Monday, December 6, 2010

KUMUSTA KA NA, BILOG? [How are you doing now, Filipino irregular migrant?]

Revisiting the Challenges and Prospects of Filipino Irregular Migrants:  
Focus on JAPAN

Nearly one (8%) of every ten Filipinos overseas is an irregular migrant, that is, one whose presence in a host country is not sanctioned by its laws.   While irregulars are in four of five (179 of 214) countries with Filipino migrants, a good majority of them (68%) are found in just 6 choice destinations: United States of America, Malaysia, Singapore, France, Japan and United Arab Emirates.

Moreover, trends of more recent Filipinos migrant workers in Japan weave quite a unique narrative.  In the decade up to 2004, more Filipino migrant workers (132 average daily departures) left for Japan as entertainers than the combined numbers of those who left as domestic helpers for Malaysia, Singapore, United Arab Emirates and Hong Kong (83 average daily departures).  The strength of this trend was such that by 2000-2004, entertainers dominated both flows (60% average yearly) and stocks (28%, biggest block) of Filipinos in Japan[see Table 1 below].
Table 1: Stocks and Flows of Filipinos in Japan, 2000-2008
[Source: Japan Ministry of Justice (2010):
[Table with processed data is here.]
A sudden tightening of visa rules in 2005 reduced entertainer flows by almost 80%, allowing in an average of only 11,000 new Filipino entertainers from 2005-2009.  In this same period, temporary visitor visas became the majority entry route (between 60-70% of Filipino flows) to Japan.  After the 2005 crackdown, Filipino entertainers remained (up to 2008) the far majority nationality (71%) of entertainers in Japan (followed by Chinese, Koreans, Indonesians at 3-7%)[see Table 2 below].

Table 2: Stocks and Flows of Filipinos in Japan by Selected 
Residence Statuses and Other Nationalities, 2004-2008
[Source: Japan Ministry of Justice (2009):
Table 1-1 (Page 102) to Table 12-1 (Page 107)]
[See Table with processed data here.]
Discussion Points.  Filipinos who remain in Japan beyond the period specified in their visas become “overstayers” or, as local compatriots refer to them, “Bilog.”  Literally meaning “round” in the Filipino vernacular, the term Bilog also equates with the image of a zero, or nothingness, signifying overstayers’ invisibility, their exclusion from the mainstream.

In the last two decades since 1990, roughly one of every six (30,000 average yearly) Filipinos in Japan have become Bilog, peaking in 1998 at 42,600 and dropping to its lowest level yet this 2011 at 9,329.  Have the particularly overwhelming numbers of entertainers been a variable in the identity, inclusiveness and cohesiveness of the local Filipino community – both regular and irregular? [see Table 3 below].
Table 3:  Filipino Overstayers in Japan, 1990-2011
[Source:  Ministry of Justice, 2010 and 2011]
[*Multi-year headcounts represent average yearly figures for the period indicated.][Table with processed data is here.]
By 2007-2010, four of every five (79%) current overstayers in Japan were either previously temporary visitors(54%) and entertainers(25%) [see Table 4 below].

Table 4: Previous Status of Residence of Overstayers in Japan by Major Nationalities, 2007-2010[Sources: 20102009, Table 22008, Table 2, Page 42007, Table 2, Page 4]
[See Table with processed data here.]
Bilogs have historically (1990-2010) been among the biggest groups of overstayers (hovering at 13-17% or 3rd largest), second only to Korea (24% in 2010, largest) and China (14% in 2010, 2nd largest)[see Table 3 above].   To what degree have Bilogs been able to harness their size and prominence among the various nationalities of overstayers as a source of group support, issue advocacy and networking?  Or does irregularity or lack of legal status render impotent any form of organizational formation?  How do various social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc) enable collaboration among members of hidden populations such as Bilogs?

Clearly, Bilogs persevere in their workplaces, maybe even thriving to hitherto unreached potential when a confluence of societal forces cooperate with their own investments of effort, diligence, sacrifice and guts.  Majority of overstayers (56%) hold down any of the following three types of jobs:  factory work(rank 1, 26%, mostly male), attendants/hostess (rank 2, 16%, predominantly female) and construction work (rank 3, 14%, virtually all male)[see Table 5 below].
Table 5:  Illegal Work by Type of Work and Gender, 2000-2008
[See full listing of sources at the end of this Table with processed data.]
Seven of ten  overstayers (69%) are found in just 5 (of 47) prefectures of Japan:  Tokyo(31%), Aichi(10%), Kannagawa(11%), Chiba(8%), Saitama(9%)[see Table 6 below].
Table 6: Illegal Work by Place of Work, 2004-2008
[See full listing of sources at the end of this Table with processed data.]
Two of every three overstayers (66%) earn lower than 7,000yen per day [see Table 7 below].
Table 7: Illegal Work by Amount of Pay and Gender, 2009
[See full listing of sources at the end of this Table with processed data.]
Majority of overstayers (55%) are between 30 to 40 years old[see Table 8 below].

Table 8:  Illegal Work by Age and Gender, 2009
[See full listing of sources at the end of this Table with processed data.]
Does irregularity limit the work access and earning level of Bilogs?   Are remittance habits and patterns in any way determined and shaped by irregularity (i.e. inability to go home and monitor investments and spending patterns, job insecurity causing unpredictability of amount and frequency of wire transfers)?

