Irregular Migration and the Democratisation Process

A Postregular Challenge to the Nation State

Joselito Jimenez, Human Sciences Department, Osaka University [About | Email]

Volume 14, Issue 2 (Discussion 6 in 2014). First published in ejcjs on 29 July 2014.


States have tried nearly all possible interventions at keeping migration within the parameters of the “regular” process, yet irregular migrants persist. The legal status of irregular migrants, or the lack of it, formally excludes them from virtually all aspects of the host society, yet they successfully endure. Are they simply existing on the periphery or can they be seen as playing a role in the democratisation processes of the nation states that they find themselves in? This paper presents six cases of Filipino irregular migrants in Japan, each building innovative and practical survival tactics and strategies, enabling them to persevere in Japan, even thriving to hitherto unreached potential when a confluence of societal forces cooperates with their own investments of effort, diligence, sacrifice and guts. By re-interpreting the experiences of irregular migrants and contrasting these with the struggles and issues of regular migrants, the author argues that the former act as a foil through which the latter’s democratisation processes—or their struggle toward the acquisition, institutionalisation and expansion of their rights within the democratic system—are enhanced and facilitated. This role as foil can be seen to represent a new kind of challenge to the sovereignty of the nation state—distinct from those discussed in current literature, that of the postnationalist and multicultural challenges—that is, a postregular challenge.

Keywords: irregular migration, overstayers, democratisation, Filipinos in Japan.

1. Introduction

Irregular migrants1 would seem to be invisible on several fronts. Not only are their numbers essentially unknown but there is a dearth of knowledge on substantive issues concerning irregulars such as, among others, voluntary exile and its effects on well-being, returning irregulars and their propensities, social status germane to their legal status, or lack of it, and its interplay on motivation, perseverance and ensuing self-concept or identity. While it is possible to attribute the information scarcity on the above-listed themes to varying researcher preferences, it is harder to imagine the wanting visibility of irregular migrants in discourses on migration and democracy.

This paper presents case studies of Filipino irregular migrants in Japan, each case varying in key aspects of the Bilog2 lifecycle such as survival strategies, regularisation outcomes, capture, detention and deportation experiences. These experiences are then interpreted within the context of a democratisation process, arguing that irregular migrants despite their legal status are able to negotiate through various hurdles created by what Japan terms as its control of immigration, and are thus as invested in transacting with the nation-state as regular migrants. The first section attempts to cull out theoretical links to irregular migrants from within the current discourses on regular migrants and democracy. This is followed by a discussion on a sub-group data sampling of my research, attempting to map out some empirical bases to these theoretical links. It is the aim of this paper to suggest areas where migration and democracy narratives can venture to include those of irregular migrants, in the end proposing a perspective which I call a postregular citizenship route.

Irregular Migrants and Democratisation

If one exists, an Order Of Battle for irregular (economic) migrants would read as follows: enter, stay undetected, work, remit. High on the list of other things a Bilog would consider are personal networks of family or friends already in the target host country, current policies and restrictions on leaving and entry and current cash on hand. Worries on policies and restrictions may often be skipped altogether, leaving this entirely to the many migration agents that abound in labour-rich countries. A more cautious Bilog may want to have some kind of assurance that a job will be waiting for him at a destination country before he decides to leave. A more fatalistic Bilog will find the port-to-port3 deal of migration agents sufficiently attractive. An experienced Bilog, especially one that has already gone full circle, may have a more detailed Order Of Battle in his mind (see Text Box 1 below).

Text box 1: Order Of Battle for Irregular Migrants

  1. Enter host country. Either:
    1. Legally (with all authentic documents), then overstay; or,
    2. Illegally , assisted by smugglers:
      1. Through formal entry ports, but with bogus documents; or,
      2. Across land or sea borders, and feign persecution and seek asylum;
  2. Stay Undetected.
  3. Work.
  4. While at host country, exhaust all means to regularise. Either:
    1. Legally, through available regularisation windows; or,
    2. Illegally, through bogus documents or bogus arrangements.
  5. Remit.
  6. If arrested, exhaust all means to seek pardon and secure permission to stay.
  7. If deported, reintegrate or retry again to enter another host country.

But, it may be more the case that farthest from the mind of a Bilog-in-the-making is that the moment he successfully breaches a host country’s borders, he will be entitled to a certain minimum level of treatment, or gain access to a core set of social services available to all those who are physically present within a state’s jurisdiction. A parallel can be drawn in the argument for human rights being innate to one’s personhood and thus are claimable not just by citizens but by all those within its borders (Kessler 2009).

