena of 

acculturation within the socio­historical context in which it is experienced today. Finally, 

this project focuses on culture as evidenced in the everyday lives of the participants. As 

LeCompte and Schensul explain: “all ethnographers begin ­an end­ their work with a 

focus on these patterns and traits that, lumped together, constitute a people’s culture.  The 

result of such a focus is the document we call ethnography.”

Another important element of ethnography is its exploratory nature. It is more 

than the documenting of a culture. It is the flexible investigation of a social phenomenon 

that requires the participation of the ethnographer in the process of discovery. Jay Ruby 

explains that ethnography is as much the process as the final document:

It is used here to imply both a process and product. I wish to behave like
an ethnographer. I plan to participate and observe within the culture for
extended periods of time in order to produce an ethnographic account of
the relationship of visual communication to culture. Ethnography is a
thick description (Geertz 1973). The theory constructs descriptive
categories and cannot be separated from the description. Since participant/
observation is the primary method of data generation, the "instrument" is
the researcher. (Ruby 1981).

This is not only a characteristic of ethnography, but also of a basic premise of the

symbolic interaction approach following the methodology outlined by Blumer:

Exploration is by definition a flexible procedure not pinned to any

particular technique. It begins with broad focus but narrows progressively
as the investigator moves toward an understanding of how the problem is

to be posed, what the appropriate data and may be, what conceptual tools
may be useful, etc. Exploration differs from the “pretentious posture” of
working with established scientific protocol which requires the researcher
to know in advance, precisely what the problem is and what kinds of data
are to be collected; to have a prearranged set of techniques; and to use
established conceptual categories. (Stryker 1980)

While I have outlined a procedure to be used in data collection, it is flexible 

enough to respond to new information learned in the interviews and observations. Guided 

by “research questions” it does not pose hypotheses to be proven in empirical tests. I do 

not know what to expect in the field, nor the specifics of the data to be documented. Yet, 

I do not propose to be quite as “loose” as the methods proposed by Blumer. I do employ a 

theoretical lens that gives focus to the issue to be investigated.


The nature of the research and the Interpretivist paradigm fit well with the 

collaborative nature of ethnographic research. I sought to present a product that is 

collaborative, yet also reflects my own role in the very social process of creation of a 

cultural product. 17 I did not attempt to hide my role as ethnographer and interviewer by 

extracting from the research my own participation. Jay Ruby further explains the 

importance and deliberateness of reflexivity  in ethnographic work:

“Oral histories are not merely accounts elicited by a researcher with a tape
recorder; historyspeaking is a big part of an ongoing social process which creates
communities out of groups of individuals…. the term reflexive describes a different
role for the investigator who recognizes that they are working within society and
history.” (Margolis 1994)

To be reflexive is to structure a product in such a way that the audience

assumes that the characteristics of the producer’s life, the process of
construction, and the product are a coherent whole. Not only is an
audience made aware of these relationships, but it is made to realize the
necessity of that knowledge. To be more formal, I would argue that being
reflexive means that the producer deliberately, intentionally reveals to his
or her audience the underlying epistemological assumptions that caused
him or her to formulate a set of questions in a particular way, to seek
answers to those questions in a particular way, and finally to present his or
her findings in a particular way. (Ruby 2000).


This project represents a mixed­method approach to the understanding of a 

social­psychological question. As such, a number of analytical techniques were applied to 

the information gathered in the field. I feel that by blending methods, I am better able to 

provide the thick description and deep meanings contained within the ethnographic 

observations and interviews, while also providing some generalizability and an indication 

of broader sociological phenomenon by means of statistical analysis of survey data and 

psychological tests.

Survey Analysis

Results from the survey of Nan Tze area workers were keyed into a database 

using Microsoft Excel. Matching identification codes on the paper survey and in the 

electronic database allowed for continual surveillance of improper entries and data 

reliability. This data set was then ported to SPSS 11.0 for descriptive analysis. Descriptive 

statistics allowed for presentation of a “portrait” of the community of laborers in Taiwan. 

These statistics also provided a metric for comparing ethnography participants and 

gauging the “representativeness” of the migrant population. More thorough analysis was 

then completed using bivariate and multivariate regression procedures.


Audio and videotaped interviews were transcribed and entered into Atlas.ti for 

coding. Primary documents, the transcriptions and observation notes, were marked 

following a preliminary coding scheme was devised using the program’s “code in vivo” 

and “free coding” systems. The “Autocoding” procedure, used to keyword search the 

entire database of transcripts and notes, was also employed to generate quotations 

following common themes. As coding progressed, this scheme was collapsed or 

expanded as needed refining the concepts and categories that later became the dominant 

themes presented in this text. The “QueryTool” subroutine allowed for retrieval of 

quotations within these themes. Atlas.ti allowed also for the exploration of the 

relationship between concepts by means of the “Network Editor” tool.

Twenty Statements

Interviewees were provided with a form on which the instructions were provided. 

They were given an opportunity to fill out this form before beginning the first interview. 

The form was used later in the interview to elicit discussion on the theme of changes that 

they had undergone as a result of their migration experiences:

There are ten numbered blanks on the page below. Please write ten
answers to the simple question “Who am I?” in the blanks. Just give ten
different answers to this question. Answer as if you are giving the answers
to yourself, not to someone else. Write the answers in the order that they
occur to you. Don’t worry about logic or “importance.” Go along fairly
quickly for time is limited.
Now, answer the same question, but reflect back to when you were living
in the Philippines. Who were you then? How were you similar/different to
who you are today?

Twenty­nine of the thirty­three Twenty Statements Tests were coded according to 

the following scheme:18 

• Personality Traits (PT) o SR - Religious

o PT - Negative • Other Categories (Other)
o PT - Neutral o Other - Age
o PT - Positive o Other - Existential
• Social Roles (SR) o Other - Geographic
o SR - Activity Group o Other - Name
o SR - Ethnic/Cultural o Other - Time in Taiwan
o SR - Non-Religious o Other - Work Related
o SR - Occupational • Physical Descriptions (PD)
o SR - Relational o PD- General Descriptions

Personality traits were judged to be positive, negative, or neutral. They included 

such statements as: “I am... independent,” “I am... a hardworking type of person, ”or “I 

was... very lazy.” Social Roles were categorized by those roles that emerged in the 

coding. They included ethnic/cultural statements such as “I am... a Filipino citizen,” 

religious declarations like, “I am... a member of the family of God,” to relational roles as, 

Four of the respondents misinterpreted the directions, writing instead a short
autobiography rather than statements beginning with “I am” and “I was.”

“I am... a mother of two kids.” Physical Descriptions included a single case of physical 

condition in which the participant declared, “I was... not healthy.” Other categories, 

included age or birth date, name, time spent in Taiwan, work related statements (e.g. “we 

don't have any O.T.”), and existential statements (e.g. “I am... nobody”). In all, there were 

247 “now” statements and 185 “before” statements.



Kaohsiung city, and the surrounding area in Southern Taiwan, is among the 

leading heavy industry and manufacturing districts in Asia. Kaohsiung is the second 

largest city in Taiwan and its harbor is the third largest container port in the world.19 In 

addition to being a crowded and bustling industrial center, it is temporarily home to 

nearly 12,000 migrant laborers from other Southeast Asian countries.20 These workers are 

employed in construction, factories, shipbuilding and other industries, as well as 

domestic servants, caretakers, and nurses. Between January and August of 2003, I lived 

in this Southern city interviewing and surveying Filipino workers whom I met through 

churches, relief agencies, and through casual contact. The majority of participants were 

factory workers from the Nan Tze Economic Processing Zone and attended St. Joseph 

the Worker parish. 

Sung, Cecilia (1995) The Southern City of Kaohsiung Travel in Taiwan
( and also Kaohsiung
Overview ( Both retrieved on
April 12, 2004
Employment and Vocational Training Administration, CLA. Jan 2004 Table 13-9
Status of Alien Workers by Area in Taiwan-Fukien Area. Retrieved on April 12,

Participants in this study were interviewed and surveyed from early February to 

late July 2003. Initial contact was made through migrant NGOs and churches with large 

Filipino populations in and about Taiwan’s leading industrial city of Kaohsiung. 

Source: Economic Processing Zone Administration 21

Figure 4-1 Economic Processing Zones in Taiwan

Specifically, interviews, observations, and surveys were conducted in Kang Shan, Nan 

Tze, Tang Gang, and Kaohsiung City. Over the course of the months of fieldwork, I 

attended church services, cultural celebrations, and social functions in these communities 

Retrieved on April 12, 2004
becoming familiar with many of the participants first through informal communications 

then in focus groups or formal interviews. 

In addition to videotaped interviews, thirty­three of the thirty­six participants 

were administered a modified, “before” and “during” migration, Twenty Statements Test. 

Statements made on the test were clarified and expanded during the in­depth semi­

structured interview which followed. The videotaped interviews were later transcribed, 

coded, and analyzed. Likewise, they were used in the production of the videos that 

accompany this document.  

Interviews lasted from one to two hours and covered the participant’s educational 

and economic background, labor history, family structure, migration history (including 

family member’s migrations), labor and social experiences in Taiwan, and plans for the 

future. Just over a third of the participants were provided a film or digital camera to 

photographically document their lives. Participants were provided the simple directions 

to “shoot pictures of that which is most important” in the their lives. In all, over 350 

images were captured and appear in a Hypertext  document found on CD#1 (Jacket 

Insert).  Short follow­up interviews were conducted with the participants involved in 

photo­documentation. Details of the photographs were discussed and the photos 

themselves were used to elicit more detailed accounts of their lives in Taiwan. Five 

participants were recruited to carry out additional video data collection, detailing their 
living conditions, daily events, and special holiday celebrations. Finally, two 

supplemental interviews with non­churchgoing factory workers were conducted in 

Tagalog by one of the participants in migrants. The purpose of these interviews was to 

explore differences, if any, between non­church going women in the Nan Tze area and 

those who had been contacted via church groups.

In addition to the interviews and observations, a 101­question survey (see 

appendix for full­text) was administered between May and July of 2003 with the majority 

of responses from a particularly well attended service (anniversary festival of the El  

Shaddai group)22 at the St. Joseph the Worker Parish in Nan Tze, Taiwan. Respondents 

from the other churches and dorms were conducted for comparative purposes and were 

gathered as non­random convenience samples. Respondents included 355 members of St. 

Joseph the Worker Parish in Nan Tze (representing an overall response rate of 73% of 

those in attendance), and non­random samples of 10 members of the Higher Ground Free 

Methodist Church in Nan Tze (women’s Bible study group), 10 from Jesus is Lord 

Fellowship in Kang Shan, 14 non­church members from Green House women’s 


capsule.htm for general information on this charismatic Catholic movement from the
Philippines, retrieved on April 12, 2004.
Survey Respondents

As the survey was conducted near the Nan Tze Economic Processing Zone 

(EPZ), almost all of respondents (98%) were factory workers. There was a very small 

minority of factory coordinators, contract engineers, and foreign spouses of Taiwanese. 

Nan Tze’s EPZ hires mainly women as they are considered best for the delicate work of 

electronics manufacturing. Thus, most respondents were female (90%). The small 

minority of males in the dataset were mostly engineers in the Nan Tze factories, workers 

from nearby Kang Shan (where there are more heavy industrial manufacturers), ship 

builders and factory workers from Kaohsiung city (including Chi Chin Island), and the 

targeted sample of members of the Jesus is Lord church in Kang Shan. While 

unrepresentative of workers in other regions and unequally distributed between the sexes, 

this survey does provide a clear image of the Filipino population in Nan Tze from which 

the majority of ethnography participants were drawn.

The average age among respondents was 28 years with a range of 19 to 44 in the 

sample. Two­thirds of respondents were never married. While 19% of all respondents had 

children, 22% of those with children were single parents. Most respondents were on their 

first (47%) or second (42%) trip to Taiwan. 13% have had experience working in other 

countries; Saudi Arabia, Hong Kong, and Japan being the most frequent. Most (89%) 
have greater than a high school/vocational school degree (i.e. some college, university or 

graduate school) indicating the highly selective labor hiring process. One­forth indicated 

that advertisements for positions in Taiwan, placed by labor recruiters in the Philippines, 

influenced the choice to go to Taiwan. Another one­fifth said that friends in Taiwan 

influenced their decision to migrate, while 13% indicated multiple reasons including 

family and friends either in Taiwan or having returned from Taiwan.







10% 8.6%

0.5% 0.8%
Primary Academic High Vocational High College University (BA/BS) Grad School Other
school School

Figure 4-2 Educational Achievement

Image 7 Congregation of St. Joseph the Worker Parish

Ethnography Participants

Most ethnography participants were drawn from the population of workers in the 

Nan Tze Economic Processing Zone. In an attempt to balance the 17 individual female 

participants and nine female focus group participants from this area, contacts were made 

with groups of male workers from the nearby town of Kang Shan and later from the ship 

builders at Kaohsiung harbor’s Chi Chin Island. Nine additional males were recruited in 

these areas. 

While the majority of workers interviewed were from manufacturing industries 

(52% of all workers in Taiwan), efforts were made to interview domestic workers and 

caretakers as well. These interviews were conducted exclusively at the shelter for 
migrants at Stella Maris International Service Center and included five women who were 

seeking assistance regarding employer abuses, repatriation, illegal status, or other 

employment problems. Attempts were also made to interview workers via contact with 

Taiwanese employers, nevertheless all were refused by employers who did not wish their 

workers to speak on their migration experiences. Thus, it is recognized that these 

interviews do not reflect the positive relationship between some employers and their 

domestic workers. However, most studies by other researchers do cover these domestic 

relations. What's more, I feel these cases are still useful in underscoring the extreme 

conditions that many workers do face. As “escapees” from harsh working conditions, I 

feel they are more likely to represent a greater number of workers who are confined by 

the families for whom they work and thus concealed from researchers. These five, then, 

are the more fortunate minority who have chosen to bear the financial penalty of early 

return rather than tolerate exploitation.
Agriculture (Crewmen)

Social, personal and

related community services



Figure 4-3 Migrant Workers by Industry (derived from Table 11-3 Alien Workers
in Taiwan-Fukien Area by Industry Employment and Vocational Training
Administration, CLA.)

Image 8 Virginia in a sea of bicycles (migrants are not allowed to own

scooters or cars)

Finally, approximately 15 hours of audio and videotaped interviews were 

conducted in order to gain greater understanding of particular issues surround labor
migration in Taiwan. These interviews included multiple sessions with leaders of local 

non­governmental agencies, religious groups, and representatives from the Philippine 

government in Taiwan. Likewise, to better understand the placement­broker­employer 

system, interviews were conducted with Philippine coordinators who, though assigned to 

the human resources departments of factories in Nan Tze, in reality work directly for 

brokers to oversee the factory workers. Similarly, interviews were conducted with a 

number of Filipina spouses of Taiwanese men in an effort to collect information on long­

term assimilation/ incorporation experiences.

Nan Tze Factory Workers

As previously mentioned, the majority of participants in this project lived in the 

vicinity of the Nan Tze Economic Processing Zone often referred to simply as “NEPZ.” I 

was first introduced to these workers by Fr. Bruno Ciceri who, among many other duties, 

overseas the Stella Maris International Services Center (in Kaohsiung) as well as looks 

after pastoral care of the St. Joseph the Worker parish (in Nan Tze). Almost all of the 

workers in this area were female; the majority employed in electronics. The Taiwanese 

see electronics manufacturing as a “delicate” process requiring “nimble fingers” and 

“patience.” Male workers are not perceived of as having these traits. Moreover, educated 

Filipinas are especially desired for this industry as many of the readouts, instruction 
manuals, and control panels for machinery require a knowledge of English. From early 

March until the end of my stay in August, I frequented church services and social events 

at the parish. The focus group interview and many of the one­ 
Industries in NEPZ





20 19


10 9

5 4 4 4
1 1
Related Industry

Other industries

Metal Products

Industrial Products
Chemical Products

International Tradings
Precision Machinery

Electronic Appliances
Information Services



approved for


Electricity &
Figure 4-4 Industries in the Nan Tze EPZ (derived from EPZA Statistics on
Enterprises by Category)23

on­one interviews were conducted on the tree covered grounds of the parish. However, 

for much of June and July, church attendance was greatly diminished as a result of 

curfews imposed on workers to limit the spread of SARs. During this period, much of my 

data gathering shifted to interviewing male workers, who incidentally were not under 

quarantine, in nearby Kang Shan and on Chi Chin Island in Kaohsiung harbor.
Economic Processing Zone Administration 現有區內事業分類統計 Statistics on
Enterprises by Category Jan 2004 Available at: http://offi- retrieved on April 12,
Focus Group (March 11)

The focus group interview with nine members of the Legion of Mary at St. 

Joseph’s parish, was videotaped  and transcribed, yielding over 1100 lines of transcript 

text (roughly thirty pages). The participants were all regular church goers who also 

helped in conducting the daily services. Most were also members of the choir, liturgy, El 

Shaddai, or other religious and social groups within the church community. They ranged 

in ages from 22 to 37 and had worked previously in the Philippines as secretaries, sales 

clerks, factory workers, and full­time students. All had post­secondary educations, but, 

due to limited opportunities in the Philippines, chose to work in Taiwan where they made 

as much as three times their previous salaries. The discussion was unstructured, but 

included employment experiences, religiosity, dating, money issues (such as placement 

costs, salaries, and remittances), everyday life in the dorms, and difficulties with cultural 

integration (dislike of food, problems at work, challenges of communication, etc.). 

Jenny (March 2; March 17; June 16)

I was introduced to Jenny early in the research process. She was one of the first 

participants interviewed and was instrumental in photo­documentation, helping to 

videotape church events, assisting in transcription and survey data entry, and also 

conducted two interviews in Tagalog. Jenny, 26 yrs old, was only recently married and 
had a one­year old son. She and her husband had met on her first trip to Taiwan (1999 to 

2001). She was forced to return to the Philippines at that time due to pregnancy (until 

recently considered a breach of contract). She was university educated in Physical 

Therapy, but failed her board exam. As she explains she, “got frustrated and I thought I 

might as well go to another place.” She finds that working in Taiwan is “degrading 

because this is not my line of work. And I get a, I get, a very small salary that’s not, it’s 

not, the job is really hard and very tiresome, very heavy.” Forced to live with her sister­

in­law after having her baby, she said life was difficult. “We have little money in the 

bank, but most of the time, we have a little money in the bank but we don’t have a very 

stable income. So it gets very difficult.” 

Image 9 Jenny’s self-portrait with family

One result of her experiences abroad has been greater self confidence. She 

attributed this confidence to the difficulties of living on her own and coping with the 

foreign society, as well as her stronger commitment to working in the church:

Stephen: You said that you were stronger here then you’ve ever being before.
Jenny: Emotionally.
Stephen: Emotionally?
Jenny: Emotionally, I feel that I am stronger now because, before, because before
when I came here to Taiwan before, I often cry and miss home. I don’t now. But
now I could say that I am stronger because when things go wrong, you know,
when things go wrong I would always say that it happens because it has a
purpose. It’s meant to happen to me and there is always solution. I always say
that to myself.
Money she was earning in Taiwan was being sent home and saved for a family 

business: “I'm saving for a business and I'm gonna build my own house. Yes, I have a 

husband and baby back home and we'll have money to build our home and have a little 

bit like a restaurant. Just a small restaurant. I was planning on having a restaurant near 

the school or just something like, just a burger station, like that…”
Image 10 Ellen with Father Bruno and Friends

Ellen (March 2, March 22)

I met Ellen on the same day as Jenny. They both took me for a partial tour of 

“yellow house,” one of the dorms near NEPZ. It was there that we had our first sit­down 

interview. Ellen, also 26 yrs old, was unmarried though she shyly admitted to having a 

school “friend” in the Philippines to who she has plans of marrying: “He wanted to get 

married, but I don’t like because I still have to help my family.” Though she received a 

compute science degree, she said there were no jobs and she needed to find a way to help 

her five sisters and one brother. “I heard rumor of Taiwan, once you work in Taiwan you 

will be having a salary like that and overtime, and lots of money... So, it’s a fortune for 

me because lots of my sisters are studying, so I can help them more, especially financial 
support.” When I met her, she was already into her second contract in Taiwan, having 

worker the first three years and recently returned. She too participated in the photo­

documentation portion of the project. Her photos reflect the two central themes in her life 

as an OFW: work and church. She explains, “I go home [from work]at almost 4:00 [am]. 

So, my day shift is in the church. My second shift, I am sleeping. And the third shift is 

work, the schedule is like that.” Like Jenny, Ellen hopes to convert her savings into a 

business back home, as she explains, “maybe a bakery.”

Bea (March 2)

Bea participated in a short, yet informative, taped interview in the community 

room of the dorm while touring “yellow house.” She was one month away from 

completing her second contract and ready to head back to the Philippines. Though in her 

late 30s, she looked younger than most workers I had met. She explained that, especially 

on her first trip to Taiwan, she found communication with managers and Chinese co­

workers to be problematic. To ease the problems during training she said novices are 

assigned to the experienced Filipino workers to learn the machines: “Sometimes, the first 

time, it's very difficult for me especially in communication. So, when there's an old 

operator in the production, they give the Filipino to the Filipino to teach, especially in a 
production. They [Taiwanese] also teach us ,but it's very difficult for them, we have to 

adapt ourselves to that.” 

Soon to return, she says money has been a difficulty. While earnings were high on 

her first contract, due to a great number of over­time hours, it has been tighter since the 

economic down. “We don't have any savings. No money for ourselves, only for our food 

and for our, to pay our debts in the Philippines.” Bea goes on to explain that placement 

fees are lower today, but earnings are down as well as a result of having to pay their own 

room and board in the dorms. 

Image 11 Cleaning the equipment after mixing chemicals used in ceramic

circuit board components

Caroline (March 21)

For Caroline, 26 years old, Taiwan was a big change, socially, occupationally and 

religiously. When I interviewed her, she had only been there for seven months. While she 
described herself as being agnostic and irresponsible before, she said now she is a 

member of the choir and a responsible, friendly person. She told me that she came to 

Taiwan, six years after graduating from college with a BA in History and a minor in 

Anthropology, because she had problems maintaining a job and had little money: “ 

first place the pay there, the salary, it’s very low. And then, aside from that, if I stay there, 

I have so many friends and I’m easily tempted. You know, instead of going to work, I just 

said okay, let’s go, drink or have fun.” Now, working in the quality control lab doing 

failure analysis of circuit board, she says she is much more responsible. She also says 

she’s lucky that she got the position in the lab: “We were forty in my batch. Forty, And 

the, our HR representative there, the person there interviewed us first. Then he chose 

only ten, and after that, the boss at the head of the lab, interview the ten again. And then, 

fortunately three was chosen. I was among the three.... the work there is lighter, very 

much lighter if compared with the production.” She was also fortunate not to owe 

placement fees as she paid cash in the Philippines. She says she intends to invest the 

money she earns in Taiwan, or possibly travel to Ireland and then Canada:

Stephen: So, you’re hoping that after, after you finish here in Taiwan, you would
go then to Canada?
Caroline: Ireland, I think. Ireland first, because it’s easier, you know.
Stephen: Okay, do you intend on staying in Canada later? Settling there or...?
Caroline: Yeah, if I can.
Stephen: If you can. Why?
Caroline: Better living conditions....That’s what I’ve heard, and I’ve read, I
researched. And then the services there also. And ,you know the economic, there
is an economic crises in the Philippines. So, I really want to go away from the
Philippines. ‘Cause, I think in Canada, it’s very much better than in the
Philippines. Not just Canada, Ireland or other European countries.

Marivel (April 7)

Less than a year after graduating with a BS in Psychology Marivel, 22 years old, 

went to Taiwan at the urging of her college friend. Originally from Cebu, she explains 

she graduated in March, worked as a cashier for a short while, then in October made the 

trek to Manila to begin the application and placement process. She also wanted to go to 

Canada, but the placement fees were too high. Her classmate from college was coming 

and her cousin had already worked in Taiwan, so she decided to give it a try. As she 

explains, she had to sacrifice herself for the benefit of her six other siblings (aged 11 to 

26): “I sacrifice for my family...I'm suffering for them. I sacrifice for them, in order for , 

for my younger brothers to, to, especially, ah, enroll in school. Especially in college, 

because college is very high in tuition fees there.” On a monthly basis, she remits about 

4,400NT, almost a third of her salary, by a door­to­door courier service to help support 

her family. Like many Filipinos, she explains that her extended kin are also living around 

the world and sending money back. She has aunts in Canada and England, and cousins in 

Japan and Germany.
Ana (April 7, April 30)

Ana was finishing her third year in Taiwan when I interviewed her at St. Joseph’s. 

While she had also worked in a semi­conductor factory in the Philippines she was 

originally trained as a nutritionist in a vocational school. Her family didn’t have enough 

resources for her to attend the academic university, so she had attained only a vocational 

degree. She was sending about 5,000 NT home monthly to help with the education of her 

younger siblings. Like Marivel, she had family in many countries around the world. Her 

brother was working in Oman, and she had aunts, uncles, and cousins in Canada, 

Australia, England, Oman, and Spain. Contemplating return or onward migration, she 

feels there are yet few opportunities for her in the Philippines: “Maybe, I want to return, 

because the economics of the Philippines. I don’t know if I have chance to go back here, 

because I’m not expecting to make another three years for a contract. But it’s okay. I’ll 

just find another job. My aunty is abroad. She told me if you want to go here. I’m telling 

her that I want to go with them. They’re in Spain.” She admits though that it will be 

difficult to get the tourist visa for Spain. Already, for this trip she had to borrow nearly 

US $1,000 from her brother for the placement fees and she has not been able to save. She 

does hope, one­day, to emigrate to Toronto. As she says, “there’s many Filipinos there.”
Lani (April 8, June 6)

Melanie, aged 23, tells me, “My friends call me Lani,” inviting me to do the 

same. She is the youngest of five and describes herself as having been naughty, secretive, 

and “attached with material things” when she was still in the Philippines. She graduated 

with a major in Mass Communications in Broadcasting: “but I’m not good in this… I 

wan to do interviewing, and then I also want the filmmaking. We do the MTVs, but I’m 

just, you know, a location designer. Just like doing the back round. I’m not on the 

camera. I’m not the interviewer. I’m just the one who sets the place.” She was out of 

work, or “vacant” as she puts it, for a year after graduating. During that time she took 

care of her parents who are now in their sixties. She explains that through a neighbor she 

heard about Taiwan:

...just an accident that my neighbor told about Taiwan. She worked here
for three years, the same company. At that time, the company is good. The
salary is very high. So, that’s why I was convinced to go here. But, then
when I arrived here, unfortunately, the company is getting worse and
worse. And then, the salary is, you know, the salary decreases and then
even the benefits were cut.”

Growing up on a farm in the provinces she says she was not “able to be in touch 

with church activities before.” Now, she is involved in many of the church activities and 

has even taken a leadership role in the El Shaddai movement. She explains that though 
she was planning to return at the end of her two year contract, she signed on for another 

year because of these church commitments. 

Lani, also explained the difficulties of relationships in Taiwan. While there are 

few men in Nan Tze, they come from factories in nearby Kang Shan and other parts, to 

attend church or visit the eateries and shops that cater to Filipinos:

Lani: ...For me, I had a boyfriend here for three months, and then, I also invited
him to be, to participate here in the church activities, but he, but he already went
Stephen: Do you maintain contact with him?
Lani: (laughin) Oh, too personal! Ah, as of now, we don’t have communication. I
found out that I am also one of the victims. You know that I can…
Stephen: Is he married or does he have other girlfriends?
Lani: What he told me, he has no girlfriend, of course. This is one of the things
the man is telling to a woman. Yeah, but then, but I also felt the care, the love and
the sincerity when we were together of course. But then, when he went back,
that’s the time when…
Stephen: Do you think that’s common for women here if they’re dating someone
and then they find out, they hear that he’s married or has a girlfriend?
Lani: Pardon? Pardon?
Stephen: Do you think it’s common or typical?
Lani: Yeah, because here, it’s very hard to trace someone. But then, because
we’re here, their excuse is that we’re here alone, very far from our families. So,
many of us are longing for someone that will take care of us. But then I think it’s
just a temporary, hum, aspiration, that we have somebody that will take care of
us. I think. But, when you go back to the Philippines, I think that’s the real life.

MaFe (April 14)

Maria Fe, or MaFe ­ also just “Fe,” was a 34 year old mother of one. She had 

earned a “Bachelor of Science in commerce, major in Accounting,” but only found work 

as a sales clerk in her native Mindanao. After some time she was able to secure a 
production specialist, and later line­leader, position in a Texas Instruments factory. She 

stayed there for eight years, met her husband, and had a son (now aged three). Benefits at 

her job were getting worse and many people were being laid off. When offered the 

possibility of a severance bonus, she left the company. However, as her husband was also 

unemployed at that time she explains that she ended up in Taiwan: “You know, the reason 

behind when I, the reason behind when I decided to go here because, when I was in the 

Philippines, I looked for a job and nobody will hire me. I decided to go abroad.” It took 

over three months to get a placement and she was very much in debt. Her husband 

supported the decision for her to work abroad: “he told me that he is not capable to go 

here because he is, his educational attainment is not suit for going here. And he accept 

that. And, he thinks that I am capable and we have so many accounts.” Once she came to 

Taiwan she borrowed money to help pay back debts and help her husband start a small 

business in the Philippines. However, she had to surrender her ATM card to the 

Taiwanese loan sharks and has to pay back the money plus eight percent interest a month. 

She became tearful as she explains that the business ( a motorcycle side­car taxi) failed, 

their debts back home remained unsettled, and over the course of  three months she paid 

back almost 39000NT on a 30000NT loan in addition to paying on the debt for her 
placement fee. She explains that these loan sharks sometimes get rough if they are not 

paid back on time.24 Her friend, in fact, had disappeared: 

Fe ...the gossip spread out that the lending people want to shoot my friend if they
about to, caught, catch her.
Stephen: Do you think that's why she ran away?
Fe: She ran away because the lending people forced her. She, she didn't know
what to do. She ,but she is, she worked a lot. She worked every time when there
are overtime, to pay for it. But sometimes, she also borrow money from Filipinos.

“Cassandra” (April 15, July 7)

I met “Cassandra” through ‘Pastora’ Tessa, one of the essential Taiwanese staff at 

Stella Maris International Center and minister (along with Filipino husband Pastor Chris 

Marzo) of the Higher Ground Free Methodist Church in Nan Tze. Though participating 

in videotaping and photo­documentation of her life in Taiwan “Cassandra” wished not to 

use her real name in the video in part due to the loss of status she feels as a result of her 

work in the factory. After teaching general sciences for several years in the academic high 

schools, she became dissatisfied with the low teacher’s salaries and decided to try more 

lucrative college positions: “In the province. I became a college teacher for one year. 

Chemistry. I handled the chemistry subject. Then, I became a librarian for six months. 

So, but, you know I am not contented financially.” Facing a separation from her husband, 

who had gone with another woman to live in the United States, and needing to provide 

46% of survey respondents indicated having taken a loan from Taiwanese loan
sharks or other Filipinos.
for her younger brothers as well as being sole parent for her ten­year­old daughter, she 

decided to give Taiwan a try: 

Cassandra: 1999 I came to Taiwan for three years. Then, I went back to the
Philippines. I decided to go back to school.
Stephen: Right.
Cassandra: But, it seems that, I cannot, I cannot. The salary is not, is not that
high. I cannot, I cannot be contented with it. Especially, I have two college
brothers. They're studying in college. Luckily my, my brother, one of my brothers
already graduated last March. And the other one will be next March. So...
Stephen: So, were you financially helping them out? Were you supporting them
Cassandra: Yeah. I am supporting them...
Stephen: Was your daughter living with you in the Philippines?
Cassandra: Yeah.
Stephen: Okay.
Cassandra: My daughter is in, at my mother's house right now.
Stephen: At your mother's house. Okay.
Cassandra: Hum, I want m-my daughter wants to, to stay in our house in
Tuguegarao but nobody's taking care of her. So, I transferred her to my mother's
Stephen: Okay, so you stayed until 2001. You went back and tried to teach
another year. But, because of the pay difference, you decided to come back here
again. Ah, compare your jobs, being a factory worker here and being a high
school teacher there. Have you felt that there was any loss of status or position?
Cassandra: Yeah.
Stephen: Yeah. How does that affect you?
Cassandra: Ah, I feel especially when my, my supervisors are getting angry with
me, I feel being degraded. Because you know, not for bragging, because most of
the supervisors here didn't, is not, is not well, y-you know what I mean. The...
Stephen: Their education is very low.
Cassandra: Their educations are very low. But if, if they are getting angry with
us, especially when you are committing some mistakes; not that big mistakes;
they are getting angry as if you are already committed a very serious crime. So,
you are being degraded with that. I feel, ah, my pride is very low because of that.
Sometimes I, I want to go home and go back to school. Go back in teaching. But
then, I am, ah, in the Philippines I, I cannot, I cannot live doing what, I can no
longer live the same, the same life as before. Because, you know, my family's no
longer complete.
Virginia (April 25, July 7)

Virginia was also a member of Higher Ground Free Methodist Church. She was a 

close friend of “Cassandra” and an active part of the church’s gospel choir (singing, 

playing guitar, drums, and piano). In the Philippines, she had been a professional singer 

in a club. She had grown dissatisfied with pay and working nights and had then spent 

time working in Hong Kong as a domestic worker and later in Taiwan for two years in the 

factory (2001­2003). She had just returned to Taiwan for a new contract when I met her. 

She says that she decided to come to Taiwan after talking with a friend: “I met a friend at 

the bar and I told her that I think I’m already fed up with this kind of job. Then she told 

me, ‘you want to try Taiwan?’ ‘But I don’t have any experience ?’ I told her. ‘It’s okay,’ 

she told me. And then, there was an interview that was held back in the city. Because, 

mostly Taiwan interviews are held at Manila. And, I tried for interview. And, I’m glad I 

was chosen.” When working in Hong Kong she helped her parents in building a new 

house and on her first trip to Taiwan, she was able to help them add a second floor and 

other improvements. However, during her second year she had an argument with her 

Taiwanese supervisor and was not able to renew the contract for a third year: “I had an 

argument with my line­leader. I really cannot hold my anger, so I answer her back with a 

loud voice also, when she approach me with a loud voice.” 
Linda (April 28)

Now half a year into her second trip to Taiwan, Maria Erlinda, or just Linda, had 

been there for just over two years on her first trip. Before going to Taiwan, she had 

worked in a semi­conductor factory in the Visayas for around twelve years. She explains 

that she has worked since she was seventeen years old. As a secretarial student in a 

vocational college, she continued to work: “Since, ah, I came from a poor family, I can, I 

can't stop working because I am supporting my brothers and sisters. Helping my parents 

to support the education, the needs in everyday living.” Growing up in Manila with five 

siblings and a father who was often out­of­work, she says life was difficult: “It’s very 

hard because, I can remember we have to push a pushcart with all the containers in there. 

We'll go to other places where we can find water! In our place, there, there are always 

water shortage.”

Linda was widowed shortly after leaving her factory position in the Philippines. 

With a young son and growing debt, she decided to go abroad: 

I'm already a widow that time, but its difficult for me because, ah, um, I
am not financially stable. That’s when I decided to apply for a job, here in
Taiwan, which my, ah, influence me by my friend, because she told me,
um, salaries and wages here are more, um., what do you call this, its it’s, I
cannot explain it in, in just one word. Um ha, because ah she just explain
the salary is much higher than in the Philippines, you know! You can
support your family in a way you wanted it to be.
She paid a Philippine placement agency 45,000 pesos and another NT 118,000 to the 

broker while in Taiwan. Just over two years in the country, she found she was pregnant by 

a Filipino man she had met there. She was forced to return to the Philippines as 

government policy forbids contract workers to have children or get married while in 

Taiwan. In fact, at that time, female laborers were given pregnancy tests every six months 

and abruptly repatriated if it came up positive:

Stephen: Why not three years, you didn't finish your first contract?
Linda: Yes, I did not. Um, I've meet my second husband here, and um, I did go
home pregnant, that’s why I did not finished the contract. I like to go home
because, ah, it’s very hard for me to having a baby here and its not its not...
Stephen: It's not allowed?
Linda: It's not allowed, that’s why its okay [to go home]. Um, maybe its God's
Stephen: Um-hum, so did it come up on the 6 month check up? Or did you know
about it and then decide to resign ? You know what I mean? Did they find out in,
did they give you pregnancy test then deport you?
Linda: I have known it before, before the test but I...
Stephen: So you chose...
Linda: Yes, but I can not escape them. I didn't think of it and I didn't think of any
abortion, because ah some [Taiwanese] doctors ah tried to offer me abortion, but
um.. I told them I’m a Christian, and I don't like it.
Stephen: Um, So you got married?
Linda: Yes ....
Stephen: How were your family and friends , how did they respond to, ah, she
goes to Taiwan, and comes back with another husband
Linda: With another husband? Ha! Ha! My friends told me I am lucky because he
is a bachelor you know! Because some of the men here are no longer. They
already had a family back in the Philippines.
Stephen: Right...
Linda: That’s why my friend told me “oh! You’re lucky he is single.”
Joice (April 29)

Ligaya, known to everyone as Joice (as in rejoice) because her name means Joy in 

Tagalog, was a graduate of Nueva Viscaya State Polytechnic College where she earned an 

English degree. After completing her degree she worked for a while as a secretary, 

helping her parents send her brothers to school. Her father, who had been working in 

Saudi Arabia since she was about four or five years old. When her father was 

contemplating going back to Saudi for another contract term she decided to travel abroad 

instead. She explains: “he's been abroad in Saudi as a construction worker. So, when we 

got older, so I think, um, he's asking me because I am the older, right? So, he's asking me 

if he can still go abroad, like that. But, I told myself, ‘oh, Pa, no its our, its our time 

already. You’re old enough, so you stay with mama,’ things like that. ‘Do anything you 

want,’ something like that.”

She decided to go to Taiwan because, as she said, “its there easy to come here.” 

She would have preferred America, Canada, or Hong Kong, but simplicity of the 

placement in Taiwan took her there instead. She had few problems working for her first 

three year contract period and was actually “recalled” to Taiwan by the same company 

after returning to the Philippines for a short holiday. She explains that “for some reason” 

she was able to understand her Taiwanese bosses and quickly became an assistant line­
leader. She has a good relationship with her Taiwanese boss that extends beyond the work 

setting: the production because we work, eh, we work hard and in working
time no one is, maybe somebody is talking with each other, but not that
much. Maybe more on working so my ling-ban [supervisor] every time
she go around she looks us working hard so its okay. Then she talks to me
sometimes. She ask, she's asking something, then we go out for
someone’s birthday. Sometimes we will go to her home, something like
that and we celebrate.

Gina (May 6)

Gina, 32, is on her second contract in Taiwan, first having worked there from 

1997 to 2000. She returned before the law was changed permitting two contract periods, 

so she is here under an assumed identity. While working in the Philippines as a data 

processor for a mining company, she helped support her brother’s schooling. However, 

when she broke up with her boyfriend, she decided to try working abroad. A coworker 

told her about possibilities in Taiwan and introduced her to a recruiter: 

So, my world at that time was not so nice. It's not great. So, ah, I-I easily
say, "Okay. I'll try." And before that I have no experience in going to
Manila. I just stay there in our place in Mindanao. And so, when he said
that he will accompany us, accompany me in going to Manila. And, he
will introduce me to the manager of the agency. And so, okay, I'm
confident. And so he said that there's an interview. So, we go to Manila
and, ah,. have an interview. And luckily, I passed.

On her first trip, she worked in a textile mill producing bolts of cloth. She talked 

of long working hours, dangerous machines, and a very low basic salary ­ only 11,000 

NT. The legal minimum contract salary, then and now, is 15,840NT, however most 
companies get around this minimum by having a lower “basic” salaries, then offering 

incentives that bring the total up to a possible 15,840NT. She also said it was “terror” 

working for her supervisor: 

Gina: Our section chief, a terror. But, um, he loves Filipinos there. Yeah. He loves
Filipinos because he knows that Filipinos are hard working persons.
Stephen: But in what way was it terror then?
Gina: He just keep on shouting. If, ah, your machine is trouble, ah, you have to
do it yourself. Imagine the, the, the cotton fibers, just flowing. Yeah, just flying
all over you. And ah, our looks also have looks...terrible. Yeah. Because it's very
hard. Yeah, it's very hard.

Flordeliza (May 12)

I met Flordeliza in February when she agreed to an interview; however, she kept 

putting off our interview until she finally agreed in May. She was shy and embarrassed 

because of an allergic outbreak on her face. This was due to the caustic chemicals she 

was exposed to from the soldiering machine she operates. The company had sent her to a 

dermatologist, but she explains the medicine they gave her was not very effective. She 

said the operators of the same machine on other shifts also have outbreaks. The company, 

however, will not install any exhaust equipment and offer her no option of changing 


Flordeliza is from Cebu, where her father was a Chemistry professor in the 

University of Cebu. Unlike most labor migrants, she had traveled abroad on several 

occasions already. She had traveled to Finland to be with her then fiancé, but decided 
after only two weeks that she could not take the cold. She had also been to the US to visit 

her brother and sister who work in healthcare in Los Angeles. She is hoping that they will 

be able to help her get a student visa after she finishes her contract in Taiwan.

After her father died in 2001, she was not able to continue her studies. She had 

completed her third year as an Industrial Engineering student, but lacked the funds to 

continue. Her relationship with the Finnish businessman she had met in Manila (when 

she was 19) was failing; so, she decided to go abroad. Not wanting to work in Saudi 

Arabia, because it was too far away, nor Hong Kong, because she didn’t want to be a 

domestic worker, she choose Taiwan. Unlike most, she did not know anyone in Taiwan, 

nor were any of her family members there. She says she simply went “in the Agency and 

apply then after a hour, they call me and I have a interview. So, I go for interview and I 

pass the exam so I thank God for it.”

Grace (May 19)

Grace, short for Graselda, had been in Taiwan for just over a year when I 

interviewed her. She went to Taiwan straight from university upon receiving a BS in 

Communication Engineering. She explained that she decided to come to Taiwan for the 

experience: “...because I want to learn more about electronics, besides, besides I want to 

earn money. So, I have to learn more about electronics, because in the Philippines, maybe 
it's hard to get inside a big company. So, I decided to go here.” Three of her sisters had 

already been there to work. With their earnings, one was opening a gasoline station, 

another was studying physical therapy to go to Canada as a caregiver, and her last is still 

working in Taiwan.

In the factory, she is working on the process of fitting capacitors and resistors on 

the circuit boards. She explained, “It's very easy, but you have to take care because very 

danger.... sometimes of you don't have very, don't be careful, sometimes your hands will 

be cut or you have, ah, maybe burn.” When there was more overtime before, she said she 

liked going with friends to nearby Kaohsiung to shop for clothes and things. Now, 

however, she spends most of her time in the church or dorms so she conserve money and 

continue sending home about 7000NT a month (about half her salary). She hopes that, 

after staying here for a second contract period, she will have enough money for a small 


Josephine (interviewed by Jenny, July 31)

In late July, I asked Jenny, who was then helping to transcribe earlier interviews 

and enter survey data, if she would like to conduct a few interviews with women from the 

dorm who “didn’t go to church.” My goal was to see in the very small, non­representative 

sample if there were any major differences that would emerge between those involved in 
church activities and those who were not. On July 31, Jenny interviewed two of her dorm­

mates in a nearby park. The interviews were conducted in Tagalog. I had provided her 

with a checklist of topics, but directed her to allow the interviewees free reign in 

directing the conversations to topics that interested them. 

Josephine, or sometimes “Jo,” was the youngest of six. After completing college, 

she decided to work in Taiwan rather than “just stay at home and sell one peso candy.” As 

she explained, she did not want to “get stuck there,” so she decided to follow her college 

classmates to Taiwan: “It's not planned. It came to me at a time when I wasn't expecting 

I'd be going abroad. Just like that. It's like, what do you call this, an unplanned decision.” 

She also attributed the decision, at least in part, to the fact that her parents were strict:

Jenny: So it is also another reason…

Jo: Yeah.
Jenny: That you wanted to go away. Because they're strict. You wanted to go
away from them for a while.
Jo: Yeah. You know. I want to know how it feels like to make decisions. To
decide for yourself

Now on her second trip to Taiwan she told of how she had not planned at first to 

return, because she could not imagine having to change identities: 

I really was not planning to come back. Because I don't want to change
my name. Because at that time, you could only come back if you had a
change-name. And for me, I don't want to come back in another identity. I
felt it odd. Because, in the first place, if whatever happens to you while in
Taiwan, it would be very hard to trace you. Second, it would be very
uncomfortable using another identity. You could change name but you
could definitely change yourself.
When the laws changed to allow former workers to return for a second contract period, 

she decided to try her luck. She says there has been less over­time and the incentives now 

are not as good as before. She has had a variety of positions in her new company, and 

especially likes her position in the office now:

Jo: At first, the (big sister) line leader doesn't like me because I was so slow.
Because the products were delicate I have to be careful. I was slow in doing the
job because I wanted to be sure that everything is okay. I don't want to make
mistakes. [Jenny's note: She is assigned in molding. Really heavy work.]
Jenny: Yeah.
Jo: Yes. And they hate me because of that. Then they transferred me to oven.
Then I was thinking at that time that if it goes on and on maybe I would just stay
for one year. Because the work is really difficult and very heavy.
Jenny: So your work is hard.
Jo: Yeah. I always got sick, because the oven is so hot. I have cough and my back
aches a lot. I visited the doctor regularly. Then I got lucky. I am in the office now.
Jenny: So what are you doing in the office?
Jo: Read pocket books. (Laugh). No. We do the shipments. I mean shipment
reports. Then we… we update their records. Just like that. Office work, paper
work. Everyday. There are…
Jenny: So you like you work now?
Jo: Of course.
While work has been easier for her in the office, she has had economic troubles. 

Jenny notes that Jo did not need to borrow money for placement for the second time as 

she used her own savings from the first trip. However, while here the second time, she 

has incurred significant debts due the frequency and length of the phone calls to her 

boyfriend in the Philippines. She calls almost everyday and, not contented with only one 

200NT long­distance card, she will often buy three cards for a single call. As a result, she 

has sent money home only twice in nine months. 
Ernelyn (interviewed by Jenny, July 31) 

Ernelyn, 19 years old, was interviewed by Jenny on the same day as Josephine. 