Majority of Bilogs are women (71% in 2010), and this is also true for overstayers from Korea, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore.  Male Bilogs are more vulnerable to arrest.  Women Bilogs earn slightly less in terms of salary than male Bilogs.  In what ways do experiences of irregularity vary depending on gender of the Bilog? [see Table 9 below].
Table 9: Filipino Overstayers by Gender, 2005-2010
[Table with processed data is here.]
In 2004, the immigration bureau of Japan set an aggressive goal: to reduce all current overstayers by half in a period of 5 years (until 2008).  In addition to the tightening of rules for entertainer visas implemented in March 2005, the Departure Order System (DOS) was instituted 6 months earlier (in October 2004), allowing overstayers to voluntarily surrender and, by doing so, be able to return to Japan after only 1 year as compared to a 5-year ban if an overstayer is arrested.

Relative to pre-DOS surrender numbers, it can be said that the offer was effective, Bilog surrender rates increasing five-fold (from 276 surrenders in 2004 to 1,488 average yearly surrenders in 2005-2009).  Relative to the total number of current Bilogs, the DOS program had a negligible effect (only 1%).  The aggregate response of overstayers of all nationalities was stronger (in quantity and percentage) than that of the Bilogs: 11-fold increase from pre-DOS surrender rates and 5% surrender rate based on total overstayer population.  In the period 2005-2008, four Bilogs surrendered every day (4th rank) while for the Chinese (1st rank) nine overstayers surrendered daily[see Table 10 below].

Table 10: Ranking of Arrest and Surrender of Overstayers by Major Nationalities, 2000-2008
[See full listing of sources at the end of this Table with processed data.]

From 2000-2009, for every 1 Bilog who decided to surrender, 4 were arrested.  Getting arrested did not automatically mean deportation, as violators of Japan’s Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act (ICRRA) are allowed to file a protest if they desire to do so.  One of every four who were detained or arrested were subsequently given provisional release orders and special permissions to stay.  It is important to understand that not all who are deported are overstayers[see Table 11 below].
Table 11:  Status of Detained and Departed ICCRA Violators, 2000-2009
[Please see Annex 8 for full table and full notes to terms used above.
Please note that figures used represent average amounts for the periods indicated.]

Deportations are also meted out those who are charged with illegal entry, illegal landing, engaging in unauthorized activities and doing criminal offenses[see Table 12 below].

Table 12: Violations of the ICRRA, 2000-2009
[See Table with processed data here.]
All told, from 2000-2009, over 50,000 Bilogs returned to the Philippines (through deportation or through departure orders).  What are the decision-making parameters of a Bilog that lead to a surrender? What actions led to an arrest?  In what ways does the process of reintegration vary for returning Bilogs as compared to returning non-Bilogs?  In what ways does one’s local network at the host country contribute to future activities of the returned Bilog?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

[Eljoma Thinks: Why Not?]
BILOG - Filipino Irregular Migrants' Group

Information Sharing, Support and Selp-Help Sessions, Networking Activities -- Toward Societal Reintegration

A hidden population is a group of persons who are unwilling to be identified because of their fear of censure or social stigma.  Some examples of these kinds of groups are drug addicts, sex workers, victims of rape or child abuse, former priests and nuns, the homeless, street children.  Yet, it is precisely because these populations are hidden that they are the most vulnerable to continuing stigmatization (due to lack of information and thus understanding on them) and societal marginalization (as they are beyond the reach of effective government policies and programs.).

Irregular migrants are another example of a hidden population.

Current ones, understandably, avoid identification for fear of arrest and deportation.  Past ones, depending on how well they prepared for their inevitable deportation, face three fates.  One, those who saved up can leapfrog into economically productive activities.  Two, those who were unable to accumulate enough capital return to their previous economic status and restart their lives from where they left off prior to their departure. And three, those who were unlucky and through various personal indiscretions and squandered opportunities returned broke and alienated from their families, simply disappear into the periphery of society.

Governments usually consult a target population when a policy that is intended to apply to them is to be formulated and eventually implemented.  But how does a government of a destination or immigration country consult a population that is deemed to be in violation of its laws?  Or, more importantly, why does it need to consult violators when its mandate is simply to enforce and implement the law?  For a government of a source or emigration country, how does it assist this vulnerable population when it is unable to, first, identify them, and, two, understand through empirically gathered information their situation and thus their most critical needs?

For governments of destination countries there are at least two reasons why policies on migration management - particularly concerning irregular migration - would become more effective if a cycle of feedback and review can be initiated based on empirically gathered information.

One, policy effectiveness cannot be equated solely with deportation numbers, though that is one stage in the migration management continuum.  Equally important are key issues such as, among others, how long deported irregular migrants stay in their home countries before attempting to go abroad again to other destination countries, or possibly to the same country that deported them.

Two, the attractiveness of voluntary surrender offers need to be verified from the target population themselves, in additional to consulting secondary resource persons or organizations.  The Departure Order System of Japan, for example, instituted over 6 years ago (in October of 2004), has yet to achieve its desired effect.  Is the Departure Order System designed more to attract neophyte overstayers (say below 3 or 5 years) or long-standing ones (higher than 5 years)?  Current irregular migrants that I have discussed the Departure Order System with cite various reasons why they find it a better proposition to just stay on as overstayers.  To be sure, computations and assessments of the cost versus the benefit of voluntarily surrendering vary according to the length of stay as an overstayer.  It is these kinds of individual opinions that come directly from the affected populations that need to be verified and validated empirically through a wider base of respondents.

For governments of source or emigration countries, what programs can be instituted in order to re-tool and re-orient the returned irregular migrant so that he may be eventually led back to become a productive member of society?  One deported irregular migrant respondent of mine with ten years experience baking for a high-end bakery in Japan remains unemployed since July 2010 because his baking skills cannot be used by the baking industry of a rural town where his is now stuck in.  How can counselling be offered to those who have come back to alienated families?  The goal of this counselling would not be to rebuild relationships -- as they are often broken beyond repair.  Rather, counselling would be targeted at redirecting the migrant's remaining energies to rebuilding his future from that point onwards, with (ideally) or without (unavoidably) his original loved ones.