Indeed, for the Bilog, half of the war may be over if the battle for illegal entry is won, bringing us to the first hurdle in the proposed theoretical links in the discourse on migration and democracy and irregular and regular migrants. Can one still argue a gap between the obligation of the state to protect human rights and what can be perceived or interpreted to be harsh immigration control practices if the claimant is in violation of the sovereign’s laws? Stated differently, does lack of legal status justify a repressive immigration regime?

In sorting out this dilemma, reflecting on who has legal status and how that legal status relates to the state’s interaction with those in its jurisdiction may be a good start. By the term “legal status” I mean having an explicit right to be physically present in a country. Short-term travelers for personal (tourists) or official (business or government) reasons, students, migrant workers and their families or dependents, long-time or permanent residents and, needless to say, local citizens have legal status. Regardless of legal status, all those in violation of local laws are punished but only foreigners and migrants may be subject to deportation. Holding for a moment the thought that even law breakers are afforded a minimum set of dignities called human rights, we will now look closer into what constitutes citizenship.

If people within a state’s borders were to queue according to a pecking order of rights and privileges, citizens would be first, migrants second, but is it at all conceivable that Bilogs would be in that queue? Or are they excluded, by default, as they are not considered members of the polity? Do they not belong? While the physical existence of irregular migrants within a state’s borders is beyond contest, we still need to determine whether their formed networks, local community integration, and their tenure result in social membership (Hagan 2006), solidarity and belongingness (Kessler 2009) that citizens are theorised to have in relation to the state. That the primary motivation of Bilogs is economic and that they perform jobs and gainful activities is beyond debate, but whether they attribute the same shared understandings and memories (Tilly, 2006, as cited in Kessler 2009) that citizens attribute to similar actions needs to be illuminated.

Having no legal status and considered to be the farthest away from citizenship, can it be argued that Bilogs play an essential, integral part—a foil, if you will—in democratisation, clarifying if not enhancing, complementing if not maximising the processes of acquiring, institutionalising and expanding (Kessler 2009) personal, social, civil, cultural, economic and political rights for all persons within a state’s borders?

Formal exclusion from various rights does not negate the Bilog’s need for these critical, life-sustaining services. On the contrary, it effectively forces innovation and improvisation by the affected group, even galvanising those who, by virtue of ethnic ties, blood relations or narrow commercial interests, may be sympathetic to the Bilog’s plight. Thus, in fact, ironically, exclusion of Bilogs by the host state strengthens, if anything, their inclusion, their deeper integration into the local community, anchored, primarily by their ethnic community, secondly by the local community (of nationals) and, thirdly by vested local interests. I will offer empirical evidence of this theorised reverse effect through the case studies presented in the next section.

There is no greater affront to the authority of the state than the breaking of its laws. That this is done by non-residents and non-citizens would be like rubbing salt on a wounded nation-state. The transgression of irregular migrants thus, seen through this perspective, is worse than, say, when parents’ rules are broken by children who enjoy legitimate membership, sincere belongingness and full solidarity to that family. In the pecking order of challengers to a nation’s sovereignty irregular migrants would be first, regular migrants second and citizens would be last.

Yet current discourses focus not on the ultimate defiance from irregular migrants but rather on indirect, relatively benign challengers to the nation-state. As regular migrants grow new roots in their foreign host country, they are also found to keep and even enhance their ethnic ties with their homeland, cultivating recurring and long-term cross-border relationships spanning social, cultural, political and, most significantly, economic activities. This postnational challenge (Sosyal, 1994, and Jacobson, 1996, as cited in Koopmans and Statham 1999) is theorised to be lessening the relevance and importance of the nation-state as loyalties and allegiances are divided among now two sovereigns—mostly on a symbolic and personal basis but, recently gaining in prominence, now also formally through dual citizenship (Bloemraad 2004). Furthermore, as international migration forces nation-states to confront the realities of multiple groups of residents with differing value systems, the process of governing becomes multicultural in focus, that is, rules, laws and rights are now specialised according to the needs of each specific group (Kymlicka, 1995, as cited in Koopmans and Statham 1999).

