Abstract Studies of family reunification suggest that migrants’ decisions whether to pursue family reunion vary across migration patterns. To explain why, this article draws from the literature on social reproduction in the context of migration and examines two cases of mother-child reunification (or lack thereof) in the Filipino labour and Thai marriage migrations respectively to France and to Belgium. Interview data analysis brings to the fore the forces that influence the decisions of Filipino and Thai migrant women regarding family reunion: the inequalities of access to rights and resources stemming from their positions in the global reproductive systems, which are stratified and structured by gendered norms and state policies. Their positions within the reproductive systems in their countries of origin and of immigration entail obligations to fulfil, expectations to meet, and (dis)advantages to live with. As a result, not all Filipino and Thai migrants pursue family reunion, even in the presence of favourable factors such as a regular migration status and stable economic resources. 1. Introduction In many migrant-receiving countries, migration policies structure the interactions and relationship dynamics among members of transnational families (Parreñas 2005; Bonizzoni 2012; Pratt 2012; Baldassar and Merla 2014). These policies govern the reunion of binational couples (Kraler 2010) as well as the reunification of migrant spouses with their ‘left-behind’ children. In the case of migrant workers, one of the consequences of restrictive migration policies is prolonged parent-child separation (Bernhard et al. 2009; Dreby 2010). Marriage migrants and their labour-oriented counterparts overcome this separation in different ways: given their regular migration status, the former tend to tread legal routes (e.g. Suzuki 2015), whereas the latter (notably when in irregular situation) usually make their children join them on a tourist visa (Fresnoza-Flot 2015a; González-Ferrer 2011; Bonizzoni 2012). Some of them, however, do not pursue family reunion, even when their regular migration status and paid work would seem to favour it (Pratt 2012). What are the forces responsible for these differences? Answering this question requires going beyond migration patterns, that is, ‘the type, model, or road taken by the migratory process’ (Durand and Massey 2010: 28). Each pattern can be described as a set of ‘characteristics or modalities that define and distinguish various processes from one another’. Migration patterns do not change, but processes ‘may display various patterns that develop sequentially over time or express themselves simultaneously, depending on circumstances’ (Durand and Massey 2010: 28). Some characteristics of certain migration patterns (e.g. an irregularity of migration status) may discourage migrants from pursuing family reunion, whereas others (e.g. family formation with an insider citizen1) likely increase their tendency to embark on the family reunion process. Still, there are undocumented migrants who, despite their irregular migration status and economically difficult situation, do all they can to reunite with their family members (Boehm 2008; González-Ferrer 2011). This indicates that there are other forces at work influencing migrants’ decisions. Uncovering these forces requires understanding migrants’ positions in different power hierarchies ‘here’ and ‘there’, as the enmeshment of migrants in these hierarchies creates constraints and possibilities that shape their decisions regarding family reunion. To provide an analytical framework for this study, I draw from the literature on social reproduction in the context of migration, which focuses on the dynamics of reproduction ‘involv[ing] not just physical labour but also psychological and ideological aspects’ (Kofman and Raghuram 2015: 47). This body of works offers an interesting lens to analyse migrant mother–child reunification, which itself contributes to the reproduction of people, identities, families, and societies. Specifically, I borrow from Colen’s vision of power hierarchies within ‘stratified reproductive’ systems (Colen 1995) to understand the varying positions of migrant women within power hierarchies and their accompanying inequalities. To understand migrants’ decisions, I investigate family separation and reunion cases in two contrasting migration patterns: the Filipino labour migration in France and the Thai marriage migration in Belgium. This characterization refers to their main respective orientations toward employment and family formation (Mozère 2004; Heyse et al. 2007). However, since the boundaries between labour and marriage migrations are not immutable (Kofman and Raghuram 2015), I also pay attention in my analysis to migrant women’s changing roles and family situations during the migration process: many women arrive in their receiving country as marriage migrants and later on enter the labour market (Lan 2008; Bélanger et al. 2011), whereas others arrive to work and end up getting married (Bonizzoni 2015). At the beginning of this article, I present its analytical framework by reflecting on the links between migration patterns and the stratified reproductive systems ‘here’ and ‘there’. I also review scholarly works on family reunion in different migration patterns, which unveils two types of family reunification: de facto (not in accordance with the law) and de jure (following the law). After this, I describe the socio-legal contexts of the study and present the researches from which I draw my empirical data. In the results section, I start by unveiling the common logics of the Filipino and Thai migrations studied here, which are both family-driven. I then analyse successively the family reunification (or lack thereof) cases of Filipino and Thai women to find out the link between their migration patterns and their decision to pursue or not mother–child reunion. In decorticating these cases, I pay attention to the subjectivity and agency of migrant women as well as the not-so-visible gendered aspect of family migration, that is, women acting as principal actors instead of mere followers in this phenomenon. 