For returning irregular migrants, the ultimate goal is reintegration.  Unlike returning regular migrants whose plans are controlled fully by their active decision-making, returning irregular migrants -- especially those who were deported (as opposed to those who voluntarily surrendered) -- are suddenly thrust into a time frame and situation that is largely unplanned.  Uncertainty and unpredictability are the most challenging to overcome.  One immediate need is to link returning irregular migrants to a support and self-help group to counter loneliness and the shock of abrupt return into the local community.  Networking with other deported irregular migrants may also be a valuable source of benchmarking of tactics and strategies at survival methods after returning to the Philippines.

Forming BILOG - The Filipino Irregular Migrants' Group
Past and current Filipino irregular migrants in Japan will want to join the BILOG group for three reasons:

1.  Support and Self-Help
Members of BILOG can link with other past or current irregular migrants and share experiences and coping mechanisms.

2. Networking Opportunities
Members of BILOG can also share valuable income earning and employment opportunities.

3. Information Sessions
Members of BILOG can have the opportunity to participate in information sessions that will provide important benchmarks for better, more relevant policies on migration management.  Those who willingly and voluntarily  participate in information sharing sessions will be generously thanked and recognized for their investment of time and openness at providing truthful information.

The flowchart below summarizes the five stakeholders of the proposed BILOG group and its key activities.

Flowchart of the Filipino Irregular Migrants' Group

Two Key Concerns: Verification and Confidentiality of Membership
Past and current Filipino irregular migrants in Japan will sign-up via a website to apply for membership.  Their real names (or those consistent with their passports) have to be used when registering in order to proper verification.  The verification protocol will be the source of legitimacy and credibility of the group's membership.

A three-step process of verification will be employed.  First, scanned copies of documents that can prove that one was or is a Filipino Overstayer in Japan will be included in the registration process.  As it is possible to fabricate almost any kind of document, a second-level verification is necessary.  Second, the list of those who signed up will be reviewed by a Philippine government agency and those who are not on their list of having departed for and overstayed in Japan will be stricken off.  Third, as a final verification, this list will be provided to a Japanese organization which, together with a Japan government office, will also strike out names that have have no record of having actually entered Japan.

It must be noted here that no residence address or contact information other than email address will be asked of the members of BILOG.

Devil's advocates are needed to further streamline and clarify this out-of-the-box idea.  Can you cite reasons why this idea will not work?

Friday, October 29, 2010

On Theoretical Approaches to Understand Irregular Migration

Irregular migration is inescapably situated within “regular” migration.  Thus we begin our review of the theoretical approaches to irregular migration by looking at the current theories of regular migration.  Figure 6 on the next page attempts to present in a unified schematic form the current theories that help explain international migration.

The first is the wage differentials theory (which I classify in Figure 6 as micro-level theories) cited by Massey et al. (1993) and espoused mainly by neoclassical economists.  This theory argues that higher incomes at the target destination countries are the main impetus to migration, a decision made primarily by the individual with the objective being income maximization.  Moreover, having the motivation to migrate to search for better incomes will not necessarily mean one can readily leave for one’s chosen destination country.

To be sure, border controls and immigration restrictions will limit the degree to which one can act on one’s individual decision to migrate.  This intense motivation of migrants to seek better incomes, on the one hand, and the zealous border controls by the state, on the other hand, creates an inevitable downward spiral in terms of skills vis-a-vis job matching.  Immigration restrictions, in general, are designed to favor medium- to highly-skilled migrants, individuals who may have more options at working at their home countries and thus have theoretically lesser compulsion to seek higher incomes abroad.

Figure 6:  A Schematic of International Migration Theories

Yet these better-educated and better-skilled migrants end up taking unskilled work abroad, prompting the question of whether “there are ways of channeling economic migration more efficiently?” (Jordan Duvell, 2002).  The lesser skilled, filtered out successfully by immigration restrictions, are then forced to explore various irregular migration routes, and if they are successful end-up taking even more unskilled work.

In addition to border control and immigration restrictions, employment opportunities in destination countries that are assumed by migrant hopefuls to have higher income potential are highly constrained by, among others, housing prospects, transport costs and the need recruitment practices of agencies and employers (Cohen, 1996).

The second of the micro-level theories is the “new economics” theory which argues that migration is more a household, rather than individual, decision and that in addition to considering the assumed higher wages in a destination country other variables such as crop insurance markets, futures markets, unemployment insurance, and capital markets are also equally evaluated by the household (Massey, Arango, Hugo, Kouaouci, Pelegrino, & Taylor, 1996).  In essence this “new economics” theory argues that households do a more holistic evaluation of a wider set of variables in order to ensure that family income is maximized and constraints in saving up needed capital are minimized.
If wage differentials and new economics comprise the “push” theories, that is, that factors in the sending countries impel migrants to leave their country, then the dual labour market theory is the “pull” theory.

Modern, industrial economies of the destination/receiving countries are structured in such a way that creates a need for migrant workers from source/sending countries (Piore, 1979).  For example, increasing salaries to better compete for good local workers will necessitate doing so across the organization so as to maintain the consistency of prestige and the corresponding position. This “structural inflation” motivates employers to seek cheaper alternatives, that is, to hire migrant workers who are not mindful of salary levels as it compares to others in the organization.  

Indeed, it is not hard to understand the simple mindset of determined migrant worker.  What may be considered by locals as low wages for certain jobs are considered as bearable, if not sufficiently acceptable, wages by migrant workers as these are 1) always compared to having no job at all back in their home countries or 2) foreign exchange rates results to net gains when the money is sent back to their home countries as remittances.