She was from Manila where she completed a two­year Associates in Computer 

Secretarial skills. Due to family financial difficulties she decided to work in Taiwan. 

Although she is younger than the required age, she was able to obtain a false identity for 

15,000 Pesos: “When I bought that name, it includes all necessary documents... All 

documents. Passport and birth certificate.” Her aunts assisted her in the travel plans and 

arranging the position, one in Taiwan sending money and the other in Philippines helping 

with the placement company. 

She explained that, at first, working in the company was easy as she learns easily: 

“You teach me once and I get it.” However, work quickly became more complicated as 

they added more and more tasks to her job:

The first time, I only have two machines so it's easy. You only have to
check lead frames and heat sink. Then, put it in a magazine, write
something on the card, then it's done. It was easy at first. But, after about
one month, I was transferred to trim form. A more difficult job. More
sensitive and delicate products. And, they also transferred me in
"marking". Then after marking, when I learned about marking, I was
again transferred to “trim form.” Then after a few days, I do marking and
trim form. And now, they added “dejunk.” And now, I have four different
She has had mixed relations with Taiwanese. While she explained that she has 

never had problems in public and some of her Taiwanese co­workers were nice to her at 

work, there have been a few incidents:

Jenny: How about the Taiwanese people?

Ernelyn: Taiwanese? Some of them are nice but some are back biters. The others
are good.
Jenny: They're nice to you.
Ernelyn: Yeah. But the others, they are good in front of you, but behind your back
they're laughing at you. Just like a few months ago, in the production area, they
say that if you change tooling you have to check. The technician said it's okay. So
I have to check. The product should be checked in the microscope. The line
leader was there that time. They talked about something in Mandarin. And I felt
that they were talking about me and laughing.
Jenny: But you didn't know what they were talking about.
Ernelyn: No. Of course not. I think they were talking in Taiwanese. And my line
leader shouted at me.
Jenny: And they were laughing?
Ernelyn: Yes. And the other Taiwanese were laughing. That's why I can say that
are nice but others are not.

Image 12 The best parts of the lechon at El Shaddai anniversary

Kang Shan Factory Workers

In an effort to broaden the pool of participants, I decided to look for male factory 

workers. Jenny, who had met her husband in Taiwan on her first trip, recommended that I 

visit nearby Kang Shan where many of the metal fabricating plants were located. She 

knew of a group of men who would come together at an inter­faith Christian gathering 

called Jesus is Lord, or simply JIL. She accompanied me on a first visit to JIL, 

introducing me to a Taiwanese women (Julie), who both attended the group and was 

dating one of the Filipino men. We had an informal meeting in which she described how 

she met and began dating her partner (Edwin), the stigma that they faced in the 

community and by her family, and the general conditions of the lives of Filipinos in Kang 

Shan from her own perspective. She also introduced me to members of the group and 

helped me arrange to return and visit with them on a regular basis. JIL itself was located 

on a side alley near the train station in Kang Shan. The neighboring businesses and 

residents had an on­going conflict regarding the gospel choir music the members 

performed each Sunday as well as the limited space for parking scooters in front of the 

narrow four­story apartment­turned­church. 
“Joshua” (April 26)

I met “Joshua” on my first visit to JIL. He did not want me to use his real name in 

order to protect his identity. He had been in Taiwan almost three years and had less than a 

month before his return to the Philippines. He was exited and full of plans for the money 

he had saved. When I first met him at the church, he was in the process of packaging 

computers he had bought and shipping them back to the Philippines. He had plans to add 

onto his existing computer business (teaching computer skills and renting internet 

access). He had also been paying towards an educational plan for his son as he had plans 

for him to become a doctor. 

He had come to Taiwan because of in part due to financial issues. While he had 

been living in Manila, and was estranged from his wife for many years, they had recently 

reconciled and in fact, she had become pregnant just before he left, giving birth while he 

was away:

Stephen: Why did you come to Taiwan?

Joshua: First, is just an experience and second is financial issues.
Stephen: Uh, what about the financial issues, tell me...
Joshua: Well, ah, because I have a family of my own.
Stephen: Uh-hum?
Joshua: So, I have to take care of my family.
Stephen: Hmm.
Joshua: So, that is the reason why I go to Taiwan to work.
Stephen: What were you doing in the Philippines before you came here?
Joshua: I used to teach computer subjects and computer short courses.
Stephen: Okay
Joshua: Then some of my friend asked me, ah, to try to go abroad.
Later in the conversation, I learn that there were other reason as well for his 

departure. Though he now describes himself as “a born­again Christian,” “a simple man 

with a simple dream of a happy family,” and “a lovely citizen,” he previously had been 

involved in heavy drinking, brawling, and having affairs. After a public fight he and other 

members of his college fraternity were being sought by the police. He attributes this as 

an additional reasons for his migration:

Joshua: ...some fighting, especially when we, the police they recognize me. So I,
I was afraid that they come back and revenge at me.
Stephen: Okay. So you came to Taiwan partly to get away from some trouble?
Joshua: That 's only one reason.
Stephen: Only one reason. Okay, but, there was some potential trouble? Do you
think that you face that trouble if you go back now?
Joshua: I don't think so.
Stephen: You don't think so?
Joshua: Because, I will go direct to my province.
Stephen: You’ll go to the province, not to Manila.
Joshua: Yes.

Raymond (May 4)

Raymond, though trained as a seafarer, was on his second contract in a Taiwanese 

factory making engine parts. He had gone there originally in 1997, in part to help support 

his six of his eight other siblings. His mother had died, and father gone to the United 

States (sponsored by his two sisters who had married Americans). He borrowed over 

65,000 pesos from his brother­in­law (who was working in Taiwan) for the placement fee, 
but notes that it took a year to pay him back as he was also supporting his family at the 


On that first trip, he met his wife was working in Nan Tze. He explained that 

during their two year courtship, they were only able to see each other twice a month 

when they could coordinate their free time. Even then, she had a midnight curfew at her 

dorm, greatly limiting their time together. Upon returning to the Philippines, they 

married and stayed with her parents for a time in Bulacan. 

Now faced with supporting his own family, wife and infant, as well as continuing 

to aid his siblings, Raymond decided to go to the United Arab Emirates. While the pay 

was lower, placement fees were lower too. Moreover, there were no brokers to pay in the 

UAE as all arrangements were made directly with the factory. However, after a few short 

months he returned to the Philippines:

Stephen: You worked in, ah, the United Arab Emirates for four months. What did
you do there?
Raymond: Same, a factory worker.
Stephen: A factory worker? Okay.
Raymond: But then I-I, I quit. I did not stay there for long, because the company
did not give us a right. I mean our right and they did not follow the contract.
Stephen: They didn't follow the contract?
Raymond: Yeah, yeah. They promise us to pay around, about this, they promise
us to pay ah, in, in Philippine peso it's around twenty-one, twenty-one thousand a
Stephen: Right?
Raymond: When we still, when we, in the UAE, it's only fourteen.
Stephen: So what happened to the rest?
Raymond: It's only fourteen thousand. To compare in peso (na). “Oh, my God,” I
said. Because I was paying my house. My, my monthly bill [mortgage] in my
house. I cannot, I cannot, I cannot pay that anymore. So, I, I decided to ah, make
ah, immediate resignation. They did not allow me to resign. They just, they just
promise me to," Oh we just lend you a money. I will lend you a money. And I
will, I will....,” and so on and so on. They give for, for possibility just to stay. But
my, my will is go back in the Philippines because....
Stephen: So you decided to go back?
Raymond: Because they did not follow the contract what there is.
Stephen: If, ah, the employer there doesn't follow the contract, is there any way to
force them through the law, or the police, or an NGO, or something to get them to
follow the contract?
Raymond: Maybe there is. But, I don't know. I just make my decision just to cut it
off. And, I just, just to go back.

Again, he borrowed money, this time from his father in the US, as the problems in 

the UAE left him broke. He renewed with the same company as before and returned, with 

plans that his wife would soon join him again in Taiwan. However, the SARS quarantine 

blocked new hiring from the Philippines and she was not able to find employment. 

Finding it hard to manage on his meager remittances, she often sought encouragement 

from Raymond: “Maybe there are times that she called me. She crying. She's just telling 

me it is okay if you just staying [return] here with me. She's just telling me. So, no we 

should go farther I said. I just gave her some encouraging words to uplift her spirit.”

Jin (May 11) 

Jin, also on his second trip to Taiwan, worked as a forklift operator in a company 

that fabricates metal fasteners. He originally went to Taiwan in 1999, after working for a 

few years in a bank in the Philippines. He explained that as Computer Sciences graduate 

and data processor for the bank, he only made about 5,000 Pesos a month. With a young 

son and a wife, who worked in a retail clothing shop, he decided to go to Taiwan where 
he could earn nearly three times his bank salary. While there, he saved for his son’s 

education and for plans to open a stall in a fish market when he returns.

Jin learned Chinese his first year in Taiwan and was one of few migrants who 

really identified with Taiwanese culture. Ethnically mixed, his father, a Chinese man 

from the mainland, had helped his mother maintain her household, visiting once or twice 

a week while Jin was growing up. As he explained, his family was “illegitimate,” as his 

father was already married to a Chinese woman. Yet, he had always wanted to know more 

about his Chinese ancestry. He explained that he felt an affinity for Taiwanese friends he 

had made: “I whenever they talk to me, some of my friends in Tainan, I feel I can 

understand them the way they talk they relate those words to me. I can understand them 

that it's not so difficult for me to understand them.” He also said that he likes and 

respects the way Chinese look, dress, and especially their work ethic: “I like the way, ah, 

attitude in working, working that so hard.”

Edwin (June 15)

Edwin, 27 years old, was the only male OFW who had been in a relationship with 

a Taiwanese woman. After completing his first year of a Mathematics degree, his family 

had no more money for him to attend school. His brother, already in Taiwan then, told 

him of the good pay and abundant overtime. So, in 1997, he decided to travel to Taiwan. 
While there, he began attending the Jesus is Lord fellowship. Through contacts at another 

JIL church in Kaohsiung, he met his girlfriend Julie. They were together for two years 

when his contract ended and he had to return to the Philippines. At first, he used his 

savings with his family’s business of buying products, like t­shirts and other clothing, 

wholesale and then reselling them locally. However, the business failed and he had to 

look overseas again.

At that time, there was no chance for a second term of employment without 

changing one’s identity. Rather than return under an assumed name, he decided instead to 

look for work in Korea. He paid his placement deposit, but never found a position. The 

laws in Taiwan, however, changed and he decided to return. At the time of the interview 

he had only been back for only a short time. At work, he was learning to temper metals in 

an extremely hot (2000°c) process. He was also making plans to marry Julie, although

they had not worked out the details of visas and future employment in Taiwan. Nor had

he met her parents yet:

Edwin: I haven't meet her family yet

Stephen: why is that?
Edwin: um, she is not so ready to introduce me
Stephen: okay
Edwin: ...and I was not so ready to meet them because I just came here. Actually,
just all about many matters and maybe about language also. I cannot express
myself and communicate to them
Chi Chin Island Ship Builders

During one of the celebrations at St. Joseph the Worker parish in Nan Tze, I was 

introduced to Melchor, a visiting Filipino man who is a shipbuilder on Chi Chin Island. 

He normally attended the larger St. Mary’s Church in Kaohsiung, as it is directly across 

the harbor from Chi Chin Island. Chi Chin acts as a natural barrier between the harbor 

and the Straight of Taiwan. A long thin island, it is accessible on one end by a tunnel 

below the harbor, and on the other by a constant stream of water taxis. It is the second 

busiest container port in Asia, just behind Hong Kong, and third in the world. In this 

setting, Melchor, and about sixty other Filipinos are employed to build vessels for local 

shipbuilding company. In all, I interviewed five participants at their two dorms and had 

informal conversations with a handful of others. In both dorms, they gave me a tour and 

allowed me to videotape their living quarters, common rooms, restrooms, and cooking 


Melchor (June 14)

Melchor, now on his third trip to Taiwan, has worked previously as a machine operator in 

a company producing auto parts, a textile factory worker, and now as a laborer in a ship 

building company. He went to Taiwan initially in 1994 and is soon to complete his ninth 
year as a worker there. Seven years ago, he met his wife who was working in a factory in 

Taoyuan in the north. He explains, that they have no children and rarely see each other:

Image 13 View of Kaohsiung skyline from a water taxi

Stephen: How often are you able to see your wife?

Melchor: Just if we have a time and then we have a rest day and then I go
Stephen: um-hum?
Melchor: Right now, I think, ah, how many days about, ah, the problem of this
place, in Taiwan there is SARS.
Stephen: Right...
Melchor: So, I think since the SARS is so very [common] in Taiwan, I have not
been able to. I don't want also to go there with my wife. She doesn’t wants me to
go that place because much, so many in Taoyuan...
Stephen: ...right there were many more cases of SARs in Taoyuan.
Melchor: More cases in Taoyuan and Taipei.
Stephen: So, um, in one year how often, do you see her?
Melchor: It depends and I miss her and I miss, ah, by the way I can't right now
because I have obligation, a voluntary obligation in the Saint Mary's choir. So
sometimes, she can go here 25
Stephen: Okay sometimes she comes here.
I found it significant that Melchor foregoes visits with his wife because of this
obligation in the Church.
Melchor: Yeah, but before sometimes, once a month, she come here...
Stephen:, so before SARS you were able to see each other about once
a month
Melchor: Yeah, once a month

Melchor has had a number of hardships while living in Taiwan. On an earlier trip, 

when he lived in Taoyuan, he was riding his bicycle home when some young Taiwanese 

almost ran him over on their motorcycle shouting curses at him. He says, “they want me 

to fight but ah I know my situation here.” On another occasion, someone with a baseball 

bat hit him. He recounts: “one night I, ah, just finish the overtime and I go out and then 

buy something, because I'm hungry. Then, I come back, I didn't notice the motorcycle.” 

He explains that he was hit just once, “I think they're afraid, but I'm only one in the street 

and also the light did no turn on.” 

At the time of the interview, he was also experiencing a labor dispute. It turns out

that the managers in production had not communicated with the personnel department. In

an attempt to get a ship completed by its contracted date, they had required the workers

to put in many hours of overtime. However, their paychecks did not reflect the overtime

pay. Melchor says that it has been routine at this company: “the company always do that

even, once we have overtime that was I think in July or June the company did not pay us

but the we cannot complain because the other people don't want. I want to complain and

we want to complain but the other people did not want.” In this case, Melchor and the

others went to their broker and threatened to contact the Manila Economic and Cultural

Office (MECO) and the Council of Labor Affairs (CLA). Six weeks later, the company
agreed to pay them the overtime in installments. However, as a result of the dispute, the

company has penalized them by not giving them any additional overtime. Melchor, and

many of the others who were not interviewed, were very distraught as most of their

remittances come from overtime.

Image 14 Gathering after work (Chi Chin Island Shipbuilders)

Lody (June 14)

Lody had been in Taiwan for a little over two and a half years. He was there to 

help support his three children and to raise more capital for his failing business back 

home. It was his first trip to Taiwan, but he had worked previously in a factory in Saudi 

Arabia for eight years. He explains that even as a business owner in the Philippines, the 
economy was so tight that he could not make enough to support his family. He also views 

going abroad and remitting funds as a kind of civic duty:

Lody: Yeah. I have a little, a small business. Like a bakery. Making...

Stephen: A bakery?
Lody: ...Making bread.
Stephen: Okay.
Lody: But, ah, it's so difficult for us, the small business, businessman, to compete
with big business, big businesses. Capital is the problem. Money.
Stephen: Right. Yeah.
Lody: So, that's why, I'm trying to come here in Taiwan, thinking that I'll earn
more money compared to Saudi Arabia. But, as of now it's reversed. Earning in
Saudi Arabia is a little money, a little money, but savings are, saves a lot.
Because the environment is so strict. Compared to here in Taiwan, you cannot go
around in Saudi Arabia because it's very, it's very far from our place to the cities.
Stephen: Right.
Lody: So, we go in there to the cities once almost three months or four months,
once. Once in four months, once in three months. It depends upon the
transportation that is available in our company. Now, I think, I'm thinking about
our family because before I have only one children, ah, one. My salary before in
Saudi Arabia is enough for my one children and for my wife. And helping to my
relatives also, to my father and mother in the province. So, I think it's enough.
And then, I'm going back to the Philippines. And then, I have a little business. I
produce, I produce, I have a motorcycle. Also earning a little money. Peso. But
for the long time, I have already two children. Then going to school. Then, the
other one already free and then bigger and bigger. Educational, education is the
biggest, the big problem for me right now. Because my elder son is already in
college. He's taking information technology. Info. What they call in the
Philippines info. And, and then hopefully if the father and mother. I don't like. I
don't like that my children experience my, my poverty, ah, my, I don't have
money before, when I was still living in my province....So, I'm trying to make a
little business like this, like this, and earn a little money. But (unintelligible) is
there. There is a, ah, eruption of Mount Pinatubo. It happens also the bombing of
the, in our country, the Abu Sayyaf. It's a little bit, kidnapping like this, like this.
So, it is a lot of problem in our country. That's why the poverty, the Philippines is
suffering the, has a lot of credit in the World Bank. The President in our
Philippines, the Philippines. We don't know how to solve the problem. We don't
know how can we pay our, our interest we cannot pay.
Stephen: Right.
Lody: So, as a Filipino, I think that is, that is the only I can help our country. By
going abroad. Because, earn money here in other country and sending money to
our Philippines. That is the, that is, that is the way I can help our country.
He too was involved in the labor dispute and had become very vocal about the 

overtime and other problems with management. As an electrician, he was frequently 

exposed to hazardous work conditions. He indicated that while his contract stipulated he 

would receive replacement rubberized boots on a regular basis (to help prevent grounding 

and shock) his were more than a year old and had holes in the sole. He also explained 

when he was injured before (a sever cut on his hand) and out of work for three days, the 

company refused to let him see a doctor and deducted his pay for the days missed:

Lody: I'm, ah, an electrician here. Ah, working there. [points above] You can see
the crane, the bridge crane that is. It’s very high. And I assemble also the panel
Stephen: Okay. And, ah, is that work dangerous? Is it...?
Lody: ...It's too dangerous.
Stephen: It's very dangerous? In what way?
Lody: Yeah. Because the Taiwan people, there's always say like this. If you come
here in Taiwan you work... you work here. You work to earn money. So when I
complain, especially our, this rainy days. These few days, ha, these few days that
we have, it's a rainy day. For me as an electrician, supposed to be, we have safety
first. Use the gloves, the rubber gloves, using the shoes that we have. But no, I'm
wearing the shoes that, that is not safety for us. Because there's a lot of holes
inside. The water just go inside. So, when I complain this one to our supervisor,
the supervisor there's no remedy for him. He can't help us. Because there is a
friction between the management and the supervisors. So, I'm always complain in
the morning that, "How can I, how can I help the company if you cannot help us,
our safety." They say, "We don't know." They don't wanna hear like this, like this,
like this, like that. So if we can, if we refuse, they are very angry with me because
I'm the electrician. But supposed to be, we are not, ah, our salary is the same with
other people. My position is, I, I did not say that I'm, I look down to the other, the
other Philippine people. My position is different from them. I tell, I tell to my
supervisor that my, my position, my work is different from them. Even your feet
is wet, no problem with them. But, for me it's very dangerous for me.
Stephen: Right.
Lody: Yeah. Even this rainy season I can't, I climb in the, in the crane because
there are some kind of trouble. I cannot refuse because this is my work. If I can
explain to them that it is very dangerous, they don't care. So, that is a big problem
for me everyday.
Lody’s protests had begun to attract negative attention. He told me that because of 

his complaints the management had become angry and threatened to send him home: 

“Nobody speak. I only speak. I don't like that any Philippine people get hurt  like this. 

And, I,I want to awake them. What's happening here this company.” His protest finally 

resulted in his being fired and sent home before my second visit to the island only two 

weeks later.

Leonardo (June 14)

Leonardo went to Taiwan in 1999, stayed until early 2002, returning in late 2002 

after a “too short” seven­month holiday in the Philippines. It was during this stay that he 

married his wife, whom he had met in 1994. He borrowed money from his Aunt in 

Canada to make the first trip: “I have an aunt in Canada. I talk to her, "Auntie I want to 

go abroad to help my mom, my brothers and sisters." Then, I make sure that the agency is 

not illegal. So, she gave me money as a loan. So now, until now, I'm here.” Originally, he 

went to Taiwan to help his widowed mother and siblings: “I'm the elder of my family, so I 

need to earn money for my brothers and my sisters and also my mom.” However, he 

explained that during his first years in Taiwan he wasted a lot of money drinking, going 

dancing and going out with women he met there. 
Now married and saving to join is wife, who is working in Korea, he says he only 

listens to music, reads his Bible, watches TV, sleeps and goes to the Kaohsiung branch of 

JIL when he has free time. Unfortunately, there is too much free time. Because of the 

afore mentioned labor dispute, as well as the fact that there is another pending case 

against the company, there has not been much overtime. Leonardo and a group of 

workers, it turned out, had been hired as a “land­based seafarer” in an attempt for the 

company to get around hiring quotas. The Council of Labor Affairs (CLA) had

discovered the deception and was reviewing each of the contracts of the workers. As a

result of the limited overtime, he had very little money after deductions for room, board,

insurance, etc. While he had planned to build a house and start a small business, he was

contemplating cutting his loses and returning to the Philippines to try and arrange work

in Korea nearer to his wife. Yet, they had borrowed a significant amount for her

placement, and he was in a way trapped until they could pay down the debt.

Rolando (June 28)

I had met Roland, who also goes by the assumed name “Rod,” on an earlier trip to 

Chi Chen. He had agreed to meet me on the 28th and give me a tour of the dorm as well 

as an interview. As foreman and dorm supervisor, he was able to provide further insight 

into the ongoing labor dispute, as well as other management issues with the company. 

With the exception of one 21­day vacation and two, three­month breaks between 
contracts, he had been in Taiwan continuously since 1997. As this was his third trip, he 

had changed his name and assumed the identity of “Rod” so that he could return.

Roland, 30 years old, had graduated with an Associates in Computer 

Programming, but wound up a welder with a construction company. He explained, that 

his monthly income of less than 5,000 Pesos wasn’t sufficient and it became necessary 

for him to go abroad so that he could support his family: “actually, I have a work in 

Philippines. But, my salary is not enough. So, on my first trip, ah, I have seen some 

newspaper that there's a hiring in Taiwan. So, I tried. And then, I'm very lucky to become 

one of them to go here... So I decided to come here, because I can support my, not only 

my family, maybe my father, my mother and all my family.” A year after he came, Roland 

made requested that his supervisor hire his brother. He too was able then to work for a 

period as well.

Roland had been married 7 years, most of which he has spent in Taiwan. He had a 

six­and­a­half year old daughter and a four year old son. He told me, “When my first 
Image 15 Roland, AKA “Rod” completing the TST at the dorm (Chi Chin


year I came here, my daughter is about nine months. Nine months old! And then, when [I 

received] my first salary in Taiwan, I just often calling my wife. I think once a week or 

four times a month. Something like that. And when my daughter grow up, about one and 

a half years I always talk to her on my phone. So my daughter, even by phone, she, she 

know me.” 

He explained that to help support them, he works a lot of overtime and watches 

his expenses. Every month he was able to remit 15,000 NT. However, the recent dispute 

with the management over back pay and overtime had him worried:

Roland: ...June sixth, we are very surprised. When I get, when we get our salary,
it's only forty-six hours they paid.
Stephen: I see.
Roland: But, we have about one hundred fifty hours, one hundred eighty hours.
Many, many. So, most of the Philippine people are very sad and very angry with
Stephen: Right. That's only about one-third of what it ought to be....
Roland: Yeah. It's about one-third.
Stephen: So what happened then? Ah, You went to the broker?
Roland: Yeah. We talked to the broker and then we explained everything. And the
broker says they can, ah, make some arrangements on that. After a week,...
Stephen: “arrangement.” What does that mean?
Roland: It means...
Stephen: Does that mean getting paid or does that mean they're going...
Roland: Yes. They gonna cooperate with the management and they gonna tell
them what happened. They gonna ask what happened. But, after a week we just
keep waiting. Nothing, nothing happened. They say just wait for another week.
We wait for another week. Then the weeks come, I talk to them again.
Stephen: Yeah.
Roland: They say we gonna wait for the salary, I think.
Stephen: Right.
Roland: Yeah. So until now we just wait for our salary.
Stephen: But, if you wait too long won't it be too long past and people won't be
able to get their money?
Roland: Ah, But the, the supervisor promised me, this coming salary they gonna
be paid. Because we have two members who already go home. After they go
home, they receive the money.
Stephen: They received their money.
Roland: Yeah.
Stephen: Okay. So, so you're saying that your next paycheck, you should receive
the overdue payment?
Roland: Yeah. I hope so.
Stephen: Yeah.
Roland: But until now, we don't yet receive any.
Stephen: Yeah.
Roland: We just...
Stephen: What will you do if they don't pay this time? Will you go to the CLA or
to MECO or Fr. Bruno...?
Roland: Yeah. Maybe.
Stephen: Yeah.
Roland: We have prepared some documents regarding that. If this coming salary
they don't give us, we have to report everything to the CLA or Fr. Bruno.

Roland also explained that he often gets caught in the middle in his dual role as 

supervisor and foreman. He received no extra pay for the positions, but did see the office 
work as a kind of perk: “It's about an hour a day. I often make a report. It's the only an 

advantage for us. ” As dorm supervisor, he had more problems:

Roland: Actually, there's some difficulties. Because the management, they

conduct some room checking.26 I think every month. And sometimes they found
some dirty things out there. They always talk to me. And I can, I relay to my
fellow Filipino. I always keep talking with them. But, because we are, we are
living about thirty-eight persons here. They have so many different kind of mind
and ideas. Sometimes some people are listening, some people are don't. It's very
hard for me to handle some people. But, most of the time they can follow me.
They just, if I say, "Oh, we have some visitors. We have to clean." They just
Stephen: Right.
Roland: But on the past few days, when we have so many, many work, we
couldn't concentrate on some jobs here in dormitory. But, we always have some
group cleaners everyday.
Stephen: Right.
Roland: Maybe they wake up at five-thirty in the morning. They just clean all the
surroundings and the house.
Stephen: Yeah. Is it ever, ah, difficult relating with the other workers here if
you're in charge? If you're the leader, does that ever cause any problems?
Roland: Ah, no.
Stephen: No?
Roland: Ah, until now, no. Because, I always keep patient with them.
Stephen: Yeah? How do you get to be the leader? Are you voted by them or are
you selected by the management or...?
Roland: Actually, I'm selected by my supervisor. And, my fellow Philippine
people, they agree.
Stephen: Okay.
Roland: They say, no problem with me. And then, I talk to everybody, "Okay, I
try my best. If I can."
Stephen: Yeah. Does it ever put any pressure on you?
Roland: Yeah. A lot of pressure.

William (July 5)

After the interview and tour of the dorm with Roland, he decided to introduce me 

to William and some of the workers from another division from the shipyard. Originally 
See Maintaining Class Differences: Government Restrictions on Migrant Integration
in Chapter 8 for more on state surveillance of workers through dorms and employers.
two separate companies, they had merged about a year prior. It was at that point that the 

workers said problems began to occur. According to them, the owner and upper­level 

management from the new company had communication problems with the mid­level 

managers and supervisors of the old company, causing friction as well as oversights that 

resulted now twice in the workers not receiving overtime pay. 

On July 5th, I returned to Chi Chin and met William at the gate to the actual 

shipbuilding area. While the dorm where Roland, Melchor, and Lody lived was outside 

the grounds of the company, William’s dorm was on the building site itself. The building 

where about thirty workers lived was tucked between administration buildings and the 

construction bays for the large sea­going vessels. 

In the Philippines, William was an electrical engineer. He had studied for five 

years in college for his bachelors and prior to that studied two years in mechanical 

engineering program. He had worked in for three years before deciding to go to Taiwan. 

He said that while in college he had heard about living in Taiwan and thought that it 

might be fun and rewarding, but knew no one there personally. He borrowed money for 

placement from a friend and still, two years later, was paying on the debt. 

Two years in Taiwan, working as a manual laborer doing metalwork and welding 

on the ships, he was contemplating return. He had been helping to support his younger 

siblings, he was the oldest of seven, he said the money was not so good since they had 
cut the overtime. However, he was also weighing his social commitments in Taiwan such 

as sing in St. Mary’s choir and writing articles for a religious newsletter for OFWs 

(santinig). He was also waiting to hear if his girlfriend had received a visa for Canada 

before deciding. She had left the Philippines at the same time and he to work in 

Singapore as a domestic helper and had recently applied to Canada for a nursing position. 

If she got the placement, they planned to marry and have her sponsor his

Image 16 William shows the local NGOs advertised in the church bulletin

migration a few years later under family reunification.

Like Lody, Roland, Melchor and the other workers, William was quite upset over 

the changes in the company. They were planning to file a protest if things were not 

improved. He was especially upset over the recent exchanging overtime for later time off 
instead of pay, as well as new salary deduction such as monthly charges for beds and 

sheets. He also talked about how dangerous it was working in the shipbuilding recounting 

that another worker had the hook of a crane fall on his foot.


After I had been in Taiwan for almost four months, and was beginning to 

understand the placement­broker­employer system peculiar to the Taiwanese system, I 

decided to look individuals who worked for the brokers. These individuals are usually 

hired under the same contract as other factory workers. However, due to their fluency in 

Chinese and/or previous experience working as a foreign laborer, they are hired to act as 

translators and go­betweens for the broker. Officially, they are working for the company 

and are paid the same as other factory workers. Unofficially, it is understood that they 

report to the brokers, not the factory, and receive special bonuses and other incentives 

that are not production related. The two coordinators that I eventually met through 

contacts at the churches in Nan Tze were both fluent in Chinese and enjoyed a higher 

status within the labor hierarchy. “Analynn,” for example, while living in the dorms, did 

not have to share a room with others and had a lot of free time to spend as she wished. 
“Analynn” (April 10)

As a coordinator, “Analynn” wished not to use her real name nor be filmed during 

our interview. Our meeting was discreetly tape­recorded and so as not to appear as if she 

were surreptitiously “passing secrets,” we met out­of­doors on the grounds of the EPZ 

controlled dorm. 

On her third trip to Taiwan, it was her first time living in the South of Taiwan. As 

a coordinator, she had worked in smaller companies, but was now with a growing 

brokerage trying to get more contracts with one of the largest employers on the island. As 

a coordinator, she earned the same basic pay as the other workers, but she was not 

required to pay placement, broker, or other fees and could make additional money by 

teaching English to the broker’s employees and translating documents. She found she had 

a lot of free time and few responsibilities beyond managing everyday disputes, collecting 

fees, verifying workers were in by curfew, and checking dorm rooms:

... they don’t ask me to go to the factory and interpret. Yeah, I stay in the
dormitory, take care of them, you know, if they have a problem, they can
approach me. And then, I am also, I’m the one collecting the broker’s fee
every month. Yeah, but before, I didn’t do that before. Yeah, this is my
first time, yeah, I have to do the collecting of the broker’s fee every
month. And what do you call this, pay day. And then, I have to visit their
rooms, you know and find out how they are doing, their life and their
work. Sometimes I don’t want to ask oh how are you doing? How was
your job last night? Because sometimes they have this mentality thinking
that you ask that kind of question. It, it leave them to think that there
might be a problem with their job. There was this one time that I ask one
of my people, you know, how was your job. And, all of a sudden she
started thinking, oh how come I asked that kind of question. And, I said,
no, it has nothing to do with your problems in the production. I mean I
just want to know. And then, sometimes let’s say if they don’t have the
way to communicate with their leaders in the production, they want me to
write in Chinese characters so I am also doing that because it’s the only
way to settle the you know, the problem. Because in this company they
have, there giving incentives to employees. Like performance incentives,
but I don’t know how they, how the leader is doing that. Because some
employees they don’t get it though they really work so hard. So there was
this employee who was telling me how come last month I got this and this
month I, Last month I was so, that was my first month at my work, how
come I got this incentive, and how come on my second month I did not
receive anything? I said yeah why don’t you ask your leader about this
because I don’t really know when it comes to work. So, I told her maybe
the best way that you know if you cannot communicate with your leader
maybe I can write it in Chinese characters and then just give it to your line
leader. And if in case she asks you who wrote that, you can tell her that
you know, you can tell her it’s your coordinator. Yeah…

“Analynn” had learned Chinese at a young age. Her family, having some Chinese 

ancestry, had decided to send her to private Chinese schools (primary and secondary 

schools), where she learned Fujian and Mandarin dialects. Later, she had attended 

university receiving a degree in commerce. She had worked for a number of years in a 

family owned import­export company as comptroller, negotiating with banks and 

managing the finances of the company. When the son of the owner returned from studies 

in the US, he was place in charge of her department. As she put it, he was "new blood" 

and a perfectionist, often calling her into his office for "small mistakes." Work became 

too stressful, so she decided to look elsewhere: 

I decided that, you know, I was, actually, I wasn’t happy anymore, so I

was thinking I want to resign. And then, he said, he doesn’t want me to
resign. So, and then, there was one time when I was looking at the
newspaper, I saw this, this what you call this [advertisement]? They are
looking for a guy, a person who can speak Chinese, who can speak
English, who wants to work in Taiwan as, you know, a coordinator.

I asked her about what must have been a loss of status from he management position in 

The Philippines to her role as the “overseer” for the brokers. She explained:

“Analynn”: ...It was entirely different. Yeah, if I’m going to compare my job in
the past with the job of coordinator, it’s totally different. The first thing is you
know, you’re not busy. And then, I, actually I decided to accept this job because
of practical reasons. I have to be practical. I mean when I was in the Philippines, I
wasn’t earning that much. I mean you have the high position, you’re wearing a
nice dress everyday you know, then you have lot respect from your, what do you
call this, subordinates. From our suppliers, our commodities, but money-wise,
you’re not earning that much. I mean you don’t save that much because living in
Manila is expensive you know. You have to provide your own transportation,
your clothing, we don’t have uniforms. Yeah, and then, I can’t be late, I can’t be
late because I am also boss, but I have to be practical.
Stephen: In your position as a coordinator, how do the Filipinos look at you?
“Analynn”: Well, some are looking at me like you know, I’m their boss. Some
would call me boss and I hate it. Some will call me ma’am, and some will call me
ate [pronounced ah-tay], that means older sister in English. Yeah, I know that it’s
a kind of respect to me, but you know, calling me boss or ma’am, I think it’s
putting big gap in our relationship. That’s why when people stop calling me boss,
I usually tell them, hey don’t call me boss. I mean, I don’t want, I mean we have
a gap right now because your superior, but I don’t want it to be you know that

Rosalyn (May 10)

Rosalyn was a different case, while she was now working as a coordinator, she 

had come to Taiwan initially as a foreign bride in 1995.27 She decided, when she was 19 

years old and her family was without economic resources, to marry abroad. As she put it, 

it was simply for “survival.” She had only completed one year toward a BS in commerce

Because of her separation and current employment as a coordinator, I decided to
classify her among the coordinators rather than with the other foreign brides.
in her native Borongan City (in Eastern Samar Province). Her family did not have 

funds for her to continue her studies, so she decided (against her mother’s advice) to get 

married and thus reduce the burden on her family. She went to a friend of her uncle who 

was a professional matchmaker. When asked if she did not consider other options she 

replied, “I didn’t have the money to pay the placement fee [to be a factory worker], and I 

didn’t have a college degree, so I cannot get a job. It is very hard to find a job if you are 

not a college graduate.”

Her Taiwanese husband, who paid $350,000 NT (over US $10,000) to the 

matchmaker, met her in the Philippines where they spent two weeks together completing 

the necessary paperwork before they were married and she moved with him to Taiwan. 

When she arrived she said she felt as if she were a “stranger.” She was afraid because, as 

she explained, “I did not know what is Taiwan.” She spoke no Chinese communicating 

with her husband “only through actions” and pantomime. For the first two years she 

stayed in the home, living with her husband and his parents as is tradition in Chinese 

society. She had three children with him during this time. After two years, she decided to 

work first with him as a manual laborer in construction (earning 500NT, or $15US daily). 

Later she worked in the factories. While a permanent resident, she was paid the same as 

the imported Filipino contract workers, making not quite half what her Taiwanese co­

workers were paid.
She finally left her husband after seven years of mistreatment and abuse. She 

explains that he was an alcoholic and would become violent when he drank: “It was a 

very big problem, because when he is drunk, he is very different.” Her Taiwanese in­

laws, however would not say anything to him, telling her that she had to “accept her 

husband like that.” Ultimately, she left, taking two of her children with her to the 

Philippines on “holiday.” She has returned now only to work to regain custody of her 

oldest son. In her position as a coordinator, she has used her experience in the factories 

and fluency in Chinese to her advantage. She receives an apartment and is now paid 

about US $100 (NT 3000) more than the Filipino factory workers.

Domestic Workers and Caretakers

While the focus of the project has been on the factory workers in the Economic 

Processing Zones, a third of foreign workers are in Taiwan as domestic workers or 

residential caretakers for elderly or disabled patients. In an attempt to grasp the 

differences between those who live with their Taiwanese employers and those who live in 

the enclave environment of the EPZs, I decided to interview a small sample of residential 

workers. Through contacts at shelter for migrant workers at Stella Maris International 

Service Center, I was introduced to a few domestic workers who were there for 

repatriation or mediation for employment disputes.
Much has already been written about the poor conditions of life for the domestic 

workers in Taiwan. Educational requirements and placement fees are lower for this 

category of labor migrant. As a result, many more of the domestic workers are from the 

most impoverished areas of the Philippines. The position in Taiwan, while offering a 

substantially greater salary than they may find in the Philippines, is none­the­less dire. 

With long hours, and no overtime pay, many of the domestic workers become victims of 

abuse and mistreatment. 

Mama Linda (April 12)

Now in her early fifties, “Mama” became an OFW when she was thirty­four. 

Shortly after separating from her husband, a seafarer who was away from home for ten 

months at a time, she found herself left with five children and only occasional support 

from him. She decided to leave them in the care of her in­laws, with whom she 

maintained contact as her sister had married her husband’s brother, and become an 

overseas domestic worker. 

First, she lived in Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates, for ten years working 

for one family. During that time she learned to speak Arabic (as the family spoke only 

limited English), and said she had a good experience. When she began working there her 

salary was US $200 a month, rising to only to $300 by the end of ten years. She was able 
to send all of her earnings home, as she had no expenses living with the family. She was 

able to manage only three short trips home during the decade in the UAE, and had no 

regular day­off. 

Upon return to the Philippines in 1994, she only stayed one­month before setting 

out again, this time to Taiwan. She explained: “I leaving to my country because of my 

children go to school and I want [them] to finish the study. That is my, I want to, that is 

my priority to my children.” When she arrived in Taiwan, she encountered her first 

problem as a domestic; know how to cook Chinese food and the family complained to the 

broker. Luckily, she was not sent home. The broker took her to the market to learn how to 

shop and then taught her to cook Chinese dishes. Since then, she said she had been lucky 

not to have any other problems with employers.

She began going to social occasions at Stella Maris when she was working legally 

for the first family. After her contract expired, she stayed on (without legal contract or 

papers) working for two more families that she had been introduced to by friends from 

the church. When I interviewed her, she was a "volunteer" at the shelter receiving a place 

to stay in exchange for supervising daily meals and chores of the short­term residents. 

She also worked part­time, earning 200NT an hour (US $5.70), for several Chinese 

families and some of the Filipino workers from MECO.
These contacts at MECO also had helped her to arrange factory employment for 

her daughter and son. While her son had already returned, and married, her daughter was 

still in Taiwan working for a well­known Japanese electronics company. With her 

daughter soon to complete her contract, Mama Linda plans to return also to her 

homeland. She has never seen her eight grandchildren in­person and plans to return to 

her old home, open a small restaurant, and "take care my grandsons and my 


Rosalia (May 9)

Rosalia, a widowed mother of two who has been working to pay off debts 

incurred when her eldest son had a brain tumor removed, had runaway from her employer 

a few days before I interviewed her. Emotionally distraught, the interview was paused 

several times, but she really wanted her story to be heard. 

Though trained as an orthopedic nurse, she had been in Taiwan for six months, as 

she said working hard as a “servant,” “housekeeper,” and “tutor.” However, as she put it, 

her employer often spoke harshly to her, often putting her down: “...sometimes, I don't 

know, maybe she has many problems sometimes, and she speak, the way she speak she 

always say, ‘you are servant, you are poor that's why you came here, you become poor 
forever. Even your family and your children.’ That's not good. She can talk to me on the 

this way but not include my children.” 

At that time, Taiwan was in the midst of the SARS scare. Often acting on 

irrational fears, Taiwanese had begun to institute draconian measures to control the 

spread of the disease. Not clearly understanding the way it was transmitted, ordinary 

people became quite paranoid. Rosalia’s employer, feared that re­heated food could cause 

the family to get ill. Although Rosalia was told to be frugal with the food and never to 

waste anything, her employ scolded her for serving re­heated food to the son. The 

employer claimed that if the son got sick, she would see to it that Rosalia would get in 

trouble. Rosalia explained that this frightened her: “Yeah, so I, I'm very scared. I thought, 

‘I have children in Philippines, I like to see my children again. if something happen to her 

son, it's my fault maybe they put me in jail. I cannot go home anymore,’ so I ran away.”

Rosalia also had other disputes with the employer. For six months, she had not 

received a salary, although the employer had sent money to the Philippines to pay some 

of Rosalia's debt. She was also being over­charged for her broker’s fees: “in Philippines 

we signed, we pay placement fee in Philippines a lot of money, and we came here we 

signed 1800 [NT] a month, so this is what we are expecting. But when I came here they 

force me to sign 7000 a month.” Likewise her employer exercise unreasonable control 

over her. She was not allowed a cell phone. Nor was she allowed to attend church. She 
had no regular day off and was often required to clean the husband’s medical clinic in 

addition to working in the home. She claims that she was only allowed to eat what was 

leftover from their dinner, but often only had rice with a little soy sauce and water. 

This treatment was a real shock to her. She had worked in Hong Kong for a 

Malaysian family in the late 1980s. While she was the housekeeper for the family, 

because of her educational background, they had also let her help with the office work of 

their company. She said she had enjoyed the work and it had helped to pay for their home 

in Manila. 

Her oldest son was only six when she went to Hong Kong. Soon after her return, 

they had another son. At that time, her eldest began to complain to severe headaches. It 

turned out to be a brain tumor. An operation saved his life, but left him permanently 

disabled. She explained that for the next five years she stayed at home to nurse him. 

Hospital bills and medical expenses forced her to sell property she held in the province. 

Finally, her husband died and she had no choice but to go abroad again to earn enough to 

support her two sons. Forced to return due to the conflict with her employer,  she had 

plans of borrowing placement money and trying again in Taiwan or Hong Kong.
Charito (May 9)

Charito, while also staying at the shelter, had not had many problems working in 

Taiwan. On her second contract as a caretaker for an elderly patient, she was awaiting 

reassignment to a new patient for the remainder of her contract period as her previous 

charge had died.28 Her previous employer, an old woman who lived alone, had been an 

easy assignment. The woman spoke English, treated her in a friendly manner, and needed 

only a little assistance: “ah, to take a bath and then ah changing the pampers because she, 

sometimes she is sick. And, we will bring to the hospital and then to assist her to take a 

bath, only because she still walking, and then, ah, wash her clothes, because we are only 

two in her house.” With the family she had been with for the last six months it had been a 

different case: “I  signed a contract in Philippines. I am a care taker of old person. But, 

when I was came here, I was so surprised because, ah, my job was, ah, all­around 

caretaker. So, January my patient was already dead, so the Taiwan government not 

allowed to continue my contract with them.”

This was not the first country that Charito had worked in; she had, in the mid­

1990s, worked in Saudi Arabia. She made only $150 a month there, but felt it was better 

than her commission only sales job in the Philippines. She said she was unable to find 

better employment there as her family had run out of funds after her first year in the 
This is one of the only ways that a worker may find another employer without
returning to the Philippines and paying a new placement fee.
teacher’s college. She had six brother and three sisters whom she helped out a little. 

Otherwise, she said she was unmarried and saving for a bakery or a small restaurant of 

her own.

Rosario (June 17)

Rosario, a high school graduate, worked as a salesperson and later on her parents 

farm before becoming a housekeeper in Malaysia. With her earnings there, she was able 

to cover the tuition of her brother. She said Malaysia at that time paid little, but also had a 

low placement fee.  After returning to the Philippines and then becoming a single­parent, 

she was faced again with finding work overseas. Her experience had been good in 

Malaysia, but her aunt, who had worked as a domestic in Taiwan, encouraged her to go 

there. She borrowed the placement fee from a “loan shark” and left her son with her 

mother. She explained, “actually, I went back to working abroad because of my son. I just 

want to have, to give him a better future.”

She had worked for almost two years in the four­story school and residence as an 

“all­around” housekeeper before she finally had enough of the unreasonable workload 

and lack of regular payment. When I met her in Stella Maris, she had badly bruised knees 

from daily duties of washing the floors without a mop, and badly damaged hands from 

cleaning with bleach without gloves. She explained that daily she had to clean the 
kindergarten on the first three floors as well as the house on the top floor, help the 

teachers with feeding the students, and clean the school grounds. She was not allowed to 

go outside of the school grounds, nor to make or receive calls.

While her employer did not allow her a cell phone, after a year she was able to 

secretly buy one and was then able to call her family once a week without the employer 

finding out. She had made friends with some other Filipina domestic workers as they had 

passed by the school. She talked to them occasionally through the gate. They helped her 

initially to post some letters to her family and later to get the phone. They also told her 

about MECO and Stella Maris when she was having problems of not getting paid for 

months at a time and watching her loan amount increase as a result of a high interest rate.

She explained that for her MECO was “very dangerous.” She had filed a 

complaint with them when she had not been paid for five months. MECO contacted her 

broker and employer to resolve the matter. Instead, she said, her employer shouted at her 

and end the end only paid part of her back wages. Finally, deciding she could not bear 

anymore, she contacted Stella Maris and went to their shelter.

