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Transnational Communities Programme

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The Impact of Legal Status and Children on Transnational Household Strategies of Migrant Domestics

Short summary / Long description

Principal Researchers
Professor Annie Phizacklea
Department of Sociology,
Warwick University,
Coventry, CV4 7AL
Dr Bridget Anderson
ISCA, University of Oxford,
51 Banbury Rd
Oxford
OX2 6PE
Contact
Tel: 01865 74712
Fax: 01865 274718
e.mail: bridget.anderson@anthro.ox.ac.uk
Duration of Research
1 September 1998 to 30 December 2001

Short summary

Domestic work in private households is now the largest employment sector for migrant women workers entering the European Union. The majority of these workers are undocumented. The UK government is currently committed to regularising migrant domestic workers who entered the country under certain immigration conditions and this provides us with a unique opportunity to research migratory and transnational household strategies before and after the legalisation process. The research will

  • assess the impact of legalisation for domestic workers, in particular comparing the experiences and expectations of migrant domestics and children (both in the UK and at home) with childless workers
  • to provide a gendered understanding of the household strategy model in migration
  • to provide policy makers and service providers with an in-depth analysis of the impact of legalisation on the previously undocumented population
  • methodologically to further develop participatory research techniques with 'hidden' populations.

70 domestic workers in London will be interviewed in depth prior to legalisation an 18 months later when the process will be complete. These interviews will be supplemented with 2 periods of group interviews with approximately 100 domestics as well as employers, trade unions and relevant NGOs.

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The Impact of Legal Status and Children on Transnational Household Strategies of Migrant Domestics

Long description

Introduction

Domestic work in private households is now the largest employment sector for migrant women entering the European Union. The majority of these workers are undocumented (see Anderson and Phizacklea, 1997). The UK government is currently committed to regularising migrant domestic workers who entered the country under certain immigration conditions. This provides us with a unique opportunity to research migration and transnational household strategies pre and post legalisation. This project will examine the transnational household strategies of migrant domestic workers based in London as they move from being undocumented to having legal status. A key component of the project will be the impact of normalisation on domestic workers with children in the UK, comparing and contrasting the experiences and expectations of households with and without children and their relationship with families in the country of origin.

Project background

While the household remains an important unit of analysis in mediating between the individual migrant and the broader structural context within which transnational migration occurs, the pervasive model of a unitary household undivided by gender and generational hierarchies needs to be challenged. There is now a body of feminist empirical research (largely emanating from the US) which represents the household as a contested arena where gender, generational and other conflicts are played out (Beneria, L and Stimpson C 1987; Grasmuck and Pessar, 1991; Hondagneu-Sotelo, 1995). Moreover, the household strategy model needs to place the household within the context of other social networks and intermediate institutions which play a key role in facilitating migration, entry and employment (Hondagneu-Sotelo, 1994; Boyd, 1985). Such criticisms assume new importance at a time when migration is increasingly feminised, and domestic work ie migrants’ insertion into employers’ households is a major form of employment. There has been no extant research of this kind in the UK.

The project will elucidate how the household can be considered a motivator, financier and facilitator of migration, and a recipient and spender of remittances. To date the role of children in the migration household strategy has been ignored, other than cursory mentions as motivators of migration (the intention, for example to use remittances for childrens’ education). Yet children are crucial components of any household and we hypothesise that concern for their well being means the migration project is continually under review - so for example if a child is sick or experiencing behavioural problems a mother will consider returning to her country of origin. Children who accompany their parents are also implicated in the household strategy, and while there has been some work done on the role of documented child migrants in facilitating the insertion of their parents into the host country, there is a dearth of information on the position of the children who accompany undocumented workers, who may often be born in the host country but with no citizenship rights. We intend to emphasise the role of children and how they impact and are affected by transnational household decisions. How do household strategies differ between women migrants with children (wherever they are) and those without? How do households with children in the host country differ from those with children in the country of origin? How are familial relationships maintained? And what are the differing impacts of legality/illegality?

The project will observe transnational households in a critical juncture, as workers move from undocumented to documented status. The notion of ‘hierarchies of citizenship’ applied to migrant domestic workers merits further exploration: are there salary differences between documented and undocumented? Do employers in private households distinguish their employee’s legal status etc? All of these clearly impact on transnational household strategies. Moreover, while legal status may be given by the state, it is the migrant who must normalise her life, negotiating ‘pathways to legitimacy’, finding the means of inserting herself into the wider community, making herself visible (eg through taxation) and availing herself (and her children) of services. Pay, security, living and working conditions are all crucially affected by legal status, and perhaps most critically for household strategies, family reunification becomes a possibility. Legal status therefore has a critical bearing on the development of transnational household strategies,yet it is one which is only minimally understood. The research therefore will scrutinise the thesis that international migration is a means to household risk diversification and the notion that household strategies are crucial in disposing international migration to become a self-sustaining process. The fact that they are domestic workers raises other important issues including the interdependence of sending and receiving country household strategies, the ‘appropriateness’ of domestic work for unaccompanied female migrants and the impact of female migration on gender relations.