2. Migration patterns and global reproductive systems Reproductive labour refers to paid and unpaid activities carried out for the daily reproduction of people, such as taking care of children and of the elderly as well as accomplishing household chores (Glenn 1992). These activities of ‘social reproduction’ are necessary not only ‘to maintain social bonds and shared understanding’, but also to support ‘economic production in a capitalist society’ (Fraser 2016: 102). In the context of migration, scholars observe a new international division of reproductive labour wherein migrant women’s care work becomes central to the functioning of not only their own households in their countries of origin but also of other people’s households in their receiving countries, notably in the Global North (Hochschild 2000; Sassen 2002). This indicates the global character of each reproductive system ‘here’ and ‘there’. These global reproductive systems are characterized by power hierarchies governing interpersonal relationships, and are ‘stratified’, making reproductive labour ‘differentially experienced, valued, and rewarded according to inequalities of access to material and social resources’ (Colen 1995: 78). These inequalities can be linked to migration patterns. For instance, irregular labour migration puts migrants in a precarious situation due to their undocumented status and undeclared jobs. Marriage migration is also a vital cog of the stratified reproductive systems ‘here’ and ‘there’, as marriage migrants provide economic support (as children or siblings) to their natal families back home (Fresnoza-Flot 2017; Bélanger et al. 2011), ‘perform intimacy (as wife)’, and ‘enact reproduction (as mother)’ (Lan 2008: 857). They also socialize the next generation and provide ‘care to older people’ (Kofman and Raghuram 2015: 39), thereby contributing to the labour force. Labour and marriage migrations result in diverse legal statuses, socio-economic conditions, spatial concentrations, and family configurations. These inequalities of status and situation are reinforced by the receiving state’s ‘classification of persons involved in migration into different categories’ (Kraler and Bonizzoni 2010: 183), leading to a ‘hierarchy of stratified rights’ (Kraler 2010). This hierarchy determines one’s access to the right of family reunion (e.g. making it easier for regular migrants than for irregular ones). Access to rights and resources also varies according to one’s socio-economic situations. For example, the low-paid and/or undeclared domestic labour of migrants as well as their frequent live-in work arrangement makes it difficult for them to meet the income and housing requirements for family reunion. On the other hand, family formation with an insider citizen and the ensuing domestic reproductive labour may either facilitate the family reunion plans of marriage migrants or hinder them when conjugal conflicts and situations of dependence arise (Bonizzoni 2015). In addition, migrants are part of the reproductive system of their country of origin and their position within that system may shape their decision to pursue family reunification. For instance, many women in the Global South decide to migrate to fulfil their family role as mothers and/or daughters (Parreñas 2005) but also to get out of their oppressive situation back home (Morokvašić 2005). This underlines the importance of considering the positions of migrant women in global reproductive systems to understand the logics of their movement and their quest for family reunion. 3. Family reunification in migration patterns: a review Women’s migration represents one of the social phenomena that characterize our contemporary world. It is mainly oriented towards the informal economy of developed countries, where migrant women mostly work as domestic helps, nannies, caregivers, and sex workers (Ehrenreich and Hochschild 2003; Anthias et al. 2013). It can also take place for the purpose of family reunification with a migrant husband/partner in a new land; or family formation through marriage with a national of the receiving country (Kraler 2010; Williams 2010; Constable 2011; Charsley 2012). These emerging migration patterns of women—either labour-oriented or family-related—have attracted scholarly attention to the issues of family separation and reunification. In labour-oriented migration (wherein women are usually the main actors of their movement), stories of mother–child separation have been analysed in many studies (Parreñas 2005; Madziva and Zontini 2012). However, it is only recently that scholars have started to pay attention to the issue of family reunion (Fresnoza-Flot 2015a; Boehm 2008; González-Ferrer 2011). In the case of family-related migrations, most studies have focused on couple reunification and on marriage migrant women. As a result, mother–child separation cases have been overlooked, notably in marriage migration. Likewise, men migrating as dependents (Kraler and Bonizzoni 2010) and women facilitating the migratory movements of other family members have been neglected. Examining the latter case, as in the present study, moves the important role of women in family migration into the foreground. The literature on family reunion in the context of migration suggests that links exist between migration patterns and family reunification. In the irregular migration stream, undocumented migrant workers who have no access to legal routes of family reunification experience long-term family separation (Kraler 2010). This is notably the case of many migrant women working in the domestic service sector (Parreñas 2005; Horton 2009). By contrast, regular migrants have access to legal means of family reunion if they meet the requirements. This highlights the ‘polarisation of rights’ between ‘established migrants and the undocumented’ (Kofman 2002), which affects women migrants in irregular situations and their family members. Some of these women manage to reunite with their spouses and/or children after taking and re-trying ‘alternative routes’, such as using a tourist visa or turning to border smugglers for help (Fresnoza-Flot 2015b; Boehm 2008; González-Ferrer 2011). For instance, Bonizzoni’s (2012) study of South American, Eastern European, and Filipino women in Italy shows that some undocumented migrant mothers are able to make their children follow them in their receiving country using a tourist visa, hence putting an end to family separation. The cases of these migrants and of their documented counterparts who pursue family reunification highlight two types of family reunion. The first one is de facto, using either unofficial channels (tourist visas) or ‘illegal’ routes (border crossing via smugglers). The second type is de jure, which follows official and legal paths, that is, the family reunification programmes of receiving countries. These different migratory routes require certain emotional and socio-economic investments. In the USA, Orellana and colleagues (2001) observe that family reunion takes longer for low-income, mostly undocumented, Mexican and Central American migrants than for affluent, documented Yemeni migrants. This suggests that the key to family reunion is for migrants (whether regular or irregular) to secure sufficient economic resource to obtain visas and plane tickets for their family members, relying for that on their paid work. However, if their salary is low, if they need to support regularly their family back home, and if their receiving country has strict policies in terms of family reunion, the latter becomes a continually postponed dream (Pratt 2012). This calls for analysing the position of migrants in the ‘stratified reproductive’ systems of their country of origin and destination in order to understand the power dynamics and asymmetries in these systems, which both shape migration patterns and are shaped by them in return. Based on the above observations, we can suppose that the irregular migration status of Filipino migrant women in France and their concentration in the domestic work sector put them in an unprivileged position in the stratified reproductive system of the country, thereby discouraging them to pursue family reunification. If they do attempt it, it will likely be via ‘illegal routes’. On the contrary, we can assume that Thai women in Belgium will pursue de jure family reunification given their regular migration status and their relation with ‘insider spouses’ (De Hart 2009), whose interests are likely to be taken into account by legal institutions. 