Another aspect of the Dual Labour Market Theory is economic dualism.  As demand for a product fluctuates, capital investments and labour react differently, varying in terms of who shoulders the maintenance costs so that when demand eventually picks up these inputs can be re-started or re-employed.  Equipment and buildings (capital investments) can be operated at a lower capacity, but not removed, the owners of the capital shouldering the continuing depreciation costs.  Labor, on the other hand, can be laid off during off-peak demand, and re-hired as necessary to match demand increases, the workers thus bearing the costs of their unemployment during the lean season.  Massey et al. (1996) argue that this economic dualism results in a bifurcation of the labor force.  On the one hand, high-skilled workers go to capital-intensive industries.  On the other hand, low-skilled workers are pulled into labour-intensive industries, with no guarantees whatsoever on the length of their employment, creating, if you will, a permanent demand for temporary workers – the perfect haven targeted by the droves of low-skilled migrant workers.

Japan, for example, has two distinct sets of policies with regards to skilled and unskilled workers, and ironically, it is this separation of policies that creates the pull for irregular migrants workers who target these unskilled jobs (Spenser, 1992).

This kind of acquisition of migrant workers can also viewed in terms of the mobility and flexibility of the labor input itself, as being shaped and defined by the requirements of employers (Jordan & Duvell, 2002).

The integrated, single economic system argued by the world systems theory can be seen as the ultimate rationalization of the existence of migrant workers (Eades J. , 2005).  As capitalists continuously strive for greater profits by increasing sales and lowering costs, migrant workers presents themselves as the cheapest labor inputs as they are not subjected to state regulation given their essential non-existence, non-acknowledged presence in immigrant countries.  The continued specialization and increasing efficiency with which capitalists develop business processes create niche economic conditions that ultimately result in creating a demand for migrants (Palidda, 2005).

As nation states vary in wealth and power, there is an inevitable surplus of either work or labor in both immigration and emigration countries, which the desperate, poverty-stricken or opportunity-seeking migrant worker hones into with the same accuracy as a hawk on a deep dive to sweep up its prey.  Migrant workers who are unable to play within the immigration rules, are classified as “irregular,” a stamp created by the core states as a necessary outcome of their responsibility to keep the material benefits of capitalism circulating only within its “regular” citizenry.  Indeed, this kind of primacy of the national interests, oftentimes called “nationalism,” is interpreted by world systems theorists, to be ultimately detrimental to the global integration of all economies.  Seen on a supra-national scale, whole countries notorious as immigrant countries (Mexico, the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand) can be regarded, using the world systems theory, as entire countries of the proletarian, semi-proletarian and super-exploited social class that provide cheap labor inputs to the capitalists.

The conflicting interests of capitalist states – the need for cheap labor versus the need to prevent irregular migrants from competing with regular citizenry for material benefits – may offer an explanation as to the largely ineffective migration policies worldwide as seen across most migration literature.  Illegal migrants continue to arrive in immigrant countries despite all odds.  Their physical presence and concomitant material- and non-material needs in an immigrant country use the material resources in that economy – regardless of whether the state acknowledges this or not.  

As irregular workers are simultaneously attracted and exploited by nation states, their human, working and social/cultural conditions continue to deteriorate, confirming the symbiotic relations between the capitalists and the state.  Since migration policies are brokered within this context, that is, as instruments that balance the interests of the capitalists and the state, current research has not been able to show a useful perspective that can truly integrate the interests of the irregular migrant within the overall world systems.

Thus we can say that micro- and macro-level theorists argue that in search of better paying jobs and improved family financial security, workers decide individually and/or as a family unit to take advantage of employment opportunities created by virtue of the integrated world economic system where industrial, developed countries have a consistent need for low-paid, piecework/temporary workers

Once migration has started, a number of theories discuss factors that facilitate, if not direct, its continued existence.  The Network Theory looks at how migrants, now successfully reaching foreign shores, through natural human interaction are able to cultivate new, or maintain and deepen existing relationships with other fellow-migrants and non-migrants in both the destination and source countries (Massey, Arango, Hugo, Kouaouci, Pelegrino, Taylor, 1996).  This network of acquaintances and liaisons starts initially with fellow migrants based on common interests, values and beliefs but soon extends to even non-migrants.  

Expanded and exhaustive migrant networks now spanning several countries, and even continents, serve to lower the barriers-to-entry for new migrants (such as finding housing, navigating the logistics of settling down in a foreign land, etc) as they are able to avoid costly, first-timer mistakes by learning from the established best practices of the current local migrants.  This creates a ripple effect in that easy entry of new migrants motivates new migrant hopefuls and this, in turn, further expands existing migrant networks, ad infinitum, forming what has been called “chain migration” (Eades J. , 1987).

As these networks become more sophisticated, yet remaining informal, they can be seen as transnational communities that play a number of important roles, namely: a). they function to identify alternative procedures to work around not-so-helpful immigration policies; b). they help business networks function through their pervasive, connections over multiple boarders; c) they may contribute to pushing the agenda of various political groups through their ethnicity-based solidarity; and, d) local activities conducted abroad enhance homeland heritage and language (Iredale, Hawksley, Castles, 2003).  To be sure, transnational groups across countries also work through various cooperative agreements with government bodies in order to facilitate needed migrants with specialized skills (Gabriel & Pellerin, 2008). 

Adding to the complexity of the migration process is the role played by organized groups with complementary, competing or adversarial roles in relation to the migrant’s needs – as espoused by the Institutional Theory.  When companies or employers – the demand side of the equation – who are looking to hire migrant workers – the supply side – due to the theorized effects of structural inflation and the dual labour market are restricted by immigration policies from recruiting at will, a situation that is rife with exploitation and profit is created (Massey, Arango, Hugo, Kouaouci, Pelegrino, Taylor, 1996). 