I contend that the theorised postnational and multicultural challenges are indirect and benign because they both work within the current and dominant national citizenship mode. Any gains or losses in rights or privileges by regular migrants or citizens are made within the current legal regime. But what if the reality of irregular migration hints to another kind of challenge to the nation-state—one that we may refer to as postlegal or postregular challenge?

Irregular Migration—beginnings of postregular challenge to the nation state?

Transcending what each host country defines as its own “regular process” of migration, those primarily involved in the postregular challenge—the irregular migrants—carve out their own niches in societies that shut them out formally, ban them legally, recognise them tacitly, utilise them specifically, benefit from them stubbornly yet pardon them sparingly. While postnationalism and multiculturalism find its citizens struggle for full political rights, postregular actors stake their claim to more fundamental social and civil rights arising from an already-practiced-but-not-recognised economic right, the right to work. Postregular actors thrive in the juncture created between a number of opposing and complementary societal forces the main ones of which are, among others, vested local interests, unofficially cooperating local enforcement agencies, a local population often viewed as defensive and protective of their turf as national citizens and, most significantly, strict immigration control policies. Hollified (2004) describes a similar juncture, which he calls a “liberal paradox” in which the migration state negotiates through often polarised and asymmetrical forces of globalisation on the one hand and political and security exigencies on the other.

This section suggested a number of theoretical links between irregular migration and democracy, as follows:

  1. The nation-state’s responsibility to protect human rights applies to all persons within its borders regardless of legal status. Therefore a migrant’s irregular status is not a justification for repressive immigration practices.
  2. Irregular migrants may very well be involved in the democratisation process and be experiencing in equal if not more intense levels the components of citizenship but are excluded from it due to lack of legal status.
  3. The realities of irregular migration mirror, simultaneously, the limits of state power and the resilience of migrants under threat, contributing to the democratisation process.
  4. The persistence of irregular migrants represent a postregular challenge to the nation-state’s regime of immigration regularity.

Case Studies of Japan Bilogs

This section will present six case studies of Filipino irregular migrants in Japan. I established contact with these six respondents by employing three basic search strategies, as follows: Own Search[OS][Pia], Introduced by Individuals[IBI][Subaru, Manong, Iking, Etimo] and Introduced by Organisation[IBO][Billy]. In certain ways, the depth and breadth of information that is shared by the respondents varies, as trust and confidence are mostly defined initially by the search strategy employed. OS searches entailed going to clubs and bars in Manila and finding Japanese-speaking guest relations officers (GRO) and asking if they had previously been to Japan. IBI searches involved asking individual members of the local Filipino community in my research areas if they could point me to irregular migrants. IBO searches entailed direct introductions by organisations helping irregular migrants.

Table 1 below shows a summary profile of the six Bilog cases presented in this paper. The respondents include current and past Bilogs, those who were regularised (authentic and bogus) and those who were deported.

Table 1: Status and Summary Profile of Japan Bilog Respondents, 2014
Status Alias Summary profile
Current Bilog Etimo -male, 36yrs old (born 1974); -up to 2nd year college; -4yrs as Bilog (entered in 2006); - single; - 3 children in Manila
Past Bilog Regularized Authentic Billy -male, 40yrs old [born 1970]; -finished high school; -23yrs as Bilog (entered 1986); -2009 regularised; -married to Filipina, also former Bilog, overstayed entertainer; -1 16yr old daughter, born in Japan [1994]
Bogus Iking -male, 43yrs old [born 1967]; -college graduate; -4+1=5yrs as Bilog (entered first in 1995); -2005 regularised; -married in Philippines with 3 children; -married in Japan to Filipina permanent resident
Manong -male, 45yrs old [born 1965]; -college graduate; - 6months as Bilog (entered in 1996); -twice regularised, 1997/2002, under different names; - married in Philippines; - married in Japan to Filipina with Japanese blood
Deported Subaru -male, 44yrs old (born 1966); - up to 2nd year college; -18yrs as Bilog (entered in 1992; deported in 2010); -married in Philippines with 3 daughters
Pia -female, 25yrs old(born 1985/passport 1983); -high school graduate; -24 months(4x6-mos. tours) as entertainer; -24 months(2x12mos. visa as bogus child of a Japanese visa); -27months as Bilog(deported in 2010); -single

Etimo. Etimo decided to go to Japan and work because his youngest child had a congenital heart disease and a large amount of money was needed for a critical operation. His visa application was denied three times but he was finally given a temporary visitor visa in 2006 on his 4th application—ostensibly permitting him to Japan as his Father’s caretaker for a medical consultation. His elder sister, married to a Japanese national, signed as his guarantor. His job involves demolition of houses and buildings to make space for new structures. He got this job through the recommendation of his Japanese brother-in-law, and has since stayed with the same company. He has slowly gained the trust and confidence of his Japanese boss through sheer hard work—he never says no when he is called to work (declaring his availability 24 hours x 365 days in a year).