4. Socio-legal contexts 4.1 Filipinos in France The women-dominated Filipino migration to France started in the 1970s and has always been oriented towards the domestic service sector.2 Stories of parent–child reunion, wife–husband reunification, and couple migration can be heard among these migrants, but mother–child separation remains widespread. The other distinctive feature of the Filipino migrant population in France, numbering about 50,000 (Ito 2015), is its mostly irregular migration status: in 2013, about 79 per cent of these migrants were in an irregular situation (CFO 2014), mainly because they had entered the country as tourists then overstayed their visa. Filipino migrants resort to this mode of entry due to the lack of a formal labour migration agreement between France and the Philippines. Also, the ease of obtaining a tourist visa to go to France in the 1970s and early 1980s facilitated the entry of ‘fake tourists’ who came with a tourist visa but stayed afterwards to work in the country (Fresnoza-Flot 2009a). Subsequently, restrictions on immigration were imposed by the Pasqua laws of 1986 and 1993 and by the Immigration and Integration Act of 2006. Aside from ‘fake tourists’, since the 1990s there have been cases of Filipino domestic workers escaping from their Middle-Eastern employers during vacations in France and staying in the country as undocumented migrants. Those ‘fake tourists’ and ‘runaways’ found employment in the domestic work sector, where they built an economic ‘niche’ (Mozère 2004) shielded away from the eyes of the police, hence avoiding deportation. Filipino migrants often waited for several years for an opportunity to regularize their status. Such an opportunity presented itself during the regularization offered to undocumented migrants by the French government from 1981 to 1982. Some 600 Filipinos benefited from it (Rousset 2007), representing less than 0.5 per cent of the total 132,000 regularizations during that period (Bernard 1999). This led to a surge in legal family reunions between the first group of Filipino migrants and their children in the early 1980s. Another regularization campaign took place in the period 1997–1998: within this period, 80,000 undocumented migrants obtained residence permits, among which 1,900 were Filipinos (Bernard 1999). Yet another regularization opportunity was the passing of the Chevènement Law of 1998, which allowed undocumented migrants having resided for at least ten years in France to regularize their status. However, this possibility disappeared with the adoption of the Immigration and Integration Act of 2006. Since that date, irregular migrants need to display some basic knowledge about France and a certain level of proficiency in French to become regularized. This represents a barrier for many Filipinos who, despite their long residence in the country, often remain not fluent in French. Acquiring the French nationality can further facilitate family reunification. Although these migrants cannot automatically transmit their acquired French nationality to their children born abroad who now live with them in France, it makes it possible for their children to apply for naturalization even if they do not fulfil the five-year residence condition. Still, even migrant Filipinos who have a residence permit or have acquired French nationality do not always try to encourage their children to come to France as they struggle to meet the requirements for family reunification.3 The minimum monthly income of 1,138.17 euros required for a family of two or three persons is not the main issue (see DILA 2015); rather, it is the housing requirement—22 m² for two persons and 10 m² for each additional person (DILA 2015)—which can be difficult to fulfil in Paris, where rents are very expensive. Consequently, many migrants, even with a legal migration status, turn to illegal migration agencies to obtain tourist visas for their family members. This unofficial channel has become very costly: about 11,700 euros per person. To pay these fees, migrants use up their savings or borrow money from other Filipino migrants or extended family members. The debts they incur tie them to their domestic work: irregularity and domestic labour reinforce each other mutually. 4.2 Thais in Belgium As for Filipinos in France, women make up the bulk of the Thai population in Belgium: 84 per cent of the 3,505 Thais in 2013 were women (DEMO and CGKR 2013). These migrants usually arrive as fiancés or spouses, or in a few cases as tourists wishing to meet or to rejoin a prospective partner. In the latter case, they either return to Thailand to apply for another visa or enter a legal union in Belgium to obtain the authorization to stay before their visa expires. Many Thais in Belgium are separated or divorced and have children from a previous relationship in Thailand. When Thai women arrive in Belgium, they generally decide to work in the service sector (as cooks, waitresses, home helpers, vendors, or cashiers) while learning Dutch. Their own financial resources and regular migration status, combined with their Belgian husband’s support, allow them to sponsor directly their Thai children to come to Belgium. Their experiences were shaped by the changes in the Belgian law regarding nationality and family reunion. Thai migrants who arrived in Belgium in the early 1980s benefited from the nationality code of 1932 and automatically obtained Belgian nationality after getting married to their Belgian partner. Those who arrived in Belgium after the introduction of the new nationality code in 1984 were able to access Belgian nationality after living with their Belgian husband for six months. Owing to the favourable nationality codes of 1932 and 1984, family reunification became the major immigration channel to Belgium during the period 1974 to 1991 (Martiniello and Rea 2012). Becoming ‘insider women’ (De Hart 2009) gave Thai migrants access to the same rights as other Belgian citizens, including the right to a family life. This, together with the transmission of Belgian nationality from parents to children born abroad under the nationality code of 2000, allowed Thai mothers to bring their children (even adult ones) to Belgium. This possibility disappeared with the reform introduced in 2012, which made it ‘impossible for foreigners to request the acquisition of Belgian nationality without residence in Belgium’ (Foblets et al. 2013: 26). Concerning family reunion, Thai women wanting their