Analy (June 17)

Analy was at the shelter after her employer had tried to deport her without paying 

her back pay, tax rebate, and overtime. Already heading to the airport, she had protested 
and called MECO. Because of their position as a pseudo­governmental agency, they are 

not allowed to intervene directly, but they were able to contact Fr. Ciceri at Stella Maris 

who was then able to retrieve her from her broker. Once repatriated, legally or illegally, 

migrants are seldom able to recover funds owed to them.

Analy had been trained in a two­year vocational college as a radio operator. She 

said she did not like the program, but had failed the entrance exam to the teachers 

college. After finishing her degree she had worked as a guard in a department store until, 

in 1998, she was accepted for placement in Hong Kong as a housekeeper. She said she 

enjoyed the position, taking care of a family and their five­year­old child. The father 

worked in the Hong Kong immigration service and seemed to understand her situation. 

She said, “they treat me like a sister.” She was able to send money to help with schooling 

of sister and to help her parents buy a farm. However, when the wife lost her job, they 

could no longer afford a housekeeper. Hong Kong does allow foreign workers to seek a 

new employer, yet she said she was home sick after the 14 months abroad and decided to 

return home. She stayed there on the farm for several years before decided to go overseas 


Analy had been in Taiwan only eight months. She had been hired as a caretaker 

for and elderly patient, but was surprised when she arrived: “he's strong, not bedridden!” 

Instead, she was to work 14 hours a day cleaning, cooking, caring for baby, washing 
clothes by hand, walking dogs, and, in addition to her other duties, help pack tea for the 

family’s business. She, and the Vietnamese worker the family had hired, slept on floor of 

tea packing room. For months she was not paid, or given a day off. She and the 

Vietnamese woman had decided that they would stage a protest and both decided not to 

work one Sunday as their contract dictated. In the end, after a battle with the employer, 

they worked out an every­other­Sunday­off routine, though they still were not paid for the 


When the employer returned from a trip to the mainland in the midst of the SARS 

epidemic, she was placed on in­home quarantine. Fearing for their safety, Analy and the 

Vietnamese employee decided that they would move the family to the first floor of the 

building while the employer stayed upstairs:

So, we decide to stay first in the shop for ten days or fourteen days. So,
after that she go home. She's angry, "Why. Why we stay there in the one
floor. Who told you that you stay in one floor." I said, "No. Me and Nelly
only. We decide that we stay there in, in one floor. Why Madam? If we
die, you pay me? You pay me? No. You don't pay." I said.... and then she
said, "Okay. You stay in the shop. I don't give you an allowance for the
food." So the Vietnamese and me, ah, we have own money, we buy food.
And then, the dinner she telephone, "You give me a food here. I don't
come down," she said. So, the Vietnamese give a food there. ...And then,
another day, she broke a mirror. And then I said, "Nelly what is that?" She
said, "I don't know what is that." she said. So I opened the door. Oh, my
employer. Already angry. And then she opened the door. She don't use a
mask. So, I close again the door. "Madam, excuse me I use first a mask."
And then, she said, "Okay. Okay." And then, after I, I wear a mask, I
opened. And then she said, "Ana you go down and then you pack your
things. I want to send you to the Philippines. I don't, I don't, I don't like
you anymore," she said.... And then, it's already in the one floor, she said.
"I don't give you a, I don't give you your salary. Because your broker said
you have to pay ah, tax. Thirty-six thousand." And then, I said, "Why
thirty-six thousand? I work here only eight months, why I pay thirty-six
thousand. I don't have any money." And then, she said, "That is your
problem. Not me, your broker said." So, I decide to call a MECO.

With the help of Father Bruno, she had recovered her back pay, brokers fees, and 

the cost of the plane ticket, but not her overtime pay. She was satisfied as she had enough 

to help her parents with some of the renovation of their home, and to pay part of her 

placement fee for work in Hong Kong this time.

Taiwanese Spouses

“Foreign brides,” or Filipina spouses of Taiwanese men, were another special 

category of migrant, and were of interest to my project in that they represented the only 

long­term settlers with whom to compare the assimilation experience of short­term 

contract workers. There were two sub­categories based on the way in which they were 

introduced to their husbands: those who came as OFWs and met their husbands while 

working in the factories, and those who were “mail­order” brides. These “mail­order” 

brides explained their biographies in similar terms as labor migrants: they sought a way 

to relieve the economic burden on their families by travel to a country of perceived 

wealth. In this case, labor (in the form of domestic, sexual, and procreative services) was 

bought by a Taiwanese man who paid a matchmaker for the service of introduction and 

arranging all of the governmental paperwork. This system is similar in many respects to 
the placement­employer arrangement for labor migrants; however, in this case, the 

“employer” (husband) pays all of the fees. While “permanent” migrants, these women do 

not see themselves as a part of the Taiwanese society. As with the case of Rosalyn, many 

find their position within the family as little more than domestic servants. Moreover, 

many Taiwanese family members have a distrust and fear of the “foreign” bride that leads 

to exclusion and isolation.

The most successful and well­adjusted brides were those who met their spouses 

while working as OFWs or those who had found a niche within the small enclave of 

Filipinos in the EPZs. Many of these wives, with capital from their husbands, operated 

carts or small stalls that sold Filipino foods or products. As “permanent” residents, 29 

these women are legally allowed to work, but often find that employers are unwilling to 

pay them the same salaries as local Taiwanese laborers. Thus, if they are to work outside 

the home, they must rely on the enclave economy supported by co­ethnics. In this way, 

they also provide a vital link to the culture of the homeland. Likewise, as long­term 

residents and often being of the few who speak Chinese or Taiwanese, they are often 

placed in positions of authority within the church and other social institutions.

“permanent” residents in Taiwan must reapply for visa extensions every few years
until they have been in Taiwan for more than seven years, at which point they may
apply for the Permanent Alien Resident Certificate.
Sarah Lin (March 19)

Sarah went to Taiwan initially in 1997 as a factory worker. She saw a placement 

advertisement in a magazine and decided to apply. Before coming to Taiwan she was a 

school teacher. However, she had only recently graduated with a Bachelor of Science in 

History and Economics and taught for only three months. Dissatisfied with the low salary 

in the Philippines, she decided to work in Taiwan. The youngest of eight, it was not 

economically necessary for her to become and OFW  for the family as much as she 

looking for experience and personal opportunity. 

In Taiwan, she worked in the molding division of her company making 

electronics boards. She explained that it was very hot work and her line leader was 

difficult on them. She would not allow them their lunch break sometimes and was very 

demanding: “I cried for many years...before, I hate the Taiwanese people, because my 

experience was that all the Taiwanese people no good.” Eventually, one of the 

supervising managers, the man who would later become her husband, talked with the line 

leader and things improved. As an Industrial Engineer, he had started as a managerial 

trainee learning to operate the machines in her section about the same time that she came 

to Taiwan. As he moved up in the ranks, he also kept his eye on her. While he was 

interested in her and helped her out, she said she was not so fond of him at first: “the 
truth was I didn’t like him, but maybe he is very good... but it’s not so easy that he 

became my boyfriend. He courted me for years.” While the were dating she taught him 

Tagalog, but said they mostly communicated in English. 

She returned to work at another company, and continued dating. They decided to 

marry, but due to her contract and visa restrictions she had to return to the Philippines 

and apply for a tourist visa. While back, she studied cosmetology and cooking so that she 

could find work other than in a factory. Recently married, she is waiting now on 

residential status and the ability to work. Now, to earn a little extra money, she makes 

small Filipino cookies or other delicacies to sell. She is living now with her in­laws and 

is learning to cook Taiwanese food and trying to learn to speak and read Mandarin. She 

was also learning Tai Chi and Kung Fu in the park with her mother­in­law. However, she 

has no Taiwanese friends and still spends a significant amount of time at St. Joseph’s 

with other Filipinos.

Mama Angel (May 29)

In 1992, “Mama” Angle Wu married her Taiwanese husband. As she explained, 

she had wanted to become a teacher: “when I was a little child, I want to be a teacher. 

But, no money, because I'm also supporting my brothers and sisters in their school.” 

When she finished high school, she took a two­month cosmetology course, then began 
working part­time from her home beauty shop while working full­time in a factory. 

Working to help to support her nine siblings, she had dated Filipino men, but had never 

married. Over the years, she said she had applied to go overseas at various placement 

agencies, but had the misfortune of running into fake agencies that took her money or 

others that never could place her. 

At thirty­one she had given up on going abroad, when a matchmaker (a friend of 

her aunt’s family) came by her house. Her cousin, already married to a Taiwanese man a 

few years prior, seemed to have had a good experience, so she decided also to give it a 


I'm willing to come to other countries. Ah, some of the other, some people
say that it's just a stepping stone to come to other countries to marry, to
get married in other, men in other countries. I don't think that. I think that
it is a plan of God.... my mother told me that somebody came to our house
and need my picture. And then, they saw my picture. I'm just not, I'm not
interested. But, maybe that's the plan of God. Yes. That I'm coming here
to Taiwan, to do something. And then, I married my husband.

The marriage was arranged by the older sister of her husband, who was also 

arranging her own son’s wedding at the same time. They met, were married in a joint 

ceremony (in which she was only allowed to invite a few of her relatives due to cost), and 

departed for Taiwan in a few short weeks. Her husband had paid over US $12,000 to the 

matchmaker for his services and only about US $20 to her family as hong bao (紅包).
 When she arrived in Taiwan, she said she experienced a great deal of culture 

shock; missing her family and friends, Philippine food, and spending much of her time 

crying: “I cannot understand the language here. I don't know anything. Maybe if my, 

maybe if my cousin will not, ah, got married here in Taiwan, I don't know if I will come 

here to get married also.” Her first few years were very difficult as well. Her husband 

worked as a janitor and twenty­four hour guard for an office building. They had only a 

small room behind the property as their apartment. Paid only 29,000NT a month, he was 

required to give 20,000NT to his older sister who managed his affairs. These funds, he 

was told, were for his share in a rotating credit system. Yet, after three years they had still 

not had their turn at receiving the capital. For that time, they were left then with only 

2,000NT a month, after making monthly payments on a scooter.

During this time, the Philippine wife of her husband’s nephew ran away. Her 

sister­in­law, afraid that Angel would do the same, became more of a problem. In the end, 

she convinced her husband to change jobs and quit giving money to his sister. Once her 

husband changed jobs, Angel was able to begin working and eventually help her sister 

come to Taiwan as a housekeeper. She also joined the local church and has since become 

a central figure in the community. As one of the few permanent Filipino members of the 

church, she has been assigned the responsibility of treasurer and is the lay leader of the 

local El Shaddai chapter.
Loisa Tai (June 29)

After two years of secretarial school, Loisa began working first as a department 

store clerk, then in assembly at a Sanyo factory in the Philippines. She lived in boarding 

apartment in Manila and worked three and a half years earning money to help support her 

family. Convinced partially by one of her three sisters, who was already working in 

Taiwan, and by the fact that she was having problems with her boyfriend. She decided go 

to Taiwan in 1995.

She says she was lucky to get work in the quality control department for an 

electronics manufacturer. The work was light and not too difficult. She also met her 

husband, who was a supervisor in the department. In 1997, she left her position and 

returned to the Philippines so she could marry him and return as his spouse. While he has 

been very supportive, and treats her respectfully, their relationship has not been without 

its problems: 

Maybe the problem is, I'm far from my family. Like that. And, nobody can
help me to take care of my kids. Cause, I'm just the one who take care of
them. And, if you feel lonely, alone, you feel lonely, you feel you're just
alone. So. you just, you just go out to meet your friends. And, sometimes
if have problems, very hard to communicate. Because it, it different, it's
different than if you speak same language, you know.

While she had no Taiwanese friends, other than Ate Tessa at Higher Ground Free 

Methodist Church, she said she had many friends among the other Filipina spouses and 
workers at the church and from her part­time job at a “burger house” that caters to 

Filipinos workers. Her children also, she explained, play mostly with other Filipino­

Chinese children. 

While living abroad, she maintained strong ties with her family back in the 

Philippines. Up until 2002, she would go back to the Phil for 2 months of the year, 

however finances have been tighter recently, and she hasn’t been able to go back. She did 

explain that she calls two to three times a month and a helped support family back home 

with regular remittances. Likewise, she helped support one of her sisters when she 

decided to work in Taiwan (in all 5 of the 8 siblings have worked abroad in Taiwan or 

Saudi Arabia).  Now, with the backing of her husband, she is planning to open her own 

lunch counter. With the help of Ate Tessa, she is looking for a commercial space to rent. 

She is also trying to find a partner among the other Filipina wives.

Authorities on Philippine Migration

Upon my arrival in Taiwan in late January 2003, I began searching for local 

experts to interview regarding the status of Filipino labor migrant. My search turned up 

the local office of the pseudo­governmental Manila Economic and Cultural Office 

(MECO) and the church sponsored Stella Maris International Service Center in 

Kaohsiung. Fr. Bruno Ciceri, director of the Service Center, proved most willing and 
helpful in providing me an overview of the history and current condition of labor 

migrants to Taiwan. As director of the Service Center, pastor of the Nan Tze St. Joseph 

the Worker parish, and coordinator of English masses for all of the churches in the 

Kaohsiung area, he was instrumental in connecting me with other “experts” on 

Philippine labor migration (Pastor Marzo, the other Diocesan Coordinators, Lorna Kung, 

etc.) as well as introducing me to the congregation of his parish. 

Southern Taiwan, often seen as more provincial and industrial than the north of 

the island, has few resources for migrants. In and about Taipei, on the other hand, there 

are numerous international NGOs that provide services for foreign workers. In the south, 

there was Stella Maris, and its satellite shelter in Tainan, as well as the Migrant 

Counseling Center in Nan Tze (run by the Presbyterian Church of Taiwan, PCT) and 

MECO. The Counseling Center, sometimes called the “North Center” as it was licensed 

to services northern Kaohsiung County, primarily assisted migrants from Thailand and 

Vietnam. MECO, alternatively, provided help only to Filipinos, and often coordinated 

relief and social projects with Fr. Ciceri.
Image 17 Fr. Bruno Ciceri explaining problems with the placement system

Fr. Bruno Ciceri (February 28, June 18)

Fr. Bruno Ciceri was a Scalabrinian missionary30 who came to Taiwan in 1996 

after appointments in Australia and the Philippines. Originally assigned to the Stella 

Maris Apostolate of the Sea to serve the needs of seafarers on short layovers in 

Kaohsiung’s port, he quickly found the unmet needs of migrant workers a great concern:

...when I came here, for example for the shelter, it’s not like one day I
wake up and say okay today we start the shelter. The shelters, usually the
police they would bring people to the hospital, they cannot keep them in
their station and things like that, and after there were two Filipinos that
were raped by the broker, one mentally she was really shocked, and I said
you cannot keep her in jail, so just let her stay in my place and everything.
And so we just start keeping people here. At a certain point I have 12 or
15 people in a room smaller than this one, and we said. ‘oh gosh! I have
to do something here you know.’

Fr. Ciceri has since become one of the most vocal advocates for migrant laborers. 

He has lead numerous protests, discussions with the government, and is instrumental in 

organizing with the other NGO groups in Taiwan to protect the human rights of migrant 

workers. He has been singled out by the police and even threatened with deportation for 

his involvement in organizing the workers.31

He explained that, in a way, his whole life has prepared him for this position. At 

eleven years old he entered the seminary, leaving for a few years in his late teens when he 

helped organize a protest over the school’s strict guidelines. While away from the 

seminary for three years, he attended university and also joined a leftist student group. 

Involved with protests and organizing an independent radio station before decided to 

eventually returning to the seminary, he said that the experiences still have an impact on 


Looking back, I would say the Lord was preparing me for this kind of job.
What I did at that time, whatever was put there, was somehow a
preparation for this kind of job I think. I don’t know, just looking back
now, I think that’s the only reason I find why I have to have these
experience with these group and been organizing strikes and things like
that. It’s maybe because there was somehow a sort of outline for me. So, I
am happy to be here, and I am happy to do this kind of work. I don’t
regret. I enjoy this kind of work, working with migrants and helping them.

For more on this incident see “Catholic Human Rights Advocates Threatened To Be
Forcibly Deported By Taiwanese Government” Retrieved on April 12, 2004
Jonah Lin North Center (June 20)

Jonah Lin was the program secretary at the Migrant Counseling Center in Nan 

Tze. For the past three years at the center, his job has been to supervise and coordinate 

the social services for migrant workers. Prior to this position, he had spent a year in the 

Philippines studying at a seminary, both to receive his Master in Divinity (his other 

university training was in Administration), and to learn English. 

He explained to me that the center provided a number of services for migrant 

workers including counseling, pastoral care, healthcare, educational, and social 

programs. While they do not have a comprehensive counseling service for mental­health 

issues, they did provide mental­health counseling services via group counseling. They 

also had Thai and Chinese social workers on staff. They maintained a shelter for 

runaways and migrants awaiting repatriation. They offered limited legal services for cases 

of employer abuses, though he explained that the procedure took almost two­years, so 

were “sometimes almost useless.” They also helped with work­related injuries, assisting 

the worker in communicating with the hospitals or negotiating with employers who often 

would pocket insurance money rather than pay the premiums, leaving workers in a dire 

situation when needing healthcare. Though he admitted that attendance had been poor for 

their education and training program, because workers were likely to miss classes for 
overtime work, they did offer English classes, Mandarin classes, Chinese handicrafts, and 

Chinese cooking classes. They offered a number of social activities, primarily for 

Indonesian, Thai, and Vietnamese workers, such as a large street­party for the Thai 

workers that brought as many as 2,000 workers annually. They also had monthly day­trips 

and outings, and maintained a small Karaoke club in the basement of the center. Much of 

their work, though, involved labor dispute mediation: 

...usually the worker will bring their salary list [i.e. pay stub], because
they cannot understand, sometimes the factory will not provide an English
or Thai, only Chinese, so we will explain what is this... one example,
happened last week, a Thai worker is going home and the employer did
not pay for vacation in the whole year. Because the worker have fourteen
days in the year, but he didn’t take it so the employer should pay him. So
when the laborer com here we will contact the factory.... sometimes the
factory do not know the labor standards law.

Because of financial difficulties the center had to severely cut its staffing. They 

were no longer receiving the nearly US $500,000 from the government that they had 

counted on in the past. Instead they were raising funds only from the Presbyterian Church 

and from sales of items at the large festivals and social events. 

Jonah’s opinion of the issue of labor migration was mixed. While he believed it 

was his duty to assist migrants in need, he felt that the importation of labor to Taiwan 

was not a good thing. He felt that by employing migrant workers, fewer jobs were 

available for local people. He also felt that having migrant workers had negatively 

affected Taiwanese society. He stressed that it was not due to the cultural difference of 
the migrants themselves, but the opportunities they presented to the Taiwanese to take 

advantage. He felt that “Taiwanese will not take advantage of another Taiwanese,” but by 

simply having people there from another country Taiwanese would forget their humanity 

and exploit the workers.

Pastor Chris Marzo Higher Ground (June 25)

Pastor Marzo, has been in Taiwan since 1997. He met his wife, Pastora Tessa, in 

1991 while she was living in the Philippines. They married in 1993 and stayed in the 

Philippines while he worked in the church and she taught in a Chinese language school 

on the outskirts of Manila. When her mother became ill, they decided to move the family, 

now with two children, to Taiwan. 

While on a trip to Taiwan, he had seen the need for a church for the Filipino 

workers in Nan Tze. Then, upon moving there in 1997, he established the independent 

Higher Ground Free Methodist Church, first in a rented space at the local Presbyterian 

Church of Taiwan. They were later able to raise capital for the down payment on their 

own space by selling long­distance telephone cards to the Filipino workers. He explained 

that maintaining the church and membership is difficult though as there are fewer 

Protestants from the Philippines and the population they serve is so itinerant:

this church is, ah, not, it's different from, ah, common local churches
where people are there. I mean they have sustainable jobs. Members are
always there. I mean, our church is a liquid. People are so transient. And,
ah, of course you cannot expect a lot of, ah, OCWs to be faithful in their,
giving their offerings because there's a lot of complicated problems, you
know. For one year, they have to work and not earn a single centavo.
Maybe for this. Because all of the money they've been working for a year
will be given to the brokers.

Since the introduction of the two terms of employment, six years total, he said things 

have become more stable. The church is able to recruit new members by word­of­month, 

as well as by maintaining a base among returning members. Likewise, the church was 

involved in many community activities such as the Filipino basketball tournament. 

Pastor Marzo personally has experienced the exclusion from the Taiwanese 

community that many of the OFWs feel daily. This may be as subtle as the looks he gets 

on the elevator or their hesitation when he opens the front door for one of his neighbors 

in the high­rise apartment building. The church has also received complaints by 

neighbors over the “noise” of the gospel choir and he has even being told he could not 

park his van in the public street spaces as they were for Taiwanese not Filipinos: “At first 

I'm always very furious, you know. Why can't I, and they can. I always have this reaction. 

So, it's a bad feeling. But, of course you have to understand that you are not from this 

Attorney Rómulo Salud (August 5)

Attorney Salud, labor attaché to the Manila Economic and Cultural Office in 

Kaohsiung, had been in his post for nearly five years when I interviewed him at his 

offices. We had met several times at social and religious events in Nan Tze and 

exchanged e­mails a few times. He came to his position after being asked by a friend in 

the Department of Labor to take the overseas post: “My children were grown up, so I said 

why not.” Before that, he had been a member of the management group for the National 

Oil Company in the Philippines. He said he knew nothing of Taiwan, much less 

Kaohsiung, when he came. His friend was looking for someone he could trust as there, 

Image 18 Attorney Salud explaining an ongoing contract dispute case

“were at that time a lot of problems, internal squabbles in the office and the image of the 

office as against the workers.” At the beginning of his tenure, he found it necessary to 
replace the entire staff of the office. He said that all sides were unhappy when he first 

arrived, brokers and Taiwanese government as well as other NGOs: “The first time I met 

[Fr. Ciceri] he told me ‘I’ll be watching you.’” He said that it took over a year and a half 

to regain the trust of workers and others, but now the office has a good reputation in the 

Philippine community. Like Fr. Ciceri, Atty. Salud has had his share of problems in his 

post. During the first three years, brokers complained to the Chinese government and the 

Philippine government when he did not yield to their demands. He also has had his home 

raided by the police. 

The office has a certain power in the placement­broker­employer hiring system. 

Atty. Salud’s position allows him to accept or deny broker requests for workers from the 

Philippines. Thus, if MECO or the other NGOs have problems with a particular broker 

over employment issues, he may deny their work orders until the situation is resolved. 

The office also mediates disputes between workers, brokers, and employers. However, 

they not have authority to intervene in cases where the migrant is being forcibly, and 

illegally, repatriated by the employer. In these cases, he said, they call Stella Maris to 

intercede, “fine, so what we do is pick up the phone and we call ‘Father come pick up the 

worker” so we have this kind of relation.” The office also represents workers rights in 

negotiations with the government of Taiwan in setting labor standards and rights of 

workers. However, he did explain that many of the policies are up to the interpretation of 
local authorities and his office has had difficulty in pressing for enforcement of agreed 

upon contracts and regulations.

Observations & Informal Meetings

In many ways, my daily informal meetings and observations of the community 

were just as important as the recorded interviews, tests, and surveys I conducted. By 

living in the Kaohsiung area, I was able to attend social and religious events, explore 

communities, and conduct every­day activities in the same environment as the 

participant. As a “foreigner” myself, I found that there was both an affinity with the 

participants, as well as an understanding of their feeling of “otherness”, though limited 

somewhat by the deferential treatment Taiwanese gave me due to my nationality. 

Some of observations and informal interviews included participation in church 

activities at St. Joseph’s, High Ground and JIL as well as attendance of social events such 

as celebrations and large gatherings. Informal discussions with non­participant members 

of these churches, as well as with Pastora Tessa, a Chinese social worker and wife of 

Pastor Chris Marzo, helped me to shape questions in formal interviews as well as to 

understand the various perspectives on the issues of labor migration to Taiwan. In the 

same way, questions posed to my Taiwanese friends, family members, and my own 
Taiwanese students, gave me insight into the conventional views of Taiwanese toward 

workers from Southeast Asian countries. 

I was also invited by Fr. Ciceri to attend the Second Meeting of Diocesan 

Coordinators on July 3, 2003. In this forum, I heard reports from the missionaries 

working with migrant laborers in Taipei, Hsinchu, Taichung, Chiayi, Tainan, Hualien, 

and Kaohsiung and I was given the opportunity to ask questions to these relief workers. 

On the same day, an overview of foreign workers in Taiwan was presented by Lorna 

Kung, former Director of the Foreign Workers’ Counseling Service in Taipei and an

activist working for greater rights for migrant workers

Image 19 Pastora Tessa (or as she prefers Ate Tessa [elder sister or auntie


International labour migration is not new to the Philippines and its

colonial history, but the exporting of women workers is. One of the
legacies of colonial domination, first by Spain and then the United States
(from 1898 until nominal independence in 1946), is the large number of
Filipinos who experience poverty, in part because they lack access to
economically viable resources and secure employment....While Philippine
colonial history clearly plays a major part in creating the preconditions
for the mobility of Filipinos in search of “overseas” sequential labour
contracts, shifts in the gender, class, and racialized configurations of
globalized labour markets are also important.
-Pauline Gardiner Barber (2000)

According to the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), over

one million Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) were deployed in 2002. Departures for

employment reached 2,640 daily as the government encouraged the record number of

unemployed (almost 14% in 2002) to go abroad (“More than 2,600...,” 2002). The OFWs

are seen as “economic heroes.” The government claims they ease the strain on the local

economy while remitting billions of US dollars.

The Philippines has a long history as a sending nation and has become one of

today’s leading exporters of migrants (Abella 1993; Martin 1993; Tan 2001). Because of

their historical, linguistic, cultural, and political ties with Western nations, Filipinos

began to emigrate to Europe, Mexico, and the United States in the late 1800s. In the

period from 1900 to the 1930s in particular, labor migrants were recruited from the

Philippines to work in farming in Hawaii. Migration slowly increased throughout the mid

20th . By the early 1970s, then President Marcos had begun the “temporary” policy of

government driven labor migration “to ease massive unemployment and to bring in

foreign currency” (Pei-Chia Lan 2000). By the early 1980s, many Filipinos had
permanently emigrated to the US and other countries and nearly a half million labor

migrants were working abroad as domestic servants, construction workers, skilled

technicians, nurses, factory workers, and seafarers. The government of the Philippines,

seeing the potential in remittances and reduction of unemployment, further encouraged

labor migration as one of its official development strategies (Martin 1993; Aguilar 2000;

Tan 2001;). In 1982, the government established the POEA to promote and regularize a

then mostly illegal labor migration. Throughout the 1980s and 90s, remittances from

OFWs accounted for up to 9% of the GNP (Tan 2001; Migration News 2001).


There are a number of macro­level explanations for the necessity of Philippine 

labor migration. In particular, a combination of economic and demographic mechanisms 

has resulted in a very sizeable, young population with high rates of unemployment and a 

lack of domestic opportunities. Furthermore, an absence of direct foreign investments, a 

weak export market, and considerable foreign debt leave few possible solutions for the 

historically unstable government. Finally, protectionist economic policies and a 

dependency on export of labor have hindered development of domestic markets.

While many Southeast Asian countries have progressed rapidly through the 

demographic transition, the Philippines has been slow to reduce fertility rates while life 

expectancy has increased (Appleyard 1992; Skeldon 1992; Abella 1993; Asis 2000). In 
the last century, the population has increase more than 1000 percent. As Manolo Abella 

of the International Labour Office (ILO) explains:

Demographic factors are not helping to ease the problems of

unemployment. Whereas the East Asian countries have already gone
through the later stages of their demographic transition, total fertility rates
in the Philippines have only declined very slightly during the past three
decades from 6.61 in 1960-65 to 4.33 in 1985-90. By comparison,
neighboring Thailand which had roughly the same fertility rate in 1960-65
now has a rate of 2.60. In 1990 the youth dependency ratio is estimated at
70.9 per hundred workers in the Philippines compared to 51.4 in Thailand
and 57.4 in Indonesia (Abella 1992: 254).

This rapid population increase has added almost a million new job seekers to the work

force annually (Abella 1993).

While the high dependency ratio and rapidly increasing population indicate an 

urgent need for new employment opportunities, economic conditions and government 

practices have not allowed industries to keep up with the demand for jobs. Protectionist 

industrial policies, designed to support domestic producers, have been blamed for 

limiting development by creating disincentives to upgrading industrial infrastructure 

(Abella 1993; Alburo 1993; Habito et al. 1993). Coupled with increasing foreign debt













































Figure 5-1 Overseas Filipino Workers by Type 1984 to 2002 (derived from
Philippine Overseas Employment Administration 2003)









1900 1910 1920 1930 1940 1950 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000

Figure 5-2 Population of the Philippines 1900 to 2000 (derived from

Lahmeyer 2003

(now almost US $56 billion) and lack of incentives for foreign direct investment, the

situation has produced a poor export market for goods and an increase in unemployment

(“Foreign debt..., “ 2003). According to the Philippines National Statistics Office,

unemployment as of July 2003 was more than 12 percent with underemployment above

20 percent. Thus, the increasing labor pool and high unemployment together with lack of

funds from export of goods or investment creates a situation in which the only quick

remedy is an export of labor.

University of the Philippine researcher Maruja Asis’s study of migrants from four

sending communities found that these macro-level causes translate directly to the micro

level. “Respondents’ explanations as to why many people in their community migrate

were essentially economic: lack of employment opportunities, meager incomes and the

desire to improve status compel people to seek work outside the country” (Asis 1995).

Abella (1993) further explains how the choice to migrate occurs at the family level as a

reaction to macro-level forces:

For most Filipino families, emigration is therefore a rational response to

the inability of the state to generate growth and employment within the
country. The Filipino family has become “transnational” in an effort to
protect itself from declining real incomes and standards of living, and to
achieve family aims for investment in education and acquisition of other
productive assets including land and housing. The opening up of labor
markets overseas during the last two decades gave an international
dimension to what would otherwise be an internal reallocation of family
labor to minimize risks. Since opportunities for complete relocation of the
family in the more affluent countries are very limited the large proportion
have opted for the only avenue possible by sending one or more family
members abroad. Remittances of the migrants are evidently an important
element of this adjustment mechanism since the family is still attempting
to maximize the welfare of the core household at home through migration.

It is argued by the government that export of labor would produce economic returns for

the country in the form of remittances and savings brought back to the families

remaining in the Philippines. However, Florian Alburo of the University of the

Philippines shows that while earnings from OFWS have had very marginal positive
effects on domestic growth, most spending has been on imported consumer durables and

improvements to residential properties with less than two percent of remittances going

toward small businesses or investment (Alburo 1993). Thus, there is little long-term

economic benefit from exportation of labor.


The governments involvement in organizing and promoting labor migration has

created a “culture of migration” that permeates all levels of the society. Overseas

employment is highly organized and bureaucratized and is overseen by an Inter-Agency

Image 20 Attorney Salud (MECO) addressing the migrants gathered

for Independence Day celebrations

Committee including the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration

(POEA), the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), the Bureau of

Immigration (BI) and governed by the Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of


Filipino workers are screened and then go abroad with special contract
worker passports. Private Filipino recruiters go abroad to find jobs for
Filipinos to fill, get the Philippine government to approve the contract,
and then find Filipino workers to go abroad. But these recruitment
activities and protections come at a cost, which is typically borne by the
worker. Since most Filipinos go abroad legally, they cannot escape these
costs. However, as labor exports shift to Asia – where salaries are lower
and employee-paid recruitment fees are higher-the wedge between gross
and net foreign earnings widens to the disadvantage of the worker.
(Martin 1993)

While the majority of the total permanent emigration from the Philippines is

destined for the United States,33 there is an almost equally sizable flow of temporary

workers to the Middle East and Asia. According to the Survey on Overseas Filipinos of

the Philippines National Statistics Office, more than one million OFWs were legally

deployed abroad in 2002. Of those, 93.8 percent were overseas contract workers

(OCWs), 76.5 percent working in Asia alone. Unlike other nations, the migrant flows are

relatively balanced between genders with 52.5 percent males and 47.5 percent were

females (National Statistics Office, Republic of the Philippines 2003).

There is strong significance placed by the Filipino government on the workers it

sends abroad. Repeatedly OFWs are portrayed as “modern day heroes” for the economic

support they give their nation. Annually select workers are recognized by the POEA and

presented an award by the Philippine president (Department of Labor and Employment

2003). Similar to the way the USO visits to troops, government officials, famous

See text of the 1995 Act at retrieved on
April 12, 2004.
According to Martin (1993) the US accounted for 1.3 million migrants or 93% of
those in core receiving countries in the early 1990s.
performers, and cultural icons regularly visit OFWs abroad. In 2002 and 2003 alone,

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has visited OFWs in the United Kingdom, Japan,

Thailand, South Korea, and Kuwait (“Arroyo to visit...,” 2003). In 2002, she also

addressed the “kababayans”34 in Taiwan specifically emphasizing the strong ties between

the two nations and the importance of their work their:

As Filipinos living in a foreign land, you have the distinct role of serving
as our country's ambassadors of goodwill in your host country. You are
called upon to serve as agents of our country in fostering stronger,
cultural, political and economic ties between our country and Taiwan.
(“President...” 2002)
Unlike many other sending countries, the Philippines does try to retain its labor

migrants, encouraging them to go abroad, but granting them benefits and enticements to

return. While working abroad, Filipinos may receive many of the benefits of citizenship

such as entitled to sickness, maternity, disability, retirement, death, and 13th month

benefits through the Social Security System, as well as absentee voting and dual

citizenship ("Social security offered...,” 1999). Thus, governmental policies of

encouraging temporary migration, providing services for migrants abroad, helping them

to maintain cultural and political ties to the homeland and granting them benefits has

created a culture of migration. For almost thirty years, the government has promoted the

exportation of labor, creating a constantly circulating population and the expectation that

one will go abroad at some point in their lives. As Asis (1995) explains, “migration has

become routine and taken-for-granted… woven into the community’s everyday life.”

Literally townspeople or countrymen in Tagalog.

Taiwan is in many ways the opposite of the Philippines. A rapid transition from a 

total fertility rate of 5.10 in 1964 to 0.7 in 2001 (Chang 2003), as well as rapid 

industrialization and development of a robust export market encouraged by government 

policy, have placed Taiwan among Southeast Asia’s “Four Tiger” economies (Skeldon 

1992). According to the National Statistics Office, Taiwan has a work force of 10 million 

and an unemployment rate of only 5.35 percent (Aug 2002).35 Major reasons for the need

for importing labor have been slower population growth, an aging population, a gendered

division of labor, increased years in education, labor conflicts, and labor costs (Martin

1993; Lee and Wang 1996; Chan 1999).

Raymond Chan of the City University in Hong Kong (1999) explains that

Taiwan’s diminishing importance of agriculture in the 1960s and resulting growth in

labor intensive industry and service sectors led to a greater demand for labor. By the

1980s, the afore mentioned decline in the fertility rate had resulted in slower population

growth and fewer available workers. In addition, while female labor participation had

increased to 40 percent, there was a well-defined gendered division of labor, limiting

women’s entrance into higher paying employment.36 At the same time, the increasing

years spent in education delayed entry into the labor market of younger generations.

Finally, as workers became better educated and in shorter supply, labor costs began to
35 retrieved on April 12, 2004.
Taiwanese law allows for employers to specify age and sex of employees desired,
thus legally reinforcing the gendered division of labor. This is important later in the
hiring of foreign workers where we see essentializing not only of national groups, but
also of sexes.
rise. Workers involved in the “3D” occupations (dirty, difficult, and dangerous) had

begun to unionize arguing for better working conditions and more pay. This conflict

between labor rights organizations and industry has been seen by some as the true cause

for importation of foreign labor (Ciceri 2001).37 As it was, by the mid 1980s, up to

100,000 foreign workers were employed illegally in Taiwan. At this point, the

government decided, under pressure from industry and growing public concern, to

legalized and regulate the importation of foreign workers in designated projects and with

strict quotas.





1900 1910 1920 1930 1940 1950 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000

Figure 5-3 Taiwan’s population growth (derived from Lahmeyer 2003)

See also: Foreign labor changes the face of Taiwan Sinorama December 1999; & Legislator pushes
lower pay for foreign workers Taipei Times July 25, 2003 both retrieved on
April 12, 2004.


Percent of Poulation





1976 1981 1982 1983 1984 1985 1986 1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002

Primary & below Junior High Senior High & Vocational Junior College & above

Figure 5-4 Taiwan’s Educational Attainment 1976 to 2002

(derived from Educational Attainment of Civilian Population Aged 15 and
Over 2002)
While the Council of Labor Affairs (CLA) approved legal importation of workers

for specific government infrastructure projects it was not until the ‘Employment Service

Act’ of 1992 that the government official outlined their policy on importation of labor.

Migrant labor activist Lorna Kung, former Director of the Foreign Workers’ Counseling

Service in the Taipei Labour Affairs Bureau, describes the policy as being “coercive,”

“conservative,” “isolation oriented,” and “marginalizing.” Lee and Wang at the Chung-

Hua Institution for Economic Research (1996) explain that the 1992 policy had four

main objectives:

1. To restrict foreign workers to industries with labor shortages

2. To protect the local labor market
3. To prevent permanent migration
4. To control the (perceived) negative social and health problems that may result
from migration
By limiting work visas to construction positions on major government

infrastructure projects, factory labor jobs, heavy industry, export processing zones and

low wage service positions such as domestic workers and nurses aides the CLA has not

allowed foreign labor to fully compete with the domestic labor pool. Likewise, by

requiring employers in these select industries to first search for local hires before

petitioning for foreign labor, as well as setting quotas for each employer with a 30 to 35

percent cap on foreign hires, the CLA has attempted to satisfy industrial demand for

workers while attempting to protect jobs for native-born workers. However, as the

following article shows, industries are still eager to increase the number of foreign

workers (while simultaneously dropping their wages) and labor activist see this as

extremely detrimental to local workers:

"We need more foreign blue-collar workers, or we will have to move our
company to China," said Chuang Feng-nien, the owner of a knitting
company. "Youth in Taiwan don't want to work for such dirty, dangerous
and labor-intensive industries such as ours. Employing more people from
Southeast Asia won't increase the unemployment rate," Chuang said.
Labor activists, however, do not agree with Huang. "They are out of their
minds," said Lin Ming-hsien, deputy general secretary of Taiwan
Confederation of Trade Unions. "What Huang said is all bullshit.”
According to the Employment Service Act, foreign workers can make up
no more than 30 percent of a company's total employees, Lin said. "But
Huang is trying to raise this proportion to 50 percent. How can this not
damage the rights of Taiwanese workers?" Lin said. Lin is opposed both
to reducing foreign workers’ wages and hiring more Southeastern Asians.
(“Legislator pushes…” July 25, 2003)

In an attempt to thwart permanent immigration due to the importation of labor

migrants,38 the government has taken to limiting the period of time a foreign worker may

stay in Taiwan. According to the 1992 laws, workers could stay up to two years before

See Maintaining Class Differences: Government Restrictions on Migrant Integration
and Cross-Cultural Dating & the Cultural Taboos of Exogamy in Chapter 8.
having to return to their home countries. Today, while workers may stay for up to three

years then reapply to return for up to three more years, they are still barred from

becoming permanent residents. There is no provision for changing their visa status from

contract foreign laborer to resident as Stein (2003) illustrates:

The contracts are meant to be short term. Once they have finished,
importing nations are eager to ensure that the workers won't find a way to
stay… Foreign workers who think marriage to a Taiwanese national is the
route to permanent residency are out of luck: Marriage is grounds for
immediate deportation (Stein 2003).

While there is great fear that the migrant will want to settle permanently in Taiwan (as

has occurred in a number of receiving countries39), there is also fear that they bring with

them social and health problems. For this reason, workers are require to provide a

background check or “certificate of good conduct” from their homeland as well as

submit to a medical exam including tests for HIV and other STDs, parasites,

tuberculosis, pneumonia, and other communicable disease (Lee and Wang 1996). These

medical checks are required before departure to Taiwan, as well as bi-annually while

residing there. Until 2002, they also included mandatory pregnancy tests to limit births to

foreign mothers while in Taiwan.

By 1995, the CLA had established the first Foreign Labor Affairs Center to 

prepare policy, coordinate and manage agencies involved in the importation of labor, as 

well as oversee the paperwork involved in the recruitment of laborers (Chan 1999). 

Paradoxically, the Foreign Labor Affairs Center was also to act as mediator for labor 

See for example the argument in Faist (2000) regarding the transition from guest-
worker system migrant to asylum seekers in the case of Turkish to German migration
(p 68-69).
complaints and provide information on rights and responsibilities to laborers (Chan 

1999). In 1998, nine more regional centers were established to complete the Nationwide 

Foreign Labor Management and Information System. While the objective of this system 

is obviously to manage labor migration in a unified and comprehensive manner, the result 

is often discordant and even inconsistent. Fr. Bruno Ciceri explains:

…it depends on which labor bureau you are dealing. You have a different
thing. Sometimes we have a case, I would say, with the Labor Bureau in
Kaohsiung, and we deal in a certain way. After, you have the same case
with the Kaohsiung Hsien [County], and it’s totally different because the
interpretation of the law is different… There is no common interpretation,
so it’s really difficult to deal with because it’s all up to the mood of the
person there…. There should be a common policy that is implemented
from the north to south and south to north. That would be better. But,
there’s no such a thing.
Mental illness
Brain damage
Serious illness
Sever disability
Terminal illness/ hospice care
Recognized sever disability

Figure 5-5 CLA Requirements for Families Hiring Domestic Caretaker

Number of Filipino Guest Workers in Taiwan

2001 Broker’s Fees Revised

1980s Estimated up to 100,000

Undocumented Foreign Workers
2001 CLA Approves Wage Cut

1989 CLA Legalizes 2001 Direct Hiring Approved

Foreign Employment 80,000 1998 Nationwide Foreign Labor
1995 Foreign Labor Affairs Management and Information System
Center Established


1980 1990

40,000 2000 Foreign Worker Quotas Reduced

1992 Employment Service Act 2000 Service and Counseling

Centers for Foreign Workers


2002 Ban on Pregnancy Test

1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002

Figure 5-6 Timeline of Foreign Employment Policy Changes Superimposed on Number of Filipino Guest Workers in

According to Lorna Kung (2003), the 2000 election of President Chen Shui-Bian

led to important policy changes in Taiwan’s importation of labor migrants. The new

administration’s goals were to reduce the quotas of foreign workers by 15,000 annually,

institute direct hiring of workers in the sending countries, and, in response to

international pressure from NGOs, improve human rights. By early 2002, many of these

new policies had been made law; however, as Kung claims, little has actually changed.

For example, she explains that while it is illegal today for the employer to administer

pregnancy tests,40 when they find a worker is pregnant they still send her home, as there

is no way for her to change her employment status under the current law. Fortune

magazine writer Nicholas Stein agrees: “Though Taiwan recently changed its law to

allow pregnant workers to stay, in practice they are typically given the choice of abortion

or deportation” (Stein 2003). Forced savings likewise has been illegal since 1998 and

reiterated in the new policies, nevertheless deductions in the form of bonds or liens and

“voluntary” savings still occur.

Changes were made to the broker’s placement fees, wages, and policies regarding

direct hiring. The effect however, has been disadvantageous to the worker. The new

limits on broker placement fees were intended to work in the interest of the worker and

restrict their systematic exploitation. Yet, these changes, while indeed restricting and

limiting the placement fee, simply resulted in a legalized “monthly service charge” that

One of the human rights concerns addressed in the Chen policy in response to
international NGO pressure to observe the privacy and rights of female workers.
in many cases was greater than the original placement fee. At the same time that fees

were increased, real wages were cut as employers were allowed to deduct fees for room

and board (once a contractual benefit to the worker). Theses cuts and fees total more than

a third of the workers minimum monthly salary. A February 2002 Migration News article

outlines these changes:

Migrants in Taiwan usually live in dormitories provided by their

employers next to the work site, or in private homes, if they are maids.
Migrant policy is controlled by the Taiwan Council of Labor Affairs
(CLA), and on November 9, 2001, the CLA allowed employers to include
the cost of food and accommodation when determining if migrants are
earning the minimum wage of NT$15,840 ($466) a month, set in 1998.
Most employers immediately began deducting NT$4,000 (US$116) a
month. The CLA said that the cut in migrants' wages would be offset by a
new prohibition on Taiwanese brokers charging migrants brokerage fees
of NT$30,000 a person, but migrants would still have to pay NT$1,500 to
NT$1,800 in "monthly service charges" to local brokers. (Migration News
February 2002)

The change to allow direct hiring also was intended to benefit the foreign worker.

Employers were granted the ability to by-pass brokers in Taiwan and placement agents in

the sending countries and directly hire employees. However, with very few exceptions,41

direct hiring was not instituted as, according to Kung (2003) the cost to employers in

time, money, and resources to negotiate the highly bureaucratized system were too


As Stein notes, there are many possible benefits to the importation of foreign

labor. “In theory, engaging foreign contract workers is a solution that should benefit all

parties: Poor countries reduce their unemployment, wealthy countries get cheaper labor,

Some very large employers such as Chung-Hwa Plastics were able to hire directly
from the Philippines and according to Lorna Kung direct hiring of construction
workers from Thailand also occurred, but only for major infrastructure projects.
and the workers earn far more abroad that they could at home” (Stein 2003). However,

he goes on to explain that in actuality the Philippine –Taiwan labor migration results in

abuse and mistreatment. Policies that are intended to protect foreign workers as well as

domestic labor markets have often worked instead to further exploitation. Moreover, as

Stein explains:

Governments are willing to look the other way because of what they get
in return: The labor trade means jobs and capital will stay in their
countries and not get shipped to China. Nations that import labor also
tailor their laws to keep local factories happy. To hold turnover to a
minimum, governments allow factories to retain workers' passports,
impose curfews, and deduct compulsory savings bonds--or "run-away
insurance"--which workers get back only when they have completed their
contract (Stein 2003).