He has also learned to differentiate his work style and method from his other workmates (both locals and other foreigners, also irregular), allowing himself to be consistently retained on the on-call, active worker list. He is paid ¥10,000 for 8 hours work though his preferred status in the company has earned him a number of privileges such as getting paid the full day’s salary even when the job is completed early, or receiving a full day’s salary just to keep him on the available worker list, of those who can be called anytime. He declares that his Japanese bosses themselves protect and keep him from being arrested.

He is very careful when he is out walking in public, taking extra care to avoid places where policemen are known regularly to do inspections. He declares that as a Bilog, avoidance of any kind of trouble is the most important strategy to staying undetected. The year 2011 will be his 5th year as a Bilog and he says he is ready to be arrested anytime, stressing that getting deported is inevitable and only a question of fate, always keeping money in his pocket so that he can avoid long detention and fly straight home from the moment he is caught.

Billy. Billy came to Japan as young teenager, trying to avoid some brewing personal trouble in Manila. His aunt in Japan paid for his bogus passport and bogus visa, and he successfully entered in 1986 under an assumed name. He eventually met and married another Bilog who was a former entertainer. Their daughter, born in Japan and now 16 years old, speaks mostly Japanese and wants to become a doctor. Billy started as a construction worker starting at ¥6,000 per day and eventually working up to a salary of ¥15,000 per day. He suffered a number of work accidents but was able to get the needed medical attention from Japanese hospitals. He was even allowed to pay for the hospital bills through installment payments with a guarantee from his Japanese employer. Billy and his wife surrendered in 2008, asking for pardon and that they be allowed to stay in Japan. With the help of a Filipino organisation, they were able to obtain legal assistance and they were eventually given permission to stay, now being given full legal status. He was a Bilog for a total of 23 years.

Iking. Iking has been a Bilog twice already for a combined total of 5 years. His first attempt to enter Japan was unsuccessful as he was arrested at Narita airport and immediately deported. The agency that helped him with a fabricated passport and an assumed name put him on another plane to Japan after just one week, this time successfully getting past immigration as a Filipino businessman attending a Japanese trade fair. His sister and her Japanese husband helped him find a job in the construction industry. Iking worked hard to develop his technical skills in that construction job, knowing that he needed to compete with both local and foreign workers. He soon specialised in handling steel, his salary peaking at ¥20,000 per day with an overtime rate of ¥3,000 per hour. The 1997 financial crisis hit the construction industry hard by 1998 and he decided to surrender and try his luck again in the Philippines.

The transport business he set up in the Philippines proved to be insufficient to support the growing expenses of his family. He thus tried his luck again in Japan, this time entering legally through the Trainee system using his real name and with authentic travel documents. He was subjected to much work discrimination during his stint as a Trainee. He decided to escape at the end of his 6 month contract. He contracted Hepatitis and was able to receive needed medical attention from Japanese hospitals.

In order to legalise his stay, he entered into a second marriage with a Filipina permanent resident, with the full knowledge and permission of his first wife in the Philippines. To do this he had records of his marriage in the Philippines erased in the records section itself and so subsequent certifications—fully authentic and legitimate documents—showed him to be single. He consistently sends financial support to his family in the Philippines. He is currently paid ¥13,000 per day in his job still at the construction sector.

Manong. Manong was a ship cook earning US$250 per month in 1990. When his boat docked at Chiba, his Filipino Bilog friends would always enjoin him to jump ship and join them working as helpers in the construction industry earning ¥10,000 a day, easily 6 or 7 times higher when compared to his salary as a cook. In 1995 he entered as a tourist and overstayed his visa, working in Shizuoka as a fish cutter. He met a Japanese lady, entered into a convenience marriage with her through manufactured documents showing him as single. This marriage legalised his status in Japan, but things soured for them very quickly and he decided to return home to the Philippines. In Manila, he then met another Filipina of Japanese descent and through a manufactured passport and an assumed name entered into another marriage arrangement with her. Both marriages were done with the full consent of his first wife in the Philippines. Manong currently works at a hotel in Japan, earning a salary of ¥12,000 per day, consistently sending money to the Philippines.

