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?

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