children to rejoin them in Belgium have to follow different procedures depending on whether they remain Third Country Nationals (TCNs) or are now Belgian citizens.4 With the addition of a valid residence permit for TCNs, the requirements are the same for Belgian and TCN sponsors: health insurance, adequate housing, as well as sufficient, stable, and regular livelihood. If the sponsor is separated, (s)he must have the right of custody and be in charge of the child. In case of shared custody, (s)he must provide a proof of the consent of the other parent. The conditions regarding the child, however, are different if his/her sponsor is a Belgian citizen or a TCN. In the former case, the child should be less than 21 years old and/or depend on him/her. In the latter case, they should be less than 18 years old, single, and not carry a disease that could pose a threat to public health. Requirements common to both situations are proofs of the identity of the child and of their family connection to the sponsor. Besides, the child will have to live with their sponsor. 5. Methods and sample The present article draws from three separate research projects: one on Filipino children who became reunited with their parents in France, another dealing with ‘mixed families’ of Filipino and Thai migrants in Belgium, and the last one on Filipino migrant mothers in France. These researches adopted an ethnographic approach to data gathering, comprising observations, semi-structured interviews, informal conversations, and documentary research. Despite their different focus and objectives, these three works provide interesting cases in which to examine why the decision of migrants to pursue family reunification varies according to the pattern displayed by their migration process. From these three works two case studies were extracted: one focused on Filipinos in France and the other focused on Thais in Belgium. The first case study in this article stems from data gathered for two projects: one focused on Filipino parents reunited with their children in France and another investigating migrant mothers in France separated from their children left in the Philippines. During the first project, I interviewed 52 persons including 14 parents in the Ile-de-France region (where Paris is located). Here I draw from the case of seven mothers who experienced family separation then reunion with their children (Table 1). Although five of them overstayed their visa and therefore experienced a period of irregularity, only one of them was still in this situation at the time of their interviews. Six of the seven respondents held university degree and enjoyed in the past a socially valorized profession in the Philippines. Six of them worked in the domestic service sector in France and the seventh was employed as a secretary in a private company. During the second project, I interviewed 35 Filipino migrant mothers in France who were separated from their children left in the Philippines (Table 1). These women worked in the domestic service sector and had been residing in France for more than 10 years; 16 of them were in irregular migration situation at the time of the interviews. Table 1. Migrant women interviewed References Study 1 Study 2 Study 3 Selected respondents 7 6 35 Migration status 6 (regular) 6 (regular) 19 (regular) 1 (irregular) 16 (irregular) Average age 50 49 49 Education 6 (tertiary) 3 (tertiary) 22 (tertiary) 1 (secondary) 1 (secondary) 7 (secondary) 1 (elementary) 6 (elementary) 1 (did not go to school) Year of immigration 3 (1980s) 3 (1980s) 9 (1970s-80s) 2 (1990s) 2 (1990s) 16 (1990s) 2 (2000s) 1 (2001) 10 (2000s) Average duration of residence (in years) 16.7 22.3 10.8 Conjugal situation at the time of migration 5 (married to Filipinos) 4 (married) 1 (separated) 1 (divorced) 19 (married: 1 with Filipino- 1 (separated) French) 1 (unmarried/separated) 1 (with French boyfriend) 11 (separated) 1 (widow) 3 (unmarried/separated) Conjugal situation at the time of interview 4 (married: 2 with French) 2 (separated) 1 (divorced) 4 (married) 2 (with Belgian boyfriend) 15 (married: 2 with French) 13 (separated) 4 (widow) 3 (unmarried/separated) Average number of children 2 2 3 Women with children born in the country of origin 7 6 34 Women with children born in the receiving country 2 5 1 Women with children born in other country 0 1 1 Women reunited with their children 7 3 (all the children) 1 (two of four children) 1 (one of two children) References Study 1 Study 2 Study 3 Selected respondents 7 6 35 Migration status 6 (regular) 6 (regular) 19 (regular) 1 (irregular) 16 (irregular) Average age 50 49 49 Education 6 (tertiary) 3 (tertiary) 22 (tertiary) 1 (secondary) 1 (secondary) 7 (secondary) 1 (elementary) 6 (elementary) 1 (did not go to school) Year of immigration 3 (1980s) 3 (1980s) 9 (1970s-80s) 2 (1990s) 2 (1990s) 16 (1990s) 2 (2000s) 1 (2001) 10 (2000s) Average duration of residence (in years) 16.7 22.3 10.8 Conjugal situation at the time of migration 5 (married to Filipinos) 4 (married) 1 (separated) 1 (divorced) 19 (married: 1 with Filipino- 1 (separated) French) 1 (unmarried/separated) 1 (with French boyfriend) 11 (separated) 1 (widow) 3 (unmarried/separated) Conjugal situation at the time of interview 4 (married: 2 with French) 2 (separated) 1 (divorced) 4 (married) 2 (with Belgian boyfriend) 15 (married: 2 with French) 13 (separated) 4 (widow) 3 (unmarried/separated) Average number of children 2 2 3 Women with children born in the country of origin 7 6 34 Women with children born in the receiving country 2 5 1 Women with children born in other country 0 1 1 Women reunited with their children 7 3 (all the children) 1 (two of four children) 1 (one of two children) Table 1. Migrant women interviewed References Study 1 Study 2 Study 3 Selected respondents 7 6 35 Migration status 6 (regular) 6 (regular) 19 (regular) 1 (irregular) 16 (irregular) Average age 50 49 49 Education 6 (tertiary) 3 (tertiary) 22 (tertiary) 1 (secondary) 1 (secondary) 7 (secondary) 1 (elementary) 6 (elementary) 1 (did not go to school) Year of immigration 3 (1980s) 3 (1980s) 9 (1970s-80s) 2 (1990s) 2 (1990s) 16 (1990s) 2 (2000s) 1 (2001) 10 (2000s) Average duration of residence (in years) 16.7 22.3 10.8 Conjugal situation at the time of migration 5 (married to Filipinos) 4 (married) 1 (separated) 1 (divorced) 19 (married: 1 with Filipino- 1 (separated) French) 1 (unmarried/separated) 1 (with French boyfriend) 11 (separated) 1 (widow) 3 (unmarried/separated) Conjugal situation at the time of interview 4 (married: 2 with French) 2 (separated) 1 (divorced) 4 (married) 2 (with Belgian boyfriend) 15 (married: 2 with French) 13 (separated) 4 (widow) 3 (unmarried/separated) Average number of children 2 2 3 Women with children born in the country of origin 7 6 34 Women with children born in the receiving country 2 5 1 Women with children born in other country 0 1 1 Women reunited with their children 7 3 (all the children) 1 (two of four children) 1 (one of two children) References Study 1 Study 2 Study 3 Selected respondents 7 6 35 Migration