Image 21 Working in the production department of an electronics factory


In this chapter, I have shown that demographic and economic push­pull 

mechanisms lead to the movement of migrants from the Philippines to Taiwan. Moreover, 

the Philippines policy of promoting labor migration and the shift in Taiwan’s policy both 

contribute to the normalization and regularity of the migrant flow. The pressure of NGOs 

and labor rights groups, also influence governmental policies regarding migration and 

have resulted in changes shortly into the first term of President Chen. These changes, 

intended to satisfy human rights groups as well as businesses, have contributed to the 

problems of the placement­broker system by reducing incomes of migrants. 

While Taiwan’s policy was intended to restrict the size of the migrant population 

and to minimize the social impact on the populace, it has, by legalizing migrants’ status, 

promoted an increase in the number of migrants working in Taiwan throughout the 

1990s. By restricting the stay to three year periods, the policy has created a constant 

circulation of individuals. Following the theory of cumulative causation, as more 

individual migrants are exposed to the destination country, gain social and human capital 

in that setting, and then return, the effect will be to promote further migration by those 

same migrant and others to whom they have social ties. 



There are many forms of debt bondage. As students of American history

can attest, we've seen our share on these shores, from coal miners forced
to buy overpriced food at the company store to sharecroppers trapped by
the money they owe landowners. Even today many illegal Mexican
immigrants are working to pay off debts to the so-called coyotes who
smuggled them across the Rio Grande. But unlike coyotes, the Asian
labor brokers to whom workers like Mary are indebted operate in the
open. Their services are sought by the factories that import foreign
workers and sanctioned by the governments that send and receive them.
The labor trade they facilitate functions in the name of global
-Nicholas Stein “No Way Out” Fortune January 8, 2003

The system for recruiting Filipino laborers for Taiwanese employers is highly

bureaucratic and economically exploitive. It involves a number of governmental and

pseudo-governmental agencies, as well as labor brokers in both countries.42 There are

many claims of systematic abuse because of corruption at all levels of this system. The

primary cause of this corruption can be found in huge sums of legal and illegal fees

charged by brokers and placement agencies. In addition, the considerable legal and

illegal fees charged to workers leads to a cycle of debt. The worker borrows money at

high rates of interest to pay for the opportunity to work, and then spends a year or more

working to pay off that debt before actually saving money. Often, by the third year of a

For more on the Broker/ Placement System see the following stories retrieved on
April 12, 2004:

contract the worker will have saved only enough to live on for the few months they are

back in the Philippines awaiting another placement opportunity.

Father Eamon Sheridan, a missionary in the Society of St. Columban, and

director of the Bishop's Commission for Social Development Concern for Migrant

Workers Services,43 explains that this huge industry is extremely profitable for all but the

migrants themselves. Employers in Taiwan obtain labor at a rate well below the cost of

local workers. Both governments recover funds in the form of legal fees, taxes, and

deductions. According to Father Sheridan over $US 1.6 billion is charged to workers by

the placement agents in sending countries (Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, and

Philippines) and Taiwanese labor brokers:

If you take the fact that just a three year contract, everyone who comes
here from these poor countries stays three years, they pay the regular
broker's fees and also this illegal fee they pay before coming here….
$1,635,509,592 a total of $1,635,509,592 is what migrants pay to brokers.
I mean, I mean, it's obscene! This is the industry that is keeping migration
going (Sheridan 2003).

Ordinarily, the process of matching Philippine worker to Taiwanese employer

begins when an employer contacts a labor broker in Taiwan requesting an employee. The

broker, on behalf of the employer, will petition the Taiwanese Council of Labor Affairs

(CLA) and the Manila Economic and Cultural Office (MECO)44 for permission to hire

foreign workers. Once these governmental agencies have officially given their approval,

the broker will submit a request to an affiliated labor recruiter in the Philippines. At this

“The main emphasis of this apostolate is Union formation, labor education and
analysis of working conditions. A Columban was expelled by the Taiwanese
Government for this work in March 1989. Columbans work with local and migrant
workers in the Hsin-Chu diocese and staff a migrant center at the International
English-speaking parish in Taipei since 1992.”
The de facto Philippine consulate in Taiwan

point, the labor recruiter (also called a placement agent) requests accreditation of the job

order and permits to begin advertising the position from the Philippines Overseas

Employment Administration (POEA). The agent is then allowed to conduct a job search

and screen potential employees.45 Once applicants have been screened, the agent then

forwards select applications and other documents to the potential employer or the broker.

The employers, or their Taiwanese brokers, make final selection of candidates and the

Philippine agent will then processes the laborer’s Philippines based paperwork (Overseas

Employment Certificate, Passport, flight arrangements, etc.). Concurrent with

arrangements in Philippines, the broker or employer in Taiwan will submit to the

Taiwanese government for visa and employment documents such as the Alien Resident

Certificate (ARC). Meanwhile, the placement agent will schedule a pre-departure

orientation seminar and exit interview with POEA, and assist the applicant with

finalizing the travel arrangements.

While the placement agent arranges jobs and the departure from the Philippines,

the broker will manage workers affairs in Taiwan. Once the worker arrives in Taiwan, the

broker will arrange transportation from the airport, oversee housing, medical care, and be

responsible for maintaining their legal status (arranging bi-annual health checks and

renewing the Alien Registration Card). They also act as the intermediary in dispute

resolution between workers and employers.

In an effort to better understand the relationship with placement agents, labor

brokers, and employers, I posed questions on the migrant laborer’s experiences in both

It may be noted, however, that often the placement agent has already created a
pool of potential laborers who have already paid some fees or deposits to be
considered when positions become available.

the community level survey of labor migrants in the Nan Tze area and the one-on-one

interviews with the ethnography participants. Overall, in the survey, 36% of respondents

indicated problems with placement agencies most dealing with the exorbitant fees. Other

complaints also included delays in placement, contract discrepancies, and unnecessary

charges.46 One respondent even noted having to provide a security bond, “we were

required to give collateral such as car registration, tax declaration, blank checks.”

Likewise, a third of all respondents in the survey indicated at least one problem with

broker services. Problems ranged again from overcharging for services, not properly

refunding taxes or overcharging taxes, adding additional fees and surcharges, and being

difficult to find when workers had complaints or questions . Brokers were also charged

with providing substandard living conditions and maintaining unreasonable limits on the

freedom of workers. Finally, a third as well reported at least one problem with

employers. Problems with employers ranged from unpaid overtime to verbal abuse.

Employer-employee relations varied as well by type of employment. Domestic workers,

were subjected to physical and psychological abuse, isolation, and sexual harassment.

Factory workers, on the other hand, were found to have better relations with immediate

supervisors, but did discuss troubles with favoritism, unfair treatment, and barriers to



Consistent with the literature, participants in this study were routinely 

overcharged for services, became indebted in the process of paying fees, and were often 
Often migrants are charged or such items as hats or jackets that promote a
particular placement agency.

required to wait for extensive periods after paying fees before they were placed with an 

employer. While recruitment agencies in the Philippines are allowed to charge roughly 

(or Employment

Council of Labor Manila

Economic Cultural
Affairs (CLA) Cultural

(or Employment

Submits the Following

Corporate identity papers , Special Power of Attorney , Job order , Employment contract§,
Service contract , CLA Authorization, MECO Approval

Requests accreditation of the job order &
advertising permits

Philippines Overseas
Administration (POEA)

Conducts Job Search & Screens Potential Employees

Forwards select applications & other
documents to employer
(or Employment

Selects desired applicant & begins possessing Taiwanese visa documents


Processes Laborer’s Philippines based paperwork (Overseas Employment

Figure 6-1 Employment Process Flow Chart (based
Certificate, in part
Passport, onand
etc.) documents
& from
Belvedere a Pre-Departure
Manpower laborOrientation Seminar
recruiters) 47 (PDOS) & Interview with POEA
Philippines Overseas
47 Employment
Retrieved on April 12, 2004 Administration (POEA)
Assist applicant with travel

Percentage of
Complaint Respondents
Fees greater than legal 25.8%
Additional fees 12.9%
Did not defend interests in 10.3%
Uphold non-contractual 11.1%
Other 2.1%
Table 6-1 Worker Complaints with Broker Services

US $450 for placement services, 48 Asis (2000) points out that they “generally pay more.” 

Tan (2001) also notes that these fees will range by profession:

The placement cost, which includes fare and immigration processing cost,
also differ across occupations and destination. The better organized
seafarers pay minimal placement fees. Those in high professions who are
directly hired by multilateral organizations and multinational corporations
also avoid recruitment fees. The production workers in Taiwan receive
relatively high wage but pay placement fees to local as well as to
Taiwanese agents, which increases the costs of migration (Tan 2001).

Survey respondents indicated that they paid on average twice the legal placement 

fee in the Philippines and as much as five times the legal allowed amount. In addition, 

they paid on average 22,000 pesos for additional fees covering extra documentation, 

photos, health checks, promotional materials, etc. Twenty­two percent of respondents 

indicated taking some form of loan with interest rates ranging from 0% (family or 

friends) to 100% (loan sharks). On average they paid between five to ten percent interest, 

often compounded monthly, with monthly payments of NT $5,000 or roughly a third of 

The legal limits for fees are set by the Philippine Overseas Employment
Administration (POEA). According to their literature: “The legal placement fee to be
collected by licensed recruitment agencies from applicants for overseas jobs must
be equivalent to one month salary of the worker as stipulated in the employment
contract. The amount, however, does not include documentation and processing
costs” Retrieved on April 12, 2004. (

their base salary of NT $15,840. Ten percent of respondents indicated that they had 

mortgaged properties (either their own or those of relatives) to pay placement fees. Again 

average interest rates were between five and ten percent, with monthly payments of NT 

$5,000 to NT $10,000. 

Such debt limits the options for the labor migrant and compels them to accept 

unbearable work conditions. Moreover, governmental agencies do little to regulate 

unscrupulous brokers and placement agents, often upholding “side contracts” that add 

additional fees to the worker’s monthly deductions. Take for example, domestic workers 

Rosalia and Charito. 49 Rosalia is a widowed mother of two who has been working to pay 

off debts incurred when her eldest son had a brain tumor removed. Charito, on the other 

hand, is a single woman on her second trip to Taiwan saving to open a bakery or small 

café in the Philippines. While Rosalia recounts her experiences with mortgaging property 

to raise money for placement fees, Charito, who did not borrow money, was able to save 

enough on her first trip to help support family members and to return to Taiwan on her 

second stay. They both, however, explain that while applying for jobs in Taiwan they were 

forced to lie to POEA interviewers when questioned about fees.

Stephen: … how much was your placement fee?

Interviewed at Stella Maris while Charito was awaiting reassignment to a new
family as her charge had died and Rosalia was to be repatriated after running away
from a verbally abusive household that had made claims that she was trying to
poison the son.

Charito: Ah, the placement fee in the agency is twenty three thousand seven
hundred sixty [pesos].
Stephen: I know that's what you are to say when you go to the P.O.E.A. Is that
what you really paid?
Charito: Ah, all in all we paid, because they said we needed a bond… ah, all in all
we gave the agency about, ah, forty-five thousand [pesos].
Stephen: Forty-five thousand, okay. [turning to Rosalia] And, how much was
your placement fee?
Rosalia: I paid forty-three thousand cash.
Stephen: Forty-three thousand cash.
Rosalia: Not including medical and other expenses.
Stephen: So, you still had further expenses after that?
Rosalia: Yes.
Stephen: Ah, [turning back to Charito] did you pay yours upfront or did you
borrow money, mortgage a property…
Charito: …no, that was my money from my three years here in Taiwan, my first
time in Taiwan, I paid with my own money.
Stephen: Okay, so you already had savings that you applied to the fees, you did
not have to borrow money for it…
Charito: Yes, I did not borrow…
Stephen: I know many people have to borrow…
Rosalia: …Yes, like me….
Stephen: So, you had to borrow money?
Rosalia: Yes, I borrowed a lot of money from the bank…
Stephen: Okay, did you mortgage property or…
Rosalia: Yeah, the title to the lot of my house. So, I have to pay this for one
Stephen: Okay, and what is the percentage rate for that, do you know?
Rosalia: Ah, my boss estimate is more than five-six50
Stephen: …More than five six, so you have to pay back…
Rosalia: …if you borrow one hundred thousand, maybe in two years [you will
payback] two hundred thousand more…
Stephen: …wow, a very high interest rate…
Rosalia: …yes.
Stephen: Right, and if you can't pay that they will take the land?
Rosalia: Yes.

This high interest rate for loans was discussed in many of the interviews. Most 

first time migrants, for example, had borrowed money for at least a part of the placement 

Many interviewees referred to “five-six.” Under this scheme, if one were to borrow
money they would pay back the principal of the loan in five equal payments and a
sixth payment of interest.

costs. Many indicated that they would make no money their first year working as it all 

went to repay loans. Lanie, a recent college graduate who could not find communications 

positions in the Philippines, applied after hearing from a recently returned neighbor that 

they were paying well for factory workers. She was forced to borrow money (from her 

cousin) at an exorbitantly high rate, placing a further financial burden on her family 

(already saddled with a loan for the father’s taxicab).

Lanie: … I [borrowed], from my cousin, fifty thousand with interest.

Stephen: You borrowed 80,000 total?
Lanie: From different…
Stephen: From different places?
Lanie: Yeah.
Stephen: From your cousin?
Lanie: My cousin 50,000, with the interest of 5,000 monthly. 51
Stephen: [shocked] 5,000 monthly?
Lanie: Yeah…that’s why I’m working here… for the interest.
Stephen: You’re only getting 15,000 a month, right?
Lanie: No, I pay…
Stephen: How much do you make from your company?
Lanie: Fifteen. Fifteen thousand.
Stephen: So one-third of your salary is going to the interest.
Lanie: That’s why my parents helped me to pay, because I cannot shoulder it…..
Stephen: …so how much did you end up paying back total?
Lanie: The interest, 45,000 for nine months, because I got money from January,
and then I paid until September…or October.
Stephen: So in nine months 45,000, plus the 50,000 you borrowed. So you paid
back 95,000. It’s almost 100% interest.
Lanie: Yeah, I got the money January and then I…I…I started giving her the
interest when I got here, May. So,…
Stephen: So, you paid back 95,000 within one year.
Lanie: Yeah.

Not all family loans are with interest, several other interviewees received loans or
even gifts of funds to cover their placement. However, many more must patch
together enough for placement from a combination of no-interest family loans and
high-interest loans from loan sharks and “lending agents,” often one-in-the same
with the placement agents.


Brokers in Taiwan help to maintain the indebtedness of labor migrants by 

charging monthly service fees while providing little in the way of services for those fees. 

In the past, brokers often charged excessive up­front fees for these services. Under 

pressure from international non­governmental agencies and the Philippine government, 

and following the election of the more socially liberal Chen government, the Taiwanese 

laws were changed. Since 2001, Taiwanese labor brokers are permitted to legally charge 

the worker only NT$1800 (US $51) a month for their services.52 Yet, many brokers, 

possibly in collusion with associates in Philippine placement agencies, have migrants 

sign additional promissory notes or “side­contracts” forcing them to pay well above the 

legal limit. Attorney Rómulo V. Salud, Philippine Labor Attaché to Taiwan in the 

Kaohsiung office of MECO provides an example of an active suit:

A case in point is this. I have this case [name deleted], she’s still here and
has a good employer, but she’s complaining about NT $107,000. Imagine!
Just try to compute it! it’s [looking at notes] NT$107,122 payable through
the deduction of ten months. Ten months! You can just imagine! … After
all the other deductions she will end up with something around NT$2,000
a month.
“Effective November 9, 2001 the monthly fee paid to Taiwan brokers for
transportation and service was adjusted. NT$ 1,800 for the first year, NT$ 1,700 for
the second year, and NT$ 1,500 for the third year. The Taiwan broker should also sign
a contract with foreign workers for services. The collection of service fee could only
be done after the Taiwan broker has itemized the services rendered with the
indicated corresponding fee. Before November 9, 2001, the service fee and
transportation fee would follow the original ceiling which is NT$ 1,000 monthly.” (p
20 What foreign workers in Taiwan need to know. Published by the Employment and
Vocational Training Administration Council of Labor Affairs Executive Yuan Dec.

According to Atty. Salud’s investigation, there is a business arrangement between 

the broker in Taiwan and the Philippine agent who required the complainant to sign a 

promissory note just before boarding the flight to Taiwan. In this case, Salud has filed 

charges with the POEA against the Philippine agent.53 The agent, however, has replied 

that the debt was not owed to them, but to a “lending agency” in the Philippines. Atty. 

Salud however believes that the lending agency, placement agency and Taiwanese broker 

are “one in the same.”

Due to the indeterminate status of Taiwan as a renegade province, MECO has no 

official recognition as a consulate. Yet, it does wield some tools in dealing with brokers. 

As outlined above, a labor broker must petition the Philippine government via MECO 

before receiving permission to place a job order with a Philippines­based placement 

agent. Fr. Bruno Ciceri explains that this power is used as leverage over brokers to make 

sure that they comply when a dispute occurs:

MECO, here in Kaohsiung, is really working for the protection of, of the
migrant, the Philippine migrant workers. They are not afraid to intervene.
In these days, they are not afraid. Also when the broker has a problem
with the worker [MECO] has refused to accept job orders… if [the
broker] has any case pending with [Stella Maris] or with any other
institution here, MECO says “we cannot accept your job order until you
solve the problem.” So that is a very good way of dealing because, of
course there are some of the brokers who very much want to have the job
order approved and to get through. So, they are forced to come to the

As MECO is a pseudo-governmental representative of the Philippine government in
Taiwan, it has no legal rights to file complaints in Taiwanese courts.

table and to make a stab at the solution of the problem. So, basically, I
think [MECO] is on the side of the labor issues.

While MECO does then hold some tools in negotiating with brokers, the workers 

themselves have have no rights to negotiate their contracts. Instead, all bargaining 

regarding labor conditions are settled by the POEA and the CLA with input from 

employers, brokers, and NGOs. Likewise, the Philippine government sees bargaining as 

the responsibility of the placement agency. This recent Asia Pacific Mission for Migrants 

newsletter explains:

In Article IV of Memorandum Circular No. 5, Series of 2001 by the

Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, the POEA had
indirectly stated that their nationals have no bargaining power. Instead it
enjoins (placement) agencies to negotiate for better terms and conditions
of Overseas Filipino workers bound for Taiwan (Asia Pacific Mission for
Migrants 2003a).

More insight into the practices of brokers was found in an interview with a 

Philippine “coordinator,” Analynn. Brokers often hire Filipinos who can act as a go­

between and translator, collecting fees and managing the day­to­day arrangements in the 

dormitories. Sometimes these coordinators are spouses of Taiwanese men or experienced 

workers who have learned Chinese after several trips. Analynn, is a second time 

coordinator who learned Chinese as a child. In this rather long passage, she explains how 

charges for “additional services” are used to circumvent the legally set fees. She admits 

that little in the way of tangible services are provided for these special fees:

Stephen: What does the employee get for the monthly broker’s fee? Is that
Analynn : Yeah, based on the contract that they signed, that was the amount
stated there. But, when they arrived here… when they arrived here, the amount
was higher than that because they had to add other things like the ARC, the
medical, other expenses….
Stephen: So what are they getting for, for the broker fee? What service is been
provided for that money?
Analynn : It depends on the broker, some brokers they have this concern to the
Filipinos. Like, for instance, the broker that I’m dealing with, they’re kind,
they’re playing ah, fair, this fair role to the Filipinos. I mean they don’t just
collect money. They’re not only after the money of the people and then leave
them and they don’t care about them. But the broker that I’m dealing with, is ah,
they’re giving a good service, a fair service to the Filipinos. They come here, they
visit them you know, and they talk to them one on one. Or sometimes they
arrange it by five or six when they have time and talk to them....
Stephen: My question is that it’s almost one month of salary for the employee, are
the services, chatting and things like this, worth a month of salary?
Analynn : No, no, no… you know, It’s not really enough, I mean the service that
they’re giving to Filipinos is not really enough, but the Filipinos here they don’t
have the choice....So even if they are aware about this you know, this I mean this
huge fees. They still accept it. And they even sign the contract without reading
the contract. And then when they come here, they complain. And that’s the

Analynn goes on explains how the labor migrant has no rights to negotiate 

contracts for themselves and are often seen as troublesome by the broker if they complain 

What is most surprising is that the majority of workers do not complain. While there 

have been a few protests organized by migrant NGOs in the past, most workers are 

hesitant to risk repatriation. As Pastor Chris Marzo, a Free Methodist preacher and 

Filipino community leader explains:

Filipinos they prefer not to [complain] because, you see, when you come
here you borrowed money to pay for your placement fee. And, it is with
interest….and the risk of going home is... is terrible. Y-you will not be
able to pay for... for what you have borrowed. And then, it's very hard to
come again. And so, most people just, what we call it, (kapit sa patalim).

Ahhm... it means, just hold onto the knife. You know, even if your hand is
bleeding. And ... there's no way.

Thus, debt acts a form of bondage, restricting their ability to voice dissent. When 

migrant do complain to their representatives, the brokers themselves, little is done to 

resolve the dilemma. Rosalia, for example, was forced to sign a contract for additional 

monthly fees upon arriving in Taiwan. However, as she already owed so much to the bank 

on the mortgage of her property, she did not have enough to pay the illegal fee required 

by the broker.

Rosalia: … we pay a placement fee in Philippines, a lot of money, and we came

here we signed NT 1800 a month. So, this is what we are expecting. We had NT
1800 a month, but when I came here, they forced me to sign NT 7000 a month.
Stephen: … 7000 a month?
Rosalia: For ten months.
Stephen: What did they say the extra fee was for?
Rosalia: Sorry?
Stephen: Why so much extra money?
Rosalia: I don't know. And then, I talked to the Philippines agency… why they
force me to sign 7000, instead of 1800?
Stephen: …right.
Rosalia: I complained, how can I pay the bank [the money owed for placement]?
So they give me discount, NT 5000 every month for ten months and it’s still a lot
of money.

Astonishingly, the “side contracts” are permitted by the CLA. Often signed under 

duress, upon immediate arrival in the country, or even without translations provided in 

English or Tagalog, side contracts force the worker into paying fees greater than the law 

permits. According to the Asia Pacific Mission for Migrants, “The CLA still is insisting 

that contract substitution or the practice of forcing migrant workers to sign side 

agreements is legal. Its only solution to this rampant practice is to suggest that third party 

witnesses should be present if ever such agreements are made.” (Asia Pacific Mission for 

Migrants 2003a). Fr. Ciceri explains how signing is not optional for the indebted migrant 


Even if it’s against the labor law, even it’s against the contract, it’s valid
because the worker signed. And, they [the government] don’t realize that
means the broker and the employer have many ways to force the worker
to sign. Of course they are not going to kill you with the gun, but they [the
employer or broker] can say, “Oh, you can go home tomorrow,” to the
worker. Does he have any chances? If he goes home, he will only have
debts. He has already mortgaged the house or the land or something. For
sure, he doesn’t have any other choice but to accept. And the government
knows these kind of things, but of course it doesn’t want to, to do

When workers pursue recourse with Philippine governmental agencies like 

MECO and the POEA, they find that there is little that they are allowed to do under 

Taiwanese law. At best, they can negotiate with the broker and find some middle ground, 

though it may contradict the terms of the original contract signed in the Philippines. For 

instance, Cassandra left a decent, but low­paying, teaching job in the Philippines. She is a 

single mother working in Taiwan to support her daughter who is presently in the care of 

grandparents. On her first trip, she, along with several other migrants from her company, 

filed a complaint regarding exorbitant fees:

Cassandra; There was some incident, when I first came here. Yeah. My, my
broker would send me home, because I am, I cannot accept that I already paid
eighty thousand in the Philippines, but when I came here they wanted me to pay
Stephen: Why?

Cassandra: Because the agency, according to the broker, the agency in the
Philippines, only gave twenty thousand for the broker.
Stephen: So, it's the agency in the Philippines that cheated; but, you are the one
that has to pay?
Cassandra: Yeah. So I, I went to MECO.
Stephen: Right...
Cassandra: We went to the MECO. So, we filed the case. So, the owner of the
agency came here. They want me to send... five of us, they want to send us home.
Stephen: Even though it was not the fault of the employee?
Cassandra: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Because, because we went to the MECO, some, ah,
some brokers and some agencies are, are just saying that, they are just saying
some words that would scare you. In order for you not to, to file, file some cases
against them. But, then, we are five. We are five. So, so I was not afraid even
though they, they are telling me to go home. They are telling me to send me
home. We are five, I told them. I am not afraid, provided that you give me back
the 80,000 I paid from the Philippines, so, even tomorrow I will go home. But
then, they could not give me the 80,000 because they already....
Stephen: … in the end what happened with the case?
Cassandra: In the end, when, when the attorney, when the MECO already filed
the case, ah, the NT$ 120,000 that we are, that we are supposed to give them
decreased to NT $80,000.
Stephen: Eighty thousand?
Cassandra: Yeah. In the Philippine agency, they returned something like 20,000
pesos, from the eighty thousand.

While brokers were identified to be over-charging the workers in a scheme of side

contracts, they were also accused of providing substandard living conditions and limiting

the freedom of workers. As one worker explained on her survey, “accommodations are

not good, we want a little freedom ‘coz they impose early curfew for us.” Curfews were

especially apparent during the SARS endemic (in the summer of 2003) in which brokers

and employers decided illegally to quarantine migrant workers.54 In an open letter, Fr.

Bruno Ciceri addresses Chen Chu, Chairman of Council Labor Affairs: “This forced

quarantine imposed unilaterally only on foreign workers by the management of factories,

brokers and dormitories without any approval from the Minister of Health or the Center

For more see & retrieved April 12, 2004.

for Disease Control (CDC) is illegal, unjust, unfair and is simply another way to control

the movement of foreign workers.” The quarantine lasted for a little over three weeks

and illustrated how brokers work with employers to limit the rights of workers in favor

of the interests of the employers.

Likewise, brokers were found not to be supportive of workers in disputes with 

employers. In the Philippine­Taiwan labor system, if disputes arise during the 

employment, workers are supposed to settle them first through their broker. However, as 

brokers receive job orders from the employers, they seldom take the side of the worker. 

An example is in the constant struggle over payment for services. Many employers, faced 

with the global recession, have begun to substitute overtime pay with days off. Jenny, a 

second time worker in a well known international electronics company trying to earn 

enough to support her husband and child in the Philippines, finally complained to the 

broker over this situation and, although it is against the terms stated in her contract, “the 

broker said it’s company policy they don’t have anything to do.” Brokers, at the behest of 

the employer, will take those who complain, or in anyway make difficulties, straight to 

the airport without due process or a chance to collect tax refunds, bonuses, deposits, or 

even final payments. Fr. Bruno Ciceri provides an example:

… this morning, I just went to their broker and I just picked up a worker
who has been here for one year and nine month and the employer decided
to send her home when her contract is for two years. Actually the worker,
she has a cyst on her wrist, here [pointing], and the only things that she
wanted was to go to the hospital to have a medical check up. And the next
things that she knew was that the employer called the broker, and the
broker said to her, “you’re going home.”


Employer relations varied widely by type of employment. For the most part, employees in 

factories experienced only work­related problems like favoritism in giving overtime, 

unpaid overtime, unreasonable workloads, and some verbal abuse. That is not to say that 

everyone reported such exploitation. Indeed, 86% of factory workers indicated that 

relations with their direct supervisors were “all right” to “very good.” Conversely, 

domestic workers and caretakers often faced harsh treatment. While frequency of abuse 

or mistreatment is hard to gauge in the case of domestic workers, there were many 

anecdotal accounts of physical abuse, sexual harassment, rape, wretched living 

conditions, and illegal employment.55 The domestic workers and caretakers interviewed 

for this project were receiving services from Stella Maris International Service Center, 

thus, they all had experienced some form of maltreatment and may not be assumed to be 

representative. No other data sources are available to estimate the prevalence of the 

exploitation or abuse of domestic workers in Taiwan. Yet, even with these limitations, the 
I have found hundreds of these stories published in the Taipei Times, NGO news
bulletins, Magazine articles, etc. See for example the graphic account of a Thai
domestic worker and her ongoing legal ordeal as a result of bringing charges of
serious physical abuse against her former employer “Flickering Hope Confronts

accounts of domestic workers interviewed for this project do illustrate the differences in 

employer relations as experienced by type of employment. However, due to this extreme 

disparity in treatment, the following sections will discuss employer­worker relations of 

factory workers and domestic workers separately. employer­worker relations of factory 

workers and domestic workers separately.

Image 22 Factory worker loading machines used for mixing ceramic


Factory Workers and their Employers

According to the Nan Tze survey, a third of the workers experienced some 

problem with their employer. The top three problems involved unpaid overtime, 

“unreasonable” workloads, and overtime paid as days off and may be attributed, at least 

in part, to the globalized system of production that constantly searches for the most cost­ 

effective ways to produce goods. For many countries, this has meant moving production 

to locations where labor costs are the cheapest. Undeniably, this is how Taiwan’s 

economy was able to grow so rapidly during the later twentieth century. Today, however, 

Taiwan is faced with the dilemma of either moving companies to China, Vietnam, 

Malaysia, or another developing nation, or reducing domestic labor costs. These 

reductions, as I have shown in the previous chapter, lead to the hiring of over 305,000 

migrant workers currently in Taiwan (Bureau of Employment and Vocational Training 

2003). However, the global recession has caused companies in Taiwan to seek out more 

ways in which to maintain profits. Migrant laborers are unlikely to quit (due to the high 

fees they have already paid to work).They are not allowed to form unions, and are 

excluded from domestic labor standards. Thus, cutbacks that are targeted to migrants 

alone may work for the economic benefit of the company. 

One of the best examples involves the recent strategies of companies in regards to 

payment of overtime. Although the migrant labor contract outlines the terms of payment 

for overtime and the nation’s labor standards provide that “overtime (OT) pay not 

exceeding two hours is paid at not less than 1.33 times basic rates. Two to four hours OT 

is paid a minimum of 1.66 times basic rates. Maximum OT is three hours per day and 46 

hours per month for men; two hours a day and 24 hours a month for women” (Asian 

Labour Update 2003),56 most factory workers will put in an additional four to eight hours 

for every eight hour shift (provided that the company has enough work in the poor 

See section on overtime at Asian Labour Update – Taiwan Profile retrieved on April 12, 2004.

economy). During the boom times of the late 1990s, it was the overtime pay and bonuses 

that allowed Filipino migrants to remit significant sums to their homeland and made 

Taiwan a profitable venture for them. However, as the economy has slowed down, 

employers have replaced regular overtime pay with time off (often at a rate of one hour 

worked to one hour off). Consequently, most second time (and clandestine third time) 

migrants lamented their decisions to migrate to Taiwan as it is no longer worthwhile 

given the high cost of placement and brokers fees. Moreover, employers, rushing to meet 

short­term orders and not keep too much stock on hand, have cycled between unpaid 

overtime (or this overtime for time off) and mandatory days off without pay (thus 

reducing salaries well below the mandated NT$15,840). To date, legal challenges, lead by 

migrant labor activists, have failed to win a ruling in favor of laborers over the issue 

Complaint Percen
Unpaid Overtime 22%
“Unreasonable” Workloads 16%
Overtime Paid As Days Off 10%
Verbal Abuse 9%
Lack Of Rest Breaks 7%
Unpaid Days Off (Due To Lack Of Work) 7%
Lack Of Full Payment Of Wages 6%
Late Payment Of Wage 6%
Employment Other Than As Stated By Contract 3%
Physical Abuse >1%

Table 6-2 Relations with Managers, Supervisors, or Line-leaders

of unpaid or swapped overtime, though it is clearly at odds with the terms of the labor 


While employer­employee the company certainly exploits the worker, most 

workers responded that on a personal level their individual line­leaders (or their zhu­

zhang) and supervisors were tolerable. Nine percent reported verbal abuse by the line 

leader. However, verbal abuse was sometimes hard to clarify. In the case of Lanie, she 

“explains away” the negative treatment of her superior, believing it to be a result of her 

own errors and the supervisor’s pregnancy. She does however point out their cultural and 

religious differences:

Stephen: How have your employers been? Your line leaders? Your supervisors?
Lanie: They were good. As of now…my new line leader because I was assigned
there last December, and we were busy here. Activity is so…I…I had three
absences, something like that because I was tired, I wasn’t able to go there to
work. So…she got mad of me, but this time, we’re getting close, closer and
closer. So…now, she’s good now like other line leaders that I’ve met before.
Stephen: What did she, how did she treat you when you have three absences?
Lanie: Very, she was very angry with me.
Stephen: Like what?
Lanie: Like she was scolding me, “you are bu hao [bad]!” You know bu hao?
Yeah. So, I just have to cry, to cry in my bed and…I have, I just have to pray, you
know the reason why I didn’t go to work, and then just intrusting you in
everything. So, I know someday she’ll understand even if we have different faith.
We have different religion, I think someday will make a way, she’ll…and now,
it’s working, she’s I think closer with me.
Stephen: So in what way is she closer with you now?
Lanie: Because that time, you know, she’s pregnant, she’s something like three
months and maybe the changes, you know, you have a wife. And then changes in
emotional feelings, in everything. At that time, we didn’t know about it, and now
that I…the time goes by, so now I understand the reason. And she also has a
reason why she got angry with me. Because it’s…it’s in the contract that we don’t
we have to go to work daily.

Cassandra, on the other hand, is clear about the verbal mistreatment. She has 

experienced public humiliation by the supervisor as the result of a mistake. She explains 

that today she is very sensitive (the interview was interrupted on several occasions by 

tears) because of this treatment:

Cassandra: ...and because of the experience from Chinese, some Chinese...

Stephen: …like what?
Cassandra: Like embarrassing me in front of, in front of my co-workers.
Stephen: Give me an example of, what, what did she do to embarrass you?
Cassandra: Shouting at me. Like some supervisors, if, if, because in my work, if
you are writing in the traveler [a document that accompanies the product as it
moves through the factory], traveler of the material, you are not allowed to have
some erasures. But then, sometimes, I, I forgot the date or something like, I, I, the
number is not clear so I have to erase it. And the supervisor must, have t-t- to
have some [she makes a stamping motion]....
Stephen: She'll stamp it?
Cassandra: Uh-hum [nods]. Then, I would go to her. Sometimes she's, she's, she's
getting angry. She's shouting at me. Sometimes she's, she's telling me “Ayiiya!
Wei se ma? [What for?]” And all my, my co-workers are, are turning their heads
at us. So I, I, at first I am not used to that. I always get embarrassed because of
that. Because if you are the only one new in the station she's, also some workers
are telling me that all new... all new operators she's doing that. So, if you are the
only one new in the group, you always get embarrassed. So, y-y-you really, you
really feel down because of that. If every day she's shouting at you.

Not all participants experienced such humiliation. Edwin is a second time migrant 

working a small parts fabrication plant to help his siblings complete their education back 

home. He has had good experiences with Chinese overall. On his first trip to Taiwan, he 

met began dating a Chinese woman whom he met at his evangelical fellowship.57 At his 

company, the managers even have helped to secure extra allowances even when the laws 

changed in 2001 to include deductions for room and board.

Stephen: How do your employers treat you?

While relationships between Taiwanese men and Filipina women occur with some
frequency, there were very few cases of Filipino men with Taiwanese women.

Edwin: Ah, my employer's nice, treat us well and, just like what I heard from my
co-worker. Before our food expenses, the boss gave us food expenses, we cook in
the mornings…
Stephen: …right…
Edwin: …the, the boss will give us some allowance and now they raised it. They
increased it, the boss increased the allowance. Whenever there are some troubles
at work, you can go to the managers, and the managers will tell the boss what's
your problem about the work, and the boss will make some action about it.

In the case of Joshua, the positive personal relationship with his direct supervisor 

has become an intense emotional bond. Joshua left a failing computer business and 

personal troubles in the Philippines to come to Taiwan. Although hired as a factory 

worker, he has been very successful working in the international sales department for his 

small family owned company. He has even been invited to return as a regular employee. 

He considers his supervisor as he “mother here in Taiwan” and explains that she has 

treated him very well, taking him on trips around the island, inviting him to social 

gatherings and even giving him unconditional loans when he needed money to support 

his now two­year­old son (whom he has never seen in person).

Few participants in the ethnography or respondents to the survey indicated such 

amicable relationships with their employers. While there were few outright conflicts 

other than shouting, respondents did indicate problems that resulted from linguistic 

barriers, ethnic/cultural biases, and favoritism. Some workers indicated that they felt 

Chinese line­leaders would, if not mistreat them, look down on them and give 

preferential treatment to other Chinese workers. One respondent wrote, “Chinese think 

they are more superior than us. Sometimes not treating us fair” Unfair treatment in the 

form of favoritism was not limited to the supervisors co­ethnics. This treatment would 

often have an economic impact as some would receive economic incentives or rewards, 

and even overtime assignments were based on personal relations with the supervisor 

rather than objective criteria. 

Finally, many problems resulted from the language barrier. A survey respondent 

explains, “She [her Chinese supervisor] can't understand English. Sometimes we don't 

know what she would like to ask or to do. We don't have good communication” Most 

employers only spoke limited English and 84% of the workers rated their Chinese ability 

as “little knowledge” to “none” with less than one percent indicating that they were 

fluent in Mandarin Chinese. 

Treated as Chattel: Domestic Workers

As explained previously, it is difficult to assess the relations of domestic workers 

and their employers due to limited access to this secluded population. Unlike factory 

workers, the domestic workers and caretakers in Taiwan are seldom allowed to leave the 

homes of their employers. They do not have the close contact with other co­nationals that 

the factory workers have in the dorms, clubs, church gatherings, social times after work 

and even at the workplace. Fr. Ciceri explains:

... As soon as they arrive, they are taken into the house of the employer,
and practically they become property of, ah, of the employer. And, ah, if
they are lucky enough and the employer understands them, they will
allow them to, to have at least a day-off once a month, or every Sunday if
the employer is very good. So, when they arrive, I’ve heard stories of
migrant workers who didn't even have the time to put down their suitcase
and they have to start immediately to--to work. To attend to the needs of
the family. Or to the needs of the person that they have to take care. And
from there until they will end the contract there is no time to rest. No time
to-to go out or very limited time for them. Because they become property
of, of the, of the employer.

Issues facing domestic workers are: long work days and poor working conditions; 

lack of rest breaks, vacations and days­off; lack of payment; lack of overtime pay; as well 

as physical, emotional and sexual abuse. Yet, as a result of their isolation, few studies 

have been done to gauge the overall prevalence of these conditions. In Taiwan, the 

limited research that has been done focuses on domestic workers who have escaped or 

runaway from their employers as the result of horrendous mistreatment. 

Employer Abuses

While there are no reliable measures of employer abuse in Taiwan, the Hong 

Kong based Asian Migrant Centre has conducted a survey of domestic workers in that 

mainland province. Hong Kong, culturally and economically similar to Taiwan in many 

respects, has had a more liberal policy toward migrant labor. Since the 1970s, 

importation of domestic helpers has been legal and protected. Rights of workers were 

clearly established by the 1980s, with the license to change employers and to stay 

indefinitely provided they maintained their employment status. We may presume that 

these more moderate labor rights regulations permit workers to seek better employment 

when mistreated and, as a result, the overall relations with employers would be better 

than that of their Taiwanese counterparts. Nevertheless, the Asian Migrant Centre 2001 

report, Baseline Research on Racial and Gender Discrimination Towards Filipino,  

Indonesian and Thai Domestic Helpers in Hong Kong, states that 26% of foreign 

domestic helpers (FDH) recount at least one incidence of physical abuse. They also 

calculate that 4.5% of domestic workers in Hong Kong had experienced “various forms 

of sexual abuses, ranging from verbal harassment (obscene language, pornographic 

material) up to rape” (Asian Migrant Centre 2001: 38). By conservative estimates, we 

can assume that domestic workers in Taiwan a subjected to similar mistreatment. 

To be sure, the numbers of domestic workers seeking assistance from relief 

agencies and anecdotal reports in newspapers and other media seem to support the 

depiction of domestic worker abuse. Fr. Ciceri explains that the level of physical violence 

experienced by workers in Taiwan is alarming especially when compared to other 


… I have experience working with migrants in other countries, in other

nations, but the physical violence in these other country was more
exception in the law while here, it’s the law. In many cases, there are
really very violent, and sometimes there’s no reason to be so violent. We
had a case, this was two years ago, she was working illegally in a pet
shop, and the employer ask her to give a bath to a puppy and she used the

wrong shampoo. And the employer took the, you know, they have the
chain, they call the chain of the dog [dog leash] and start beating her. She
was protecting, she was beaten in the head, the legs, the face and
everything was terrible. And she was not given enough food, sometimes
she was eating the food, you know, this dog food that, and she didn’t have
even money to buy food.

Sexual Harassment of Workers

Sexual harassment is likewise problematic in Taiwan. The Formosa Foundation, a 

Taiwan based think­tank, reports that 30% of working Taiwanese women have 

experienced sexual harassment (Committee of Women Rights Promotion of Chinese 

Taipei. 2002). It is likely that the level of harassment experienced by foreign domestic 

workers would be much higher as they are not allowed to move about freely, are in a 

subordinate position within the home, and, as they have incurred high levels of debt to 

travel to Taiwan, are unlikely to report the problems. Moreover, when they make 

accusations of harassment or even rape, the Taiwanese courts have been reticent in 

punishing offenders. Migrant who do make this claim have faced years of court battles, 

condemnation from authorities, and even blame for the occurrence. Fr. Ciceri explains 

that charges of rape are often difficult to substantiate, as the women are not allowed to 

visit hospitals, are socially and linguistically isolated, and few social support services are 

known or available to them:

Unfortunately, ah, sexual harassment is very difficult to prove because a

hand that touched a breast or grabbed a buttock doesn't leave any marks
and doesn't leave any, any signs. And, ah, rape, ah, also is very difficult to

prove because many times these migrant workers, they are [under] the
control of the employer. And so, they don't have the time to go and to
report the incident immediately. Because, it means, when you have a rape
case you should report immediately. You should ah, and they cannot do
that because they are held by the employer. And even if they try to ah, to
report the case of rape. Many times, ah, they are not believed and, ah, I
remember we had a case of an Indonesian worker. And ah, while she was
raped by this former policeman, he said, "Anyway nobody's going to
believe you. You are a migrant worker." No. So we have this ah, there was
another case where this ah, eighty-nine years old man, he assaulted a
Filipina. And actually raped her. And the case was filed in court but, ah,
when this old man that, ah, usually works in the farm and was very strong
when he went to the court. Means they put up a beautiful sceneography
and so this old man was carried in by the children. So they were saying
how this old man, so weak, how could he, ah, rape this Filipina and
everything. And so, ah, the victim became the accused. And, ah, this poor
Filipina left without, without anything. Now, so it's, it's very difficult. We
had another case, ah, this is maybe the most successful at the moment. Ah,
two Filipinas, they were raped by their broker. This is back in 1999, and,
ah, until now the case in court has been proceeding. The broker has been
sentenced to six years in jail. But, of course he appealed, for, ah, he
appealed the sentence. So most probably the, ah, the case will go to the
supreme court and I don't know how many years more it will last.

Psychological/ Verbal Abuse

Much like factory workers, domestic workers are subjected to a variety of verbally 

abusive language. For purposes of their study, the Asian Migrant Centre adopted the 

definition of  verbal abuse as “abusive/offensive language or shouting  that included 

being called ‘stupid, idiot, lazy and a host of more obscene Chinese and English terms’ 

” (Asian Migrant Centre 2001). Domestic workers in this study reported that they were 

often belittled by their employer, frequently shouted at, and called names.

Rosalia: I ran away from my employer. We have, sometimes we have a

misunderstanding, my boss. And, my woman boss is sometimes, she speaks very
strange, the way she speaks is not good.
Stephen: In what way do you mean? Is it very mean or…

Rosalia: Yeah, because we know we came here as a servant and we know our job.
We can do best like a servant, I can do many things in the house. I can do like a
servant, I can do housework, I can do nursing, I tutor their children, I can do
many things in the house. She knows that I'm very good to her. But sometimes, I
don't know, maybe she has many problems, sometimes, she speak, the way she
speaks, she always says, “You are servant. You are poor. That’s why you came
here. You become poor forever, even your family and your children.” That’s not
good. She can talk to me like this, but not include my children….

According to Dr. Pei­Chia Lan, relations improve for workers whose employer has 

spent significant time abroad. More specifically, she explains that as a result of higher 

educational opportunities in the US and other Western nations (England, Canada, and 

Australia), Taiwanese elites develop a more liberal mentality. Similarly, these employers 

develop English skills, which help to smooth communication with the foreign domestic 

worker. Fr. Ciceri agrees, but explains it is not the education that works as a mediating 

factor: “What we notice from what the worker says is that usually if the employer has 

been abroad, for one reason or another, they treat the worker differently. But, if they never 

experienced being abroad, they don’t understand the feeling. And even if they are very 

well educated, but they never went abroad, they treat the worker very badly.” Thus, he 

attributes better treatment to the experience of having been the foreigner or outsider 

making it easier for the employer to understand the worker better. 

Forced Illegal Work

Another pervasive problem is illegal employment. For the domestic worker illegal 

work is an unexpected hardship as they arrive in Taiwan having agreed to care of the 

needs of a family or an individual patient only to find that they are instead to work in 

some other, often unpleasant capacity in a sweatshop factory, store, restaurant, etc. For 

example, Analy came to Taiwan as a domestic caregiver for an elderly man whom she 

says is “strong… not bedridden or what.” She came with the intent of sending money 

home to support the study of her brothers and sisters and to help her parents with the 

renovation the family farm; yet, she has been paid only intermittently and has been 

unable to send regular remittances. She has been employed as the family’s all around 

housekeeper providing all the meals, cleaning the house, walking the dogs, assisting the 

elderly man, hand washing the clothes, and caring for the baby. She has also been 

instructed to help in the packaging of teas for their teashop and the cleaning of the 

teashop, spending hours there every day. Her case was not unique. All of the domestic 

workers interviewed were found to have performed non­contractual work of some kind: 

from regular cleaning of offices and being loaned to homes of extended family member, 

to outright full­time work in businesses.