On one side of the fence are the legitimate private, for-profit recruitment and employment agencies that attempt to match skills specified by the overseas hiring company with the qualifications of the available migrant hopefuls. Those who fall through this legitimate process and are unable to migrate resort to tapping the equivalent, but clandestine, counterpart organization, the illegal recruiter, which specializes in creative means to get a migrant into a country without papers or without authentic ones.
Providing a counterbalancing effect are the government organizations, from both receiving and sending countries, that seek to improve regulation of the legal recruiting processes and to stamp out the illegal activities.  These state organizations are complemented by non-government, non-profit organizations that, by virtue of their size and specialized, geographic or thematic focus areas, may be more responsive to immediate calls for help from exploited migrants seeking safe havens.
Massey et al. (1996) argue that cumulatively the institutions that are in one way or another involved with migrants form a separate layer of facilitating or restricting migration variables, wholly independent from the individual, family or economic migration factors discussed in the above-listed migration theories.

In summary, migration must be understood in three dimensions:  1). cause and effect, 2). continuing/going concern or process, and 3). global context and impact.  Fully grasping this multi-faceted subject will be the first step at untangling the problems that plague it.  Individuals are pushed to find alternatives to be better providers to their dependents (cause: wage differential and new economics of migration theories) yet this desire will fizzle out naturally were it not for the existence of distinct requirements of companies, due to their perpetual pressure to stay profitable (cause: dual market theory), that in fact feed the 10- or 20-fold income earning fantasy of migrant hopefuls.  The undeniable fact is that there are far more numbers of migrant hopefuls – fueled by poverty worldwide – than there are allowable entry units, guarded closely by national interests within the existing global order of power and vested interests (global: world-systems theory).  

Choosing who can leave and who must stay are the institutions and organizations that broker the prized, limited entry permits on behalf of private, commercial and state interests (process: institutional theory). Once successfully inserted into a foreign land and slaving away at work, the migrant workers, as social beings, naturally entrench themselves further through social connections and networks that have the ripple effect of further enhancing future migration (process: network theory).  Existing data track the successful migrants, but no one has been able to find a way to count the unsuccessful migrants, that is, those who applied but were rejected and chose to stay home or those who, undeterred by their rejection, resort to the illegal route, becoming an “irregular migrant,” creating an extremely vulnerable situation for themselves in the host country (effect: institutional theory).   Moving beyond the realm of statistics and, more importantly, beyond the safety nets of basic social services, irregular migrants struggle to survive through any and all means they can mobilize (effect:  network theory).  Regardless of legal status, all migrant workers send money back home (global: world-systems theory), propping up the failing economies of their home countries with their steady remittances.  As unstoppable global integration forces (i.e. information technology, environment challenges, interdependence of financial markets, global security concerns, etc.) continue to shape migration trends, how will its most vulnerable sector – the irregular migrant – manage to survive unwanted?   At this point, we can now appreciate how the subject of irregular migration within the theories of regular migration is only superficially interrogated by the current literature on theoretical approaches.  As this study’s scope can be said to inhabit the domain of the second theme (of three themes I cite above -  that is: continuing/going concern or process) I wish to highlight a number of areas where the current literature is insufficient.

First, the emphasis of current theories is on the first theme (causes and effects).  This study wishes to investigate how, beyond those causes and themes, “illegality” is also continuously emerging and transforming the social system (structure and people).  In this light, it may be said that this study’s scope is more in-depth as it theorizes that “illegality” is sustained by the particular relations of its “component” units and the new “entities” created from that interaction (to be discussed further below).

Second, there seems to be a de-emphasis on the temporal aspect of “illegality” in the current literature on regular migration.  As we will see, one of the biggest (if not the biggest) going concerns of Bilogs is the overwhelmingly negative attitude towards them by locals.  This is a concern becomes a real threat when they translate into action – such as vigilant Japanese neighbors reporting “suspicious” foreigners, triggering then mandatory police visits which then successfully result in apprehensions of overstayers.  This study then needs to employ a framework that better incorporates the temporal aspect into its formulation of how present-day cultural/ideational themes are in anchored on strong historical bases.

This then is the reason why this study develops a “Sustenance” framework – that may complement the “cause and effect” emphasis of current frameworks – that incorporates the roles of the main actors of migration as well as emphasizes the temporal dimension in its theorization.   As a handle to investigate  in a more in-depth manner how “illegality” is continuously generating or emerging from its social context, this study chooses to employ the Critical Realist approach (to be discussed in detail in next section).

Monday, October 25, 2010

[Recent Gov't Activities in Japan Related to Illegal Migration] Conducted in 2009

The listing and description of activities related to illegal migration in Japan are lifted from a document entitled "2009 Immigration Control" released by the Japan Ministry of Justice.

1. March 6, 2009 - Holding of "Coordination Meeting of Concerned Director Generals for Countermeasures, etc. against Illegal Foreign Workers."
The "Coordination Meeting of Concerned Director Generals for Countermeasures, etc. against Illegal Foreign Workers”, was held with the participation of persons at the level of Director General of the National Police Agency, the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare to discuss present measures against illegal foreign workers and future measures.

Japan Ministry of Justice (2009).  2009 Immigration Control. Retrieved on October 14, 2010 from

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Patay, Huli.

Arrest and Deportation -- What  to Expect; DOs and DON'Ts.
Title translation:   “Patay” – "dead;"   “Huli” –  "caught."  Full: "I'm dead. I'm caught."]

The day I dreaded had finally come.  After nearly two decades of overstaying in Japan, I was finally arrested.  Within two weeks I was deported back to Manila.  From the airport, I went straight to Quiapo Church - as I promised myself that that would be the first thing I'd do when I got back.  I knelt at the front pew, closed my eyes and began to pray.