Project design

The British Home Office has committed itself to the regularisation of some 3,000 migrants working as domestics in private households who entered the UK under a special immigration concession which has resulted in many of them becoming undocumented. Details will be announced in July 1998. Kalayaan, a support group for domestic workers which is supporting the proposed research, has access to over 2,000 of these undocumented workers. Bridget Anderson has worked with Kalayaan since 1992 and has negotiated access to undocumented domestic workers through them. While previous research drawing on regularisation procedures has been able to interview workers putting themselves forward for amnesty this is a unique opportunity to research migration and transnational household strategies pre and post legalisation. The research will provide a ‘migrant’s eye view’ of Home Office legalisation policy and process.

The changing household strategies of 70 migrants currently employed as domestic workers in London will be examined as they move from being undocumented to documented status. The research will be based on a combination of quantitative and qualitative methods. The domestic workers will be interviewed in depth prior to legalisation and 18 months later when the regularisation process will be complete. These interviews will be supplemented with 2 periods of group interviews with around 100 domestics, as well as interviews with employers, organisations and trade unions. Collaboration with users will be ongoing and the results of great value to governments and service providers involved in regularisation programmes.

The subsequent analysis will be undertaken with a view to (a) situating the household as a dynamic intermediary level unit of analysis in the migration process. There will be particular emphasis on how legal status shapes relations within transnational households and the migrant and wider communities and on the role of children in the transnational household and decisions within it. Attention will be paid to the inter-relationship between British household strategies requiring the employment of a domestic worker, and those of migrants’ households in sending countries; (b) examining the changing transnational and ‘shadow’ household economies; (c) taking an actor directed perspective on the process of maturation of migration streams, and in particular on pathways to legitimacy. Remittances pre and post legalisation will be key to our analysis of the transnational households - how they are transferred, what they are spent on, who decides how they are spent and what proportion is retained by the shadow household/migrant.

Research questions

1. Is our working definition of a ‘household’ adequate?. How do households relate to other social networks and institutions (eg migrant community organisations; employers’ households; employment brokers; support organisations etc)?

2. What is the relationship between households and ‘shadow households’ (the latter in the host country)? How are these emotional, social and economic relationships expressed and maintained and how does legalisation affect the development of these relationships? What is the impact of female migration on gender relations within the household, both in terms of the migrant herself and other women in the household? How have household decision making processes changed before and after the migration decision.

3. How do household strategies differ between women migrants with children (wherever they are) and those without? How do households with children in the host country differ from those with children in the country of origin? How are familial relationships maintained? And what are the differing impacts of legality/illegality?

4. How does having children in the host country facilitate or impede integration into other social networks before and after legalisation? How does legal status affect migrants’ expectations for their children? and their understanding of their children’s ethnic/ cultural ‘identity’?

5. How does the worker normalise her life? do newly regularised workers successfully insert themselves into the host economy and society? what does legal status concretely mean for the workers, their households and their London based networks? what are their pathways to legitimacy? and, crucially, what are the expectations and strategies around family unification.

6. The notion of ‘hierarchies of citizenship’applied to migrant domestic workers merits further exploration: are there salary differences between documented and undocumented? Do employers in private households distinguish their employee’s legal status etc?

7. Is there a change in the amount and means of transfer of remittances with legalisation? Is there a change in how remittances are spent?

Outputs

The research results will significantly build upon those already reported to DGV of the European Commission in previous work undertaken by the researchers (Anderson and Phizacklea, 1997). These have been disseminated to user groups through articles in community group journals, and it is intended that the proposed research will be reported in the same way. It will also be disseminated through policy papers for participating user groups, in particular DGV and the Home Office, and through academic articles and a book which will draw on the findings, methods and contribution to household strategies theorising;. Results will also be reported to the domestic workers themselves through the final user workshops and dissemination of a report of research findings through Kalayaan They will also be used in the women migrants’ education programme that is currently being planned by the International Office of the Commission for Filipino Migrant Workers. A seminar on the lessons of legalisation is to be organised by the European Network of Domestic Workers to disseminate and build on the research findings on a European level.

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