Illegal employment has become a serious enforcement issue for the government 

as well. The CLA sees any illegal employment as the fault of the employee, as well as the 

employer, and poses a significant fine on the worker along with deportation. It is difficult 

then for the migrant worker to seek assistance in these cases. If they do not report their 

illegal employment and are caught, they face these harsh penalties. If they do go to the 

police, CLA, or another Taiwanese institution, they must prove that the employer forced 

them to work in a manner other than stated in the contract. Likewise, brokers often 

conspire with employers to hire workers illegally. Moreover, the regulations regarding 

proof changed recently. Fr. Ciceri explains:

They changed the regulation that if a worker comes here and is required
by the employer to do a different job, to work illegally. For example, you
come as a domestic helper, but you work in a restaurant. Before, it was
very easy. The worker would have contacted us [Stella Maris International
Service Center], and we would have the police, the police would have
gone there, taken pictures, take a statement about the work, and the
worker would apply for transfer. Now, you can’t do that. The first time,
the police have to bring you back to your employer, and if the employer
would ask you to work [illegally] the second time, you have to go again to
the police, make another statement, and that is the time you can be
transferred.… We have a worker. She is here, [name deleted]. She just
reported that she is working illegally in the hospital. The police went there
at two o’clock in the afternoon and took some picture, but were not able
to, to get the statement and they said, “oh we’ll come back tomorrow.”
And, the following morning, the worker was already at the airport to be
sent out. So, now, they are making it more and more difficult for the
migrant workers to, to be protected and to have their rights respected, you


The form of debt bondage labor migration outlined here was once called 

indentured servitude. The high cost of securing employment via placement agents and 

brokers and illegal profiteering both in fees and lending amounts to an excessive burden. 

Moreover, the disregard of laborers welfare and policies that tend to ignore confirmed 

abuses amounts to complicity by both the Taiwanese and Philippine governments. As a 

result of debt incurred by these excessive illegal fees, side contracts, and lack of payment, 

as well as abusive treatment of some domestic workers, a small number of migrants have 

decided to runaway and seek undocumented employment. The Taiwanese government 

has approached this issue, like other governments dealing with migrants, by laying blame 

on the migrants themselves rather than the brokers and employers. While laws have been 

changed to allow for direct hiring, potentially circumventing the problems of placement 

agents and brokers, the actual implementation of such schemes have failed. Migrant 

NGOs and labor rights groups have rallied to insist on better contracts, improved working 

conditions, and more government oversight. 

The Issue of Runaways

Runaways (referred to by the Taiwan government as escapees) result from the 

combination of debt (requiring them to stay in Taiwan and remit money to the homeland) 

and the “dirty, difficult, and dangerous” work conditions. While the majority of workers 

do complete their contracts and return home, a few workers will abscond from their legal 

employer (sometimes with the help of illegitimate labor brokers) or they may decide to 

stay on in Taiwan after visas expire in order to continue earning and remitting funds to 

family in the Philippines. Mama Linda is such a case. Having already spent ten years in 

Abu Dhabi working as a domestic, she came to Taiwan over seven years ago. She says her 

experiences with her employers have been for the most part good. With the assistance of 

connections in the Philippines, she has been able to help her daughter come to Taiwan to 

work in the factories. Here she explains how she ended up surviving for so long after her 

legal contract term expired:

Stephen: what were you expecting when you came to Taiwan? Did you expect to
stay here two years or three years or...?
Mama Linda: Ah, before, I expect myself only two years, I stay here and, but my,
my children go to school, not yet finish to college. Then I decide to myself ah, I
want to work long time here.
Stephen: Okay. So you decided that you’d be an illegal worker?
Mama Linda: Yeah.
Stephen: …Okay. So, how do, how do you live being illegal? How can you, if
you have to go to the hospital or if you have to do something that requires ID...?
Mama Linda: …Ah, I use my AR…this (shows ARC card), my daughter’s.
Stephen: Ah, from your daughter?
Mama Linda: Yeah, yeah. In the hospital.
Stephen: So you borrowed her ID to...
Mama Linda: ....yeah, I borrow. Yeah.

Yet, runaways and visa over­stayers account for only about 1% of the total of all Filipino 

workers. Official reports of the Taiwanese government show only 873 cases total in 

200358 and, according to a December 2, 2003 Taipei Times article,59 “as of Oct. 31, nearly 

11,200 foreign laborers remain unaccounted.” 

An ongoing debate between migrant NGOs and the CLA over the issue of 

undocumented workers has been mounting. In November, a forum was held by 

representative from “local trade unions, church and human rights groups, academicians, 
Department of Statistics Council of Labor Affairs Executive Yuan. 2004. Monthly
Bulletin March 2004 “11-5 Escapes of Alien Workers in Taiwan-Fukien Area” Retrieved
on April 12, 2004 ( )
Retrieved on April 12, 2004.

students and other NGO’s” to discuss the issue of undocumented workers in Taiwan. 

Their hope was to turn the focus of the government away from blaming migrant workers 

and conducting round­ups and deportations, to the solving the problems which cause 

workers to leave their legal employers. A recent news brief distributed by the Asia Pacific 

Mission for Migrants (APMM), explains the governments reply to accusations, made by 

the forum at their November meeting, of instigating a sham amnesty period in which over 

200 undocumented migrants have already surrendered thinking their fines would be 


…the CLA only reiterated its adherence to its migrant policies that lead a
growing number of foreign workers to run away from their employers.
This was what Migrant Section Chief Meng-Liang Tsai had to say to the
advocates in the CLA main office in the morning of November 25.… Mr.
Tsai also stated that the CLA never announced an amnesty on
undocumented workers who surrender to police authorities. This is
because government lawyers believe that waving the fines on those who
violate their stay in Taiwan is unthinkable. The CLA official, however,
admitted that a lot of sectors including some in the media misunderstood
that there was an amnesty but Mr. Tsai never gave a direct answer on how
the CLA cleared this out. The only thing that he made clear is that those
who surrender would be repatriated back to their country more quickly,
that is if the migrants have the funds to pay the penalty and the airfare
back home (Asia Pacific Mission for Migrants 2003b).

The forum’s reply, made in the same news brief, was that the CLA does not address the 

issues that cause migrants to runway. Until then, they claim, the numbers would not 

decline. They maintain that the CLA should take steps to better protect workers:

• Separate, standard contracts for foreign domestic workers

• Side contracts should be declared illegal and non-binding
• Crackdown on unscrupulous brokers and employers

• Review of grievance bodies

• Governmental policies should be revised, improved and even abolished

The Failure of Direct Hiring

A suggested improvement to the current system would be the direct hiring of 

workers from their sending countries. Approved in 2001, few companies have been able 

to take advantage of this opportunity. The intent of the Chen government was to 

eliminate the need for two levels of brokers, along with the legal and illegal fees they 

Image 23 Meeting of Forum on Undocumented Workers

charge, thus reducing corruption and the overall cost to labor migrants. They would not 

have to borrow the burdensome sums, mortgaging properties and futures, to repay costly 

loans. However, there have been several drawbacks to the scheme of direct hiring. 

Principally obstacles have occurred in the administration of the programs:

What is most telling though is the issue regarding the broker system. The

CLA admitted last December 2 that it's direct hiring program with the
Philippines and Thailand is a complete failure. It admitted that it does not
have enough manpower to administer this. It seems it has no choice but to
continue with the broker system that charges exorbitantly the migrant
workers and plans to evaluate broker companies in the near future (Asia
Pacific Mission for Migrants 2003a).

Policy changes, without resources to implement them or personnel to provide 

enforcement and control, amount to little. Those in the small community of migrant 

NGOs see the failed system of direct hiring as an empty promise by the government. 

Moreover, for a direct hiring system to be successful there must be a streamlining of the 

bureaucratic process. Fr. Ciceri explains:

Image 24 Forum Members, NGOs, and Others Protesting at CLA

…it’s difficult to say, in one way it might solve the problem of their, of
their, of the placement fee, and might, might reduce the cost. But, I have
doubts…the direct hiring in one way it might solve that problem. But, on
the other hand here, you see, who is going to take care of the migrant
worker? Because there’s too much bureaucracy, there’s too much paper to

be done. And that’s the problem. It means the employer here, why do they
hire the worker? Because they don’t want to go from one office to
another, another and another and everything and prepare all the papers.
And even when the worker arrives, you fetch them to their home, you
bring her to hospital, and you bring them to fingerprint, and after six
months, you are to do it again and everything. So, it’s who is going to do
the job here when you are direct hiring because that means you are hiring,
you are responsible now. And if there’s a problem, who is gong to

Improved Rights and More Government Oversight

While direct hiring may work if there were more commitment of resources, so too 

would the current system if there were simply more control over brokers and employers. 

Currently, few brokers are punished when caught charging illegal fees or engaging in 

other prohibited activities such as arranging illegal employment (Asia Pacific Mission for 

Migrants 2003a). Fr. Ciceri explains that brokers, “laugh at the penalty” because they 

know that if they loose their license they can simply “close down one agency, open up 

another agency ...the brokers know that the government, Taiwan government, cannot do 

anything against them. So, they do it with impunity.” 

Furthermore, the government should provide better legal rights for workers. 

Specifically, distinctions should be made between the forms of employment contracts and 

the labor standards governing labor rights. NGOs have insisted on these contractual 

distinctions between the forms of employment for several years and are pressing hard 

now to convince the CLA. For domestic workers they have demanded that the CLA 

institute a new contract, with significant provisions for enforcement. Domestic workers, 

they say, “should be entitled to eight­hour work days, get three meals a day, receive 

overtime time pay, and get holidays and days off. They should also be protected from 

sexual abuse and contract violations” (Feliciano 2003). In addition to bettr rights for 

domestic workers and their inclusion under Taiwan's Labor Standards Act, migrant rights 

groups have demanded that all foreign laborers be given the ability (like those in Hong 

Kong and other countries) to freely change employers who violate their contracts, the 

freedom to form labor unions, as well as a cancellation of the 2001 wage cut that resulted 

in board and lodging fees being subtracted from the minimum wage (Feliciano 2003). 

Similarly, the Taiwanese Labor Rights Association has advocate for the CLA to improved 

arbitration of disputes and to “regulate the contracts signed by foreign maids and 

caregivers to protect their human rights” (“Rights activists...,”2003).

Nevertheless, some migrant activists see the public’s fear of foreigners and the 

resulting authoritarian migrant policies as the root cause of employer abuses. Lorna 

Kung and Fang­Ping Wang, writing as representatives of the Solidarity Front of Women 

Workers – Taiwan, explain that societal fear of permanent migration has resulted in 

repressive controls on migrants. They have asked the Chen government to improve 

migrant workers' human rights by instituting stricter regulations.

The foreign labor management policy in Taiwan is rigid and overbearing


since the government is worried that migrant workers might turn into
illegal immigrants. The government in Taiwan is very strict with migrant
workers' duration of stay and is concerned about runaway problems.
When a migrant worker runs away, the original quota for the employer
will be readjusted until the runaway worker is arrested. The employer has
his own management policy in line with his own interests resulting in a
situation which migrant workers who are already at a disadvantage
become the victims. The employer then uses methods, in violation of
human rights, to regulate the migrant workers such as forcing them to
save their money, holding their passports and resident cards, and
deporting them without prior notification (Kung and Wang 2001).


The placement­broker system is a highly bureaucratic and profitable structure that 

rewards all but the workers themselves. Debt, incurred by borrowing money to pay 

placement brokers and government fees, restricts the migrants’ rights to negotiate fair 

work conditions or even to return if the employer turns out to be deceitful. This debt is 

further maintained by brokers in Taiwan who charge high fees for few services. While 

often spending one­third of their contract paying off debt, workers are exposed to 

difficult work conditions. Factor workers in general fair the best, with domestic workers 

being exposed to the harshest conditions and abuses. Attempts to circumvent this system 

by direct hiring have not been successful.



The fact is that a lot of Filipinos go abroad. What the government gets is
release on the internal pressure. You can imagine, if the seventy thousand
workers, Filipino workers who are here in Taiwan, if they [stayed] in the
Philippines. There would be an additional pressure on the government.
What the Filipinos gain is that their families can live day by day. That,
that's the only thing. Because, in the long term, as you say, there is no
- Fr. Bruno Ciceri

As we saw in Chapter 6, a history of emigration, governmental promotion of 

overseas work, the legalized system of labor recruitment, and the continued reliance on 

the OFW’s economic support have created a culture of labor migration in the Philippines. 

With the expectation that at some point one will go abroad to gain work experience, 

economic capital, and to relieve the financial burden on their families, the choice for 

potential migrants becomes not if one will migrate, but where one will go. Whereas many 

labor migrants to the United States and other core nations rely on social ties for their 

eventual job placement, Philippine recruiters, representing employers in a number of 

destination countries, “sell” destinations as they receive job orders from overseas 

employers. Job placement itself is handled in a formalized and bureaucratic manner. 

However, this study has found that choice of destination country does still rely in large 

part on social ties.

The survey of factory workers in the Nan Tze area indicated that nearly 30% of 

respondents found their position through recruitment advertisements in Philippine 

newspapers. Ethnographic interviews further supported that recruiters played a major 

Reason for Choosing Valid

Taiwan Percent
Friend in Taiwan 23.1%
Friend who had been in 15.6%
Friend going to Taiwan 11.7%
Relative in Taiwan 8.1%
Relative who had been in 10.6%
Relative going to Taiwan 5.0%
Advertisement 29.7%
Other 3.6%
Multiple Reasons 5.0%
Table 7-1 Reasons for Migration - Survey

role in selection of destination. However, while perhaps not the only factor in selecting a 

destination, social contacts did influence the migrant’s choice. More than two­thirds of 

survey respondents said that friends and family influenced their choice of destination. 

While recruiters and social contacts played an important role in deciding where to 

go, ethnography participants expressed a variety of personal reasons for migration. 

Economic necessity, defined as personal or family financial obligations such as siblings 

or children in school, retired parents, un/under­employment, and other financial concerns, 

lead most migrants to seek employment abroad. Often these monetary concerns were 

combined with other motivations. For example, the death of a spouse, divorce, or a break 

up with a romantic partner motivated some to seek a dramatic change in their lives. 

Others were searching for work experience, adventure, or excitement in a foreign country. 

Many were motivated by wanting to be near friends who were also going to Taiwan for 

work. The desire to one day migrate to a more developed country  prompted some to 

work in Taiwan, saving money for onward or step migration to Europe, Canada or the 

USA. Finally, a number of participants found that they could not really articulate a reason 

leaving the explanation to simple chance, fate, or “God’s will.

Reason Count
Economic Necessity 23
Social Ties (friends & family in Taiwan) 9
Sense of Obligation 6
Death or Breakup 4
Adventure 3
Other 9
Table 7-2 Reasons for Migration - Ethnographic Interviews (Overlapping


Almost all of the participants revealed at least some degree of economic necessity 

for migration. Often this necessity involved a family financial burden such as schooling 

of a child or sibling, family debt, support for retired parents, or desire to improve the lives 

of loved ones. Many participants spoke of the sense of duty and obligation that they felt 

for their families. Evidence of this financial obligation can be seen in the level of 

remittances sent to family in the Philippines. Respondents to the Nan Tze survey 

averaged about NT$8267 in monthly remittances (around US $240) or roughly 40% of 

their earnings. In the extreme cases, remittances represented the total income for a family 

living in the Philippines. However, for most these remittances were seen as a way of 

improving the family’s living condition by paying for improvements to properties, 

educational costs, or improving existing family businesses. 

Among participants, economic necessity also resulted from the lack of jobs in the 

Philippines. As I have shown, the high unemployment rate has been given as a major 

cause of labor migration. Many migrants found that regardless of their education level, 

there were just too few jobs that paid more than a subsistence wage. For example, Fe, the 

34­year­old mother of one, was trained as an accountant, but could only find permanent 

work in an electronics assembly plant for the Philippine branch of Texas Instruments. 

After eight years with the company, factory downsizing left her unemployed. With her 

husband unemployed as well, she decided to try the overseas job market: In yet another 

example, Raymond, having just completed an apprenticeship to become a seaman, found 

he lacked the connections to find a permanent position. While searching the want ads he 

found a listing for jobs in Taiwan.

Raymond: Because I just finished ah... one year basic ... basic in... basic seaman
course. And then when I finished that one I-I-I work as an apprenticeship but
my... my captain told me that, " You just stay in here. You must be..." So it... it
became my ... my normal job.
Stephen: Okay.

Raymond: Then after that, I got... I finished that one, I was ... I was trying to
apply an international shipping agencies.
Stephen: Right.
Raymond: But I can't get through.
Stephen: You can't get through. Why not?
Raymond: Oh, it's a lot of... you need to have a backer. You know backer it is? A
kind of person that will help you to apply int he agency... in the shipping agency.
Stephen: Yeah.
Raymond: So I don't have it. So that' why I changed my plan. So, the... the... the
newspaper is always adding for going to Taiwan and you earn fourteen thousand
something like that.
Stephen: Right.
Raymond: And it's only... the... the... categories are only high school graduate
then ahh... ahh the age is healthy... it just said healthy and body built like that and
oh, I think I'm capable to this.
Stephen: Yeah.

While unemployment created necessity for some, it was the low wages and poor 

standard of living that motivated others. Melchor, working now as a shipbuilder, explains 

that his family was destitute. Though he worked fulltime, he would only make around 

8,000 pesos each month. He says, “I think it’s not enough. I pay for the water bills, the 

electricity bill, and then the house.” With expenses outweighing income, he decided to go 

to Taiwan, but has found little relief at a company that has been severely affected by 

global recession. Even those with relatively secure professional careers such as teachers, 

accountants, engineers, and nurses, found that the salaries in the Philippines were too 

low. While earning enough simply to survive, their earnings would not let them save for 

the future or improve their standard of living. Taiwan, on the other hand, gave them more 

prospects for saving and improving their economic futures. 

While unemployment and low wages were an element in influencing the choice to 

migrate, family obligation was often a major part as well. Leonardo exemplifies those 

who came to Taiwan as a result of a sense of obligation or duty to the family. He was left 

with this burden as the eldest child when his father died in 1994. Before coming to 

Taiwan, he could not earn enough as a dishwasher and later as a construction worker to 

sustain his mother and young siblings. He explains, “ sister also needed, needed 

money, because [she was] starting the class in the Philippines. Then, I help also my mom. 

Because [she was] sick, ah, TB. So how can I do?” Since his first trip to Taiwan in 1999, 

he has helped his family by sending regular remittances. Now on his second trip, he has 

found that the drop in salary, due to a lack of overtime, and increased cost of living 

resulting from the charges for room and board have him contemplating return. In 

addition, problems with the new management of his company over back salary and 

overtime, have complicated his financial situation. Yet, he is unable to return due to the 

financial obligations to his family who looks to him for support. Further complication 

has come with his recent marriage. He and his wife have incurred significant debts in the 

Philippines to place her in a job in Korea. Thus, he remains in Taiwan where he has 

employment and a marginally better salary than in the Philippines.

The theme of duty and obligation to one’s family was often repeated. Working 

family members found it their duty to help their spouses, parents, children, younger 

siblings, and even cousins, nieces and nephews with tuition costs and daily expenses. 

Ellen, a 26­year­old single factory worker explains that this obligation is culturally based: 

“I help my family. Every month I am sending money because I have two sisters schooling 

in college. I am helping them. An obligation, maybe, I’m not for sure in my family…but, 

I see that as part of my obligation as a Filipino because it’s our culture, once you’re 


It was found that duty and obligation were a major part of the reason for seeking 

overseas employment, regardless of the position in which they were employed. Factory 

workers, caretakers and nurses, Philippine spouses of Taiwanese, and even more 

privileged coordinators were motivated by family financial concerns. Analynn, a 

coordinator with one of the brokers in Nan Tze, explains that it was obligation to family 

that first brought her to Taiwan.

Actually my priority at that time you know, was to help my sisters. I have
two sisters who are both training to be nurses. Yeah so I said to myself
that you know, though they didn’t ask me to do that, but I want to help
them, because I don’t want them to be totally dependant on me you know.
So it’s just like you know don’t give them fish but you have to give them
how to fish. So, I want them to be professional, I want them to finish a
degree, a certain degree. That’s what, that was the thing, that’s what I was
thinking in the past.

Sometimes obligation was unexpected, such as in the death of a spouse, forcing 

the migrant with few other choices to become an OFW. Rosalia, widowed and faced with 

overwhelming financial debt from medical expenses resulting from the discovery of a 

brain tumor in her eldest son, had no other choice but to become a domestic laborer 

overseas. In a similar case, Erlinda’s husband was killed in an industrial accident at the 

electronics factory where they both worked. Nearing thirty, with an infant son and forced 

layoffs at her factory she decided to become an OFW. She explains: 

Its difficult for me because, ah, um, I am not financially stable. I decided
to apply for jobs here in Taiwan, ah, influenced by my friend. She told
me, um, salaries and wages here are more, um, what do you call this, its,
its...the salary is much higher than in the Philippines, you know! You can
support your family in a way you wanted it to be. Yes, that’s why, maybe,
I have the eagerness or the enthusiasm to come. Because, it will be much
ah easier for me to support my family and my baby.

Likewise, Mama Linda did not plan to seek employment to Taiwan. After 

returning from a decade in the Middle East, she had intended to stay in the Philippines. 

However, the death of her husband forced her to find work as a domestic in Taiwan. She 

intended that this work be for only a single contract term (two to three years), but again 

financial obligation of children in higher education required that she remain in Taiwan. 

When asked why she chose Taiwan in particular she explains that the choice was 

somewhat arbitrary for her. Having already chosen to migrate she was most concerned 

then over the fact that Hong Kong required a personal photograph for placement, whereas 

Taiwan did not.

Stephen: How did you decide Taiwan? Why not Hong Kong or some other
Mama Linda: Because Hong Kong, she...this interview...we have a camera...and
interview. Then, here in Taiwan, no. Only interview, no camera....only sign
your...and you have money give the...the agency okay you go...come in Taiwan.

Stephen: Okay. Was...was the pay different between Hong Kong and Taiwan?
Mama Linda: Maybe difference.
Stephen: Not...not much difference?
Mama Linda: Yeah.
Stephen: Okay. So, with the camera you didn't want to be in front of the camera.
Ahm...what were you expecting when you came to Taiwan? Did you expect to
stay here two years or three years or...?
Mama Linda: Ahh.... before, I expect myself only two years, I stay here and....but children go to school not yet finish to college, then I decide to myself
ahh...I want to work long time here.

As in the death of a spouse, breakup, separation, or divorce required that some 

become migrants either out of economic necessity or the desire to leave the past behind 

and change one’s life. Cassandra, though employed fulltime as a teacher in the 

Philippines decided to become an OFW. She and her husband were separating as he had 

decided to follow a romantic partner to live in the United States. Emotionally distressed 

and facing the expense of raising her daughter alone, she decided, upon advise from 

friends to work in Taiwan.

Stephen: When you first came here in 1999 had you already broken up or was
that part of why you came here in 1999?
Cassandra: No. Ahm... the very reason why...why I came here to Taiwan is
because his petition to the United States is already materializing. That's why I-I
don't want... I don't want to be left out. That's why I came here to Taiwan.
Stephen: Okay. So he was already separating from you. He was going to the US
and so you came here. Did you know anyone here when you came in 1999?
Cassandra: [shakes her head]
Stephen: ...No. How did you decide to come to Taiwan? Why not another
Cassandra: Hmn. Some of my friends already came to Taiwan.
Stephen: Hmn. So you knew people who'd come and then returned to the
Cassandra: Yeah.
Stephen: Okay. What did they tell you about Taiwan?
Cassandra: Taiwan?
Stephen: Did they say it was a good place to work?

Cassandra: Yeah. It is a good place to work. Salaries are very high, at that time
there was so much overtime. But, when I came to Taiwan, that was the time when
the economy in Taiwan is already depreciating.


While family obligations and economic concerns were paramount, many younger 

migrants were also anticipating adventure, excitement and occupational work experience 

that they could not find in the Philippines. It is not to say that there was no financial 

motivation for these individuals, yet economics did not appear to be the only motivator. 

In fact, several of the recent college graduates now employed as factory workers came 

from financially secure, middleclass families. They admitted that becoming an OFW 

involved a loss of status in the eyes of their families, but they were drawn by the 

excitement of travel, experiencing a foreign culture and being “on there own.” 

On her first trip to Taiwan, Jenny explains that it was a combination of these 

reasons, and the fact that she had failed her licensing exam for physical therapy, that she 


Stephen: So your family seems fairly well-off, compared to maybe other people
in the Philippines. Okay, so why did you come here the first time then?
Jenny: The first time, it was actually…I didn’t really…I wasn’t really willing to
come to Taiwan. But my friends are, are urging me, “Come join us, apply for this.
Let’s apply to Taiwan.” And I thought okay, just for experience and adventure.
Then, the first time we applied, we got hired then we got…after probably only
three weeks we applied for only. We applied for that day, we got hired the next
day, then adjusting our papers, after three weeks, we got here.
Stephen: So how did your family feel about that?
Jenny: They were…a bit sad because I have graduated from physical therapy,
they’re expecting me to get the board exam because I have relatives in the U.S.

And she said, she promised that she would help me but, then I failed the board
exam. So I got frustrated, and I thought I might as well go to another place.

While Jenny left to experience adventure and excitement, Grace, upon graduating 

from college with an engineering degree in electronics, found that it was hard to get 

necessary work experience in Philippine companies. She decided that work in a 

Taiwanese factory would give her some savings, as well as experience she could use 

when she eventually returns. Additionally, three of her sisters had worked in Taiwan and 

could help support the costs of placement. She explains:

Grace: So I had no experience about study.

Stephen: No--no experience outside of studying. So....
Grace: Y-yes.
Stephen: Ahm... was coming to Taiwan ahh... to help get more experience or...?
Grace: Yeah. Yeah. Because, because I want to learn more about electronics,
beside... beside I want to earn money. So I have to learn more about electronics
because in the Philippines, maybe it's hard to get inside in the big company. So I
decided to go here.
Stephen: Okay.
Grace: Yeah. Because I have to learn more about ahh... electronics.
Stephen: Okay. Ahm... did you know anybody who had been here before?

Among the male participants, excitement and adventure was likewise a 

motivation. This may be related to the fact that most female workers are unmarried when 

they go abroad. Many of the men jokingly explain that they were also unmarried, adding 

“in Taiwan” with a wink. Most of the men interviewed admitted, at least in the 

beginning, they had been drawn by the greater number of single young women working 

in Taiwan often dating several women at once. Joshua for example, though becoming 

very devote and religious since the birth of his son, admits that for the first six months in 

Taiwan he would spend all of his money and date many women. He says that it was easy 

to lie, telling women he was single. Likewise, the ratio of single men to women worked 

to his advantage. If one woman wouldn’t meet his “needs” he would simply “find another 

one.” Joshua explained that adventure in the form of romantic encounters part was a 

motivation for coming to Taiwan initially as he and his wife were separated at the time. 

However, he also left the Philippines as a result of legal problem surrounding a public 

brawl he had been involved in. Six months into his stay, however, she gave birth and he 

experienced a religious conversion. Nearing the end of his three­year contract when I met 

him, he explained that all of his money now was sent to his wife and son and he had 

become recommitted to her. 


Economic necessity, family financial obligation, death of a spouse, and the quest 

for experience and adventure all work to explain the nature of exit from the homeland, yet 

not why labor migrants chose to go to Taiwan in particular. The selection of destination 

for most was a pragmatic choice based on Taiwan’s proximity to the Philippines, relative 

low cost of travel, relatively high salary (compared to the Middle East), relative low risk 

(compared to illegal migration to Korea or Japan, or dangerous work in the oil fields of 

the Middle East), high demand for Philippine workers (due to comparatively higher 

education and English ability than other Southeast Asian sending countries), and, most 

importantly, established social ties with Taiwan. Repeatedly, participants pointed out that 

these social ties with Taiwan were most important in their selection of a destination 

country. Friends and family in the destination provide a support network for newly 

arrived migrants introducing them to other migrants, service agencies, resources, 

entertainment, etc. Likewise, strong social contacts provide a sense of solidarity and a 

cultural buffer from the often exclusionary and xenophobic Taiwanese populous. Yet, as I 

have shown with Leonardo and Mama Linda, ties to may create obligations that require 

the migrant to remain in Taiwan even after contracts end and they may return.

Social ties, originating in the sending community, worked to inform the potential 

migrant as to which placement agencies to use, which companies to work for, or which 

cities in Taiwan had better living conditions for OFWs. For example, Caroline choose to 

work in Taiwan rather than another country based on information from her recently 

returned friend. Though she had received a university degree in History and 

Anthropology and had worked as a field researcher for an international marketing 

company and the National Statistic Office, Caroline had had some problems with her 

Filipino employers and wasn’t happy with the low wages. Her friend helped her to decide 

to become and OFW and gave her advice to work in a factory rather than a household. 

“She said that being a factory worker is different from a domestic helper... you’ll be 

meeting a lot of Filipinos. You don’t get homesick or…like that.” Similarly, Joshua 

explained that several of his friends provided him with information about Taiwan. His 

friends told him “Taiwan is so good, Taiwan is so strong...Maybe they really earn a lot of 

money in Taiwan so they encourage me to go to Taiwan also.”

Relatives too were instrumental in helping the potential migrant choose Taiwan. 

Because of the stronger commitment and reciprocal obligation to family members, many 

would provide additional economic help, in the form of loans and gifts, as well as 

emotional support. Ernelyn, for example, was the eldest child in her family. They had dire 

financial problems and had looked to the support of relatives. She had graduated from a 

two­year secretarial college with the assistance of an aunt in the Philippines, but had not 

found a job. After six months of searching, another aunt in Taiwan recommended that she 

work abroad. Only nineteen, she was not legally eligible to work there. With her aunt’s 

financial assistance, she bought an identity. “So I changed my name. I bought a [name] 

for Fifteen thousand. When I bought that name it includes all necessary documents...All 

documents, passport and birth certificate....” She knew no one else in Taiwan, but her 

aunt sent the 80,000 peso placement fee and convinced her to travel abroad. 

Sometimes social ties unexpectedly influenced the reluctant potential migrant. 

For example, Josephine, a second time factory worker in Taiwan, was not planning to 

become an OFW and had never had the desire to go abroad for work. Yet, as she puts it, 

“I can’t just stay at home and sell what, one peso candy?" Therefore, rather than face 

what she perceived to be the “boredom” being unemployed and the strict control of her 

parents, she decided to follow classmates to Taiwan. She explains that Taiwan had 

become the destination of choice for most of her cohort from college: 

Almost three-fourths from my batch [migrated]. Taiwan became popular

that time. So, I said, ‘Ay, If they're going to Taiwan, I should try it
myself.’ Like that. So I realized, the decision to go to Taiwan, it's not an
ambition. It's   not   planned.   It   came   to   me   at   a   time   when   I   wasn't 
expecting I'd be going abroad, just like that. It's like, what do you call this, 
an unplanned decision. 

Interestingly, social ties work both to help the potential migrant decide where to 

go as well as to keep the migrant from returning home. I have shown how family 

obligations such as Mama Linda’s support for university age children and Leonardo’s 

debt incurred by sending his wife to Korea, have necessitated their continued work in 

Taiwan. Yet, commitment to the migrant community in Taiwan may also oblige a 

continued stay. For instance, Lanie, a single, university educated factory worker became 

an OFW out of financial necessity, yet after becoming quite involved in the Nan Tze St. 

Joseph the Worker parish, she found commitment to her friends in the church influenced 

her decision to stay in Taiwan for another contract period.

Lanie: ... before, I’m after the money because I have to help my family. But then
as I…As I live here, as I get in touch with, with the church. Now I found out it’s
not the money that, it’s not the money. The reason why I’m here is not because of
Stephen: Okay. What is the reason for you now?

Lanie: Because maybe God wants me to change many things in my life. Money is
not important, as long as you can buy the needs, of course, if you have no money,
I think you will also get, get upset, and then get…(laugh) And…now I realize that
the most important thing in life is the service that you’re giving to others. I know
that what you do with others is what you’re doing with Him. Yeah.
Stephen: What do you plan? Do you plan to stay for another year?
Lanie: Yeah, I already singed a contract. But then when I was, I singed on my job
last December. On my department last December, I decided to go back to the
Philippines this coming May, but then…Maybe my co-workers here trust me.
Stephen: They want you to stay longer?
Lanie: Because they assigned me for so many…responsibilities, so…
Stephen: In the church?
Lanie: In the church. So, I don’t have to escape the thing.
Stephen: So you can’t run away? So, now you’re not going to go back, because
the influence of your friends?
Lanie: Yeah.


As I have shown in this chapter, the demographic, economic, and political push-

pull mechanisms driving migration from the Philippines to Taiwan (presented in the last

chapter) evolve into a culture of migration where social ties influence the migrant’s

destination, help to maintain high levels of remittances, and even persuade some workers

to remain in the destination due to social obligations. The personal narratives presented

illustrate the theory of cumulative causation as applied to the everyday lives of Filipino

workers in Taiwan. They explain in their own words how un/under-employment, poverty,

and lack of development in the Philippines induce them to look overseas for financial

support. Governmental policies and the industry of international labor recruitment create

an expectation of finding economic relief not in domestic development but in labor

migration. Many note the role of the labor recruiters as they sell destinations through

media advertisements.

As the culture of migration has become rooted in the identity of Filipinos, one

expects to migrate as a rite of passage. Financial obligation to the family and a cultural

sense of individual duty, further promoted by media that touts the OFW as a hero, help

the migrant find purpose as they endure long hours in unpleasant conditions abroad.

University classes, lacking full-time employment possibilities, choose in mass to “sign

up” for overseas employment so they may preserve social ties established in school.

Migrants were found also to leave based on the personal desire to flee an unpleasant

social/emotional condition in the homeland. This flight may result from a tragedy such as

a break up, death or separation, strict parents, family problems, or even legal difficulties.

Selection of the destination country then falls to such practical factors as relative cost of

placement, proximity to Philippines, and salary, as well as social contacts that may

provide a community of mutual aid and at least some emotional support while in a

foreign country.

Image 25 A group of close friends from Nan Tze on a fieldtrip to the

Cathedral in Kaohsiung



They’re not very open about Filipinos, you know. - Jenny Hipolito
Stephen: What do you think about Chinese culture and Chinese things?
Lanie: They are very much different with Filipinos, I think.

A common theme throughout the interviews with participants, factory and 

domestic workers alike, was the rejection and isolation they felt from the Chinese 

populace. In Hong Kong, Dr. Cecile Torda Lowe (2001) found similar marginalization of 

Filipino workers noting “racism, discrimination and widespread social prejudice” as 

factors that worked to exclude migrant laborers from the society. In Taiwan, exclusion 

and segregation occur as a result of ethnocentrism, nationalism, cultural phobia of 

outsiders (especially those from less developed Southeast Asian countries), and 

governmental policies which intentionally restrict migrant incorporation and integration 

into the broader community. Dr. Hsia Hsiao­chuan, a researcher of Taiwanese exogamy at 

Shih Hsin University, notes public sentiment in Taiwan toward those from less developed 

countries: "We in Taiwan just look down on individuals from third­world countries."60 

Taipei Times Jun 02, 2002 retrieved on
April 12, 2004.

These factors have produced a hostile climate toward labor migrants, limiting their 

opportunities for cultural or social integration into Taiwanese society.

While shunned by the government and the public, there is a reaction by the 

alienated Filipino worker to, in­turn, reinforce their own co­ethnic ties and reject 

Taiwanese culture. As a result, Filipino factory workers, already spatially, culturally, and 

linguistically removed from Taiwanese, become even more socially isolated thus limiting 

their opportunities for assimilation or integration. Enclaves form in and around the 

Economic Processing Zones (EPZ) in which the majority of factory workers are 

employed. In the following chapter, I will discuss the formal institutions (Churches, 

businesses and NGOs) that have provided stability and permanence to these transnational 

enclaves. Likewise, the next chapter will further explain the role of migrant spouses and 

other “permanent” residents in reinforcing the Filipino migrant workers’ reactive  

ethnicity (Portes and Rumbaut 1996) and continued performance of homeland culture 

within these enclaves.

The most isolated class of workers is clearly the domestic worker. Sequestered 

with Taiwanese families and cut­off from the enclaves around the EPZs, isolation and 

exclusion are even more extreme and problematic. While having the most direct, face­to­

face contact with Taiwanese of all of the labor migrants, their often­unreasonable 

treatment by Taiwanese families is most revealing of the conventional attitudes:

Contract workers in factories live in dormitories and have therefore a

support system among themselves. Domestic workers and caretakers live
with their employees. Though most are generally accepted by the families,
and have relative freedom, there are some who are treated more like
commodities: they have no freedom to interact with others, and are
isolated. These people are candidate for mental breakdown, and in some
cases, suicide. (Ciceri 2003)

Loveband (2003) notes in her study of domestic workers in Taiwan the 

dehumanization and commodification of these workers. She explains that even the 

language used to describe them illustrates their marginal status: "the slang term for 

migrant workers is yong­ren. 61 These workers are highly commodified; they are products 

to use and exchange." The government, by excluding this class of worker from the labor 

standards and regulations governing other contract worker positions, clearly sees them as 

a commodity for use and not as individuals.62 Thus, while Dr. Pei­Chia Lan has found 

that some employers may liken the relationship that develops between their domestic 

caregiver and her patient as a “fictive kinship” (Lan 2001; Lan 2003b), evidence from her 

studies, as well as interviews conducted for this project, indicate that the “domestic 

workers are nevertheless accorded marginal and subordinate status in the family”(Lan 

Correction: This is the term for “maid” or “servant” (佣人:use people)
“In Taiwan, foreign workers in the manufacturing and construction sectors are
protected under LSL with regard to terms and conditions of the employment
contract. For domestic helpers and caretakers, however, labor conditions and
pertinent rights are subject to the individual employment contract agreed upon
between the worker and the employer. Such regulation has unfortunately forced
many foreign workers to enter into unfavorable contracts with employers.” Taiwan
Bureau of Employment and Vocational Training, Counseling and Service Website for
Foreign Workers Working in Taiwan. Report On Protection Of Rights For Foreign
Workers In Taiwan

Image 26 Domestic workers Rosalia and Charito at Stella Maris

International Center
Similarly, Filipina spouses of Taiwanese men, whom we would expect to show the 

greatest level of admittance into the Taiwanese society, are likewise rejected by their 

Taiwanese family members, isolated from the community, and are seen simply as 

economic refugees by most Taiwanese. Numerous anecdotal reports from NGOs, as well 

as the spouses interviewed here, likened the role of the foreign bride to that of a servant. 

The perception is that they are “bought” by the family to care for the husband and 

produce children. Legally they are not permitted the same rights as native­born citizens. 

Even after having children in Taiwan, they are not seen as members of the community. 

This excerpt from an article in a recent Taiwanese Presbyterian Church newsletter 

illustrates the public sentiment toward foreign spouses: 

Taiwan is now home to over 70,000 women from Vietnam, Indonesia,

Thailand, The Philippines, Cambodia and other countries who have
married local men. They are here on permanent residence papers, but
none has yet been granted local citizenship.... Ms. Pan [a foreign spouse]
feels that she has been discriminated against and hurt, often driven to

tears. Even after six years here she still hears people say, "You're just a
foreign laborer, what good are you?" As the mother of two children, she
participates in the hope for Taiwan's future. Yet she wonders if even when
she grows old here she will still be seen as a foreigner. Her desire is to be
seen by Taiwan's people as a friend of Taiwan, and a student of Taiwan’s
culture and languages. (Ku 2003)


Driving the exclusion and isolation felt by Filipino workers is a unambiguous 

xenophobia, maintained by stereotypical portrayal of foreign workers in the media as 

source of social problems. This portrayal has resulted in their public discrimination and 

exclusionary governmental policies. Female workers in particular are commodified, 

objectified, and sexualized by brokers, the media, and employers. Public maltreatment of 

workers have included staring, making derogatory comments and gestures, and even overt 

ridicule. This recent Taipei Times article illustrates (Liu 2003):

"Discrimination against people from Southeast Asia is a prevailing

phenomenon," said Kung, who has been involved in foreign labor affairs
for years and is the former director of the Taipei City Government's
Foreign Workers Consulting Center (FWCC). On weekends, many
Filipino and Indonesian workers gather at the Catholic Fu Jen University,
chatting and singing songs. "These black people speak strange languages,
making sounds like this, ‘wa-la-wa-la,’" said a passing student with
contempt. "They are noisy and dangerous." Widespread discrimination
caused by the quest for economic development reflects that people in
Taiwan lack understanding and respect for foreign cultures, Kung said.

Discrimination & Racial/Ethnic Stereotyping

In public places, popular media, and even by employment brokers, Filipinos are 

characterized by ethnic stereotypes. In public places, participants in this project disclosed 

that they were often subject to disapproving looks, starring, and sometimes even rude or 

abusive language. 63 They reported frequent, unwelcome comments of a sexual nature 

from Taiwanese taxi drivers and occasionally form men on the street or at work. A 

common story told was of a friend or acquaintance who was stopped on the way home 

and offered money to go with a Taiwanese man. Jenny recounts, “Oh, my friend once 

told us, told me that while she was, when she was walking one night, she was approached 

by two men in their car, in the car. Then, as she was walking, these two men told her, 

‘You want some money? I’ll give you money, just do...’ Something like that.” 

Analynn, the Chinese speaking coordinator representing one of the largest labor 

brokerages, explains how she often overhears derogatory comments about Filipinos: “I 

can understand the language, even the Taiwanese dialect. Sometimes during my first few 

months of stay here, when they were talking about the Filipinos, I used to be hurt. But, I 

cannot just fight with them you know, all you have to do is, sometimes I ignore it.” 

Others found it more difficult to dismiss the stigmatization. Staring and gesturing caused 

anxiety to be in public places:

Stephen: how do you feel when you’re out in around town, do you ever feel any
negative treatment?
Jenny: (Nods) Yeah, sometimes.
Stephen: Like what?
Jenny: Like they stare…but…
Stephen: Staring?

Participants in the focus group reported often having been called shiu do ,秀逗
[Taiwanese: idiot, stupid ]on the bus or at work.

Jenny: Staring.
Stephen: By men or women?
Jenny: Men, mostly.
Stephen: Is that rude?
Jenny: Or sometimes …sometimes other women, just like that (makes a
judgmental look).
Stephen: Like a disapproving kind of look?
Jenny: Hmm, a negative kind of look. Or sometimes… once, a Taiwanese, I was
riding my bike from church, going home with my friend. She looked at me or my
bike. I don’t know what she was looking at, but she was laughing at me. She was
just smiling at first when I talked to my friend, when she’s staring at me and I
think there was something wrong with me. Then the Taiwanese laughed after we
were stopping for traffic.
Stephen: Why do you think she laughed?
Jenny: I don’t know.
Stephen: Was it because you’re on a bicycle?
Jenny: I don’t know. She was looking at my bicycle, my feet…I don’t know.
Stephen: Do you think she was judging you?
Jenny: What? That was what I was thinking, yeah

This negative pubic treatment may result from reinforcement of stereotypes that 

appear in the popular media. According to Lin (1999) newspapers and other media 

portray Filipino laborers and other migrants as dirty, disease­ridden, transmitters of 

moral and social disorder. Often news reports centered on the impact of foreign workers 

on domestic jobs, especially the number of “run­away” or illegal workers and their 

impact on unemployment. This has resulted in a negative public sentiment toward 

migrant laborers. In fact, a Feb 21, 2004 story in the Taipei Times indicated that the 

majority of native­born workers surveyed in Taiwan wanted to limit the importation of 

foreign workers: “70.4 percent wanted the government to reduce the number of foreign 

laborers, while 24.5 percent wanted the government to cease importing labor altogether.” 

Also catching headlines in Taiwanese periodicals are the occasional reports of 

marital infidelity between the Taiwanese husband and Filipina domestic worker. These 

reports lead to the image of the Filipina as “home wreaker.” The female members of the 

household may in turn place outrageous controls on the worker as she perceives a 

challenge from the “sexually promiscuous” domestic worker. In one contract between a 

family and their domestic caregiver (provided by Fr. Ciceri when he was called to assist 

the caregiver who was being forced to return to the Philippines), the conditions for 

employment included not wearing make­up, not being allowed to brush her hair, and not 

being allowed to own a cell­phone. Fr. Ciceri explains that anxiety over the caregiver 

results from the Taiwanese patriarchal system that may be challenged by the educated 

Filipina caregiver:

I think in the society here, this is a male society, so even, even this…it
plays a certain roles. I think sometimes there are a few things especially
on the level of domestic, the domestic helper and caretaker, because it’s in
the level of the family. Sometimes these families they feel threatened
because migrant workers, especially if they are a Filipina, they are more
educated than them.... this is a woman that is more educated than the man,
so that sometimes creates problems. Also, because, especially Filipinos,
they are quite knowledgeable about their rights and other things and they
speak out and everything. And so, they say ‘how do you this’, ‘who told
you this?’ There are other things, other problems that sometimes we have
about the female, the wife, the wife often get jealous, because maybe the
Filipina is a bit more beautiful, or sometimes their husband may be paying
a little bit more attention to the Filipina caretaker and everything. And
sometimes it creates a lot of conflict and tension…especially the wife or
the female component of the family. Really, they get very nasty, very
tough on the migrant worker because they feel threatened for one reason
or another.

Of public concern are the rare, but sensationalized, reports of theft, elder abuse, 

or even murder at the hands of the imported domestic laborer. Especially scandalous was 

the case of Liu Hsia (劉俠), who in 2003 was severely beaten by her Indonesian 

caregiver, dying a few days later. This incident incited enormous debate over the safety 

and security of families from their potentially dangerous foreign worker. Conversely, the 

community of international non­governmental agencies used this case to demand better 

conditions for caregivers citing the evidence that the caregiver was suffering from a stress 

related psychological disorder resulting from her long working hours and months 

working without a break.64

Like the popular media, labor brokers “sell” workers on essential, stereotypical 

qualities that they are alleged to posses, as well as warn of their potential “racial 

weakness.” Filipinas, often marketed as proficient in English and better educated than 

other nationalities, were described as “cunning, at times troublesome and tend to steal” 

(Loveband 2003). This example from a labor broker, comparing the strengths and 

weaknesses of nationalities offered for work, serves as a case in point of the superficiality 

with which Filipinos are viewed:

For more details see & retrieved on
April 12, 2004.