I became acutely aware of my surroundings.  The heat inside the Church was bearable as the peak of Japanese summers easily rival those of Manila.  But the sounds outside - street vendors and buyers bargaining, children playing, jeepney horns honking - were music to my ears.  They were sounds I hadn't heard for a very long time.   They were sounds of my countrymen.  Truly, I was home.

I was arrested on a Tuesday, just after 1pm.  I was selling some items in the street market.  Just about anyone with anything to sell would bring their stuff to this particular street in this particular part of the city.  Starting as early as 4:30am, vendors start positioning themselves along the sides, bringing out their items and displaying them for passers-by to see and easily touch and inspect.

Street Market
But that fateful day was a weekday and, unlike weekends when selling normally lasted up to early evening, by 1pm buyers were becoming scarce. I decided I would go back to my room and rest.  I had some leftovers from dinner the night before and, having no refrigerator, I wanted to eat them before they went bad.  I started gathering my unsold items, carefully placing them back in my bag.  I could see other vendors beside me also beginning to pack up for the day.

Packing-Up My Unsold Items

As I made my way out of the market area, I remember that I was not my usual self.  I remember that I was worried about whether I'd be called in for work the following day -- and this affected my alertness.  Instead of taking the side streets which is normally safer, I took the shorter, faster route through the main street.  I was careless.

I was not at work that day because some trouble was brewing with my co-workers and I was told to take a few days off.  A new Japanese official had been assigned to my work team, and for some reason this new guy was always scolding the foreign workers.  I had 12 Chinese and 4 Indonesian co-workers.  I was the only Filipino.  All of us were illegal workers.

Then, someone tapped me on the shoulder.  My wandering mind was brought back instantly to the present.

Man:    Sumamisen, gaijin desu ka? (Excuse me, are you a foreigner?)

Me:   Hai, gaijin desu. (Yes, I am.)
Man:  Doko no kuni? (From what country are you?)
Me:  Phiripin desu. (Philippines)
Man: Pasopoto motteru? (Do you have a passport?)
Me:  Hai, pasopoto mottemasu.  Isshu heya ni ikimasu. (Yes, I have. Let's go to my room together [to get it].)

This wasn't the first time I had been stopped.  In the past the police officer would just let me go when I invited him to come with me to my room to check my passport.  And by this time I had sort of gotten to know the faces of the local police officers.

But this time was different.  The man that stopped me was not in a police uniform, but in plain clothes. When I invited him to come and go with me to my room to check my passport, he agreed.  His face was also an unfamiliar one.  And he was carrying a radio, which he used to quickly call two more of his companions, also in plain clothes.  As we walked back to my Doya room, I was surrounded by three men.

Frantic thoughts were now quickly racing through my mind.  I tried to walk as slowly as possible to buy myself some time to think.  Should I make a run for it?  Could I call anyone?  Did I have money on me?  Where were my important documents?  Could I talk them out of arresting me?  I realized that I wasn't prepared for what was happening.  I had heard of stories of how other Bilogs were arrested, but I couldn't recall learning anything about what to do while I was being arrested.  I was beginning to panic.

I decided against making a run for it.  I was surrounded, and even if I could get away initially from the three men guarding me, I knew I wouldn't get far.  They could easily radio in for reinforcements from among the others also doing spot checks in that area - and I'd be cornered in no time.

After around 20 minutes of walking, we then reached my Doya.  The front desk person didn't seem surprised at all that I was coming in, and going up, with three Japanese men.  Our rooms could only fit a maximum of 1 person, and tenants never had guests.  I realized that he must have assumed that the three men were Japanese authorities coming to arrest me.  Though I never discussed with him that I was an overstayer, I now realize that he must have known all along but was keeping quiet as long as I paid the rent.

Doya Room

I opened the door to my room.  The man that had stopped me put his foot on the door, keeping it open.  The other two men were still on their way up, as the building's elevator could only fit two people at a time.  At that point, I decided I'd make a run for it.  I told the man that I was going to the toilet.  As I had calculated, he didn't follow and just waited in front of my room.   I knew I only had a few seconds before the elevator door would open, and out of it would come the other two men.  My room was on the 5th floor, so sneaking out through the fire escape was not an option.  I could make a faster run for it using the stairs.

I walked past the elevator door and saw that the number indicator had a light at "4."  It was now or never, I remember thinking.  I stole a quick glance at the man in front of my room to check if he was looking at me.  Seeing that he wasn't looking, I quickly turned for the stairs.  I heard the sound of the elevator doors swinging open.  I then started jumping two then three flights of stairs at a time.  "Thug-ug, thug-ug," I could hear my heartbeat bouncing against the narrow staircase walls.

As I reached the first floor, I was surprised to find one of the three guys waiting at the staircase exit.  That's why I couldn't hear anyone run after me, I remembered thinking.  They knew I would try and escape and were ready for it.  Only one of them had taken the second trip upward.

When I reached the 5th floor again via the elevator, this time with the 3rd man, the other two men were not a bit surprised. Their facial expressions were blank and all business.  They asked me again to show my passport.  I had just gotten a new passport a few months back.  Inspecting it and not seeing a valid and current visa, they then asked if I had a Gaikoku-jin tōroku shōmei-sho (Alien Registration Card).  Not being able to show any, they then asked that I come with them to the police station.

I asked if I could change clothes first, and they let me.  What could I bring?  What should I not bring?  I looked around my room and knew that I'd have to leave all my stuff, save for some clothes.  I also left my mobile phone so as to avoid the police calling everyone on my phone contact list, or so I heard from previous stories of arrests of Bilogs.  I had two laptop computers, one of which was a borrowed one.  I had to leave them also.  Some rare coin collections and other electronic gadgets which I was carefully stockpiling for disposal in the street market on weekends, I also had to leave behind.  The only thing I decided to bring was one bag containing all the pictures and letters and video tapes sent by my family.  I also picked up around ¥70,000 cash from my previous week's salary.