status 6 (regular) 6 (regular) 19 (regular) 1 (irregular) 16 (irregular) Average age 50 49 49 Education 6 (tertiary) 3 (tertiary) 22 (tertiary) 1 (secondary) 1 (secondary) 7 (secondary) 1 (elementary) 6 (elementary) 1 (did not go to school) Year of immigration 3 (1980s) 3 (1980s) 9 (1970s-80s) 2 (1990s) 2 (1990s) 16 (1990s) 2 (2000s) 1 (2001) 10 (2000s) Average duration of residence (in years) 16.7 22.3 10.8 Conjugal situation at the time of migration 5 (married to Filipinos) 4 (married) 1 (separated) 1 (divorced) 19 (married: 1 with Filipino- 1 (separated) French) 1 (unmarried/separated) 1 (with French boyfriend) 11 (separated) 1 (widow) 3 (unmarried/separated) Conjugal situation at the time of interview 4 (married: 2 with French) 2 (separated) 1 (divorced) 4 (married) 2 (with Belgian boyfriend) 15 (married: 2 with French) 13 (separated) 4 (widow) 3 (unmarried/separated) Average number of children 2 2 3 Women with children born in the country of origin 7 6 34 Women with children born in the receiving country 2 5 1 Women with children born in other country 0 1 1 Women reunited with their children 7 3 (all the children) 1 (two of four children) 1 (one of two children) The second case study in this article is based on my research conducted on Belgian-Thai and Belgian-Filipino families. During this research, I interviewed 142 persons including 19 Thai women (17 mothers and two childless migrants) in couples with Belgian or other European men, mostly in the Flemish-speaking region of the country. Among these women, six had offspring from previous relationships with Thai men and four of them had their children join them in Belgium. In this article the case of these six migrants are examined (Table 1) and supplement data with some information from informal conversations with other Thai women. Four of the Thai respondents came from the northern and north-eastern regions of Thailand, where a dynamic marriage migration of women can be observed (Sunanta 2009). Four arrived in Belgium as spouses of Belgian nationals through family reunification route, whereas the other two entered as tourists and, later on, married in the country. The three works presented above also allowed general information to be gathered about the characteristics of the Filipino migration to France and of the Thai migration to Belgium (see Table 2). These migratory movements display differing characteristics in terms of main entry channel, orientation, and migration status; one common point they present is that they are both women-dominated. In the following sections, I explore Filipino and Thai mothers’ struggles to reunite with their children. Table 2. Characteristics of the Filipino and Thai migrations Filipino migration to France Thai migration to Belgium Main entry channel Tourist visa Family reunification Main orientation Domestic work Family formation Migration status Mostly in irregular situation Mostly in regular situation Composition Mostly women Mostly women Emerging pattern Labour migration Marriage migration Filipino migration to France Thai migration to Belgium Main entry channel Tourist visa Family reunification Main orientation Domestic work Family formation Migration status Mostly in irregular situation Mostly in regular situation Composition Mostly women Mostly women Emerging pattern Labour migration Marriage migration Table 2. Characteristics of the Filipino and Thai migrations Filipino migration to France Thai migration to Belgium Main entry channel Tourist visa Family reunification Main orientation Domestic work Family formation Migration status Mostly in irregular situation Mostly in regular situation Composition Mostly women Mostly women Emerging pattern Labour migration Marriage migration Filipino migration to France Thai migration to Belgium Main entry channel Tourist visa Family reunification Main orientation Domestic work Family formation Migration status Mostly in irregular situation Mostly in regular situation Composition Mostly women Mostly women Emerging pattern Labour migration Marriage migration 6. Family as the main driver of migration The decisions of women to migrate or not stems from their position in the stratified reproductive system in their country of origin: both Filipino and Thai respondents experienced challenging situations due to the gendered expectations of their families and societies regarding their mother and/or daughter roles. Most Filipino respondents migrated to fulfil the basic needs of their family and support the schooling of their children. In the Philippine society, a ‘good mother’ accomplishes care work at home: reproductive work such as cooking, washing clothes, cleaning the house, taking care of the children, managing the family budget, and so on. This concept of ‘good mothering’ has been progressively extended beyond practical care giving activities to include productive work (paid job) aimed to sustain their children’s needs. The weight of these social and family expectations on Filipino mothers, who are considered the ‘light of home’, influenced Filipino respondents’ decision to work abroad. Seventeen single mothers (four of whom were widow) found it particularly difficult to satisfy those expectations with their low-income jobs. These women and other respondents therefore decided to work abroad to secure the future of their children. As Glenda5 (39 years old) explained: ‘I imagined them [her three children] telling me one day that they didn’t have notebooks to write on at school. I was asking myself, how could I buy notebooks if I would not leave to work abroad.’ Glenda and other Filipino respondents left their children to pursue family-oriented projects. As their plan was a short-term stay abroad, they did not bring their children with them, a choice that was also influenced by the high financial cost of their movement and their awareness that they would find themselves in an irregular situation after the expiration of their tourist visa. Likewise, Thai women’s migration is family-oriented: they aim to form a family of their own and at the same time financially support their parents. Women in Thailand are expected to fulfil a caregiving role at home and observe filial piety. Unlike sons who can pay their moral debt towards their parents by entering a monastic order, the only way for a daughter to fulfil these expectations is to ensure their parents’ ‘physical and material well-being’ (Mills 2008). This is why, when a marriage opportunity with a Belgian man came, many Thai respondents seized it not only because of love but also as an opportunity to fulfil their obligations towards their natal family: these women knew that getting married with a Belgian man would enable them to migrate and find work abroad, where salaries are higher than in Thailand. Among the 19 respondents, six were single mothers prior to their marriage with their Belgian partner. As they were separated from their former Thai partners and received no support from them, these women had to work and relied on their parents to take care of their children. Their marriage to a Belgian man allowed them to start afresh by forming a new family and to be ‘good daughters’ to their parents as well as ‘good mothers’ to their children, although realizing simultaneously these aims turned out to be a challenge. Hence, family as the main drive for migration is an important factor to consider to understand why some migrant women pursue family reunification and others do not, as we will see in the following sections. 