Filipinos are primarily Catholic. Their common language is English. Their

educational level is high. The good thing with Filipino workers is that it is
easier to communicate with them, even though their pronunciation is not
correct (in English). In Taiwan’s market, early on it was all Filipino
workers, but today it is being taken over by Indonesian workers. They fit
best in technical trades, they are not as good in heavy labor, for example,
Their personality is more romantic, positive and independent. They need
to be allowed more time for religious expression, for example going to
church on religious holidays. Because of their education level, they stand
up for their rights more often. Early in the market for immigrant labor,
Filipinos were enticed by promises of high pay by illegal agencies,
especially for people who’s legal labor permit was close to expiration.
Taiwanese law has no criminal penalty for overstay, so those who were
caught were simply deported. This has brought both employers and
agencies many problems, so many Taiwanese employers do not prefer
Filipino workers, replacing them with Indonesian and Vietnamese.65

Stereotyping and essentializing national groups of foreign workers also leads to 

their marginal status and exclusion from public spaces as they are labeled by the public. 

In the South of Taiwan, Filipino migrants are found almost exclusively in the areas 
Translation by Hui-Jung Hsieh based on text from Wang Hong Employment Agency
Retrieved April 12, 2004 unclear
here is the underlying message: because of Filipino’s activism and the existence of
NGOs that work specifically to protect their rights (MECO), many employers have
shifted to the more “docile” Indonesian and Vietnamese workers who have no such
advocates and are less likely to protest mistreatment. Likewise this excerpt shows
how brokers literally sell essentialist qualities of national groups that are in reality
quite diverse (ethnically, culturally, socially, etc.).

around the Economic Processing Zones where they work, near their dorms at the lunch 

counters and other businesses that cater to their needs, and around the English/Tagalog 

churches they attend. These zones are located in the industrial hinterland of Kaohsiung. 

In Taipei, migrants are spatially segregated as well. Those who work and live within the 

city (primarily caregivers and domestic workers), are likewise restricted to the periphery:

After more than a decade of recruiting migrant workers, local Taiwanese

have gradually accepted their presence as long as they remain marginal
spatially and socially. The spatial locations of Indonesian workers’
Sunday activities clearly symbolize their social status of “marginal
insiders.” They gather at the corners of Taipei’s Train Station; they eat
and dance behind the prime public area in Taoyun; and they tend to shop
underground rather than in skyscraper department stores. They are seen in
public but only at those corners less visible to Taiwanese. (Lan 2003c)

Taiwanese Ethnic Nationalism & Protection of Aboriginal Employment

Resurgence of native Taiwanese ethnic groups (Hakkanese, Hoklos, and the very 

small remaining aboriginal groups)66 and dramatic socio­political change have lead to a 

surge in Taiwanese ethnic nationalism and a reconciliation with the dominant Han 

mainlanders who came to Taiwan following General Chang Kai Shek (蔣介石). According 

to Prof. Hsu Shih­kai, former Taiwan Independence Party Chairman and a long-time

advocate of Taiwanese solidarity (2004): “In the 1990s, when democratization was under 

For more on ethnic diversity in Taiwan see Shih, Cheng-Feng, 1995. Ethnic
Differentiation in Taiwan. Journal of Law and Politics, No. 4, pp. 89-111. See also Shih, Cheng-Feng, 1997. “A Study
of the Development of Taiwanese Consciousness: With A Focus on Linguistic and
Historical Distinctions. Peace Research: The Canadian Journal of Peace Studies, Vol.
29, No. 4, pp. 55-76. both retrieved April 12,

way, the four main ethnic groups were encouraged to strengthen their identities, while at 

the same time showing respect (not integration and assimilation) toward each other.”67 

Discrimination, historically experienced by these domestic minority groups (primarily 

the aboriginal groups and the Hakka people)68, has been decreased in a campaign to 

promote rediscovery of the cultural history of Formosa Island (as independent from the 

mainland). Ethnic pride and political participation, centered on the independence 

movement, among the predominantly Hoklo (Taiwanese) and mixed (Han mainlander 

and Hoklo) younger generations has produced an ethnocentric Taiwanese nationalism 

that is, at least in rhetoric, more inclusive of Taiwan’s historical diversity, yet exclusive of 

non­native foreigners. 

The struggle pitting immigrant laborers against native minorities for jobs has 

clearly has become a universal theme in the globalized market. Media reports and 

political discourse in Taiwan, now more sympathetic to the indigenous minority 

populations, decry the importation of workers as limiting the economic opportunities of 

these historically neglected groups: “Complaint against hiring of foreign workers was 

voiced repeatedly by representatives of aboriginal workers. Yang Jen­fu, a legislator from 

67 retrieved
April 12, 2004.
The discrimination toward aboriginal groups is still a significant political/ social
issue, often setting these native groups against foreign laborers. For instance see:
Mar 14 2003, Aborigines claim discrimination Taipei Times retrieved
April 12, 2004.

the Kuomintang, pointed out that while the number of foreign workers was increasing, 

unemployment among aborigines was also increasing from 3.2 in 1998 to 7.5 percent” 

(Scalabrini Migration Center 2000). In an attempt to reduce unemployment among this 

population, quota restrictions on foreign workers have been placed on the Kaohsiung 

Free Trade Harbor Zone (slated for completion in 2005) and the five other free trade 

ports currently under development: “the new the number of foreign workers must not 

surpass 40 percent of the total labor force employed in the zones. In addition, enterprises 

established in the zones must reserve five percent of the jobs for aboriginal workers.” 

Maintaining Class Differences: Government Restrictions on Migrant Integration 

Clearly established differential treatment of native (minority or dominant groups) 

and migrant populations is exacerbated by legal restrictions and government policy 

toward migrant laborers. Restriction on workers rights and lax protection from abuse 

restrict the migrants’ mobility (both residential as well as within the labor force) and 

make clear the class distinction between native born and foreigner, as well as foreign 

white­collar (from core nations) versus foreign blue­collar workers (from peripheral, 

developing countries). These policies reinforce the marginal status of migrant laborers 

and result from the public mistrust of foreigners.

Restrictions, disproportionately applied to working­class laborers from 

developing countries, include controls on residence, rights to look for alternative 

employment, protection from and litigation for employer abuses, and constant state 

surveillance by the use of curfews, routine required renewal of employment documents, 

and biannual health checks. Dr. Shu-Ju Cheng (2003), Assistant Professor in sociology at

DePaul University and researcher of domestic migrant workers in Taiwan, notes that the

surveillance of the state is gendered and used to enforce racial/ethnic separation and


The treatment of wai lao, as opposed to other categories of foreigners, is

particularly intrusive. The monitoring and surveillance of both their
bodies and their emotions are integral to the state’s attempt to police
national borders and ultimately to control the racial/ethnic composition of
its citizenry. More important, the invasiveness of state regulations over
decisions concerning human sexuality, such as marriage and pregnancy,
has particular impact on migrant women. The regulation of their sexual
activities and reproductive decisions reflects the gendered as well as racial
nature of immigration policies.

Many more rights and privileges are afforded to the professional classes. As a 

former English teacher in Taiwan, I was quite aware of my privileged status when 

compared to foreign workers from developing countries, referred to commonly as wai lao  

(外勞). Dr. Pei-Chai Lan (2003e) explains:

“Wai lao,” literally meaning “foreign worker,” is the term commonly used
in Taiwan to refer to migrant workers form Southeast Asia employed on a
contract basis in three D (dirty, dangerous, and demeaning) occupations.
This terminology is rarely applied to other “foreign workers” such as
professionals, technicians, managerial, and language instructors, who are
mostly from Japan, North America and West Europe. Such a division is

endorsed by the state regulations that assign distinct statuses and rights to
these two categories of foreign labor. Low-end migrants are recruited
under quota control and contract rotation; one can work in Taiwan no
longer than six years (two terms of contract).

In contrast, on all three of my sojourns to Taiwan (1996, 1998, and 2003), I was granted

temporary residential status with relative ease, had no restrictions on residence or

mobility (though I must register change-of-address with the Foreign Police and reapply

for new permits for change of employers), earned a relatively high income (two to three

times that of a native-born teacher), and had few restrictions placed on my ability to look

for alternative employment.

As Lan (2003e) points out, citizenship restrictions apply to all foreign­born as 

they are based “descent principle” (jus sanguinis). Citizenship for foreign­born children 

of Taiwanese Nationals, though by no means easy to obtain, is legally allowed. However, 

permanent status for a foreign­born non­Chinese (Permanent Alien Resident Certificate, 

or PARC) depends on the ability to prove continued legal residence in Taiwan for seven 

years and may be revoked if, during the period of one­year, the resident is out­of­country 

more than 200 days.69 Meanwhile, many Taiwanese have obtained dual citizenship, 

including important elected officials such as legislator Hsiao Bi­khim,70 who sparked a 

See this website on acquiring legal documents for residence in Taiwan in which
they say“...the reality is that the requirements make it almost impossible to do so
and remains a long-standing and very sore issue for many in Taiwan's international
community. Further, there never seems to be a consistent policy regarding
permanent residency status for foreigners.”
. See this article on limited number of Permanent Alien Residence Certificate
recipients also this personal log of
an expatriate in Taiwan trying to get his citizenship

national debate over dual­citizenship among executive­level political positions.71 Yet, for 

the foreign­born non­Chinese to obtain true citizenship requires proof of formal 

renunciation of the citizenship of origin and soon even passing a test on their knowledge 

of Chinese.72 

While permanent residence is at least within reach for the white­collar immigrant, 

stipulations in the contracts of the blue­collar workers from developing countries restrict 

them from ever achieving permanent status. Foreign workers are by definition temporary, 

and thus are barred from ever becoming a part of the community. Robert Tierney (2002) 

points out that not only does this temporary status marginalize foreign workers, but their 

immobility within the employment market also further restricts their rights:

The marginality of migrant contract workers is not only defined by their

temporary status, but also by their immobility in the labor market. The
CLA dictates that a migrant worker can work for only one particular
employer during a stay in Taiwan. No transfer of employer is allowed
except under the following conditions: if the original employer goes
bankrupt, closes business, or cannot pay wages to the worker, if the care
recipient of a migrant worker dies or migrates to another country, and if a
worker is abused by the employer or illegally placed to an employer
different from the one in the contract.

Legally restricted to work for a single employer, allowed to stay for only three 

years at a time and six years total, foreign workers are further alienated from the 

Taiwanese society by being denied basic human and labor rights. Currently, there are no 
Feb 28, 2004 article on the eTaiwan about talk of Chinese language
requirements of applicants for citizenship

protections from employer abuse for migrants. Workers, when charging employers with 

violating the terms of their contract, are routinely repatriated to their home country by 

brokers and the Council of Labor Affairs (CLA) without hearings or the opportunity to 

change employers. Factory workers while covered by the Taiwan Labor Standards Act are 

routinely paid in time off for overtime, and maximum working hours are often ignored. 

Domestic workers, moreover, are not even covered under the Labor Standards Act, and 

thus are exempt from overtime and minimum wage laws.73


Much of the isolation experienced by migrants may be attributed to cultural 

differences between Filipino workers and the Taiwanese population. These real or 

perceived differences work not only to exclude the Filipinos from Chinese society, but 

also to limit the desire of Filipinos to become part of the community of their “strange” 

hosts. Cultural barriers are clearly evident in material culture such as food, styles of 

dress, valued commodities, etc., as well as in the non­material cultural differences such 

as religious beliefs, gender roles, social norms, aesthetics, standards of bodily hygiene, 

work ethic, courtship, the concepts of time and space, etc. 

See Cody Yiu Foreign workers protest for better rights Taipei Times Dec 29, 2003

Experiencing culture shock upon arriving, many of the participants reported 

feeling sad or depressed their first few months here. Fr. Ciceri explains, “Culturally it's a 

shock for, for the Filipinos. Because, it's totally different. Um, for the environment, 

everything is, is different. The language, it's a big problem because they just come here, 

they don't speak any, any language. And, um, so they try to, to adjust to this reality. But, 

ah, they found it very, very difficult.” Even Analynn, who was raised within the Chinese 

community in the Philippines experienced a degree of culture shock in Taiwan: 

For the first time, well, it’s kind of, it’s 360 degrees, you know, turned
around. Culture, well culture, it’s not a very surprising thing to me
because you know I was exposed to a Chinese, you know, environment.
But, Taiwanese people are, if I am going to compare Taiwanese people
with the Filipino Chinese, they’re totally different. Because the Filipino
Chinese, they’re more educated, and they’re more, I mean they are, they
belong to the you know society where they’re open minded. Yeah, when I
came here, I was really shocked you know.

Differences in material culture, or the physical artifacts produced by a social 

group, are easily noticed by both by the migrant and the community in which they were 

living.74 These differences often allude to deeper non­material distinction in values, 

beliefs, and attitudes. Most common among participants in the study was the reported of 

disliked of Chinese food. Caroline, for example, exclaimed, “oh, the food, the food there 

is terrible!” in reference to the food served in her dorms. Similarly, Marivel explained 

For an interesting study on material culture among migrant groups see this Dutch
study by Dibbits & Roukens (2002) Migration and Material Culture: the domestic
interiors of twentieth century migrants and their descendents

that she doesn’t eat Chinese food, preferring to eat out if she can. Others explained that 

Chinese dishes that they had been exposed to in the markets and cafeterias of their 

companies were “too oily” or “too spicy” for their tastes. When their companies or dorms 

severed a cheap bien dang (便當), or a lunch box meal, the workers often would go out to 

lunch counters run by Filipina wives of Taiwanese men. Caroline explains: “If we don’t 

like the food, for example during week days, we buy food outside because in front of 

Green House there are many [Filipino lunch counters]. I think three or four near Green 

House.” The shipbuilders on Chi Chin island, more isolated from the enclave of the EPZ, 

have taken to catching crab and fish and cooking for themselves.

Melchor explains that his company delivers bien dang  for them every morning. He 

shows me an unappetizing paper box with a small amount of rice, boiled cabbage, and a 

small whole fish. Though charged 4,000NT a month (nearly a third of his base salary), he 

tells me that it is the same meal everyday and he has no choice in paying the fee for 

meals. He protests, “you cannot eat that everyday. You must change the menu... the 

company provides the bien dang, but I don't know how many times we complain. They 

don't listen.” Food was such a unifying cultural issue that Fr. Ciceri at one time 

established a regular Filipino luncheon: “Every Sunday after the Mass, people they 

would come here to St. Mary’s and we will have food, Filipino food. It’s such a stupid 

thing, but for somebody that has been forced to eat bien dang, at least on Sunday, they go 

and eat their own Filipino food. It means for them, really something, something good.”

Material culture is also apparent in clothing, though in truth symbolizing a deeper 

non­material difference in the cultural importance of presentation of self. Jenny in a 

Image 27 A Typical bien dang severed to Chi Chin Island Shipbuilders


Image 28 William Giving a Tour of the Kitchen

Image 29 Crab Caught by Workers


discussion with Josephine, another factory worker (translated from Tagalog), asks about

cultural differences. Josephine recounts her astonishment at the fashion worn by


Josephine:'s like this, at first, ahh, you know we Filipinos we're very, we're
very particular when it comes to the type of dress we wear. Even if we run short
on our allowance, we still try to look good and right. We are so conscious of how
we look in front of others. We ask, "Is it okay if I wear this? Are my shoes right
for this dress?" and things like that. But, you cannot, at first I said, "Look at her.
She looks so formal in that attire, like one who's going to attend a party, but look
at the shoes. She's wearing tennis shoes."
Jenny: Yeah. Formal but…
Josephine: Uhm. Sometimes, I would think that maybe they just wear what is
comfortable for them to wear. Not like Filipinos, sometimes we don't feel
comfortable, but we…
Jenny: But it looks good.
Josephine: …We still try. Yeah. If it looks good, we still try to wear them even if
it's uncomfortable. But, for them, it's okay as long as they're comfortable with
what they're wearing.
Jenny: They wear whatever they want to wear.
Josephine: … whatever, whatever they like to wear. Even if it's out of fashion.
Even though short on income, Filipinos still try to look their best.
Jenny: Yeah. As long as they look good to other people.
Josephine: Yeah. As long as they look good.

Different cultural standards of what is proper dress and physical presentation also 

included dissimilar standards in bodily hygiene. Several migrants noted that a cultural 

difference to them were the “body smells” at work and in public that they were 

unaccustomed to as the Philippine culture stresses personal hygiene and careful 

presentation of self.75 In contrast, negligent personal cleanliness in Taiwan has been 

See this note to nursing students regarding cultural preferences of Filipinos who
“pay close attention to hygiene and smelling good”

criticized as one of the leading factors contributing to the SARS outbreak in 2003 (Chu 


Social & Cultural Exclusion at Work

Many participants reported that they felt left out of social activities at their 

companies and isolated from the Taiwanese co­workers. Linguistic isolation may 

attribute to some of this exclusion (less than 1% of survey respondents rated their 

Mandarin/Taiwanese ability as fluent), yet participants indicated that much of the 

isolation was a result of not being invited to take part in social functions. At most 

factories, relationships with Chinese co­workers were congenial, yet seldom progressed 

beyond a superficial level. Some participants reported outright mistreatment by co­

workers. Segregated living spaces also contributed to the isolation of workers from the 

Chinese population.

On occasion Taiwanese companies will hold social gatherings for their 

employees. Traditional gatherings (called wei ya 尾牙 ) around the time of Chinese New 

Year are held in which employees share a meal and may receive bonuses based on the 

success of the company. Other holiday gatherings as well as spring or summer barbecues 

are common. Often the festivities will include karaoke, dance, talent competitions and 

other performances. Jenny recounts that while the Filipino workers were invited to the 

program, they were not included in the presentations:

Jenny: Nothing. I just remembered a party with the company. I mentioned my

company, you have to omit that.
Stephen: Okay, we cut the [company name omitted] out.
Jenny: I was in a party then…all Taiwanese and Filipino workers are invited, but
all those who participated in the program are Taiwanese, no Filipinos are invited
to participate. And they just like…We all laugh while they were dancing at that
Stephen: Was it something that supposed to be funny? Or was it not supposed to
be funny?
Jenny: No, not supposed to be funny.
Stephen: But everybody was laughing. The Filipinos were laughing. Why weren’t
the Filipinos invited to participate in the program?
Jenny: I don’t know.
Stephen: Do you feel that’s a kind of rejection?
Jenny: A little, yeah.

Another cultural distinction causing considerable friction with workers was over 

celebration of religious holidays that do not fall on the Chinese calendar. Employers were 

found to restrict holidays only to Taiwanese national holidays. No provisions were made 

for employees to have their own cultural celebrations. Melchor recounts that while they 

were allowed to celebrate Christmas (technically Constitution Day on the Taiwanese 

calendar), they were not permitted to have a holiday for Semana Santa or Holy Week. 

Similarly, when institutions such as the Catholic Church do hold holiday celebrations that 

are outside of the Chinese calendar, they receive numerous community complaints about 

noise and even visits by police. Meanwhile, laterally hundreds of Chinese cultural and 

religious celebrations, replete with thousands of firecrackers, horns, drums, and other 

noisemakers, may occur at all hours of the day or night, throughout the year without 


Residential segregation and limited mobility also cause factory workers to feel 

excluded from the community. Factory workers are required by company and government 

policies to live in crowded dorms or apartments near the EPZs. Dorms may be owned by 

private companies (sometimes affiliated with a particular broker), individual factories, or 

by the government. These facilities generally charge the worker a fee for room and board. 

Some even charge additional fees for electricity, water, and even for the used bedding and 

furniture. Likewise, they monitor the workers’ movements, requiring them to sign in and 

out and enforce a strict curfew. Workers must request special permission to spend an 

evening away from the dorm, even on their days off. Thus these typically private 

institutions provide surveillance of the foreign workers by reporting to brokers, company 

agents, and governmental officials any violations of curfew. They also enforce their own, 

sometimes arbitrary, penalties for violations of dorm rules. One sign, in the government­

owned dorms in Nan Tze’s EPZ, stated that workers found disposing of styrofoam 

containers in the paper recycling bin would be fined 1,000NT (roughly $30). In another 

company­owned dorm, one wall in the public eating/ living area was covered with 

warnings, admonishing workers not to use their cell phones during work (penalty an 

official warning), to maintain order in the dorm, and even that "if someone is found very 

lazy or wasting of time" they will have “violated company policy and may receive 

warning.” These sometimes illogical and vague penalties and warnings further alienate 

the workers reminding them even within their segregated living space they are 


Cross­Cultural Dating & the Cultural Taboos of Exogamy 

The perception of some Chinese workers is that not only are the Filipino workers 

there to take their jobs, but the female workers are there to “hunt” for Taiwanese 

husbands as well. Lanie explains that this perception is not entirely untrue. As she 

explains, some of her Filipina co­workers do like the idea of finding a Taiwanese man: 

“Sometimes my co­worker told me to find a Taiwanese, because a Taiwanese has 

money.” However, in a focus group discussion with nine women, the discussion of dating 

indicated that cultural differences would make it too troubling:

Stephen: Do you think it would be difficult to date a Taiwanese man?

Focus Group 1: Yes, I guess, for me.
Stephen: Why? Why would it be difficult?
Focus Group 1: Because we have different, likes and…
Stephen: Okay. Different likes and dislikes based on your culture?
Focus Group 1: Yes.
Focus Group 2: Oh, yes.
Focus Group 3: We have different cultures. And for me, as far as I am concerned,
I don’t like the culture, especially the men.
Stephen: Okay, what about the men? You said especially men.
Focus Group 3: Especially men. Because, I heard, especially the older one, the
elder, the elder men in the family, they prefer the elder men not to get married
especially to [foreign women]. Because I have a friend, they had the relationship
for a year, and sometimes I found her crying, because the [Taiwanese] mother
doesn’t like her, because her boyfriend is the eldest.

These cultural limitations on the eldest male often restrict him to marrying only Chinese 

women. Filipinas who have dated Chinese men found acceptance by the Chinese families 

especially difficult. Others, like Sarah and Loisa, now married to Taiwanese men, said 

they were even resistant to the initial advances and invitations of their spouses as they 

were not interested in Taiwanese men. Moreover, legal restrictions prohibit these cross­

cultural relationships by forbidding workers from marriage. If they do intend to marry, 

they must return to Philippines and apply for re­entry on a spousal visa. 

Filipina spouses of Taiwanese men interviewed also reported cold treatment by 

Chinese family members. Many foreign spouses were seen simply as a servant for the 

husband. Family concern was often limited to whether she could reproduce. Rosalyn, 

now separated from her abusive husband, was told by her mother­in­law not to buy things 

for herself as she earned no money. When her husband would drink and beat her, her 

Taiwanese in­laws simply told her that she would have to “accept her husband like that.” 

Made to cook, clean and take care of her husband and his family she explained that she 

felt like their house maid: “yeah, because if he is going to take a bath or something, he 

calls me to get his t­shirt and clothes, like that.” She stayed with him for almost eight 

years but finally could take no more abuse from her husband or his mother. With help 

from her cousin (also married to a Taiwanese man) and Stella Maris International 

Service Center, she was able to take her two youngest children back to the Philippines, 

but has returned now to try to regain custody of her eldest son who is being kept by her 

mother­in­law. Several of the participating Filipina wives were in fact separated or in the 

process of divorce after having provided the husband with children. Under Taiwanese 

law, these women have few custody rights and must obtain alternative visas to remain in 

the country once they have legally divorced.

Even when the relationship between Taiwanese husband and Filipina spouse are 

agreeable, family rejection and social stigma of the relationship cause problems. Loisa, 

for example, developed a romantic relationship with her factory supervisor. She said that 

treatment by Chinese and Filipino co­workers changed abruptly when they learned of the 

romance. When first introduced to her future in­laws, they were not very receptive: 

“...maybe they heard that many Filipinas, they just like the money. So they were afraid 

that [I’m] just fooling, I will fool him. So, at first they don't accept me. So, he asked for 

help for his brother to explain to his parents that I'm different.” She admits that even 

when they did accept her into the family, she was often lonely in the first years as she had 

no Taiwanese friends. She also notes that most of her friends today are found among the 

Filipino enclave in the Economic Processing Zone. Her children as well “very seldom 

play with pure Chinese,” instead socializing mostly with other bi­cultural Chinese­

Filipino children. 

Similarly, Mama Angel, who came as an arranged bride, found her husband’s 

family distrustful and sometimes exploitive. Her sister­in­law, who had paid for the 

marriage, would in­fact control all of their finances for several years as she was afraid 

that the Filipina bride would make off with her brother’s earnings:  “...we would give it to 

my sister­in­law. Every month NT $20,000. My husband's income was only NT 

$29,000.” Left with only about US $300 a month, they lived in a single room and ate 

instant noodles. She recounted being lonely, feeling cut off, and experiencing culture 

shock: “for the [first] six months staying here, I was crying.... I didn't eat noodles. Yes, 

that's why I'm always crying. I phoned to my family there to, to send some Philippine 

goods here in Taiwan, because I still do not, I cannot eat here.” It was not until three 

years later, although fluent in Taiwanese and working outside of the home in a beauty 

salon, that she found a since of place. She discovered the then quite small community of

Image 30 “Mama” Angel and her husband


Filipinos centered about the St. Joseph the Worker Parish. Today, while accepted to some 

degree by the Taiwanese community where she works as a beautician, she spends the 

majority of her time helping the church community, helping Filipino factory workers in 

need, and leading an evangelical religious group within the church. He husband too, has 

joined the church as an active member. However, relations with her sister­in­law and most 

of her Taiwanese family have been completely severed.

Linguistic Isolation

Few Filipinos speak Mandarin or Taiwanese before their arrival. Unlike other 

sending countries (Indonesia for example), the Philippine recruiters are not required to 

train laborers in Chinese language. As a result, Filipino workers are linguistically isolated 

from the community. Unable to really converse with Taiwanese co­workers or the public, 

the are further limited in their incorporation into the community. As Fr. Ciceri explains, 

linguistic isolation is compounded by their temporary status and few incentives to really 

learn the language:

Filipinos, they don’t want to learn the language, they don’t, they don’t
learn. Culturally, I don’t think there is much of integration here because
first of all the migrant workers they know I come here only for one year,
two years, three years. So even here, we have people who stay with us [at
the shelter] for a couple of months sometimes and they cannot work,
because they have problems so they are not allowed to work. So, we
would like to, we don’t want them that they just sleep all day and
everything, so we try for example to have Chinese classes or English
classes for the Indonesians. There is no way. They are not interested.

Basically, these people, all they want to do is to make money. They just
come here. ‘I want to make money, I don’t want to learn the language.
Why I should learn the language? And after three years I go home.’ I said
yeah, but for three years you have to live with the family. If they give you
an order, you have to understand the order and things like that. But, there
is no way that the, even with effort to learn it’s very difficult. Maybe
because of that, they know the situation of temporality so why I should
make an effort for that?

Among factory workers surveyed, their average self reported Mandarin and Taiwanese 

abilities were both only 1.1 (on a scale of 5). Few had learned more than enough to get 

them through simple transactions in the shops and enough to understand the basic 

assignments at work. 

Those who had learned enough Chinese to be conversational often helped their 

non­English speaking supervisors by translating instructions to the other workers. Others 

like Arlene, who was the most fluent often even translating documents for her employer, 

found that speaking Chinese empowered them to confront discriminatory treatment:

...there was this incident where I went to Napoleon Pizza, yeah and I went
there and they usually give you a plastic cup for drinks. We had our pizza
and then were not given this plastic cup. So, the waitress, the service girl,
was telling that she gave it to me. So, I talked back to her and I was
talking to her in Chinese. She was shocked. She reacted with her big eyes.
Then all of a sudden, she was so embarrassed, because she never thought I
could speak Mandarin. Then the manager approached me and asked for
apology. Yeah, and when I, when I went to the public restroom, then there
was this young lady she was talking in Mandarin, she was talking about
me, about Filipinas, and then I, I told this young lady, ‘Hey watch your
mouth.’ I said, I was talking to her in Mandarin, she didn’t say anything.
But I noticed, you know, she had a dreadful face because I was telling her
you know, hey watch your mouth. I mean some Filipinos can speak
mandarin and understand Mandarin so you better watch out. So…she was
so embarrassed.

Lan (2003b) notes that, at least among Taiwanese employers of domestic workers, 

there may even be a preference for those who do not speak Chinese as they are unable to 

overhear the private concerns of the family and also may be called upon to be English 

teachers for the family. While domestic workers are more likely than factory workers to 

learn Mandarin or Taiwanese, most yet communicate with their employers in English. 

Even, Mama Linda, who had been here the longest, said she could only speak “a little” 


Filipina wives of Chinese men, on the other hand, were very likely to learn 

Mandarin or Taiwanese. As permanent residents they had the most incentive to learn. 

Sarah for example, a former factory worker who recently has returned on a tourist visa 

and married a Taiwanese man she met at her company, says she is struggling to learn 

Chinese to be able to better communicate with her in­laws. Now, she primarily 

communicates with her husband and in­laws (with whom she lives) in English. Learning 

Chinese has also been seen as empowering for other spouses. It was not until Mama 

Angel felt confident in Taiwanese that she confronted her sister­in­law about her 

financial abuses. Likewise, knowledge of Mandarin, has given Rosalyn the opportunity 

for employment as a coordinator in one of the factories. Yet, all of the Filipina spouses 

preferred to socialize on a daily basis with other Filipinos rather than with the 

Question N Mean Std.

I Like Chinese 341 2.95 1.026
I have a good relationship 335 3.05 .940
with Chinese
I have had problems with 295 2.41 1.242
Table 8-1 Intergroup Relations/Attitudes toward Chinese

Taiwanese. Thus, while fluency is more common among the spouses of Taiwanese, it is 

only out of necessity that they learn the language.


The results of their temporary status, no option for long­term residence, as well as 

isolation, segregation, and discrimination in work and social life is a clearly seen 

indifference toward or even rejection of Taiwanese culture and languages by the 

Filipinos. In the survey of factory workers, most reported neither a strong liking nor 

disliking of Chinese. Nor did they report having either a “good relationship” with them 

or “problems” with them. Likewise, few ethnography participants reported any strong 

affinity for Taiwanese people. A few did, however, report outright dislike of the 

Taiwanese most often when there were clear disputes with employers, supervisors or co­


Such was the case with Leonardo, one of the Chi Chin Island shipbuilders. A 

dispute over back pay and unpaid overtime had been mounting. He and his co­workers 

had already reported to the broker and were looking at going to MECO to file a formal 

complaint. Apparently, recent management turn over and the merger with another 

company had resulted in  number of disputes with upper management. Typically neutral 

attitudes toward Chinese turned into strong dislike:

Leonardo: ...I hate bad people. Like the secretaries. I hate them. The production
managers, I hate them also. Because....
Stephen: Why is that? What do they do you hate them?

Image 31 Edwin answering his TST while Julie watches

Leonardo: Because the way they treat the Philippine people.

Stephen: The way they treat you?
Leonardo: Yeah. I don't like that.
Stephen: Describe how they treat you. Give me an example...
Leonardo: ...Like they, they giving warning papers76 to the Philippine people.
Then, also in the house, I pay for all of it [electricity, room and board, a special
fee for linens and furnishings]. But, why they give my friend, they gave him a
warning. Why? We pay the electricity, water bill, all of them. Why they enter the
house? Also the factory, they treat me like a robot. Give me warning. I think
Everyday, they give warning papers.....

In Leonardo’s company, they routinely inspect the dorms. Anytime a light or fan is
left on when no one is around, they are fined and receive a warning letter. Three
warnings may result in being fired and repatriated.

Again, while most Filipinos were indifferent toward Taiwanese culture, there were 

also a very few who had built strong relationships with individual Taiwanese. It must be 

noted that in most of these cases, the Taiwanese person was quite unique and had first 

developed a strong affinity for Filipinos.77 Edwin, for instance, had been dating a Chinese 

woman he met on his first trip to Taiwan five years ago. Recently returned, they 

maintained their relationship long­distance while he was in the Philippines for over two­

years. He declares his intention to one day marry her, however, they have yet to tell her 

parents of their relationship. They say this is in part due to the language barrier, but also 

in apprehension of their reaction. 


Segregations, isolation, and exclusion from the social and political process within 

Taiwan has restricted any opportunities of becoming integrated and incorporated into the 

host community. Filipino migrants are excluded, not only by a xenophobic populace 

fueled by essentialist depictions in the media, but also by governmental policies that 

restrict movement, limit residence, and impede any opportunities of equality in the labor 

force. Moreover, culture shock, experienced by recent émigrés is exacerbated by the 

racial discrimination and prejudice they experience in the workplace and in public 
Specifically there were three exceptional cases. Pastor Chris Marzo’s wife is a
Taiwanese minister whom he met in the seminary in the Philippines. Edwin’s fiancée
is one of two Taiwanese members of his Jesus is Lord church. Finally, “Joshua” spoke
of his strong relationship with his boss whom he saw as a “mother” figure who often
gave him additional financial support.

settings. These prejudices, while directed at all foreigners, are most forceful applied to 

Southeast Asian laborers. Filipino migrants, socially and linguistically cut off from 

becoming incorporated into the Taiwanese society, feel neither strong like nor dislike for 

their employers. This indifference, thus restricts the path toward acculturation and 

eventual assimilation.
Image 33 A Typical worker’s bunk (Chi Chin Island)
Image 32 “No Laziness” policy posted in the dorms

Image 34 A Typical worker’s bunk (Green House) Image 35 Nan Tze workers enjoying a meal in their




[Transnationalism is]a condition in which, despite great distances and  
notwithstanding the presence of international borders (and all the laws,  
regulations and national narratives they represent), certain kinds of relationships  
have been globally intensified and now take place paradoxically in a planet­
spanning yet common – however virtual – arena of activity.
­ Vertovec 1999

I have shown that Taiwan, as a receiving environment, is less than hospitable to 

workers from developing countries. Struggling to negotiate its own sense of ethnic and 

national identity, and its place within the international arena, it distances itself from other 

Southeast Asian countries. Public sentiment, reinforced by media depictions and 

governmental policies, has created a hostile environment that rejects labor migrants as 

being “less than.” Importation of labor has been seen as unavoidable allowing Taiwan­

based manufacturers to continue to compete in a global market that now includes former 

peripheral nations such as Vietnam and Malaysia, as well as historic competitors like 

Korea and the People’s Republic of China. 

Within this space, I have argued that Filipino migrants are isolated and excluded 

from Taiwanese society and culture. Recognizing the patron/benefactor relationship with 

their employers (factory or domestic employment alike), they nonetheless experience 

rejection and exclusion from economic, social, and political participation in the 

community. Thus, their opportunity for integration into the mainstream is constrained by 

the nature of the receiving context. Moreover, the temporary nature of their sojourning 

limits the long­term possibility of acceptance within this context. Even those migrants 

Response I feel I feel

Taiwanese Filipino
Strongly 16.0% 1.3%
Disagree 6.8% 1.3%
Somewhat 29.0% 0.6%
Somewhat 30.4% 40.6%
Agree 15.4% 8.9%
Strongly Agree 2.4% 47.3%
Table 9-1 Cultural Identity

who eventually marry Taiwanese and permanently settle find that their only place is 

within the context of the enclave.78


While the Taiwanese context does not allow for full inclusion into the dominant 

society, many Filipino migrants perceive themselves as having tried to adapt culturally to 

the setting in which they live. As potential measures of ethnic/cultural identity, the survey 

See for example the recent story of Bing Go who, after 13 years in Taiwan “is the
owner of a Filipino grocery store in Taipei. Her store has served her fellow Filipinos for
many years.” While the January 3, 2004 China Post news report (Filipino Grocery
Store Owner Enjoys Life In Taiwan) touts her as proof "that a foreigner can fit in well
in Taiwan and enjoy a comfortable life here," it is clear that her only place within the
society is in the economic fringes of the enclave that servers her co-ethnics rather
than within the mainstream economy.

posed questions on feelings of being caught between cultures and strategies for dealing 

with multiple cultural spaces.79 While 98% of respondents indicated that they feel  

Filipino, nearly half (48%) also indicated feeling Taiwanese. Yet, I argue, this perception 

is due more from their marginality and lack of fitting anyplace and the fact that they are 

not living within their own cultural milieu. In all other measures of acculturation and 

integration, there is little evidence of performance of Taiwanese culture. This statistic, 

however, may be of interest in studying returnees and their social re­integration in the 

homeland as they may feel like foreigners after living abroad for so long.

What's more, the concept of biculturalism holds that this duality of identities is 

not inconsistent. Rather, in a given setting one may choose between cultures or even mix 

and combine them. In this sample, nearly 60% of respondents indicated that they engaged 

in some form of biculturalism. Thirty­one percent maintained distinct cultural spaces or 

what I have referred to previously  as a bicultural identity in which cultural space 

determines performance of cultural. 28% mix cultures in what has been called a 

hybridized identity. Only 40% practiced Filipino culture alone. Further evidence of 

perceived biculturalism is found in the fact that 44% felt “caught between cultures.” 

Based in part on the Benet-Martinez Acculturation Scale found retrieved on April 12, 2004.

Combine both
Only Filipino 28%

Keep cultural spaces


Only Taiwanese
1% Biculturalism

Figure 9-1 Bicultural vs. Monoculture Strategies

Linguistic Assimilation Scale






10 Std. Dev = 8.33

Mean = 16.9
0 N = 377.00
0.0 5.0 10.0 15.0 20.0 25.0 30.0 35.0 40.0
2.5 7.5 12.5 17.5 22.5 27.5 32.5 37.5

Linguistic Assimilation Scale

Figure 9-2 Distribution of Respondents along Linguistic Assimilation Scale



Use of the languages of the host country is indicator of immigrant assimilation. In 

this case, English, as an international language of commerce, was the de facto means of 

communication with Chinese co­workers and employers, while Filipino languages were 

most commonly used with peers. Understandably, those who had been in Taiwan the 

longest indicated greater language ability, using Mandarin and Taiwanese with 

employers, co­workers, and friends (correlation between trips and speaking Mandarin 

R=.270 p<.000). Taiwanese was used more often than Mandarin with co­workers.80 There 

was a slight, yet statistically significant, correlation (R=.135 p<.01) between the feeling 

of being caught between cultures and linguistic ability (computed as a summative index 

of self­reported ability and frequency of use). This may be indicative of the effects of 

attempting to, at least linguistically, assimilate within a non­receptive context. While 

endeavoring to use the local language and “fit­in” with Taiwanese co­workers, the worker 

is nonetheless excluded from the society and thus feels caught “between” cultures. It may 

also be related to the length of time in the context. As Chinese or Taiwanese language use 

increases over time, so too does separation from the homeland and again a feeling of 

being caught “between” cultures.

Nan Tze is located in Kaohsiung County in the South of Taiwan where, especially
among the working class, people speak Taiwanese first and Mandarin second.


Other factors affecting immigrant assimilation in Taiwan are the opportunities to 

maintain their homeland culture, as well as their frequency of homeland contact. Within 

the context of the EPZ, where so many Filipinos live together, businesses catering to 

minority migrants may be found. Likewise, the migrants themselves have opportunities to 

establish formal groups and organizations that outlast their individual contract periods. 

Businesses (primarily operated by Filipina wives of Taiwanese or by Filipino­Chinese 

who have migrated to Taiwan) and formal groups are instrumental in the maintenance of 

homeland culture. The more formal, semi­governmental institutions (such as the Manila

Economic and Cultural Office), in participation with churches and NGOs, host cultural

and social events such as Philippine Independence Day celebration, basketball

tournament, “brain twister” trivia competition I documented. Likewise, area businesses 

(owned by Filipinas married to Taiwanese) observe theses holidays and festivals of the 

Philippines and thus help to preserve a sense of shared history and sentimental ties to 

their native land. Accordingly, these establishments reinforce solidarity among Filipinos 

and encourage an awareness of shared ethnic identity.

These institutions also provide for ways in which to stay in contact with friends 

and relations back home and to continue to participate in the social life of the homeland. 

MECO for example permits the migrant to participate in the Philippine national social

security and insurance programs, and even to vote in national elections. Local businesses

provide courier services, money transfers, shipping, as well as selling imported Filipino

products, newspapers, magazines, videos, long-distance cards telephone cards and cell

phones. This frequent contact with homeland culture and communication with 

individuals in the Philippines acts to maintain an orientation toward the native country 

thus limiting the degree of assimilation that may occur. As return migration is 

guaranteed, maintenance of social and financial ties in the Philippines is imperative for 

later reintegration into the homeland society. 

Image 36 Lantern decorating the streets during Spring Lantern Festival

Holidays and Cultural Celebrations

Celebration of host country festivals also is an indicator of cultural assimilation 

and adoption of local practices. Similarly, continued observance of Philippine holidays 

signifies an orientation toward the homeland. These practices, again, are not mutually 

exclusive. One may adopt the cultural practices of the destination country while 

maintaining the important cultural events of the home country. Likewise, there are 

different degrees of observance of a cultural holiday from active participation to merely 

taking a mandatory day off from work. 

In all, 61% of respondents observed at least one Chinese holiday, with 17% 

celebrating three or more events during the year. Chinese New Year (57%), Moon Cake 

Festival (34%), and Dragon Boat Festival (29%) were the most popular. For comparison, 

77% of respondents marked a Filipino holiday while in Taiwan, and 53% celebrated three 

or more. Most popular were Christmas (70%), New Year’s Day (66%), and Lent/Easter 

(56%). Ethnography participants spoke of attending some of the cultural celebrations of 

Taiwanese co­workers, yet they actively participated only in Filipino festivals. Jenny, for 

example, talked of having attended the Kaohsiung city celebration of Lantern Festival 

(Yuan Hsiao Jie 元宵節):81 There’s something that I like about the Taiwanese, the 

Lantern Festival. Do you know it?.. I went out two years ago with my husband and its 

beautiful, it’s fun.

See for more on Lantern








Textual Media TV Movies

Tagalog English Chinese

Figure 9-3 Media Usage by Language


Media clearly is seen as a primary agent of socialization. As such, it teaches the 

cultural values, styles, language, and predominant beliefs of a society. In this way, media 

represents an agent of acculturation to the migrant. It is expected that the greater the 

exposure to the media of the host country, the greater the degree of acculturation will 

result. In the case of Filipinos in Taiwan, they are exposed not only to the host country 

media and imported media from the Philippines, but also to international media in 

English. It was found that international media was by far the most commonly available 

and utilized, followed by imported newspapers, magazines, and movies from the 


Frequency of Contact & Remittances

In the survey, the amount and frequency of remittances, as well as the means and 

regularity of communication with friends and family in the homeland were assessed.



70% 68%





Phone Text message letters/ e-mail internet chat Couriers I don't
Packages via post communicate with
people back home

Figure 9-4 Method of Communication with Friends/Family in Philippines



25.0% 24.4%






Never/ Almost Monthly Several times a Weekly Several times a Daily Several times a
Never month week day

Figure 9-5 Frequency of Contact

One­hundred percent of respondents had some form of continued contact with friends or 

family in the Philippines. More than half communicated weekly or more often. As a sign 

of the growing number of communications technologies available, 72% of respondents 

maintained ties by two or more means of contact, 53% by more than two, and 20% by 

more than three. Consistent with a recent study by Siemens Mobile Phones,82 Filipinos 

prefer the ease and low­cost of cell phones for staying connected. Yet, 31% of 

respondents used the internet (for chat and/or e­mail). By comparison, 63% of the US 

“Filipino wireless subscribers would rather use their mobile phones first than resort
to personal computers (PCs), and if they don't receive a text message or call for a
long time they constantly check their handsets.” Tabingo, Manolette February 12,
2004 Filipinos prefer cellphones over PCs BusinessWorld

population uses the internet, 83 approximately 58% of Taiwanese are users, 84 and only 4% 

of the population of the Philippines are users.85 Thus, this group (and by extension those 

friends and family with whom they are communicating) are especially connected when 

compared to the general population of the Philippines. 

Like most Filipinos, Roland has loved ones back home. He contacts his wife and 

two children at least once a week. He prefers to use the cell phone to both text message 

and call her:

Stephen: How often do you call her or contact her now while you've been living
in Taiwan?
Roland: Hmm, About once a week.
Stephen: Once a week?
Roland: Yeah.
Stephen: Ah, Do you call or do text message?
Roland: I use call and text message. Both.
Stephen: Both. Okay.
Roland: Yeah.
Stephen: And how much do you spend each month in telephone calls?
Roland: It's about one thousand five hundred [US $42].
Stephen: One thousand five hundred. So you buy, you buy those cards?
Roland: Yeah.
Stephen: Yeah. Ah, More than one thousand five hundred...
Roland: Yeah. More than...
Stephen: That's a lot of calling.
Roland: Yeah. Cause sometimes they don't like, ah, she don't like to call ah, a
little time.
Stephen: Right. She wants to talk for a long time?

Pew Internet and American Life Project. 2004. “Complete data memo on wireless
connectivity, e-shopping, auctions, and Internet demographics” April 13, 2004
Retrieved on April 14, 2004
&Field=Level1ID&ID=516 )
China Internet Network Information Center
3.4 million users ( ÷ 84.5
million Filipinos (Central Intelligence Bureau 2003).

Roland: She wants a long time.

While the overall impact and value of remittances have been debated in terms of 

furthering development in many countries, it has been observers that “the willingness to 

send money to family or community members indicates a tangible form of engagement in 

the lives of residents of the home country” (DeSipio 2000a).86 Again, almost all 

respondents (99%) indicated that they remit funds with 80% sending money one or more 

times a month. The frequency of this tie alone shows a strong bond and commitment to 

those in the Philippines. 

Remittances are used for everything from everyday living expenses, future 

savings, buying or improving properties, or starting a small business. Most respondents 

indicated that the send between 5,000 to 10,000 NT monthly, or roughly one­third to one­

half of their salary:

Grace: ...It's okay if there are lots of money, but sometimes only have a little
overtime. So sometimes I, every month I will, ah, my money go to Philippines. I
give my money in the Philippines. To my mom. So...
Stephen: How much do you send back to your mom?
Grace: Maybe ten thousand.
Stephen: Ten thousand pesos or NT?
Grace: Pesos. So...
Stephen: So about seven thousand NT?

