Servants of Globalization
Migration and Domestic Work, Second Edition
Rhacel Salazar Parreñas



The first edition of Servants of Globalization, published in 2001, looked at the outflow of women from the Philippines in the 1990s and tracked their entrance into domestic service in scores of destinations across the globe. It looked closely at the lives of migrant Filipina domestic workers in Rome and Los Angeles, the two most prominent destinations for Filipino migrants in Italy and the United States, countries that historically have had the largest population of Filipinos in Western Europe and North America.1 Nearly twenty years later, Filipino domestic workers continue to immigrate to both countries, but they also work in larger numbers in Canada (Pratt, 2012), Israel (Liebelt, 2011), Taiwan (Lan, 2006), and Hong Kong (Constable, 2007), among others.

This second edition of Servants of Globalization updates the original study, expanding on the initial set of data that I gathered in 1995 and 1996 (forty-six interviews with Filipina domestic workers in Rome and twenty-six in Los Angeles) with twenty-five in-depth interviews conducted with Filipino domestic workers in Rome in 2011 and 2012, a survey conducted of 100 Filipino domestic workers in Los Angeles in 2013, two focus group discussions with thirty Filipino domestic workers in Los Angeles in 2012, and three follow-up interviews with domestic workers I had initially interviewed in the mid-1990s. To provide context for the global migration of domestic workers from the Philippines, I also draw from interviews I conducted with Filipina domestic workers in Denmark (seventeen) and the United Arab Emirates (forty-seven).

Many of the theoretical claims I make in Servants of Globalization regarding the international division of reproductive labor, partial citizenship, and contradictory class mobility still bear much weight in our understanding of migrant domestic work. The notion of the “international division of reproductive labor,” which refers to the phenomenon of women passing their caring labor as paid or unpaid work to other women in a global context, seems to have struck a chord in the general public. It was not only featured in The Chain of Love,2 a film produced by VPRO-TV in the Netherlands, but also documented in a front-page article in the Wall Street Journal3 and later by a working paper titled “Global Care Chains,” by the UN International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women.4 In Chapter Two of this new edition, I revisit my original discussion and address the continuing utility of the concept for examining unequal divisions of labor among women in globalization.

The idea of partial citizenship is one I revisit in Chapter One. This concept refers to the liminal legal status that migrant domestic workers occupy when they are not full members of host countries, but at the same time not fully protected by their home countries. In its discussion of partial citizenship, the first edition of Servants of Globalization solely focused on domestic workers who could freely choose their employers without being penalized by the state, as this had been their situation in Italy and the United States. What I did not include in my earlier discussion of partial citizenship is the lack of freedom that domestic workers experience in most other destinations in the diaspora. The majority of Filipino migrant domestic workers across the globe—in Canada, Asia, and the Middle East—are not free; they are bound legally to work solely for their sponsoring employer. For instance, domestic workers in Singapore and the United Arab Emirates have to be released by their employers before they can seek a new sponsor. The restricted labor of migrant domestic workers, specifically those bound to work for their employer without the flexibility to change jobs, now needs to be in the forefront of our discussion of migrant domestic work. However, with the exception of Pei-Chia Lan’s discussion of “legal servitude” (Lan, 2007) in Taiwan and the earlier works of Bakan and Stasiulis (1997a) on Canada, this remains largely ignored in the literature. Accordingly, I account for the condition of this lack of freedom when revisiting the concept of partial citizenship.

Discussions initiated in the earlier edition of Servants of Globalization continue to resonate, partly because much has remained the same for migrant domestic workers in Rome and Los Angeles. Most Filipina domestic workers are still highly educated, having completed some years of college prior to migration. This gives continuing credence to my discussion of contradictory class mobility. As I describe in Chapter Five, this process refers to the simultaneous experience of upward mobility and downward mobility in migration as earning more abroad usually comes at the cost of a decline in occupational status. Transnational families also remain the norm, as I discuss in Chapters Three and Four, but with one significant difference being the increase in children reunifying with their mothers, particularly in Italy. I accordingly update my discussion to account for the greater presence of youth, specifically teenagers, in Rome.

Drastic changes have also taken place in the Filipino migrant communities of Rome and Los Angeles. For one, in Italy migrant Filipinos are now eligible for permanent residency. Another change is the greater number of male domestic workers in both Los Angeles and Rome. Finally, we see a larger number of older domestic workers in their fifties and beyond. Their presence raises the question of retirement options for domestic workers. Accordingly, this new edition of Servants of Globalization includes two additional chapters that look specifically at the situation of male domestic workers and what happens when men find themselves occupationally segregated into domestic work (Chapter Six), and examine how elderly migrant domestic workers fare in old age (Chapter Seven). In my focus on men and the elderly, I illustrate the continuing challenges that Filipino migrants confront in Rome and Los Angeles. These include the racial segregation of Filipinos into domestic work in Europe and the heightened precariousness of labor among low-wage workers in the context of a shrinking welfare state.

August 2014


1. The Italian Ministry of Interior reports 155,945 registered Filipinos with a valid permesso di soggiorno (permit to stay) or a carta di soggiorno (residence card). They remain concentrated in domestic work. See “Know Your Diaspora: Italy,” Positively Filipino, January 1, 2013; retrieved on October 14, 2013, from

2. “The Chain of Love,” VPRO TV, Netherlands (Episode 42 of the television program The New World, November 12, 2000).

3. Robert Frank, “Child Cares: To Be a U.S. Nanny, Ms. Bautista Must Hire A Nanny of Her Own,” Wall Street Journal, December 18, 2001, A1.

4. UN-INSTRAW, “Global Care Chains: Toward a Rights-based Global Care Regime?” January 2013; available at