Subaru. I met Subaru while he was still in Japan, already in this 18th year as a Bilog. He was arrested in June and deported in July of 2010. Rising family expenditures pushed Subaru to leave his wife and three daughters in 1992, entering Japan on a 3-day shore pass, with the express intention to overstay. He initially hid out with his cousin in Gifu.

Subaru worked for a total of 10 years in a bakery, through 4 stints punctuated by short intermissions in which he tried out jobs in construction and a belt factory. His salary at the bakery peaked at ¥250,000 a month on his 8th year.

Subaru cohabitated with three Filipina permanent residents in Japan. He explains that he never considered marrying any of them in order to gain legal status in Japan as he had always planned to return to his family in the Philippines. He became addicted to gambling and to drinking, mostly due to his loneliness, as he explains, and this negatively affected the regularity and amount of his remittances. Years would pass and he would not contact his family, causing his wife and daughters to be alienated from him.

At the time I met him he had been living alone in a doya (cheap workers lodging hostel) for the last 5 years, but had been fortunate to still have a regular job at a construction company, earning ¥13,000 a day. He was arrested during an inspection at a local street market conducted by police not from his locality. While in detention his diabetes started acting up and medical attention came only after a number of days during which he suffered pain. This caused him to miss the deadline to appeal the decision to deport him.

Now back in the Philippines he is struggling to restart his life. Alienated from his family, he lives alone with his mother in their province of Bulacan.

Pia. Pushed by family need and by a good friend who had gone ahead as an entertainer, Pia first entered Japan in 2002, and completed a total of four, 6-month stints as an entertainer. Earning ¥10,000 a day, she courageously supported eleven people back in the Philippines (her father and his second wife and their 3 children, and her elder sister and her husband and their four children) who were completely dependent on her income. In 2004 while waiting in the Philippines for her 5th 6-month stint as entertainer, she worked in a Philippine night club where she met a Japanese club owner who helped her enter Japan the succeeding year under an assumed name with a visa as a child of a Japanese national. She worked in his club this time as a regular employee but with a salary of only ¥80,000 yen per month.

She eventually returned to working as an entertainer as it paid much better, as she explained, contacting her previous Japanese contacts who gladly accepted her back.

In 2008, she then overstayed her one-year visa as a child of a Japanese national, becoming involved in two simultaneous relationships with two Japanese men (in order for her housing and living costs to be covered). She was arrested in April 2010 based on a tip from a Filipina who was getting back at the Japanese owner of the club who had fathered her child.

Bilogs as Foil in Democratisation Processes

These experiences of the six Bilogs, now arranged in the sequence of the hypothetical Bilog Order of Battle as shown in lower portion of Diagram 1, assume a different plane of significance when viewed within the context of Filipino regular migrants.

The upper part (above the arrow) of Diagram 1 lists a number of current issues faced by Filipino regular migrants in Japan. These issues can be said to be at various stages of their struggle for the acquisition, institutionalisation or expansion of their rights—or the democratisation process (Kessler 2009)—and Bilog experiences act as a foil that highlights key points of the issues in contention. The next section shows two examples of this foiling process on fair work conditions and protection from spousal abuse.

Fair Work Conditions. Legal Filipino workers seek better working arrangements and conditions, arguing that salaries are low and various conditions attached to winning regular work status are unfair. Caregivers receive an average of ¥125,000 a month as salary and are required to pass a government exam given in the Japanese language. Trainees are given an average salary of ¥80,000 yen a month. Both groups cite being subjected to very long working hours with very low or no overtime pay. Viewed against the foil of irregular migrants, their claims-making may have some bases. The salaries reported by Iking, Subaru, Etimo and Billy for blue-collar labour in 2009 range from ¥10,000 to ¥15,000 per day or a monthly salary ranging from ¥200,000 to ¥300,000 at only 20 working days per month. Not even considering that caregivers and trainees are considered by the Japanese government as skilled, white collar work and that as legal workers they should be theoretically treated several notches higher than irregular, blue-collar workers, why are their salaries about 35%-60% lower than those of my Bilog respondents?