On our way out of the Doya, the front desk person asked what to do with my things.  I told him to wait till the week's end as I was already paid up in advance for 1 week. At that point, I was still wishing that I could be lucky and they'd release me after being interrogated at the police station.  I had heard stories of some Bilogs still managing to get themselves released even after detention at the police station.

The drive to the police station took about 45 minutes.  I remember that I was quite surprised at how far their station was.  At that point I realized that the men who arrested me weren't from the locality where I lived.  Apparently they were on an "external inspection visit," I gathered from the Japanese they were speaking to each other and to someone on the radio.  That explained why I couldn't recognize any of their faces, or why they were so determined to apprehend me.

In the police car, I began writing on a small piece of paper the dates and key events that had happened. This list I continued till the day I was deported (see below).

My Diary of My Arrest

I spent two nights at the police station.  Life at the Police jail was very regimented.  Eating, brushing teeth, sleeping, waking up was all done by the minute.  If we didn't fold our bedsheets properly we were scolded.  During these two days, the police asked me how I was living, where I worked, who my Japanese employer was, who my Filipino friends were, and if I knew any other Bilogs.  This was all conducted in Japanese, and I answered also in Japanese.  Thru all their questions, I gave no names, Filipino or foreign.

In the late afternoon of my second day with the police, I showed them my "red ribbon," that is, an authenticated (certified true copy) birth certificate.  They hadn't specifically asked for it, but I was showing them all the documents I had brought with me.  When they saw it, they were surprised, telling me that if I had shown that document earlier, I would have been transferred to the immigration department immediately.  As I learned, my "red ribbon" document established my official identity, thus setting in motion my transfer to the immigration detention center.

"Red Ribbon"Document

Certified True Copy of Birth Certificate

Official Receipt of Birth Certificate Request

By 10am of the third day since my arrest I was at the Immigration Detention Center.  Compared to the police station, the food and the facilities were much better at the Immigration Detention Center.  At the time I was there, there were about 30 detainees, mostly of Chinese descent.

By the 4th day, or just 1 day after I arrived at the Immigration Detention Center, I had received a document entitled "Notice of Decision," as shown below.

Notice of Decision

This Notice of Decision document declared that I was to be deported out of Japan based on Article 24, Item 6 of the Immigration Control and Refugee-Recognition Act. Since I was arrested by an Immigration Control Officer I was not entitled to the Departure Order System which allows overstayers to voluntarily turn themselves in and leave the country on their own accord, rewarding them with a shortened ban on re-entry to Japan. Deported overstayers are banned for 5 years from re-entering Japan while those leaving via the Departure Order System can return after 1 year.

I was also given another document - written with a translation in Filipino (see below) - that advised that if I wanted to contest this Notice of Decision that it was well within my rights to do so and that I had 3 days from receipt of the Notice of Decision to file an appeal.

Document Explaining My Right to Appeal the Notice of Decision (in Filipino)

Document Explaining My Right to Appeal the Notice of Decision (in Japanese)

I was given access to information on where I could access free legal consultation services (see below).  They gave me free access to both local and international calls.

Information on Where to Access Legal Services

By the end of the 4th day, I was mentally exhausted.  I had never known my feelings, emotions and disposition to be more conflicted as they were that day.

The reality of my impending expulsion from the country that had been my home for nearly two decades finally sunk in.  Just a week earlier I had been earning ¥13,000 a day doing construction and demolition work.  Now I was faced with the prospect of becoming and staying unemployed in the Philippines.  Missing my family was a daily struggle for me and going home meant that this would end.  Yet I would cringe at the thought of my wife and kids holding me accountable for my indiscretion and irresponsibility during my time in Japan. Would I appeal the deportation order, and extend my life of denial, or did the time finally come for me to face the consequences of my actions and decisions?

And if I were to suddenly show up back in Manila, what would I have to show for it?  I was essentially broke.  I had not been able to accumulate any savings that could kick start my life back in the Philippines.  I felt that I had squandered my priceless opportunity of being in Japan and having access to work.  Truly, regret always comes at the very end.  I slept with a very heavy heart that 4th night.

When I woke up (5th day), both my legs were burning with pain.  I had long suspected that I had developed diabetes and as I had no choice on what food to eat in the last four days in detention, I knew that my legs were complaining.   I requested for some medical attention, which the immigration officers said they would arrange immediately.  The fifth day ended and no doctor had come.  The 6th day passed and still no doctor.  At that point, I was already bedridden as the pain was so overwhelming.  The 7th day came and went, and all I had to fight the pain were my tears.  This wasn't the first time this kind of pain in my legs paralyzed me, and each time, a quick visit to the neighborhood drug store for some over-the-counter drugs got me back working in no time.

Finally, a doctor showed up on the 8th day, and I was given a number of medicines to take (see below).

Prescription for My Leg Pain

As a result of my 3 days of being in pain, I missed the chance to appeal the deportation decision, not that I had made the decision to do so.  Still, I had crossed the point-of-no-return.  My deportation was final.  The only question at that point was when it would be implemented.

I spent most of my 9th day in detention resting and recovering from my leg pain. Slowly, depression was getting to me.  I had no visitors.  I made little or no contact with any of the other detainees.  Since I had left my phone at my doya room I didn't have any contact with any of my local friends.

My 10th day in detention I spent alone in my cell, waiting for nothing.

On my 11th day, I was able to contact another friend.  I asked him to help me get some uncollected salary at the construction company where I worked.  I needed that money so that I could buy a plane ticket home.

