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Historical Development | Philippines |

Philippines Historical Development Immigration and Immigration Policies Emigration and Emigration Policies Citizenship and Naturalization Refuge and Asylum Irregular Migration Challenges and Future Development References

Historical Development

Michael R.M Abrigo

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The Philippines (bpb) Lizenz: cc by-nc-nd/3.0/de/

Migration in the Philippines is intimately linked with the economic history of the country. Movement of people to and from the Philippines up to the early years of independence (in 1946) had been facilitated largely by economic, especially trade and colonial, ties with other countries.


While the islands of what is now the Philippines had been under various colonial governments for more than 300 years, immigrants as a proportion of the total population in the country has not surpassed one percent in the past century. In 1883, towards the end of the Spanish colonial period, the non-indigenous population totaled 44,440 individuals, representing about 1.1 percent of the total population. The rapid 2-3 percent Filipino population growth in the post-World War period dwarfed the relative share of an increasing number of foreign nationals. In 1918, there were about 63,000 foreign nationals in the country, which constituted about 0.7 percent of the total population. The absolute number of foreign nationals continued to increase until the 1970s, when the stock contracted due to domestic and regional economic and political instability. More recent data show an uptake on the number of foreign citizens in the country, although the number has not surpassed that of the year 1970 when 219,438 foreign nationals were living in the Philippines.

InformationBackground Information

Capital: Manila
Official Languages: Filipino, English
Area: 343,448 km²
Population (2010): 92.3 Million
Population density: 269 inhabitants/km²
Population growth (2000-2010): 1.9%
Foreign citizens as a percentage of total (2010): 0.2%
Labor force participation rate (2012): 64.2%
Unemployment Rate (2012): 7.0%
Religions (2007): Roman Catholics (81.0%), Protestants (11.6%), Muslims (5.1%), Buddhists (0.1%)


The country has a long history of out-migration, with historical accounts going as far back as 1417, when Sulu royalties and their families set out to China for a trade mission. Filipino seafarers manned ships in the Manila-Acapulco trade (1570-1815) during the Spanish colonial period. In 1763, Filipino seafarers in one of the trade galleons jumped ship and settled in the bayous of Louisiana in the United States (US). Towards the end of the Spanish colonial period, affluent families were able to send their members to study in Europe, mainly in Spain, where they were exposed to liberal and nationalist ideas, which fueled the Propaganda Movement that sought reforms from the Spanish government in the administration of the then Philippine colony.

Large scale deployment of Filipino workers was introduced in the early years under the US colonial government. With the passage of the "Pensionado Act" in 1903, Filipino students were sent to the US to further their education as the US sought to establish a Commonwealth run by Filipinos. Likewise, between 1906 and 1934, around 150,000 Filipinos, mostly men, were recruited as plantation workers to be deployed largely in Hawaii and California. US military servicemen based in the Philippines during the Second World War also brought their Filipina "war-brides" to the US. In the early years after the war, Filipinos were able to migrate to the US as navy recruits under the "Philippine-US Military Base Agreement" and as workers in US military bases across the Pacific, including in the Philippines.

Immigration law reforms in Canada (1962), the US (1965), and Australia (1966), which reduced restrictions to Asian immigration, facilitated the migration of Filipinos into these countries. In the US, Filipino migrants during the immediate post-1965 reform were largely family members of earlier Filipino emigrants availing of the family reunification program of the Lyndon B. Johnson administration. Guest worker programs in some European countries likewise helped Filipino professionals to secure employment in that region.
Filipino emigration from the start of the twentieth century is marked by an organized system of large scale deployment of workers overseas. However, it was not until the 1970s that the number of emigrants increased rapidly, fueled by the construction boom in the Middle East, especially in Saudi Arabia, arising from the oil price crisis in the 1970s Public policy on overseas employment was first introduced with the adoption of the "Philippine Labor Code" in 1974. Prior to this, the government played only a minimal role in the recruitment and deployment of workers overseas. The 1974 Labor Code originally envisioned complete government control over recruitment and overseas placement in response to the rising number of violations committed against migrant workers in host countries. This policy, however, was later abandoned in favor of government regulation of private recruitment activities.

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Michael R.M. Abrigo is Research Specialist at the Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS). The opinions expressed in this paper do not necessarily reflect those of the PIDS.
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