7. Tendency towards de facto family reunion among migrant Filipinas In her study of family-linked migrations in Spain, González-Ferrer (2011) unveils how many non-EU nationals achieve family reunion ‘on the fringes of the law’, for example by entering the country as ‘bogus tourists’. Such ‘de facto family reunification’ can also be observed among TCNs in Italy (Bonizzoni 2015). In France, de facto family reunion appears a widespread practice among Filipino domestic workers, most of whom are undocumented migrant mothers away from home. When they arrived in France, Filipino respondents became the main or sole breadwinner in their family, which strengthened their voices in the decision-making process at home. At the same time, they experienced social precariousness due to their irregular migration status, resulting in indefinite family separation and limited geographical mobility. Their domestic work barred them access to social class mobility in France, and their low income did not allow them to obtain comfortable living condition in the country. Among the 17 respondents in irregular situation, four resided in their employers’ home and the others lived alone in small service rooms or with other Filipinos (in one case, with her Filipino husband): hence, they lacked a place where to accommodate their children in case of reunification. Respondents in regular situation most often lived alone in small apartment or service room, which did not fit either the housing requirement of the French family reunification programme (see Section 4.1). Thus, regardless of migration status, Filipino women’s unprivileged position as low-paid workers in the French stratified reproductive system represents an obstacle to family reunification. Nonetheless, this did not impede many of them from pursuing their family reunion project, even if it meant resorting to the same unofficial channels they had used to enter the country. Such strategy results in a chain of irregularity from one generation to the next, as the case below illustrates: In 2007, 39-year-old Rowena left her 10-year old son with her mother and joined her husband in France with the help of an illegal migration agency. She found her separation from her son difficult, and immediately decided to make him follow her. Three weeks after her arrival, Rowena found a job as a nanny, which allowed her to borrow 6,000 euros with 6 per cent interest from another Filipino migrant. She used this money to pay a recruiter in the Philippines who pocketed her money, but kept her son. After a series of negotiation, the recruiter returned her son to Rowena’s mother. Having lost her 6,000 euros but desperate to be with her son, Rowena borrowed money again in Paris and paid the same recruiter, who this time fulfilled her promise. After a two-year separation and for a total cost of more than 16,000 euros, Rowena’s son arrived in France with a tourist visa. Three months after, he became an irregular migrant like his parents. Rowena’s experience unveils the way irregular migration traps migrants in a situation of limited choices and possibilities, making them vulnerable to exploitation. However, these migrants’ desire for family reunion drives them to try to overcome these restrictions in their belief that reunification in France will be good for their family and for the future of their children. It often takes years for them to repay the debts incurred in this process, as Rowena describes: You know my salary, when I receive it on the 30th or 31st [of the month], I do not bring it back home. It immediately goes to the person who lent me money, to my paluwagan [tontine] and to the rent of our house. Social networks also act as a capital that can be tapped to realize one’s dream of family reunion. For instance, Rosalie (55 years old) relied on the help of her friends, including a lawyer who owned an illegal migration agency disguised as a ‘travel agency’ in the Philippines, to make her two sons rejoin her in France. The Filipino husbands of Rowena, Rosalie, and two other mothers were already present in France and contributed morally and financially to the success of their family reunion project. This shows how the presence of the partners of migrant mothers in France influences their decision to pursue, or not, family reunion. Besides, migrant mothers who like Rowena and Rosalie find themselves in irregular situation know that undocumented migrant children in France enjoy certain rights that are often inaccessible in other countries, such as access to health care and free schooling (Björngren Cuadra 2010), which also plays a role in their decision to make them come to France. Undocumented migrant Filipinos with limited socio-economic resources, such as lone mothers, seek first to become regularized before embarking on a family reunion adventure. Prior to the restrictions in French immigration policies that occurred in the 2000s, the most common strategy among these migrants was to wait for their 10th year of residence in the country to qualify for regularization under the Chevènement Law of 1998. Others would get married to a French national or obtain the help of their employers who would support their regularization application (Fresnoza-Flot 2015a), as in the case below: Clara (55 years old) left her three children aged seven years, six years, and nine months in the Philippines in 1982 to work in France, where her former husband was employed as a driver in an embassy in Paris. She arrived with a tourist visa and found a job as a nanny in the family of a US diplomat. Thanks to her employer, Clara obtained a diplomatic visa. The same employer encouraged her to reunite with her children in France and helped her process their travel documents. Her two eldest children arrived in Paris in 1986 and the youngest one in 1992. All of them migrated under the family reunification programme thanks to Clara’s employer. Clara would be considered ‘lucky’ by other Filipino migrants, as even those in regular situations often resort to unofficial channels to reunite with their family because of the time-consuming and demanding French family reunion procedure (Fresnoza-Flot 2015a). Hence, it is not surprising that Filipino migrant mothers who successfully apply for family reunification are usually those living as a couple with a French national. As Filipino-French marriages remain rare among Filipino migrant domestic workers and as tightened French immigration policies offer few possibilities for immediate family reunion, the tourist visa route is often the most attractive path for Filipino migrant women to realize their dream of reuniting with their family in