My 12th and 13th days in detention were spent alone in my room.

On my 14th day, the friend I had called on my 11th day visited me, bringing with him my uncollected salary.  The following day, my 15th day in detention, I bought myself a one-way plane ticket to Manila.

On my 16th day of detention, I was escorted to the airport and finally deported back to Manila.

Arrest and Deportation DOs and DON'Ts (By Eljoma)

When you get arrested, here are some important DOs and DONTs.

1.  Have enough money to buy your ticket home.
If you want to go back home fast, then it is better to buy your own plane ticket.  While immigration procedures specify that the Japanese government may, in certain instances, pay for your return flight, this is more the exception rather than the rule.  If you don't have money to buy your own plane ticket, you may get stuck indefinitely at the detention center.

2.  Have your Authenticated Birth Certificate
The first task of the police or immigration authorities is to verify your identity.  Some overstayers give false names when being interrogated thinking that doing so will enable them to re-enter Japan immediately on another name, their true one or another assumed name.  Interviews with current and past overstayers established that this tactic was doable only before 2007 after which Japan started collecting biometric information at airports.  If you have no current/valid passport, the Philippine Consulate will also require you to provide an Authenticated Birth Certificate and/or other proof of identification before it issues a Travel Affidavit, as explained in this August 2010 Travel Document Advisory.

3.  Have written on paper phone numbers of people who need to know you were arrested.
If for some reason, you lose access to your phone contact list, having important telephone numbers written on a piece of paper (and kept in your wallet) ensures that you can still contact people who need to know you were arrested.

4.  If possible, have someone you trust gather the things you left behind.
Once your advanced rent runs out, items left inside your room will be thrown out by your landlord.  If you want any of these preserved (and given to someone or sent via ship to the Philippines), you must have someone you trust who can pick up your items for you.

5.  Access free legal assistance to exhaust all legal remedies available to you.
The immigration authorities follow a strict procedure that ensures due process is afforded all detainees.  They give access to contact information and calling facilities and it would be wise to access all available support from legal or non-government organizations.


1.  Don't try to escape.
Inspection teams always operate in teams, and are well equipped with radios and fast transportation.  Making a run for it is thus virtually hopeless, and may even negate any chances at lenient treatment by the Japanese authorities.

2.  Don't give a fake name.
Please refer to DOs #2 above.

Friday, October 15, 2010

[Recent Gov't Activities in Japan Related to Illegal Migration] Conducted in 2008

The listing and description of activities related to illegal migration in Japan are lifted from a document entitled "2009 Immigration Control" released by the Japan Ministry of Justice.

1. May 23, 2008 - Holding of the "Council on the Countermeasures against Illegal Foreign Workers."
The "Council on Countermeasures against Illegal Foreign Workers" was held to discuss the present situation of measures against illegal foreign workers and future measures with the participation of the directors of the National Police Agency, the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare.

2. June 1-30, 2008 - Holding of the "Council on Countermeasures against Illegal Foreign Workers"
Understanding and cooperation by foreigners, employers, local autonomous bodies, foreign embassies in Japan, etc. were sought to prevent illegal employment.

3.  June 6, 2008 - The "Explanatory meeting by the Council on Countermeasures against Illegal Foreign Workers to Employers” was held.
The Council on Countermeasures against Illegal Foreign Workers consisting of the National Police Agency, the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare explained the project to the Japan Business Federation, the Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the National Federation of Small Business Associations and the Central Federation of Societies of Commerce and Industry, Japan and requested them to cooperate for the prevention of illegal employment.

4. September 28 - December 28, 2008 - Establishment of toll-free dial numbers: "Nationwide Hotline for Consultation Service for Foreigners” and "Nationwide Hotline for Consultation about Illegal Residence.”The Ministry proactively tried to familiarize callers with the "Departure Order System”, etc. during consultation for illegal residents and inquiry about employers employing illegal residents.

5. October 29, 2008 - The 36th "Countermeasures Conference for Prevention and Detection of Crimes of Violation against Immigration Control Act."
The 36th "Countermeasures Conference for Prevention and Detection of Crimes of Violation against the Immigration Control Act” was held with the participation of persons in charge at concerned agencies of the Ministry of Justice, the National Police Agency, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, the Japan Coast Guard and others, and the present situation and measures for controlling crimes of illegal entry and illegal employment as well as of trafficking in persons were discussed (in Fukuoka City).

Japan Ministry of Justice (2009).  2009 Immigration Control. Retrieved on October 14, 2010 from

Sunday, August 8, 2010

[eljoma thinks] What makes a migrant illegal: the person, his actions, or his context?

Migrants who have no permission to stay in a host country object to being called illegal migrants. If the host country's rules or laws (the migrant's "context") require migrants to have permission in order to continue staying within its borders, then not having permission is, in fact, an illegal or unlawful act, that is, an act prohibited or not authorized by law.

The issue is the association of the word illegal with the word criminal. Illegal migrant is taken to mean criminal migrant.
Can the things that illegal migrants do -- backbreaking, honest, hard work to support a needy family back home -- be considered crimes? This is the central argument of those that repel at being referred to as illegal migrants.

All crimes are illegal. But not all illegal acts are crimes. Rape, murder and plunder are crimes. The perceived severity of the act -- or the degree to which it goes against widely accepted societal norms -- is key to an act being considered a crime. Which widely held societal norms does migration without permission violate?

Compounding the issue are the naming practices currently in use. The name given to the person who commits a crime (i.e. rapist, murderer, plunderer) refers more to the crime he committed rather than to the person himself. But why does the term "illegal migrant" refer more to the migrant himself (or the person himself) being illegal? The term illegal migration seems to be less contentious (than the term illegal migrant) because it focuses on the act and not on the person.