DeSipio, Louis (2000a) Adaptation or a New Immigrant Reality? An Agnostic View of
"Transnationalism" Among Latin American Immigrants. University of Illinois at
Urbana-Champaign accessed at: &
DeSipio, Louis (2000b) Sending Money Home…For Now: Remittances And Immigrant
Adaptation In The United States. Tomas Riviera Institute Working Papers accessed at:

Grace: Yes. Maybe sometimes fifteen thousand. If I have lots of money. So I will
give my mother fifteen thousand.
Stephen: Okay. And what do you do with the rest of the of your money?
Grace: I spend in my, in my savings.
Stephen: In your savings? Okay.
Grace: Yes.
Stephen: You put it in savings?
Grace: Yes.
Stephen: Ah, how much have you been able to save in one year?
Stephen: In one year? I have two hundred thousand [pesos].

As expected, labor migrants reported that their greatest monthly expenditures 

were remittances and savings, followed by living expenses and pasalubong,87 a Filipino 

tradition of giving gifts upon return from travels. Surprisingly, 46% of respondents 

indicated that they had borrowed money while in Taiwan. About half of all borrowed 

monies came from other family members, while a full third were borrowed from 

Taiwanese loan sharks. Often this was to pay off high interest loans that were used for 

placement fees or to pay for unexpected financial obligations from families in the 

Philippines. For example, when asked to explain loans typical survey responses included:

• “emergency (my nephew was admitted to the hospital)”

• “for family and for money previously borrowed in the Philippines.”
• “For the placement fee of my brother and for the burial of my father”

While survey respondents’ savings averaged NT$5123 monthly (about US $150), 

remittances averaged about NT$8267 monthly (around US $240). The most popular 

This cultural practice of sending or giving gifts when away on a sojourn often
becomes quite costly. See this site for a more detailed

means of transfer has become the use of international ATM machines (39%). There often 

is a fee at both sending and receiving banks, however it is less than wire transfers and 

couriers. However, due partially to the lack of banks in more remote regions of the 

Philippines, a fair number of survey respondents did use private money transfer 

companies (28%) and even private couriers (22%) who have door­to­door service.

Other Return to stay

in Philippines

Return for a time then to

another country Return for a time
46% then come back

Figure 9-6 Plans for Return


Looking Ahead: Future Plans after Return

The Philippines have firmly established a culture of migration, both by 

governmental efforts to promote overseas remittances and encouragement as well as by a 

history of circular labor migration. This culture is readily apparent in the future plans of 

Filipino labor migrants in Taiwan. Nearly two­thirds of current migrants had plans to 

either return to Taiwan or step­migrate to another country when their contracts expire. Of 

those who planned to go back to the Philippines permanently, 61% were on their second 

or subsequent trip to Taiwan.88 Those survey respondents returning to their homeland for 

good listed various plans from dreams of opening a business to hopes of getting married 

and having children:

• “Since this is my second time here, I am saving more of my salary and planning
to use it to stay and open a small business in the Philippines after I finish my
contract here”
• “Get married soon. Look again for another job in the Philippines after the end of
my contract here”
• “My plan is to have a business in the Philippines which will uplift the standard of
life of my family and to apply also the course I finished like working in
telecommunication company or computer area”

Ethnography participants also indicated a wide range of future plans: onward

migration to other countries, return for another “tour of duty” in Taiwan, and permanent

return migration to the homeland. Most who planned for return to the Philippines hoped

to start a business, MaFe, for example, plans to stay for her full three years in Taiwan so
Recall that as of 2002 labor migrants are allowed to stay for two 3-year contract
period in their lifetime.

that she will be able to earn enough for her family to improve their situation. She

becomes emotional as we talk about this long period in Taiwan and her plans for return:

Stephen: Do you think you'll stay for three years or just two years?
Fe: Three years.
Stephen: Three years.
Fe: Yeah. If the company wants me to stay in three years, I still three years. But, I
want to save. I want to save for, ah, when I return to the Philippines I, I have ah,
money to put a small business or for my, and for the education of my son.
Stephen: Right.
Fe: Anyway, I told my husband to be good to his child. Ah, so that if ever, that,
ah, that I, I return, we could still pay our debts.
Stephen: So, you're helping to pay off those debts and then go back to the
Philippines and then a small business. What kind of business would you have?
Fe: Ah, I plan to have a, I cannot say it now. I cannot say it now because I still
plan for it. Or what's, I’m still studying for, for it.


Filipino migrants in Taiwan do view themselves in some respects as bicultural or 

“caught between cultures.” However the other evidence presented indicates a lack of 

cultural, social, and linguistic assimilation. Overall levels of Chinese/Taiwanese language 

fluency, close personal ties with Chinese, and participation in cultural activities and 

holidays of Taiwan all were low. Moreover, by means of the permanent institutions in 

Taiwan that serve Filipinos homeland culture is maintained. Especially within the 

enclaves surrounding the EPZs, we find that a transnational Filipino community has 

developed. Within this community, we find trans­border commerce, utilization of 

boundary ­crossing communications technologies, celebrations of homeland culture, as 

well as continued daily participation social, economic, and political in the homeland. Yet, 

the perception of biculturalism is important. Nearly 60% of labor migrants reported using 

one of the strategies of biculturalism: combining cultures or practicing both cultures in 

separate social spaces. Thus, while they attempt to be included within the receiving 

community and see themselves as a part of it, they are disallowed by the host culture 

from finding a social space in which they may belong. Thus, they create a transnational 

space of their own. While geographically located within Taiwan, this community is 

borderless and unbounded while it goes about its pattern of everyday interactions. 



For most Christian maids we interviewed, going to church...was primarily

to seek solace in a habitual refuge or, for those who attend Filipino mass
conducted in Tagalog, to forge a sense of identity and comradeship with
- Yeoh and Huang 2000 (Singapore)

Controlling foreign domestics’ social networks is particularly central to

Taiwanese employers. While all Taiwanese employers are concerned that
their domestics might run away, employers who deploy rhetoric of the
other tend to use extreme forms of surveillance....They did not want them
to go to church on Sundays either. Mrs. Hsia required the domestic to
return home right after the church service. Mrs. Chen used extra pay to
convince her domestic to stay on Sundays. A-Ho designated a weekday as
the rest day. For them, church provides the domestics with dangerous and
unwelcome information and networks. Church symbolizes the conversion
of docile and submissive laborers to rebellious and resistant workers.
- Cheng 2003

Lowe (2001) found that in Hong Kong workers constructed a strong social 

identity as a “defense against their marginalization in their daily interactions with their 

employers.” Similarly, Filipino migrants in Taiwan, experiencing xenophobia and racial 

discrimination, looked to one another for protection and mutual support, forming a 

transnational enclave within the Taiwanese society. Formal institutions (churches, 

businesses, and NGOs) have provided the core of this transnational enclave in Taiwan, 

reinforcing the Filipino laborer’s sense of ethnic and national identity and providing a 

social and physical space in which they may continue to perform homeland culture. 

Each of the institutions has played a role in this maintenance of culture. Business, 

often operated by the Filipina spouses of Taiwanese men, provide Philippine products, 

food, and communications services. Pseudo­governmental NGOs like MECO provide 

formal legal services and help to arbitrate issues with the Taiwanese government on 

behalf of Filipino citizens in Taiwan. Yet, it is the churches (and principally the Catholic 

Church’s worldwide network of ministries for OFWs) that provide the ultimate sense of 

solidarity and connectedness with the homeland. 


When Christianity was first introduced to Formosa Island in the early 1600’s, the 

island was already a contested space, with Chinese, Dutch, Spanish, and Japanese laying 

claim to the land. According to Dr. Chen Yang­En (2002), Associate Professor of Church 

History at Taiwan Theological College and Seminary, Dutch missionaries were the first 

to bring Western doctrine to the aboriginal population. Soon after, Spanish Catholic 

missions were also established. Both the Spanish and Dutch were driven out by the now­

legendary Chinese folk­hero Koxinga. 89 It was over two­hundred years later, in the mid­

1800s that English and Canadian Presbyterian missionaries arrived. Dr. Chen explains 

This is the Dutch transliteration of his name. There are various transliterations of
his Chinese name: Cheng Chen-Gong (鄭成功) See'sShrine.htm and even for more.

that, “because of the anti­foreign mentality of the Taiwanese people, many religion­

related incidents occurred, which resulted in missionaries and local converts 

experiencing various afflictions and persecutions” (2002).

Occupied by the Japanese from the late 1800s, Formosa Island was ceded to 

China in 1943. Under the leadership of Chiang Kai-Shek (蔣介石) and the Kuomintang

(中國國民黨,also KMT or Nationalist Party), the island was governed from the

Mainland. However, Chiang Kai-Shek and his party were defeated in a civil war with

Mao Tse-Tung (毛澤東) and retreated to the island in 1949, bringing with them a number

of denominations (Asian and Western alike) that were exiled by the Communist Party.

According to Chen (2002), Protestants and Catholics combined make up only 2-3% of

the entire Taiwanese population with 75%-80% practicing Buddhism, Taoism, or other 

native “Folk Religions.”


While the Vatican maintains diplomatic relations with the “renegade province” of 

Taiwan, according to researcher Else DeVido (2002) of the Taipei Ricci Institute, only 

about 1% of the population is Catholic. Formally recognized by the Vatican in 1951, the 

Catholic Church in Taiwan established itself throughout the island in the 1950s, building 

schools, orphanages, hospitals, and parishes. It was during this period that St. Mary’s in 

Kaohsiung (where many of the ship­builders from Chi Chin Island as well as domestic 

workers throughout the city attend) and St. Joseph the Worker in Nan Tze (where nearly 

600 factory workers worship) were established. 

During what DeVido (2002) calls the “Transition­to­development stage, 1965­

1975” the church was involved in many efforts to address “the disparities and social

injustices exacerbated and/or created by rapid economic and industrial development.”

Projects that addressed concerns of the marginalized aboriginal population were of

special concern. Likewise, it was during this period that Stella Maris International 

Seamen's Center in Kaohsiung was founded “for the American Vietnam soldiers who 

were taking their ‘Rest and Recreation’ in Kaohsiung” and later to assist sailors of all 

nationalities who were in need of repatriation, legal council, or simply a place to relax 

(Ciceri 2001).

By the 1990s, labor migrants from the Philippines had begun attending English 

masses at Catholic Churches throughout the island. With the mission of the church 

turning to the “health and safety concerns for workers, employment counseling, worker’s 

rest and spirituality centers” (DeVido 2002) more comprehensive social services 

developed to meet their needs. According to Fr. Ciceri (2001), the formal 

institutionalization of social­welfare programs for migrants began in the 1980s when the 

church established the Migrant Workers Concern Desk, in Taipei to serve then 

undocumented migrants. By 1994, the Episcopal Commission for Migrant and Itinerant  

People (ECMI) was established and in 1997, National Migration Sunday was declared as 

the last Sunday in September. In 1998, priests involved in the social and pastoral care of 

migrants organized the first Meeting of the Diocesan Coordinators 90

In the 1990s, all over Taiwan, the Catholic Churches had become the focal point 

for the communities of Filipino labor migrants. Small parishes, like St. Joseph’s, which 

had dwindled to less than fifty Taiwanese members, became re­invigorated with the 

influx of Catholic workers from the Philippines. With 800 to 900 regular parishioners 

(most Filipinos) attending the English Mass at St. Mary’s in Kaohsiung social 

celebrations such as Philippine Independence Day and other holidays were celebrated. 

The churches, thus served not only as spiritual centers, but also as social spaces in which 

to build solidarity with other co­nationals. As Fr. Ciceri explains, the priests at St. Mary’s 

(only a few blocks from the Seamen’s Center) recognized the special needs of this 


[They] realized that the needs of these workers were more than just
spiritual and opened the doors of the Stella Maris International Seamen’s
Center. On Sundays, the second floor of the Stella Maris became a “home
away from home” for many Filipino workers: free lunch was offered to
anyone who showed up at the door, parlor games, discos and other
activities were organized to ease the loneliness and the difficulties
experienced by the Filipino migrant workers (Ciceri 2001).

The second meeting was not held until July of 2003. I was fortunate to attend and
videotape this conference.

Equally, the churches provided a place where workers could turn for support and 

assistance. As Fr. Ciceri (2001) explains, “the Church became a point of reference for 

these workers with labor related problems: often the priest was called upon to mediate 

between employer and broker.” In Kaohsiung especially, Fr. Ciceri indicates that there 

was a “leadership vacuum” at the Non­governmental agencies charged with maintaining 

the health and welfare of workers (i.e. the Manila Economic and Cultural Office, MECO) 

leading to a more important role for the church in these issues:

I think, when I arrive back 1996, the situation was pretty bad with the, the
Filipino government. The official in that position, they were not really
helping the worker. They were really siding with the broker. And I don’t
have any problem to say, they were very corrupt. And they were getting, I
think, a lot of money from the broker and everything. And, ah, so at that
time I was fighting against broker, employer and the Manila Economic
and Cultural Office. But eventually we were able to change their labor
attaché. We have the sort of campaign here and in Philippines so the labor
attaché was changed and new people came in and I think they were really
reform the Manila Economic and Cultural Office

Recognizing all nationalities of labor migrants in need, Stella Maris was renamed the 

Stella Maris International Service Center in 1999, with the shelter receiving some 

funding from the City of Kaohsiung Bureau of Labor Affairs as the Management and  

Counseling Center for Foreign Workers in Southern Kaohsiung.91 In a catchy 2001 
Kaohsiung was divided into two districts, with Stella Maris serving the South and
the Management and Counseling Center for Foreign Workers in Northern Kaohsiung
(高雄市北區外勞諮詢輔導中心), operated by Rev. Lin Cheng-Hong (林正宏牧師) and the
Presbyterian Church of Taiwan. It was my observation that the North Center, located
in Nan Tze, served primarily Thai and Vietnamese workers, with the majority of
Filipino workers preferring to go to Fr. Ciceri at Stella Maris or MECO for assistance.
Jonah Lin, program secretary and manager of daily operations at the center, provided
me with a tour of the establishment and an on-camera interview. While they did have
a small number of Filipinos attending Bible study, the majority of their focus

newspaper article, Fr. Ciceri refers to his role at the center as the “‘7­Eleven’ nanny to 

foreign laborers in Taiwan, sometimes work[ing] around­the­clock in his Kaohsiung 

office to serve the foreign workers and sailors who take temporary shelter in Taiwan” 

(Kuo 2001). Now, legally recognized by the Taiwanese government,92 the center provides 

free temporary accommodation to migrant workers, foreign spouses, and stranded 

seamen (Ciceri 2001). It also provides legal assistance and advocacy, counseling, 

spiritual assistance, networking opportunities, education, hospital visitation, and 

recreational activities. 


Fr. Ciceri also supervised the schedule of English masses at the smaller parishes in the 

Kaohsiung area and much of Southern Taiwan (Tung Kang, Nan Tze, Ping Tung, etc.). In 

Nan Tze specifically, he had taken over duties as the spiritual leader after the recent 

departure of a Filipino priest. The parish, established originally in 1956, had a Taiwanese 

membership of about 50 (served by Father Pan) and about 600 Filipino members. The 

physical space of the parish was defined by a five­foot wall surrounding the property.

appeared to be on serving the Thai population. Jonah indicated that they had better
ties with the Thailand Trade and Economic Office than MECO and had recently hired a
Thai social worker to help with the population.
A step they had to take after being raided by the Foreign Police in 1999.

Image 37 Original 1950s building of St. Joseph and outside seating area
(note the television used to see the happenings inside at the altar)

The chapel, built in the 1950s, was far too small to accommodate the large Filipino 

membership, so a large out­of­doors space, sheltered in part by a corrugated roof and 

overhanging trees, was lined with plastic stools and wooden benches during Sunday 

services. Several open­air bamboo structures were scattered about the property providing 

space for small group meetings and gatherings. The entire grounds themselves were 

covered in tropical flowers and trees, giving a very tropical feel in the midst of a highly 

industrialized town.

This space, while providing a refuge for the Filipinos from the Nan Tze EPZ and 

a focal point of social activities in the community, had recently become a contested space 

as. The Taiwanese members of the church had plans to build a much larger chapel on the 

property, however they lacked the funds. A struggle had ensued over the offerings 

collected during well­attended English­Tagalog masses and during “joint” religious 

Image 38 A group meeting under the shade of trees at St. Joseph’s

celebrations. Filipino patrons of the church had historically used the majority of these 

funds to sponsor future celebrations, as well as to cover the daily operating expenses of 

the church. Ellen explained: “They [the Taiwanese members] want the money, they want 

to put in the savings of the Chinese because we’re in one church. But, it’s very difficult 

because sometimes the Filipino need the expenses. It’s very difficult to get the money if 

they’re in the Chinese savings account. So we get angry because this is a discrimination.” 

The division became even greater since it was decided that Mama Angle, who is married 

to a Taiwanese member and has her Taiwanese citizenship, would be treasurer for the 

monies collected from the Filipinos:

Angel: And then when Fr. Angelo come...he told me that I'm living here, so I'm
the one who'll be taking charge of the expenses and the collections. And then, the
Filipino priest, not the...
Stephen: He resigned?
Angel: Yes, and then Fr. Bruno, he told me that...I'm the one who can understand
what they are saying.
Stephen: Right.
Angel: Yes. What, what they are talking about, that's why they just, they to me bad words, other words, just like this priest...
Stephen: Yeah?
Angel: Yes. This, Taiwanese priest...
Stephen: Right?
Angel:.....always talking, just not like a priest, eh.
Stephen: He says bad words?
Angel: Yes, he say bad words. Yes, also.
Stephen: About the money.
Angel: Yes about the money. Yes. Because, they were looking after the Filipinos’
Stephen: The Filipinos raised the money themselves, but before the Taiwanese
were controlling the money?
Angel: Yeah...
Stephen: So, you were saying that the problems you were having with your role
as the treasurer....
Angel: Yes. And, before, I just, the Taiwanese was there. They want me to come
out to talk to them. I don't want to talk to them anymore, because they're
shouting. They're shouting... they said that this place is, is, is for the Chinese
people only.

Therefore, while the property is contested and a struggle over control for the fiscal 

control of the church is on­going, it is in effect a Filipino parish with over 90% of its 

regular members contract workers from the Philippines. 

More important perhaps than the control of the church are the regular activities 

that migrants find there. In addition to the regular morning and evening masses in 

English and Tagalog, the church has a variety of religious and social groups that meet 

there. Nearly half of respondents to the survey indicated that they were involved in a 

church related group (with 10% involved in multiple groups). The most popular of these 

groups is the El Shaddai movement93 followed by Bible study, Legion of Mary,94 and 

choir. More than three­quarters of respondents celebrated Christmas, Easter, or Feast of 

the Three Kings at the church. Another 12% were involved in traditional dance (Sinulog), 

and often practiced or performed at the church. Finally, St. Joseph’s was a major 

organizer of community events, which included other denominations and non­ church­

going Filipinos, such as the “Brain Twister” trivia competition and a very well attended 

basketball tournament.

It was the church, and the activities that they sponsor, that have become the 

central focus for the social life for many workers while in Taiwan. While no more 

religious than at home (workers indicated attending church less frequently in Taiwan, 

though praying more often),95 Filipino workers participated in many of these 
See profile of the El Shaddai movement at:
See more on Legion of Mary at retrieved
April 12, 2004.
Only 58% of respondents indicated attending services “every week” to “nearly
every week” while in Taiwan. On the other hand, 76% indicated that they attended
services “every week” to “nearly every week” in the Philippines. Nonetheless, 62% of
respondents indicate praying at every meal while living in Taiwan as compared to
57% when living in the Philippines. Thus, while religiosity (as measured by service
attendance) may be less than that in the Philippines, religious expression (praying at
meals) is slightly greater in Taiwan. The decrease in attendance at services may also
be attributed more to the limited free time rather than a decline in religiosity. When
offered over-time on Sundays most workers will choose to work rather than attend

Community outreach 9%
El Shaddai
4% 29%

Bible Study

Holiday/ Festival groups


Legion of Mary
15% Sinulog

Figure 10-1 Church Group Involvement

Image 39 A small turn out (due to SARS quarantine) for the

Independence Day celebrations at St. Joseph’s

Image 40 Teams prepare for the annual basketball competition

community activities  simply to be a part of a community. Moreover, the church itself, as 

a permanent institution, provided a continuity that was not possible from the short­term 

groupings of migrants on three­year contracts. Nor was it possible for any of the 

businesses, catering to the marginal economy of migrants with limited funds and dire 

economic obligations back home, to emerge as cornerstones of the migrant community. 

While they did provide daily gathering spots and cultural havens, the narrow profit 

margins, competition with Taiwanese owned businesses, and rapid turnover were too 

great to build the same level of community resources that the churches provide. Likewise, 

pseudo­governmental agencies such as MECO, while co­sponsoring many events, lacked 

the means and mandate to establish social centers in every town or economic zone where 

migrants were located. Finally, while Protestant groups, like the Higher Ground Free 

Methodist Church in Nan Tze and the Jesus is Lord Fellowship in Kang Shan, were able 

to provide a social and religious space to some, the Catholic Church’s fifty­year history 

of social activism with minority populations and workers in Taiwan (via CARITAS)96 

gave them an infrastructure with which to serve first the undocumented migrants in the 

1980s, and later the legally­imported laborers since 1992. Additionally, the vacancy left 

by the already declining population of Taiwanese Catholics and the fact that more than 

80% of Filipinos are Catholic (Central Intelligence Bureau 2003) created a logical match 

between existing churches lacking members and Filipinos needing a place in which to 

celebrate their culture. Yet, as noted by the case of St. Joseph’s, this match was not 

without its problems as local parishioners struggle to maintain dominance in churches 

where they are significantly out­numbered by migrant workers.


The void left in the Catholic church in Taiwan by dwindling numbers of Taiwanese 

Catholics, provided a space in which Filipino migrants may reconstruct a cultural refuge. 

While Taiwan traditionally is a Buddhist/Taoist nation, the peculiar circumstances of the 

flight of the Catholic church from the mainland to Taiwan provided an established, long­

term infrastructure that the Filipino migrants would utilize when they arrived in the 

1990s. Moreover, as a long­term institution, the church may act as bedrock to the 
See CARITAS at retrieved on April 14,

construction of a community of migrants. Providing daily activities, formal groups, and a 

setting in which to celebrate homeland culture, the church is the primary institution of 

the transnational community in Taiwan.

Image 41 A well-attended service at St. Joseph Church



Whatever happens, wrong or right, I did it myself. I feel confident… it's

amazing what one can do when no one is there to help you.
- Josephine

For me, it’s just a training ground, a training ground in different aspects
of our lives like in our, like here in the church. So, it’s a training ground
that we serve other people then. Not just the Mass alone, but the activities
outside. And then, when we go back to the Philippines, that’s the time that
we can really apply what we have learned here in different ways I think.
- Lanie

The experience of labor migration gives the individual an opportunity to live in 

another culture and exposes them to a fundamentally distinct world­view. It also 

challenges them to renegotiate their self­concept as their various roles and statuses have 

changed within the new social milieu. As explained previously, both micro and macro 

forces work to transform the individual as their identity is reinterpreted to be the “alien 


The receiving context plays a major structural role in this process. It is expected 

that a more inclusive receiving environment, especially one with existing models of 

pluralism or multi­culturalism, will lead to greater incorporation of migrants. In this 

case, a hostile receiving environment causes a loss of status and self­esteem. This 

exclusion and rejection may lead some groups to return migration or onward (step) 

migration. However, the constraints of huge debts, incurred as a result of labor placement 

fees, do not permit this option for most Filipinos. In the case of factory workers, the 

formation of an ethnic enclave, and institutions that maintain the enclave regardless of 

the temporary status of workers, has provided another option. As Filipinos redefine 

themselves as the minority out­group, they begin a process of re­building their sense of 

self­worth and strengthen their group solidarity. Following the argument of Tajfel (as 

cited in Smith and Bond 1998), there is only one possible outcome for Filipino migrants 

in Taiwan. They may not exercise Tajfel’s idea of social mobility, as there are no other 

minority groups they may join and the Taiwanese society is clearly not one of 

“individualistic cultures with their emphasis on equal opportunity and freedom of 

association.” Nor do they seek outright social change by changing “the attributes of their 

[own] group so that it would command more favorable evaluations in the future.” While, 

efforts are made by NGOs and churches to influence policy changes, little can be done 

without governmental support, educational, or media to influence the way in which 

migrants are perceived by the society. Thus, they exercise what Tajfel terms social  

creativity by reinforcing the cultural heritage of their homeland.

Now Before
Code N Percent N Percent
PT – Negative 19 16.7% 9 49.4%
PT – Neutral 19 16.7% 3 16.5%
PT – Positive 76 66.7% 7 34.2%
11 7
Total 4 100.0% 9 100.0%

SR -
Ethnic/Cultural 11 10.5% 0 0.0%
SR – 2
Occupational 20 19.0% 0 21.1%
SR – Relational 33 31.4% 3 55.8%
SR – Religious 37 35.2% 2 12.6%
SR – Activity 4 3.8% 4 4.2%
SR - Non-
Religious 0 0.0% 6 6.3%
10 9
Total 5 100.0% 5 100.0%

Other – Name 6 21.4% 1 10.0%

Other – Age 4 14.3% 0 0.0%
Other –
Geographic 1 3.6% 2 20.0%
Other - Time in
Taiwan 2 7.1% 0 0.00%
Other - Work
Related 8 28.6% 0 0.0%
Other –
Existential 7 25.0% 7 70.0%
Total 28 100.0% 0 100.0%

Table 11-1 Summary Table of Twenty Statements Tests Responses

Evidence of the micro­level process of the renegotiation of self­concept comes 

from an analysis of the 432 responses to the Twenty Statements Test and the subsequent 

explanation of those responses in personal interviews. The responses, split between a 

reflection on identity before migration and current self­concept, were coded as 

personality traits (PT), social roles (SR), and other statements. Group level comparison 

of before and during migration statements were made, as well as scrutiny of changes at 

the individual level. Additionally, study of the interview transcripts provided clarification 

of statements and facilitated more accurate coding of the statements.

Phyiscal Description

SR - Ethnic/Cultural
SR - Occupational

SR - Relational
Social Role
Personality Trait

SR - Religious 6%

SR - Non-Religious 3%
SR - Activity 2%

Figure 11-1 Identity Before Migration with Breakdown of Social Roles


Before migration, the identity of the migrant was embedded within the context of 

their social roles. 52% of all pre­migration statements were coded as social roles. In 

contrast, only 43% of statements during migration were related to social roles. The 

greatest portion of these roles were attributed to the relational social roles of the family. 

In all, 56% of statements regarding social roles, or roughly 30% of all statements, were 

associated with these relational roles. These statements most commonly located the 

migrant within the family. For example: 

• I was... the older brother in our family
• I was... happy with my husband and baby
• I was... usually with mother all the times
• I was... the eldest daughter

In contrast, the self­concept of migrants while living in Taiwan is less embedded 

and more independent than before. Only 31% of social role statements were relational 

roles. Moreover, these roles only accounted for 13% of all identity statements. Relational 

roles also reflected the transition from family member to provider of resources for the 

family. Social obligations are clearly seen in these examples:

• I am... doing everything for my parents and brother and sister
• I am... a good son of my parents
• I am... supporting financially my sister’s schooling
• I am... sending money to my family, [but] its too little

As the collective family roles became a less salient part of migrant identity, 

religion and ethnic/cultural identity were seen as more important. While before migration 

statements included no affirmations of ethnic identity, cultural heritage, or nationality, 

11% of social role statements during migration indicated an awareness of ethnic/cultural 

identity. More importantly, 63% of these ethnic/cultural identity statement were given in 

the first three sentences provided by the migrants. Pride in national origin, citizenship, 

and being an Overseas Filipino Worker, seen both as an important occupational and 

cultural role, are seen as evidence of the redefining of self in nationalistic terms:

• I am... a Filipina working in Taiwan as [an] OFW

• I am... a Filipina married to a Taiwanese
• I am... a native Filipino citizen
• I am... [a] foreign worker here in Taiwan
• I am... a pure Filipina

Due in part to the nature of the sample, primarily from religious institutions in 

Nan Tze, more than 35% of social role statements were religious in nature. Nevertheless, 

while the sample may be skewed in favor of more devote migrants, it does clearly show 

that religion has become a major part of their sense of self. Only 13% of pre­migration 

role statements were religious and 6% of role statements indicated that the migrant was 

non­religious or much less religious than they are today:

• I was... not [a] church volunteer
• I was... not too close to god.
• I was...agnostic
• I was...not so active in religious activities

In contrast, the same individuals indicated that they had experienced a religious 

conversion or had become much more committed to their social roles within the church:

• I am... [a] religious person.
• I am... [a] Bible teacher
• I am... a born again Christian
• I am... a member of a family of God
• I am... a God fearing person

SR - Ethnic/Cultural 4%

SR - Occupational 8%

Personality Trait
SR - Relational
Social Role

SR - Religious

SR - Activity 2%

Figure 11-2 Identity During Migration with Breakdown of Social Roles


The shift in migrant self­concept from the collective sense of self as a member of 

the family to a more independent and individualistic self as member of a community may 

be best witnesses in the 114 mostly positive statements coded as personality traits. Before 

migration, nearly 50% of personality traits were indicative of a negative self­concept:

• I was... very lazy
• I was... a cruel student during college
• I was... pickle­minded
• I was... irresponsible daughter
• I was... extravagant
• I was... stubborn
• I was... unfaithful friend
• I was... naughty

Phyiscal Description 1%


PT - Negative
Personality Trait
Social Role
51% PT - Positive

PT - Neutral 7%

Figure 11-3 Identity Before Migration with Breakdown of Personality Traits

In Taiwan, personality traits reveal an awareness of the transitions in self that the migrant 

has undergone as the result of difficult work conditions, exclusion, and having to become 

less dependent on family:

• I am... I am a strong woman
• I am... tough
• I am... matured in decision making
• I am... patient
• I am... independent
• I am... economical
• I am... hardworking
• I am... friendly
• I am... adventuresome
• I am... stronger than I had been before.
• I am ...more patient now.
• I am... responsible

11% PT - Negative

PT - Positive
Personality Trait

Social Role

PT - Neutral

Figure 11-4 Identity During Migration with Breakdown of Personality Traits


The majority of statements coded as other situated the migrant within their 

current environment or spoke of the “public self” (the list of data we provide when asked 

who we are such as name, age, residence, etc.). For example, while asked to answer the 

question “who am I?” as if posing the question to oneself, six of the respondents began 

with their names. While names could be coded as social roles,97 I saw them as 

superfluous and not indication of the individual’s self­concept. Likewise, the eight work­ 

related statements were more labor grievances than statements of identity. The following 

See for example Tan Sim Yin's coding system of the Twenty Statements Test in the
Appendix of Personal Attitudes, Early Childhood Recollections and Self-Descriptions
HELP Institute Journal of Psychology online at:
retrieved April 12, 2004.

examples, while providing insight into the relationship with employers and feeling of 

mistreatment, did not address the question of identity:

• I just want to seek justice for what my employer done
• I didn’t finished my contract
• Its to difficult to communicate with Taiwanese people
• We don’t have any response from our supervisor
• We pay our water bill/electricity excess
• We don't have any O.T.

In all, 5% of pre­migration and 11% of during migration statements were coded as other.


Analysis of the Twenty Statements Tests indicates a clear shift in self­perception 

that becomes even more evident in the interviews. As both a means of “breaking the ice” 

and eliciting further examples of the shift in migrant identities, participants were asked to 

explain in greater detail the statement made on the TST. Themes of independence and 

self­sufficiency emerged, as well as a more clear picture of the role of work and religion 

as catalysts for personal growth. 

Maturity, Independence and Thrift

I have shown that social roles, especially obligations to the family, though no less 

important to the migrant in the context of Taiwan, do undergo a change. Statements 

regarding personal traits become more positive as migrant first becomes independent of 

the family, and then the primary source of income for them. This observance may be due 

in part to the age of the workers. The majority of factory workers interviewed (especially 

the women in Nan Tze), have only recently graduated from colleges and, until their 

migration, have lived in multi­generational family units. They are now “on their own” in 

the world having to rely on themselves and the connections they make independent of the 

family. In this way, they develop greater autonomy, a stronger sense of self and even 

improved self­esteem.

Lanie, for example, explains that her decision regarding money have become 

especially significant for her as this is her first job:

Stephen: You said that you’re independent and economical. What’s made you
Lanie: Independent in decision making, in planning how I can improve myself.
Everything in myself, because I am alone here. Just, I just have friends that can
advise me, but it’s me who will decide what’s good for me and then just prayer
for guidance. But, being economical, maybe because it’s my first job, a serious
job, that I have learned money. It’s very hard, but it’s easy to spend. I have to
spend only on the things that are necessary.

Similarly, Jenny finds in this interview with Josephine that she has become more self­

sufficient. Where before she would rely on her father for support, she has been forced to 

rely more on herself while in Taiwan:

Jenny: While you were here, did you, did you notice any changes in yourself that
you didn't notice when you were in Philippines? Has anything changed while
you're here in Taiwan?
Josephine: Ah, a lot.
Jenny: Yeah?
Josephine: For example, when I was studying, I had this attitude, "I can't do this."
I'd tell myself, "maybe this is wrong." But, I realized that if you, if you already

experienced, because for example, before, whenever I go home with an

assignment I just tell my father, "Tatay [Father], I have an assignment." He'd just
say, "Okay."
Jenny: Then he would do your assignment?
Josephine: He would do it. And, I would just watch TV. And then, after a while,
"[Jo], it's done."
Jenny: So you became dependent.
Josephine: It's done and all I have to do is copy it in my notebook.
Jenny: Great!
Josephine: Yeah. It's like, always like that. But, I didn't understand what he
wrote. All I did was copy it. So I became so dependent on them that sometimes
when I do things on my own I would say, "Maybe this is wrong. Something must
be wrong." Yeah, but you'll realize later, when you are alone. You would think
whatever happens, wrong or right, I did it myself. I feel confident.

Josephine, who was only nineteen years old and used fake credential to come to Taiwan,

was also forced to become a more out-going and social person:

Josephine: ...I was also shy before. Before, if my mother has a visitor, I really
would, I would hide. I didn't want to, I didn't want to, there's someone at the door,
he would knock. I would pretend I didn't hear. I would run to the, I would pretend
that I used the bathroom, If somebody knocks, I run to the bathroom. I pretend I
had been there before somebody knocked. Then I would think, "Who was that?"
And, I would take a peek. "Ah, so, he's the one who knocked." But after Taiwan, I
don't care anymore whoever you are. I changed.

She attributes these changes to the process of maturation that she has undergone as a 

result of becoming and OFW: “ mind has broadened. My outlook on life has, I 

became mature. It's different now. I'm thinking of different things now. It's like, it's more 

advanced, ...unlike before, when I hadn't experienced being alone.”

Caroline, likened this process to one of rehabilitation. Unlike many, she had lived 

in away from her family while attending university in the capital. As a result, she had 

already experience a great deal of autonomy. The compulsory curfew and restrictions in 

Taiwan, and having more friends who were church­goers acted to curb her “naughty” 

behavior. Yet, the experience of being an OFW also carried a element of humility and 

loss of status as well: 

Caroline: ... here I don’t go out often. I just, during Sundays, and after work, I go
to Mass. After Mass, if there is no practice in the choir, I go home and sleep, like
that. Or, watch movie inside the room.
Stephen: So what did you do in the Philippines?
Caroline: the Philippines, I have a lot of friends there. I have freedom. I don’t
have curfew. And then, I have many friends. We go out, anytime you want, I
smoke there. Here, I don’t smoke. I drink there. Here, I don’t drink. Something
like that. And then, here I go to church, and there in the Philippines, no time, like
that. I have time, but then I don’t. So, I feel like I’m being rehabilitated.
Stephen: Okay, by not having the opportunity to go out and all of the things
Caroline: Yeah, maybe I’m, you know, in a person’s life, there’s a peak, and then,
after that, maybe I am, you know, I’m going down. Not, because the peak of my
being easygoing and happy go lucky, naughty and, you know. Maybe I already
reach that peak. So now I’m…
Stephen: ...Longing to be more responsible?
Caroline: Yeah, more responsible, like that.
Stephen: Okay, And that’s what you said next, that you’re responsible,
hardworking, and God-fearing, okay. Tell me about being responsible, hard
working and God-fearing...
Caroline: God-fearing because it’s only now that I realize, you know, I’ve said a
while a go that here, maybe it’s the time for me, to, to, to realize the mistakes I
did before, you know. And, until now, I felt like, I felt like I didn’t achieve
anything, you know. Unlike my friends. My other friends, who are now, you
know, one of my friends in the Philippines, number 5 in the bar exam, while me,
I’m here in Taiwan as a factory worker. I didn’t, actually, I didn’t tell them. That
I’m here…
Stephen: Why? Do you think there’s any shame of being here?
Caroline: Yeah, because they don’t, they don’t, they don’t expect me to work here
as a factory worker.

Religious Institutions & Transitions in Identity

Throughout the interviews, religious institutions were seen not only as a space in 

which to come together with co­ethnics and celebrate homeland culture, but also as a 

resource for developing the skills to overcome the hardships of life in Taiwan. The 

message in many of the sermons and teaching was patience, perseverance, adjustment, 

and the conquering of troubles related to life in Taiwan. 

Lanie for example, explains that when she first arrived in Taiwan she was tempted 

to spend her new earnings on “material things” (clothing and jewelry) and go out with 

friends. It was through the church though that she learned to “live a simple life”:

Stephen: What is the key thing that made you change?

Lanie: Also because here [church], because of what I am doing here in the church
that I open my, open my mind in the thing. Now I understand that it’s not
important. I don’t know, it’s just changed.
Stephen: When you first arrived here, did you still pursue those material things?
Going out and having fun instead of going to the church?
Lanie: I still, when I was here. When I arrived here, I still go to some places that
can make me happy like in the karaoke bars, something like this even I am
serving here [church]. But then, eventually, so many things changed, that I have
to live the life simply. I just have to help my family. I have to help my co-
workers. I have to help.
Stephen: So the church, then. It was a slow process?
Lanie: Yeah. It’s not that easily changed. I became simple, became... A slow
process, yeah.

Others found in the church a refuge from both the problems of Taiwan, but also clarity in 

understanding problems back in the Philippines:

Jenny: Just more God-fearing because I’ve away from my family for so long and
the family that I got is Him.
Stephen: So religion has become important to you because you depend more on it
more than before when you have a family to depend on?
Jenny: Hum um (nods).
Stephen: What other things have changed? You came here the first time for
adventure. this time, it’s because you…
Jenny: I need the money.
Stephen: You need the money. But, you also say you were bored in the
Philippines. You said that you were bored at your sister’s house.
Jenny: The, another reason why I go here, I went here, is because I want to get
away from something. I could not tell Father, Father Bruno. He told us that some

of you here are just to get away from their troubles in the Philippines. And he’s
Stephen: What troubles are you trying to get away from?
Jenny: Those things, like you can’t face. The fact that we’re living with my
husband’s family. And…
Stephen: Did that cause stress on your marriage with your husband?
Jenny: Yeah. It’s always that and the family. And I want to have something of my
own. I want to earn something of my own, so that I could do all the things I want
to do.

Many of the men involved with the born­again Christian group in Kang Shan, 

indicated that it was through the church that they overcame their “vices” and “sinful” 

behaviors. Joshua talked of being an “unfaithful friend and husband,” an “alcoholic,” and 

a “cruel person.” Now he plans on attending Bible school and becoming a preacher. 

Similarly,  Jin explained that during his wild­days in college he was “very lazy,” “a chain­

smoker,” “addicted to hard drinks,” “loved x­rated movies,” and was the “black sheep of 

the family.” It was not until he married in 1997, that he began to settle down. But, as he 

puts it he was “a little wild” still when he went to Taiwan in 1999. He attributes his 

participation in the Jesus is Lord (JIL) group in Taiwan as having improved his life, as 

well as his relationship with his wife and son.

Work & Personality Changes 

Other positive personality traits may have resulted from the arduous work 

conditions and even unfair treatment in the workplace. Positive statements such as being 

“more patient,” “more versatile,” and “harder working,” could be directly linked to 

enduring the conditions of the workplace. For example, Fe explains that she has had to 

learn to operate many machines. Also, because she didn’t want to work for a particular 

line­leader she has had to become adept in other areas:

Stephen: How, how have you become more versatile?

Fe: I don't want to, to be versatile here, when it comes to work. When it comes to
work only.
Stephen: Okay?
Fe: Because , because it, it pays , the same. It’s the same.... I love my work now
as an Inspection. Before, the line leader wanted me to work, ah to, to, what do
you call this? Hmm, repair, repair, and, a profiler to get a temperature of the
machine. I don't like it, because it's so, ah, I don't like her, her attitude. So, I want
to be a versatile when it comes to work.

Similarly, Gina had to adapt to very harsh work conditions on her first trip. She learned 

patience and perseverance as well a “dedication in whatever career or job [she’s] taken.” 

She explains how difficult these conditions were at her first job in Taiwan:

Gina: Ah, we have six machines. It is very, very long. Very, very long and ah,
ahh, one side, one side of the machine has, ah, almost one thousand spindles. For,
for the thread. Yeah. And then, two sides. So one machine has almost two
thousand spindles. You have to look after that. Two thousand times six machines.
Stephen: One person had to do six machines?
Gina: Yeah. Six machines. It is, it is very, very long. Very long. And then you
have to walk fast. Very fast. Our section chief said that, that six machines you
have to look after that. Walk all of, all that six machines for one minute. So, you
have to work fix this, the thread of the spindle and then go around and around.
Yeah. No chance to sit down. Yeah.
Stephen: How long were your shifts? When you would work, how long would
you work there?
Gina: Ahm, Before, ah, for my one year there, ah, eight hours.
Stephen: Eight hours? Did you have to work overtime also?
Gina: Yeah.
Stephen: Right.
Gina: And then my second, my last, second, two years, I worked twelve hours.
Stephen: Twelve hours.

Gina: Twelve hours. Yeah. Everyday. Eight in the morning to eight in the
evening. Then eight in the evening up to eight in the morning. And then, ah, the
most terrible thing was that, if you ah, happen to have an accident, your finger, y-
your finger might be cut, you know. Ah, I ex, I-I, experienced ah, almost. My
finger, my finger almost cut. And everyday, everyday, you know, everyday, you
must be happy if that one day of your duty, if that eight hours of your duty
nothing, nothing ah, what do you call,
Stephen: No injuries?
Gina: No, no injuries. Yeah.

Marivel, on the other hand, was still in training. While having to learn new job 

skills she said her greatest challenge was to become patient: “Ah, especially in, in the, in 

the production. I'm, I'm now a trainee. I have to be patient with my trainer.” If she made a 

major mistake while operating the new machines she would be subject to “disciplinary 

action” such as loosing incentives or even being sent home after three such mistakes. 

These sanctions made her more conscious of the fact that what she does may have a 

significant financial effect.


It is clear from the Twenty Statements Tests and interviews that some change has 

occurred in the perceived identity of the individual. This shift become apparent in the 

shift in social roles of the migrant as well as in their individual personality traits. As a 

result of the migration experience and the context of their reception, the Overseas 

Filipino Workers in Taiwan have become: more individualistic; more independent; more 

aware their ethnic/cultural identity; and they have a stronger, more positive sense of self

Before migration, the salient identity of OFWs in Taiwan was embedded in the 

social roles of the family and the responsibilities or obligations toward the family. Nearly 

30% of all before statements referenced these family social roles. Moreover, as explained 

in Chapter 8, it was the deep sense of obligation to the family that resulted in the 

economic need for migration. However, in the xenophobic context of Taiwanese society, 

foreign workers are assigned the label of the out­group. They are treated as the “alien 

other,” and assigned a lesser role in the socially stratified society. The obvious rejection 

by the Taiwanese community challenges their sense of belonging. Moreover, 

opportunities for assimilation are greatly limited by the structural constraints of their 

employment, the governmental policies limiting their mobility, and the lack of a “place” 

within the host society. As shown before, even the foreign spouses of Taiwanese men 

experience this negative response and cannot provide a model of incorporation within the 

society to other migrants. Rather, they too become part of the enclave instead of 

assimilating to the dominant community. 

Yet, while socially rejecting the foreign workers, the host community does supply 

economic opportunity that they cannot find in their homeland. The outcome is an attitude 

of indifference toward Taiwanese culture, language, and society. There is little to 

motivate the worker to seek an understanding of the Taiwanese and few opportunities to 

explore the culture. However, for those living in the vicinity of the Economic Processing 

Zones, there is a pull to reaffirm their ethnic/cultural heritage, and even nationalistic 

pride, as the institutions of the enclave provide a sanctuary from the social isolation of 

the host community.

In­turn, a refusal to become like the dominate society, or reactive ethnic identity, 

leads to the construction of an “in­group” identity among the typically fragment, 

regionalistic identities of Filipino migrants. As they focus their free time on the 

institutions of the enclave, especially religious organizations,98 they reaffirm their 

ethnic/cultural identity as Filipinos. These churches and businesses provide a way to 

ameliorate their quality of life and mediate the discrimination they experience in the 

receiving community. They also provide a transnational space that allows the celebration 

of homeland culture through the observance of Filipino national holidays, religious 

festivals, music, dance, language, food, and activity groups centered on cultural 

expression. Essentially, migrants recognize their national unity and citizenship and 

“become Filipino” within the context of exclusion and discrimination.

Thus, while one’s identity was previously rooted in the collectivism of the 

extended family, the migration experience itself has lead to a more salient national 

identity as well as more importance in the individualized self. While the experience is 

arduous and demanding it leads to a stronger, positive self­concept. The forced 
Observational evidence suggests that the dance clubs, bars, and other non-
religious social institutions, which also cater to Filipino migrants around the EPZs,
provide a similar place in which they may find refuge from the host society.

independence from family and the shift in roles to that of economic “provider” are 

reflected in the many statements like, “I am doing everything for my parents, brother, and 

sister,” and “I am financially supporting my sister's schooling.” For many this was 

Understanding of Social Role: Relational
role based on family collective and

Rejection by host community: Xenophobia, exclusion,
discrimination, harsh working conditions, prejudice,
unfair labor standards

Indifference toward host community, lack of
assimilation opportunities, reactive ethnicity,
formation of enclave


Reinterpretation of Social Roles: Role now
based on ethnic/cultural identity, greater
individualism, more positive self concept

Figure 11-5 Migration Experiences in Taiwan and Revised Self Concept

the transition from dependent to patron of the family helped to create a more positive 

self­concept. Twice as many of the “after migration” statements in the TST were 

personality traits, indicating grater individualism. Likewise, nearly three times as many 

positive personality traits were given than before migration, point to an improved self­ 

esteem and self­concept.