France. Those who remained separated from their children, as had the 35 migrant Filipinas interviewed, also took into account their family—the main driver of their migration—when they decided to postpone their family reunion. As they wanted to secure their children’s future, they preferred them to remain in the Philippines or to migrate in another country (e.g. North America) where they could find a more socially valorized job than domestic work. They also hesitated to make their children come to France if they already had stable jobs and/or their own family back home. If their children were still small, they were concerned about interrupting their schooling and took into account their precarious living conditions in France characterized by a ‘double irregularity’ (Ito 2015) of migration status and of work. Another reason for them not to pursue family reunion is that they considered their migration as temporary, despite the long duration of their stay in France (10.8 years in average): hence, they envisioned reuniting with their families in their country of origin rather than in France. 8. Prevalence of de jure family reunification among Thai migrant women In contrast to the case of Filipino mothers in France, Thai mothers married to Belgian nationals often succeed in their family reunification project thanks to their regular migration status and to the support of their husband. Many Thai mothers are legally dependent on their husbands as their residence permit is tied to their marriage with an insider citizen: hence, they seek their husband’s agreement to be able to make their Thai children join them in Belgium. By doing so, these women play a leading role in their children’s migration. After getting married in Thailand Malee (49 years old), and her Belgian husband immediately moved together to Belgium. Malee left her eight-year-old daughter from a previous relationship under the care of her natal family. During her first six months in Belgium, she studied Dutch and worked as a house cleaner. When she received her residence card, she returned to Thailand with her husband’s assistance and applied at the Belgian embassy for a visa for her daughter to join her in Belgium. Malee recalled her experience: ‘It was very difficult. I had to wait six months. […] Some people say three months, but for me it took six months.’ The Belgian family reunion procedures is a typical channel that Thai migrants such as Malee take to reunite with their children. The regular migration status they acquire through marriage with a Belgian and their paid work facilitate their access to reunification. More rarely, the Belgian husband of a Thai mother adopts her child, or a Thai child who already reached majority uses either a tourist or a student visa to come to Belgium. What is obvious is that the younger the child, the higher are their chances of coming to Belgium via the family reunion procedure (see online Supplementary Table 1). In some cases, Belgian husbands may contribute to the migration and binational marriage of female relatives of their Thai wife: Following her divorce from her Thai husband, Mai (43 years old) left her three-year-old son with her mother and travelled to Belgium in 2001 with a three-month tourist visa through the sponsorship of her Belgian brother-in-law. During her visit, her sister and her brother-in-law arranged a meeting between her and Philip. They fell in love, but Mai had to leave Belgium when her visa expired. When she returned with a new tourist visa through her brother-in-law’s sponsorship, she got married to Philip. This facilitated her subsequent application for a residence permit before her tourist visa expired. Missing her son back home, she had him come to Belgium with Philip’s support. In 2002, Mai reunited with her son. She attributed this ‘rapid’ reunification to her ex-husband who gave his consent for their son’s migration and signed the required document. Mai’s story indicates that their former Thai partners also play important roles in Thai women’s family migration. This is particularly the case if the biological link between the Thai father and his child is legally registered in Thailand, if his child uses his surname and/or if he is under his custody. These factors drove 34-year-old Phailin in 1990 to take her daughter (aged seven) to Belgium without the knowledge and prior consent of her ex-husband. In a separate interview, Phailin’s daughter confided that her mother ‘faked’ the signature of her father when she applied for family reunification in Belgium. Although her family reunification can be described as de jure in the eyes of Belgian law, Phailin could face trial for forgery and ‘child kidnapping’ under Thai law. However, her ex-husband did not file any legal case against her nor demanded her to return their daughter to Thailand. Phailin’s case is unusual among Thai migrants, but common among separated couples whose lives are linked to two or more countries (Singh 2008). When their Belgian husbands do not support their family reunification, Thai women hesitate to make their children leave Thailand, even when they have enough economic resources, which hint at unequal power relations at home between them and their Belgian husband. Without the latter’s agreement and support, family reunion takes longer and becomes more complicated. This happened to Piti (50 years old) whose daughter was only able to come to Belgium in 2009 at the age of 23. Despite her full-time job in a nursing home, Piti only managed to get her daughter to come after divorcing her first Belgian husband and marrying another Belgian man who assisted her to apply for family reunion, unlike her previous husband. Contrary to Filipino respondents who were mostly separated or whose family migration project was supported by their husband, Thai mothers like Piti have to consider the opinions and expectations of their Belgian husbands, taking into account that they are not the biological fathers of their children left in Thailand. As Kraler (2010) remarks, ‘constraints imposed on family-related migrants by immigration policies are only one among several constraints’; ‘expectations by family members, others and migrants’ own expectations also place constraints’ on the ‘decision-making and coping strategies’ of the migrants concerned. Furthermore, having a child born with their new partner often makes Thai mothers reluctant to have their Thai children come to Belgium. This happened to Siriporn (57 years old), who at the age of 24 left her two children under the care of her ex-partner’s mother and moved to Belgium with her Belgian husband. There, she had a child with her husband and to avoid complications she decided not to make her Thai children migrate to Belgium. Like her, Kanya (43 years old) decided that her eldest child would remain in Thailand while she focused on raising her young children with her Belgian partner. The decision of Siriporn and Kanya to let their Thai offspring stay in Thailand was also due to their insufficient economic resources. Unlike other Thai respondents who were employed in the service sector, Siriporn had no stable revenue and Kanya stayed at home to take care of her young children. Hence, performing care work at home instead of engaging in the labour market puts Thai women in a disadvantageous position characterized by less negotiating power at home compared to their breadwinning husband. We see here how the reproductive system is stratified along gender lines. 