I began this study by drawing together a diverse literature on migration, 

transnationalism, assimilation, and social identity theory and fit them within the 

interpretivist paradigm. In this manner, I have attempted to construct a comprehensive 

approach to studying labor migration. More importantly my interest was to show the 

effect that the receiving community has on the individual migrants and their self­concept, 

as well as the migrant group and its path to incorporation/inclusion or rejection/exclusion 

in the host society. 

Similarly, the research has pulled from various ethnographic methodologies not 

commonly found in migration research. While no one element of the project’s approach 

is especially unique or innovative to sociology as a whole, when used in combination the 

ethnographic experiences, visual data, survey results, observations, social­psychological 

tests, and the participatory nature of the work provide a more complete depiction of the 

subject than any one approach may have accomplished. In this way, the project 

contributes to the literature on migration and transnational communities by breaking 

ground in new mixed­methods approaches. Likewise, this approach will allow for a broad 

distribution of findings by means of its visual content in presentations documentary 

videos and hypertext photographic documents to a general public.

The case study of Filipino laborers in Taiwan is especially unique. As a semi­

peripheral nation, Taiwan has only recently become a receiving country. Unlike many 

Western nations, it imports laborers through a regularized and legal system, but disallows 

them equal rights within the labor market. It also bars them from ever becoming 

permanent settlers, excluding them from real social participation in the society. Both 

economic and cultural reasons are suggested for these practices. Thus, Taiwan provides 

an ideal setting in which to test the hypothesis that a monocultural, monoethnic 

community that rejects and excludes migrants from social/cultural/political participation 

will result in creating marginalized individuals who’s sense of ethnic self is a reaction to 

the dominant community. Moreover, if there is a sizeable enough population of migrants 

it was predicted that enclaves would form around this reactionary ethnic identity and 

reinforce their homeland culture. 

Accordingly, in the course of this dissertation my analysis has moved from a 

description of the cumulative causes of Philippines –Taiwan labor migration and the 

narrative of exit for individual migrants, to a depiction of the reception context and the 

individual’s reaction to isolation and exclusion from social/cultural/political processes, 

and then finally to the reactive formation of an enclave community and the individual’s 

shift in self concept as a result of their migration experiences. Evidence of this exit–

reception–reaction progression has been presented at the community and individual 

levels and was drawn from the ethnographic survey data, interviews, field observations, 

governmental and NGO documents, as well as review of academic and journalistic 


However, the limitations of the study must be noted. As with any ethnography, 

generalizable claims may not be made, though special effort was made (by employing 

survey techniques and triangulation of data sources) to ascertain the experience of a 

broader sample than the participants in the interviews and observations alone. While the 

arguments made herein seem to support the hypothesis, Taiwan, as a single case study, 

may be unique in the world. Further comparison in other semi­peripheral receiving 

countries would be of use (for example Korea, Singapore, and Hong Kong). Likewise, 

Nan Tze is only one of the Economic Processing Zones in Taiwan, and while there is 

evidence that enclaves (such as “little Manila” in Taipei) do exist, it may not be the case 

in all such settings. Instrumental in the Nan Tze community is the central role of the 

Catholic church, as well as the smaller evangelical Protestant groups, in providing 

permanence in an otherwise temporary community. As the majority of participants were 

recruited from these religious centers, the data may be skewed and atypical of 

experiences of non­church going migrants. Therefore, conclusions must be situated in the 

specific context that was observed. 

In the following sections, I provide a recapitulation of the main points of the 

dissertation fitting them to the theoretical model established in Chapter 2. I then discuss 

social and policy concerns arising from my inquiry of migrants in Taiwan and give broad 

recommendations for governmental agencies in Taiwan and the Philippines and non­

governmental relief organizations working with marginalized labor migrants in Taiwan.


The Cumulative Causation Theory, developed by Douglas Massey from his

research on Mexican migration to the United States, provided an explanation of migrant

trajectories based on wage differentials, push-pull mechanism, migration networks, etc.

that showed how early sojourning migrants help to promote future migrations by the

establishment of strong social ties between sending and receiving regions. The argument 

was made, in Chapter 5, that rapid population growth, a high dependency ratio, under­ 

and unemployment and lack of development “push” migrants from the Philippines to 

seek overseas employment. The polices of the Philippines government to endorse labor 

migration and international remittances, further promote the “culture” of migration that 

has developed. In Taiwan, I contended that the rapid decline in the birth rate, low levels 

of unemployment, and increase in the educational attainment of workers has led 

companies to search elsewhere for low­cost laborers thus “pulling” workers from other 

Southeast Asian countries. 

Likewise, policy changes in the early 1990s resulted in a regularization of the 

recruitment process and the creation of the placement­broker hiring system outlined in 

Chapter 6. This system was instrumental in affording the migrant just enough economic 

advantage to migrate, yet keeping their financial obligation and debt high enough that 

they would be compliant workers throughout their residence in Taiwan. However, this 

system has been challenged by NGOs and labor rights groups who have won small 

consolations from the Chen government with changes in the policies regarding 

pregnancies tests, regularization of brokers fees, and establishment of legal counseling 

centers and shelters. However, these concessions have been made at the same time as 

wage cuts, quota reductions, and charges for room and board. 

Chapter 6 further details the system of foreign labor recruitment that, in essence, 

may be likened to indentured servitude. As a rule, placement agencies overcharge 

potential workers and often lend them money for fees borrowed against future earnings of 

family properties in the Philippines. This practice creates debt at such levels that workers 

must their first year, and sometimes longer, paying back what they owe rather than 

supporting family through remittances or saving for future endeavors. Indebtedness is 

further exacerbated by monthly fees and deductions for labor brokers in Taiwan and 

especially the common practice of “side” contracts that exceed legally agreed upon fees, 

but have to date been upheld in Taiwanese courts.

Much as macro­level demographic, economic and political processes drive 

migration, the culture of Philippine migration has emerged as a social phenomenon as 

well. This follows too from cumulative causation theory. While, in this case, material 

culture of the host society is actually rejected by the migrants, the remittances they send 

afford family the ability to purchase goods from beyond their local communities. In a 

similar manner, material goods (DVD players, small TVs, Radios, and other electronics) 

are brought back with returnees thus impacting the culture of the sending community and 

encouraging, by example, others to migrate so that they may afford such luxuries. 

As evidenced in the narratives of exit, in Chapter 7, choice to migrate is also often 

made at the family level as economic necessity and kinship obligations lead the most 

“fit” member(s) of the family to migrate and thus contribute to the support of others. 

Social ties within the context of reception and returnees further aid encourage migrants 

to go overseas. Transnational networks of migrants, primarily close friends and family, 

create a referral and support network that assist the potential migrant in locating labor 

recruiters (and in some cases even jobs), loaning them funds to pay placement fees, and 

providing them with information on the receiving context. In Chapter 7, we saw that 

while economic necessity lead to migration, social ties were often essential to the 

selection of a destination country. This is not to say that it is the only means of selecting 

a receiving country. The data from the Nan Tze survey demonstrated that placement 

agents in the Philippines also promote certain destinations through advertisements and 

agency recruiters. Also, social ties and commitments within the institutions of the ethnic 

enclave, also worked to keep the migrant in Taiwan well passed the time when some are 

required by economic reasons.


Overall, all categories of migrants (domestic workers, spouses, and factory 

workers) were found to be socially, culturally, linguistically, economically, and politically 

excluded and isolated from the dominant society. I argue in Chapter 8 that this exclusion 

is the result of a cultural fear of foreigners, especially those who are from developing 

countries. Xenophobia leads to acts of discrimination, “othering,” and “essentializing” in 

governmental policy, media reports, and public opinion. Stimulated by Taiwan’s ongoing 

attempt to define its own national identity (as separate and unique from the PRC, and 

other countries in the region) and to protect historically marginalized domestic minorities 

(aboriginal groups that now comprise less than 2% of the population), the government 

creates an underclass of imported laborers who are not given equal legal protection nor 

equal pay, and who are often subjected to policies that disregard their basic human rights. 

As Taiwan attempts to enter the global political arena, these violations of international 

labor standards99 and human rights laws will become especially relevant. Employment 

insecurity, exclusion from coverage under domestic labor laws, lack of ability to select 

new employers among those approved for foreign laborers, the constant threat of illegal 

deportation, prohibition to organize, lack of individual rights in negotiating contracts 

while “side contract” are unilaterally decided by employers/brokers to the economic 

disadvantage of workers, as well as restrictive living conditions, constant state 

surveillance, and unchecked employer abuses are all issues that will play in the debate 

over the status of Taiwan as a full member of the international community.

As a result of the policies and practice of exclusion, assimilation and 

incorporation do not occur. Filipinos are not found to become incorporated into dominant 

society in the linear structural sense (as an entrance of the immigrant group into the 

social groups of the host society), nor in a “bumpy line” of socioeconomic assimilation,

residential assimilation, intermarriage and amalgamation. As there are no other minority

groups to whom they may assimilate, there is no evidence of segmented assimilation

occurring as well. Finally, acculturation, or adoption of the cultural patterns of 

Taiwanese, is limited only to the most extrinsic characteristics (perhaps eating with

chopsticks and speaking survival Mandarin/Taiwanese). Only among long-term settlers

See the ILO’s Fundamental Conventions especially: Freedom of Association,
Abolition of Forced Labor, and Equality. Online at
retrieved on April 21, 2004.

(Filipina wives of Taiwanese men) is there any real evidence of linguistic assimilation or

attempts to dress like or present one’s self as Taiwanese. Though again, in the few cases

presented here, intrinsic traits of religion, values, and tastes, were still predominantly



Filipino migrant workers’ reaction to the monoethnic and xenophobic receiving 

context is generally one of indifference to outright rejection of Taiwanese culture, 

language, and society. In the conclusion of Chapter 8, I contend that factory workers, 

recognizing that they must, to some degree, “get along” with Taiwanese employers and 

the public, develop only a limited proficiency in Taiwanese or Mandarin. Few adopt any 

of the cultural practices of Taiwan other than using chopsticks or eating some Taiwanese 

foods (usually those that resemble foods common also in the Philippines). Social ties to 

Taiwanese are typically weak with some acceptance at an individual level if the employer 

or co­worker speaks English or has an empathetic understanding of the worker’s 

predicament as a labor migrant in Taiwan. Chapter 9 in particular makes the case that, at 

the group level, there is little in the way of acceptance of dominant culture and thus very 

limited acculturation. On an everyday basis, migrants instead maintain homeland ties in 

economic, social, and symbolic domains.

While acculturation is limited, migrants’ sense of Filipino cultural identity is 

reinforced, especially among the factory workers. A reactive, ethnic identity that is 

nationalistic and celebratory of Philippine heritage emerges. Migrants, isolated from 

social participation in the host culture, look to co­ethnic ties for solidarity and group 

identity. Especially in the areas around the Economic Processing Zones, they build 

economic, social, and cultural enclaves. Chapter 10 presents the thesis that these 

communities, centered on cultural and social activities in the churches and the economic 

activities of Filipina spouses of Taiwanese men, are transnational in nature and facilitate 

the movement of goods, services, information, and people between the Philippines and 

Taiwan. The role of the migrant spouses in providing Filipino goods and services also 

serve as an example of the marginality of permanent residents who are not active within 

the economy of the host society.

Identity Theory, presented in Burke and Stets (2000) and recounted in Chapter 2,

discusses the self as occupying a role. Identity, they explain, is determined by the role the

individual assumes within the social structure and the internalization of the role

expectations. In Chapter 11, I present evidenced of transition in self­concept as a micro 

processes occurring as a result of the shift in social roles. For the individual, the 

migration and employment experiences lead to a shift in roles and status within the 

community thus resulting in transformations within their personalities. Female factory 

workers in particular gain independence and improved self­esteem from the experience of 

becoming the provider for family.

Likewise, following Social Identity Theory, in­group membership determines the 

individual’s group identity  (i.e. ethnic or national). All of the migrants in this study were 

found to have developed a more salient Filipino identity as the experience of “othering” 

(or being the out­group to the dominant society) challenged their ethnic identity. At the 

group level, this challenge has lead to a celebration of cultural heritage and a group 

identity of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) as “heroes” of the Philippines. 

These group activities, for the factory workers in particular, become the basis for 

the formation of transnational enclaves in which homeland culture is maintained and 

group solidarity is reinforced. Following Faist’s (2002b) argument the activities of the 

enclave are transnational in nature as they create distinct social spaces that transcend the

boundaries of nations. Cultural celebrations, the remittances of funds and material goods,

the constant circulation of individuals between the countries, the everyday ties that are

maintained by telecommunications technologies all point to transnational activities in the

three realms that Faist lays out: transnational kinship groups, transnational circuits and

transnational communities.


While providing only a single case study in this project, this work may develop as 

a comprehensive theory of the relationship between migrants’ modes of incorporation 

and the social structure of the receiving country. It has combined the individual and 

group levels of analysis and fit them within the macro economic, political, and 

demographic context. This research has interesting implications for the discourse on 

globalization of labor, formation of transnational communities, the feminization of 

international labor regimes, and identity theory as it applies to migrants. By recognizing 

and exploring the importance of the receiving community, theories of immigrant 

incorporation, assimilation, and acculturation may become more powerful in accounting 

for the distinct outcomes of various migrant groups within a given context. Contextual 

factors such as ethnic composition of the receiving community, social constraints on the 

migrant community, and cultural perceptions of ethnic others, as well as structural 

aspects like governmental policies, economic processes, and demographic factors are all 

shown to be instrumental in determining the degree of inclusion/exclusion of migrants 

and thus shape opportunities for immigrant incorporation. 


The primary concern that I have from this research experience involves the 

coercive relationship between placement agencies in the Philippines and brokers in 

Taiwan over migrant laborers. From the analysis of the survey data, the system of 

placement agencies and brokers has been shown to systematically overcharge workers. 

Both placement agencies and brokers alike are culpable. Placement agents were on 

average charging workers twice to three times the legal fees allowed by the Philippine 

government. Likewise, brokers were found in nearly a quarter of cases to be overcharging 

respondents, as well as working to uphold conditions that were restrictive to the rights of 

the worker.

The profiteering and other exploitive practices are created from the migration 

system itself. While legitimated by both the Taiwanese and Philippine governments, 

brokers and placement agents are comparable to the illegal smugglers of undocumented 

workers in other countries (“snake­heads” in Chinese to North­America migration, 

“coyotes” at the US­Mexico border, “mafiosos” in the North­Africa to Spain trade, etc.). 

These intermediaries, with governmental awareness, operate outside of and around the 

laws of both countries. Migrants are coerced to “borrow” monies to pay exorbitant and 

illegal placement fees from “lending agencies” associated with the broker/placement 

agency. Likewise, they often pay legal, but unscrupulous, additional fees for jackets, hats, 

“extra” paperwork, and the like. While at the airport and ready to depart (after paying 

large sums or deposits on their placement) they are made to sign “side contracts” that, in 

effect, negate the legitimate contracts negotiated between governments. These side 

contracts impose additional expenses, deductions, or harsh living restrictions (such as no 

day off, no overtime, no cell phones, etc.). The migrant has little agency or voice in the 

system and are thus marginalized in the global labor market. 

This marginalization of people from developing countries also leads to concern 

over the role of transnational corporations operating in the semi­periphery. Companies 

are offered substantial incentives to move their operations to the Economic Processing 

Zones of Taiwan including exemption from import tax, commodity tax, and business tax. 

Notable international corporations such as Hitachi, Sony, Sanyo, Philips, Toshiba, Canon, 

Epson, and numerous suppliers of other major international conglomerates profit from 

this arrangement. In effect, companies are paid to locate in Taiwan, while workers from 

other Southeast Asian countries must pay for the opportunity to work at reduced wages in 

the these EPZs. Employers too were found to be exploiting laborers by not paying 

overtime, assigning “unreasonable” workloads (such as having imported workers 

operating multiple machines simultaneously), and paying earned overtime as days off.


There are a number of policy recommendations that emerge from this research 

and may be of use to governmental agencies, NGOs providing relief services to migrants, 

and companies that employ migrant laborers. These recommendations are related to a 

restructuring of the placement­broker system, providing a comprehensive support 

network migrants, addressing labor and human rights concerns, and changes to the 

enforcement of contract terms and living/ work conditions.

As the majority of problems are related to the placement­broker system, this 

would be the area that is in most need of restructuring. While attempts were made to 

allow companies to hire workers directly from the sending countries, thus circumventing 

placement agents and brokers, no incentives were used to promote this undertaking. 

Taiwan, while offering huge incentives to companies to locate in the EPZs, could do 

more to promote direct hiring by offering a streamlined visa program for these 

employers. Presently the system is so cumbersome and bureaucratic that it is more 

efficient for employers to contract with brokers for maintenance of paperwork and the 

six­month cycles of updating of working permits (with the employees paying the 

expenses). If this process were made less cumbersome, with perhaps only yearly or every 

other year updating of documents, employers would be able to maintain records from 

their own human resources departments rather than employing labor brokers. Moreover, 

labor brokers, who are supposed to represent the employee in disputes and negotiations 

with employers, have been found to collude with the employers to suppress and control 


Social, health, and mental health services, while being provided by the regional 

counseling centers could be better administered through local churches and other 

permanent institutions in the migrant communities. These organizations should hire 

trained social workers from the sending countries, and perhaps train permanent resident 

migrants such as co­ethnic spouses of Taiwanese men. These social workers should be 

placed within the setting of the migrant enclaves, near dorms or other centers of 

congregation. Domestic workers in particular are subjected to serious human rights and 

labor violations. As a result, a social support network specifically for caretakers/ 

housekeepers, including occasional visits to the homes where they are employed, should 

be instituted. Changes to the laws and penalties regarding illegal work by domestic 

workers should be established to protect the worker, rather than the employer. The current 

system of a warning the employer on the first offense before reassignment of the worker 

results more often in employers illegally deporting workers who contact authorities. 

For all workers there should be rights to collective bargaining and equal pay. 

Some provision for representation by workers in negotiations with management should 

be provided for each sending country. Current laws disallow the individual agency in 

negotiating contracts, instead giving all power to the employer and broker by upholding 

“side­contracts” that forced on the worker in a coercive manner. All addendums signed 

after POEA approval of the labor agreement should be deemed illegal and penalties 

should be levied against unscrupulous brokers, placement agents, and employers. 

Workers should receive full and equivalent coverage under domestic labor 

standards laws in all sectors and industries. Separate contracts should be offered based on 

the specific industry and job duties. Employees, often hired simply as a laborer, find, 

only after they arrive, that their positions involve handling of caustic, hazardous and 

carcinogenic materials or their duties entail other unsafe work conditions. Thus, while 

employers have the option to dismiss workers within the first days of their contracts 

without cause, workers too should have the rights to move within the labor force at least 

within those sectors and companies that are authorized to hire them. 

Government oversight either directly by CLA officials or by NGOs as 

independently contracted evaluators should be performed on a regular basis within each 

of the workplaces. Audits of company labor practices and allegations of abuses should be 

carried out and unethical employers should lose the right to hire overseas workers. 

Arbitration and mediation should be moved from the realm of the broker to an 

independent agency. All cases where employees are to be repatriated should first be 

reviewed by this independent group with representatives from labor, government, 

industry and NGOs included. Currently, there are no provisions for workers who are 

being illegally repatriated other than to escape and seek shelter with one of the 

counseling centers. 

Finally, if Taiwan is to enter the international community as a full member, it 

must do more than adopt the rhetoric of human rights and fair trade. Taiwan has become 

increasingly embedded in the global networks of trade and, while historically a sending 

country itself, it will continue to develop as a destination for migrants from core nations 

as well as other developing Southeast Asian countries. While struggling with its long 

history under the authoritarian rule of General Chang Kai Shek (蔣介石), reconciling the 

past mistreatment of domestic minority groups, and searching for its own national/ethnic 

identity, Taiwan’s populace must learn to become pluralistic and inclusive of the migrants 

who increasingly will seek membership in their society. 

Image 42 Factory workers in Nan Tze in a Taiwanese restaurant


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General Labor Contract for Employers in Taiwan100

1. 上班:日班 08:00~16:30 (8 小時),夜班 20:00~08:00 (12 小時)(射出班輪班)
DAY SHIFT 08:00~16:30 (8HOURS),NIGHT SHIFT 20:00~08:30(12HOURS)SHIFTING.
2. 加班:依現場主管指示加班與否。
3. 用餐:中餐、晚餐、夜點、各有 30 分鐘用餐。
4. 休息:視各單位規定。(10 分鐘)
5. 上班及交接班應準時並打卡及配帶識別証,逾時上班以遲到論。
6. 無事先請假未上班者,以曠職論。(曠職一日罰三日薪資)
7. 曠職三日即屬脫逃,由警方發佈全國通緝歸案。
8. 上班時間內,嚴禁喝酒、吸菸、罷工、怠工及曠職。
9. 上班時間內,應聽從現場主管指派工作。
1. 病假:於病假前一日填假單提出申請,看病取診斷證明銷假。(重大傷病及意外傷害除外)
2. 假單需經管理處批淮後生效。
1. 月薪:每月最低薪資為 15,840 元。(非加班費計算基礎)
2. 加班:男生每小時 元/時,女生每小時 元/時。(假日亦同)
3. 發薪:每月 5 日發放上一月薪資。
4. 領薪:月領 3,000 元零用金,月存 3,000 元保證金,其餘薪資扣除貸款後匯回外籍員工指定國外帳


5. 保險:本廠每月為外籍員工加入勞保、健保,外籍員工依規定繳保費。
6. 外籍員工因體檢不合格、工作不適任、提前解約、違反廠規、違反勞動契約、違反中華民國法律、
脫逃遣返回國時,由每月 3,000 元累積之保證金及當月薪資支付遣返回國費用及本廠損失。 (本廠
損失=契約未到期每月賠償 2,000 元及毀約金 5,000 元) MEDICAL UNFIT, CANT AFFORD TO WORK,
1. 例假:每 7 日中有 1 日休假,其餘假日依勞動契約規定。
2. 特休:工作滿一年有 7 日特休假,未休假且上班者計加班,休假者不扣薪,若回國探親者超過特休
1. 伙食:由本廠供應三餐。(不可浪費及攜入宿舍食用) 住宿:由本廠提供宿舍。休閒:由本廠提供電
2. 管理:由舍監管理人員外出、急病送醫、內務整理、環境清潔、問題反應等事項,由警衛管制門禁
3. 宿舍內部環境由住宿人員自排值日生清潔,由舍監檢查之。
4. 本廠公物應愛惜使用,如有毀損,照價賠償。
5. 宿舍為大通舖格局,應保持安靜及環境清潔,個人內務依規定整理。
6. 菸頭及垃圾禁止隨地丟棄。(尤其是馬桶及排水孔)
7. 禁止藏有刀械、毒品及危險物品。
8. 外出至廠外,注意服裝儀容及禮貌,與附近居民維持友善關係。

9. 外出至廠外,嚴禁酗酒、毆鬥、偷竊、逾時回廠、騎機車及從事不法行為。
10. 晚上 10:00 後,嚴禁外出。
外籍勞工違反下列事項,除有特殊理由外,一律強制遣返回國並交由警察單位及外勞國駐台代表處依法處 理。
2. 酗酒毆鬥,對本廠員工或他人施以暴行或脅迫。(造成傷害依刑法辦理) FIGHTING BECAUSE OF
3. 曠職三日以上未回廠報到。(兼差或脫逃到外工作依違反就業服務法處理)
4. 違反中華民國法律,如傷害、偷竊、搶劫、強暴、強姦、綁架、收購贓物、詐欺、毀謗等
5. 於禁菸處吸菸,惡意破壞本廠生產設備或產品,造本廠損失。 SMOKING ON NON-SMOKING AREA,
6. 洩漏本廠生產技術及機密,造成本廠損失。
並處以罰款 1.000 元~3.000 元不等之處分,情節重大者,遣返回國並依法處理,絕不寬貸。本廠外籍員工均
股份有限公司 管 理 處

中 華 民 國 年 月 日

Transnationalizing the Self:
Filipino Workers Survey

This survey is anonymous and confidential. None of the information you provide will be shared
with your supervisor/ line leader or employer, government, agencies or brokers. The interests of
this survey are for academic and social justice purposes. Generalized information about the lives
of Filipino OFWs will be used to better the conditions of Filipinos and other labor migrants
throughout the world. Thank you for your participation.


1. Sex:
○Male ○Female
2. Age: _______ years

3. Marital Status:
o Never Married
o Engaged (How long? ______________months/ years)
o Married (How long? ______________months/ years)
o Separated
o Divorced
o Widowed

4. a. How many children do you have? _________________________

4b. Single parent?
o No
o Yes
5. Which region of the Philippines are you from:


6. Which of the following best describes you position/status?

o OFW - Factory worker
o OFW - Caretaker
o OFW – Domestic Helper
o Filipina/o married to Taiwanese
o Other _________________________________

7. How many times have you been to Taiwan for work? _____________

8. When did you:

o Arrive on your first/only trip (month & year)? _________________
o Leave on your first/only trip (month & year)? _________________
o Arrive on your second trip (month & year)? _________________
o Leave on your second trip (month & year)? _________________

9. Have you lived/worked in other countries?

o Hong Kong o Kuwait
o Korea o Saudi Arabia
o Bahrain o USA/Canada
o Israel o Europe
o Lebanon o Other _________________

10. Your education (check only the highest level achieved):

○Primary school ○University (BA/BS degree)
○Academic high school ○Graduate school
○Vocational high school ○Other_____________
11. How did you find out about work in Taiwan?
○ Friend in Taiwan ○ Relative who had been in Taiwan
○ Friend who had been in Taiwan ○ Relative going to Taiwan
○ Friend going to Taiwan ○Advertisement in Filipino newspaper or
○ Relative in Taiwan
B. LANGUAGE USE (check the box or circle the number):
12. What is (are) you native language(s)?

○ Tagalog ○ Hiligaynon ○ Waray-Waray

○ Bikolano ○ Kapampangan ○ English
○ Cebuano ○ Magindanaon ○ Other____________
○ Ilokano ○ Pangasinan
0 1 2 3 4 5
○ ○ ○ ○ ○ ○
13. Rate your overall English
None Little Some Fluent Perfectl Native
language ability
Knowledge Knowledge y Fluent Speaker
○ ○ ○ ○ ○ ○
14. Rate your overall Mandarin
None Little Some Fluent Perfectl Native
language ability
Knowledge Knowledge y Fluent Speaker
○ ○ ○ ○ ○ ○
15. Rate your overall Taiwanese
None Little Some Fluent Perfectl Native
language ability
Knowledge Knowledge y Fluent Speaker

How often do you use the following languages

to speak with your friends in Taiwan?
○ ○ ○ ○ ○ ○
16. a Filipino language? Never Very Seldom Sometimes Often Always
○ ○ ○ ○ ○ ○
17. English? Never Very Seldom Sometimes Often Always
○ ○ ○ ○ ○ ○
18. Mandarin? Never Very Seldom Sometimes Often Always
○ ○ ○ ○ ○ ○
19. Taiwanese? Never Very Seldom Sometimes Often Always
How often do you use the following languages
to speak with your supervisor/ line leader or employer in Taiwan?
○ ○ ○ ○ ○ ○
20. a Filipino language? Never Very Seldom Sometimes Often Always
○ ○ ○ ○ ○ ○
21. English? Never Very Seldom Sometimes Often Always
○ ○ ○ ○ ○ ○
22. Mandarin? Never Very Seldom Sometimes Often Always
○ ○ ○ ○ ○ ○
23. Taiwanese? Never Very Seldom Sometimes Often Always

How often do you use the following languages

to speak with your Chinese coworkers in Taiwan?
○ ○ ○ ○ ○ ○
24. a Filipino language? Never Very Seldom Sometimes Often Always
○ ○ ○ ○ ○ ○
25. English? Never Very Seldom Sometimes Often Always
○ ○ ○ ○ ○ ○
26. Mandarin? Never Very Seldom Sometimes Often Always
○ ○ ○ ○ ○ ○
27. Taiwanese? Never Very Seldom Sometimes Often Always


0 1 2 3 4 5
28. How would you rate your ○ ○ ○ ○ ○ ○
overall relationship with your Unbearable Very Poor Alright Very Excellent
supervisor/ line leader or bad Good
29. How would you rate your ○ ○ ○ ○ ○ ○
overall service of your broker? Unbearable Very Poor Alright Very Excellent
bad Good

30. What problems have you had with your supervisor/ line leader or employer (check all
that apply)?
o Unpaid overtime o Employment other than as stated by
o “Unreasonable” workload* contract
o Lack of rest breaks o Fees, Charges, Deductions, Taxes other
than those agreed by contract
o Lack of lunch/dinner breaks o Verbal abuse by manager/employer
o Unpaid days off (due to lack of work) o Physical abuse by manager/employer
o Lack of payment of wages o Sexual advances by manager/ employer
o Late payment of wage o Sexual abuse by manager/employer
o Overtime paid as days off o Other________________________
* “Unreasonable” workload (please explain) :



31. What problems have you had with your broker (check all that apply)?
o Fees greater than contracted (1800NT 1st yr, 1700NT 2nd yr,1500 NT 3rd yr)
o Side contracts for additional fees
o Did not defend your interests in dispute with employer
o Broker working with employer to uphold any non-contractual conditions
(e.g. illegal fees or deductions, side contracts, illegal working conditions, etc.)
o Other

32. How much was your placement fee in the Philippines? ________ pesos

33. Roughly, how much were your additional expenses not covered by the placement fee?
o ___________Visas, document preparation, passport, and other paperwork
o ___________ Photos
o ___________ Health check and other medical fees
o ___________ Jackets, hats, etc charged to you by the placement agency
o ___________ Other fees (explain)

34. Did you take a loan against your wages to pay for placement?
o No
o Yes
 What was the interest (%) rate?_______________________
 How much is deducted monthly?_________________________

35. Did you take a mortgage against your home or other properties in the Philippines to pay
for placement?
o No
o Yes
 What was the interest (%) rate?_______________________
 How much is deducted monthly?_________________________

36. Did you have any problems with the placement agency in the Philippines?
o No
o Yes
 Explain


37. Have you had any other problems with your broker?
o No
o Yes
 Explain


38. Have you had any other problems with your supervisor/ line leader or employer?
o No
o Yes
 Explain


D. Financial

39. While in Taiwan have you borrowed money?

o No
o Yes
 If yes, what was it for?



 If yes, was it from a friend, family member, “loan shark” or other?



40. How much money do you spend your monthly income?

o Gifts for others (Pasalubong) _______________________ $NT
o Living expenses _______________________ $NT
o Savings _______________________ $NT
o Send home to family _______________________ $NT
o Items for self (clothing, electronics, etc) _______________________ $NT
o Other _______________________ $NT



0 1 2 3 4 5
41. How often do you read Tagalog ○ ○ ○ ○ ○ ○
newspapers/magazines in Never Very Seldom Sometimes Often Always
Taiwan? Seldom

42. How often do you read English ○ ○ ○ ○ ○ ○

newspapers/magazines in Never Very Seldom Sometimes Often Always
Taiwan? Seldom
43. How often do you read Mandarin ○ ○ ○ ○ ○ ○
newspapers/magazines in Never Very Seldom Sometimes Often Always
Taiwan? Seldom

44. How often do you watch English ○ ○ ○ ○ ○ ○

shows on TV in Taiwan? Never Very Seldom Sometimes Often Always
45. How often do you watch ○ ○ ○ ○ ○ ○
Mandarin shows on TV in Never Very Seldom Sometimes Often Always
Taiwan? Seldom
46. How often do you watch Tagalog ○ ○ ○ ○ ○ ○
movies in Taiwan? Never Very Seldom Sometimes Often Always
47. How often do you watch English ○ ○ ○ ○ ○ ○
movies in Taiwan? Never Very Seldom Sometimes Often Always
48. How often do you watch ○ ○ ○ ○ ○ ○
Mandarin movies in Taiwan? Never Very Seldom Sometimes Often Always

Do you agree or disagree with the following statements?

0 1 2 3 4 5
49. I like ○ ○ ○ ○ ○ ○
Taiwanese/Chinese Strongly Somewha Disagre Agree Somewha Strongly
people. Disagre t Disagree e t Agree Agree
50. I have good ○ ○ ○ ○ ○ ○
relationships with Strongly Somewha Disagre Agree Somewha Strongly
Taiwanese/Chinese Disagre t Disagree e t Agree Agree
people. e

○ ○ ○ ○ ○ ○
51. I like Filipinos. Strongly Somewha Disagre Agree Somewha Strongly
Disagre t Disagree e t Agree Agree
52. I have good ○ ○ ○ ○ ○ ○
relationships with Strongly Somewha Disagre Agree Somewha Strongly
Filipinos. Disagre t Disagree e t Agree Agree
○ ○ ○ ○ ○ ○
53. I like Thais. Strongly Somewha Disagre Agree Somewha Strongly
Disagre t Disagree e t Agree Agree
○ ○ ○ ○ ○ ○
54. I have good Strongly Somewha Disagre Agree Somewha Strongly
relationships with Thais. Disagre t Disagree e t Agree Agree
○ ○ ○ ○ ○ ○
55. I like Indonesians. Strongly Somewha Disagre Agree Somewha Strongly
Disagre t Disagree e t Agree Agree
56. I have good ○ ○ ○ ○ ○ ○
relationships with Strongly Somewha Disagre Agree Somewha Strongly
Indonesians. Disagre t Disagree e t Agree Agree
57. I have had problems with ○ ○ ○ ○ ○ ○
Taiwanese/Chinese Strongly Somewha Disagre Agree Somewha Strongly
people. Disagre t Disagree e t Agree Agree
○ ○ ○ ○ ○ ○
58. I have had problems with Strongly Somewha Disagre Agree Somewha Strongly
Filipinos. Disagre t Disagree e t Agree Agree
○ ○ ○ ○ ○ ○
59. I have had problems with Strongly Somewha Disagre Agree Somewha Strongly
Thais. Disagre t Disagree e t Agree Agree
○ ○ ○ ○ ○ ○
60. I have had problems with Strongly Somewha Disagre Agree Somewha Strongly
Indonesians. Disagre t Disagree e t Agree Agree

0 1 2 3 4 5
61. I feel Taiwanese ○ ○ ○ ○ ○ ○
Strongly Somewhat Disagre Agree Somewhat Strongly
Disagre Disagree e Agree Agree
62. I feel Filipino-a ○ ○ ○ ○ ○ ○
Strongly Somewhat Disagre Agree Somewhat Strongly
Disagre Disagree e Agree Agree

63. Which of the following Pinoy festivals have you celebrated while in Taiwan?

o Feast of the Three o Lent/ Easter o All Souls' Day

Kings o Hari-Raya o Bonifacio Day
o Feast of the Black o Kalibongan Festival o Great Sibidan Festival
o Ati-Atihan/ St. Nino
o T'Boli Festival o Kagayhaan Fiesta

o Carabao Festival
o New Year's Day o Kaamulan

o Mayohan sa Tayabas
o Labor Day o Other

o Christmas
o Independence Day __________________
o National Hero's Day

64. Which of the following Chinese/Taiwanese festivals have you celebrated while in

o Chun Jie (Chinese o Duan Wu Jie (Dragon o Qi Qiao Jie (Cowherd &
New Year) Boat Festival) Weaving Maiden
o Qing Ming Jie (Chinese Festival)
All Souls' Day)
o Zhong Qiu Jie o Mid-Autumn Festival o Tomb Sweeping Day
(Mooncake Festival) o Double-Nine Festival o Other
o Dong Zhi (Winter o Ten-Ten __________________
Solstice Festival)

65. Which of the following other Filipino cultural activities do you participate in while in
o Traditional Filipino dance
o Singing Traditional/ Folkloric Filipino Songs
o Cooking of Filipino foods
o Making of a Filipino craft item (embroidery, sewing, Tapis weaving, basketry,
woodcraft, etc.)
o Wearing of Traditional Filipino clothing (Barong, kimona, malong, etc)
o Practicing Arnis Balite or other Filipino Martial Art
o Playing Filipino games ( pusoy dos, tong-its, or other Pinoy games)
o Membership in a cultural activities group
Other ________________________________________

66. Which of the following Chinese/Taiwanese cultural activities do you participate in

while in Taiwan?
o Traditional Chinese/Taiwanese dance
o Singing Traditional/ Folkloric Chinese/Taiwanese Songs
o Cooking of Chinese/Taiwanese foods
o Making of a Chinese/Taiwanese craft items
o Wearing of Traditional Chinese/Taiwanese clothing
o Practicing Tai-Chi, Kung-Fu or another Chinese/Taiwanese Martial Art
o Playing Chinese/Taiwanese games (e.g. mahjong)
o Membership in a Chinese/Taiwanese cultural activities group
o Other ________________________________________


As a Filipino living in Taiwan, you have been exposed to two cultures: Filipino and Taiwanese.
Please think how much the Filipino and Taiwanese cultures feel as SEPARATE or COMBINED
cultures for you. Next, read the statements below, think about their meaning carefully, and choose
the one that best describes your particular experience.

67. Which is most true?

o I combine both cultures
(e.g., I feel a mixture of Taiwanese and Filipino-a most of the time)
o I keep both cultures separate
(e.g., Most of the time I feel Taiwanese in some places and Filipino in others)
o I only feel Taiwanese
o I only feel Filipino

68. Which statement best describes how you feel?

o I don't feel caught between the two cultures
o I feel caught between two cultures
(e.g., I usually feel like I must choose between being Taiwanese OR Filipino)


69. How often do you attend worship services? (Check the answer)
o Everyday o About once a month
o Several times a week o About every six weeks
o Every week o About every three months
o Nearly every week o About once or twice a year
o About three times a month o Less than once a year
o About twice a month o Never

70. How often did you attend Sunday worship services when living in the Philippines?
(Check the answer)
o Every week
o Nearly every week
o About three times a month
o About twice a month
o About once a month
o About every six weeks
o About every three months
o About once or twice a year
o Less than once a year
o Never
71. How often, if at all, do you say table prayers or grace before meals?
o I say grace at all meals
o I say grace at least once a day
o I say grace at least once a week
o I say grace, but only on special occasions
o I never, or hardly ever, say grace

72. How often, if at all, did you say table prayers or grace before meals when living in the
o I said grace at all meals
o I said grace at least once a day
o I said grace at least once a week
o I said grace, but only on special occasions
o I never, or hardly ever, said grace

Devotionalism Index
73. How often do you pray privately? (Check the answer that comes closest to what you
o I never pray, or on1y do so at church services.
o I pray on1y on very specia1 occasions.
o I pray once in a whi1e, but not at regular interva1s.
o I pray qui1e often, but not at regular times.
o I pray regu1ar1y once a day or more.
o I pray regu1arly severa1 times a week.
o I pray regu1ar1y once a week.

74. In which church groups do you actively participate?

o El Shaddai
o Choir
o Sinulog
o Legion of Mary
o Holiday/ Festival groups
o Bible study
o Volunteer project/ community outreach
o Other (please list)

0 1 2 3 4 5
○ ○ ○ ○ ○ ○
Strongly Somewhat Disagree Agree Somewhat Strongly
75. I feel sad or depressed Disagree Disagree Agree Agree

○ ○ ○ ○ ○ ○
76. I feel pessimistic (negative) about Strongly Somewhat Disagree Agree Somewhat Strongly
the future Disagree Disagree Agree Agree

○ ○ ○ ○ ○ ○
77. I worry about things that might go Strongly Somewhat Disagree Agree Somewhat Strongly
wrong Disagree Disagree Agree Agree

○ ○ ○ ○ ○ ○
78. I feel fearful or anxious Strongly Somewhat Disagree Agree Somewhat Strongly
Disagree Disagree Agree Agree

○ ○ ○ ○ ○ ○
79. I feel like I lack companionship Strongly Somewhat Disagree Agree Somewhat Strongly
Disagree Disagree Agree Agree

○ ○ ○ ○ ○ ○
80. I feel isolated from others Strongly Somewhat Disagree Agree Somewhat Strongly
Disagree Disagree Agree Agree

○ ○ ○ ○ ○ ○
81. I wish I could have more respect Strongly Somewhat Disagree Agree Somewhat Strongly
for myself Disagree Disagree Agree Agree

○ ○ ○ ○ ○ ○
82. I feel dissatisfied with myself Strongly Somewhat Disagree Agree Somewhat Strongly
Disagree Disagree Agree Agree

○ ○ ○ ○ ○ ○
83. I am satisfied with my life Strongly Somewhat Disagree Agree Somewhat Strongly
Disagree Disagree Agree Agree

○ ○ ○ ○ ○ ○
84. The conditions of my life are Strongly Somewhat Disagree Agree Somewhat Strongly
excellent Disagree Disagree Agree Agree

○ ○ ○ ○ ○ ○
85. In most ways my life is close to Strongly Somewhat Disagree Agree Somewhat Strongly
my ideal Disagree Disagree Agree Agree


86. Please think of your closest friends (by friends, we mean people who you have
interacted with as personal friends, but not your family members). Write the initials of
FOUR friends:

F1. ______________F2. ____________F3. ____________F4.

87. Next please indicate on the lines below the nationality of each of the previous
individuals using the categories below 1= Filipino
o 2= Chinese/ Taiwanese
o 3= Indonesian
o 4= Thai
o 5= Vietnamese
o 6= American
o 7=Other (please specify F1. ______________F2. ____________F3.
____________F4. ____________

88. If you are in a romantic relationship, what is the nationality of your partner? _________
(use categories from above)

89. My favorite musician is … _________ (use categories from above)

90. My favorite co-workers is… _________ (use categories from above)

91. My favorite food are … _________ (use categories from above)

92. The person I most admire is … _________ (use categories from above)

93. My best/closest friend is … _________ (use categories from above)

K. Homeland Contact

94. How do you stay connected with friends and family back home (check all that apply)
o Phones
o Text messaging
o E-mail
o “Live” internet chat
o Letters/ packages via post
o Couriers other than government post
o I don’t communicate with anyone back home

95. Do you use the internet to contact anyone other than family friends, such as to look for
boyfriend, jobs, make investments, etc?

o No
o Yes
 Explain


96. How often do you contact friends/ family back home

o Never/ almost never
o Monthly
o Several times a month
o Weekly
o Several times a week
o Daily
o Several times a day

97. How often do you send money to friends/ family back home?
o Never/ almost never
o Once or twice a year
o Every few months
o Monthly
o Several times a month
o Weekly

98. How do you send money?

o I don’t send money to anyone back home
o Cash sent by friends/ family returning to Philippines
o Private couriers
o Governmental post
o Private money transfer company (iKobo, Western Union, Pesocard, etc.)
o ATM via Bank account in Taiwan
o Other ______________________________

99. On average how much money do you send back home each time? _____________NT

L. Future Plans

100. After finishing your contract in Taiwan do you plan to…

o Return to Philippines permanently

o Return to Philippines for a while then return to Taiwan

o Return to Philippines for a while then return to another country
o Other _______________________________________________________

101. Briefly, what are your future plans?





Informed Consent 101

Transnationalizing the Self: Transitions in Identity among Marginalized Labor
Department of Sociology, Arizona State University
Stephen Sills; PhD Candidate; Victor Agadjanian; Faculty Advisor

Dear Documentary Participant:

My name is Stephen Sills. I am a PhD candidate in the Department of Sociology at
Arizona State University. I invite you to participate in my dissertation research and
documentary film/video "Transnationalizing the Self.” The purpose of the project is to
create a film that will inform viewers about the experiences of migrants.
You will not be paid for your participation. There may be no benefit other than a sense of
informing and education the public at large. Your participation is completely voluntary.
Your refusal to participate won't affect you in any way. You may refuse to participate
before the production begins or stop at any time after video recording has begun.
There are no known risks to participating in this project.
I will interview you about your life experience for about an hour on three separate
occasions. These interviews will be videotaped. Additionally, I will ask for you to take
photographs and videotape objects you encounter in daily life (with cameras I will
provide to you).
These videotapes, photographs and interviews will be used in scholarly writings on the
nature of migration. Additionally, these media will be edited to create a video
documentary that may be shown publicly. If it is your preference, your identity may be
concealed by use of back lighting or placement of a digital “mask.”
Questions about this project can be directed to Stephen Sills or to my faculty sponsor Dr.
Victor Agadjanian (480) 965-3546 at the Arizona State University.
You will receive a copy of this form.
Your signature below will indicate that you have decided to volunteer as a participant in
this project; that your questions have been answered satisfactorily; and that you have
read the information provided above.
Participant's signature: ______________________________________________

Date: ____________________________________________________________
If you have any questions about your rights as a subject/participant in this research, or if you feel you have
been placed at risk, you can contact the Chair of the Human Subjects Institutional Review Board, through
Karol Householder, at (480) 965-6788.

HS# 06851-03 Approval Date: 9/18/2002

Program title: "Transnationalizing the Self"
Thank you very much for your consent to participate in this project. The following is a
release to use video and film collected for this project and to indemnify the researcher.
I agree individually and on behalf of my children, spouses, heirs and legal

1. To the use of my name and likeness whether in still, motion

picture, or video tape, photograph and/or other reproduction of me,
my child, or my property, including voice and features, with or
without my name, for any noncommercial research and educational
purposes which may include publication, posting on the internet,
and creation of a publicly viewed video documentary.
2. To release and to indemnify Stephen Sills and Arizona State
University for, from and against any and all injuries, claims, and
damages, (including attorney’s fees and other costs in the defense
of any claim or suit) a result of any loss, damage, or injury, to any
persons or property arising out of any action, inaction, or
participation in any video or photographic productions of Arizona
State University.
I authorize Stephen Sills to record and edit my name, likeness, image, voice, interview,
and performance. Stephen Sills may use all or parts of the program.
Stephen Sills shall own all right, title, and interest in and to the program, including the
recordings, to be used and disposed of without limitation as Stephen Sills shall in his sole
discretion determine.
Participant's name: ________________________________
Participant's signature: _____________________________Date: _________________
Contact Information:
Stephen Sills' signature: _____________________________Date: _________________

You will receive a copy of this form