9. Discussion and conclusion The cases exposed in this article reveal the forces, beyond migration patterns, that motivate or discourage Filipino and Thai women to pursue family reunification: the inequalities of access to rights and resources due to their disadvantaged positions in the stratified global reproductive systems. In their countries of origin, the unequal expectations for women and men in the family put them in a demanding situation. Their role as daughters and/or as mothers comes with myriad obligations to fulfil, which often requires sufficient economic resources. Their desire to sustain or form a family prompts Filipino and Thai respondents to migrate using a tourist visa or legally via marriage. This desire continuously shapes their lives even in their receiving countries, including their decision regarding family reunion. In making this decision, they take into account the situation of their children ‘here’ and/or ‘there’. Whereas Filipino women consider their children’s economic conditions and family situation, Thai women pay attention to the age and needs of their children born of their new relationship. This leads to an inequality between their Thai children (from whom they are physically separated) and their children born in Belgium (with whom they are living). Filipino and Thai respondents also consider their partner’s position regarding family reunification. Those who reunited with their children generally obtained their (ex-)partner’s agreement and support. However, when children ‘left behind’ were born of a previous relationship family reunion processes appear complicated, as in the case of some Thai respondents. In the domestic realm, these women appear underprivileged compared with their husbands, whose dominant positions in marital power relations are rooted in their sponsorship of their spouse’s migration and in their breadwinning role. Without their husband’s support, Thai women do not make their children migrate to Belgium so as not to jeopardize their conjugal relation. Because they came to Belgium to form a family, these women strive to preserve this. In contradiction with the article’s initial hypothesis, it appears that despite their regular migration status (and for some their paid employment), Thai marriage migrants in Belgium have no direct access to family reunification: they need to first get the agreement of their Belgian husband. If they obtain it, they usually pursue family reunion alone, without the practical assistance of their partner. Moreover, all the respondents are mindful of their socio-economic situations. Filipino respondents most often hesitate to pursue family reunification due to their frequently irregular migration status and to their low income from their domestic work, which limit their legal and economic capacity to satisfy the requirements for de jure family reunion. This fits the article’s other hypothesis that many Filipino migrant women remain separated from their children due to the disadvantages they incur in the stratified reproductive system in their receiving country. If these migrants decide to reunite with their children, they do it mostly via the tourist visa route like some documented Filipino migrants. By resorting to this unofficial channel of family reunification, undocumented migrant Filipinas put their children in irregular situations in their turn, creating a chain of irregularity that ties them more to their domestic work. In this case, their de facto family reunification exacerbates social inequalities and reinforces the ‘stratified reproduction’ systems (Colen 1995). On the other hand, many Thai women with regular migration status tend to seek reunion with their Thai children via the official route. Overall, the migration patterns of Filipino and Thai women highlight the large inequalities deeply embedded in global reproductive systems. These inequalities are due to migrants’ (re)productive roles in the family ‘here’ and ‘there’, which drive them to migrate, to pursue the paths they consider good for their children, and to keep their conjugal relations afloat. These inequalities are also produced by the migrants’ modes of entry, migration status, and engagement (or lack thereof) in the labour market, which results in different socio-economic positions. As the ‘civic stratification’ (Morris 2002) of rights continues in many countries, these positions increasingly determine migrants’ access to family reunification. State policies can provide a favourable context for family reunion, but at the individual level migrants need resources that they can tap to counter the impact of the stratified global reproductive systems. A stable employment, social capital, their (ex-)husband’s support, and self-determination seem to be the key resources of migrant Filipinas and Thais. The way these women take into account their children’s situation also suggests that children play an important role in the family decision-making process (Dreby 2007), an interesting theme worth exploring in future studies of the global social reproduction of the family. Acknowledgements I thank Betty de Hart and Saskia Bonjour for giving me the opportunity to share the research findings presented in this paper during the conference ‘Problematisation of family migration’ (4–5 June 2015) at the University of Amsterdam, as well as Katherine Charsley, Eithne Luibhéid, and other colleagues for their insightful remarks and suggestions. I also thank the anonymous reviewers of earlier versions of this paper for their constructive comments. Funding This work was supported by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science [21402032 (2009–2012) and 24401039 (2012–2015)] to Itaru Nagasaka, coordinator of the research project [in which my study on Filipino migrants in France took place] and by the Belgian National Fund for Scientific Research [postdoctoral fellowship (2012–2015)] that financed my research on ‘mixed’ families of Filipino and Thai women in Belgium. Footnotes 1. Insider citizens enjoy rights, opportunities, and protection from the State in their society of residence. 2. Filipinos in Belgium also concentrate in the domestic service sector, but unlike Filipinos in France they arrived in their receiving country mainly through the family reunification route (Heyse et al. 2007). 3. Full-time Filipino domestic workers in irregular migration situation earn 1,000 euros per month, whereas those in regular situation receive 1,400 euros (Fresnoza-Flot 2009b). 4. 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Migration Studies – Oxford University Press
Published: May 19, 2017
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