Diagram 1. Order of Battle Experiences of Irregular Migrants as Foil in Democratisation Processes of Regular Migrants

Jimenez, Diagram 1

A 2009 survey conducted by the Japan Immigration Bureau among arrested overstayers shows that three out of five irregular migrant workers earn between ¥5,000 to ¥9,999 per day (see Table 2 on the right). Using these official figures, Filipino caregivers and trainees can still validly argue that, at a minimum, the salaries they are receiving are still lower or at least equal to irregular migrant workers.

Table 2: Illegal Work by Salary and Gender, 2009
Amount of Pay Total Male Female
Lower than 3,000yen/day 653 250 403
2% 2% 4%
3,000yen to 4,999yen/day 4,140 2,084 2,056
16% 13% 21%
5,000yen to 6,999yen/day 12,733 8,020 4,713
48% 49% 47%
7,000yen to 9,999yen/day 7,132 5,211 1,921
27% 32% 19%
10,000yen to 29,999yen/day 644 324 320
2% 2% 3%
30,000yen/day or higher 484 238 246
2% 1% 2%
Unknown 759 395 364
3% 2% 4%
Total 26,545 16,522 10,023
100% 100% 100%


Moreover, beyond just plain comparison of wage levels, another issue that is brought to the fore is whether caregivers and trainees are taking for granted the value of their legal status or if they are forgetting that, in today’s globally competitive workplace, getting what is due requires more than just claims-making but, more importantly, value-showing. Iking and Etimo emphasise how Bilogs fight tooth and nail to overcome their handicaps due to their lack of legal status. Competition and striving to add value to their labour are principles that are not lost upon Bilogs. Etimo cites that he routinely works on weekends and on holidays and continuously for months on end with no rest day with the objective of differentiating himself from other workers or for building favour in the eyes of his Japanese boss and selective preference when it comes to building the worker list for projects. Their Bilog experience thus clarifies that the struggle for fair work conditions must include not only claims-making on what is legally due migrant workers but also relentless striving to show an unbeatable competitive edge. Etimo and Iking have even declared that they are proud to have overcome personal limits both in terms of confidence and skill given the pressures of being a Bilog in an unforgiving and competitive workplace, bringing themselves to even higher levels of performance and achievement.

The Japanese employers of Bilogs also, ironically, fiercely protect and shield their Bilog workers from capture, even going as far as affording them work privileges normally due local workers with regular status. Etimo cites how when accidents happen in the workplace, his Japanese boss is the first to warn him to leave immediately to avoid the impending arrival of the police who routinely investigate the work site. Iking explains how their Japanese bosses assign to them Japanese names to use so as to avoid suspicion and eventual detection when routine inspection of worker lists are done by immigration authorities. Subaru cites many instances when, while on a convoy of cars and the cars ahead of the pack are subjected to inspections, or when a road accident happens and police are surely to come, fellow employees and his Japanese boss make sure to call Subaru on the phone, warning him to avoid that route or to stop at a rest stop until the trouble is over.

Diagram 2. Bilogs as Foil to Fair Work conditions

Jimenez, Diagram 2

While it may be argued that the motivation to protect their Bilog workers is driven primarily by the commercial benefits that employers derive from retaining irregulars, this situation, interpreted against the argued discriminatory work practices on caregivers and trainees, still highlights the inconsistencies, the seemingly conflicted approaches to foreign labour by the Japanese government. How can it be explained or justified if there is more discrimination in the workplaces of legal migrant workers than in workplaces of Bilogs?

Protection from Spousal Abuse. Filipinas who are victims of domestic violence struggle to find a support system that goes beyond the fear and stigma of going against the deeply ingrained, male chauvinistic tendencies of the Japanese culture. While there are Filipino support organisations that help victims of domestic violence, it can be said that there is a general censure when it comes to getting into what is perceived to be a personal and private matter between spouses. Contextualising this difficult situation of victims of domestic violence within the situation of Bilogs may help provide a fresh perspective.

Bilogs cannot survive without their local compatriot community. As the stories of Subaru and Pia highlight, compatriots form an indispensable safety net. Reciprocating the favours received from one’s network and cultivating both indebtedness and goodwill among one’s friends, are the most critical survival strategies of Bilogs.

Diagram 3. Bilogs as Foil to Protection from Spousal Abuse

Jimenez, Diagram 3

Etimo and Iking share how they consciously disseminate information on available part-time, sideline jobs to those who have previously helped them or to those who they know can help them in the future. This they see as a way of continuously cultivating one’s network of contacts knowing full well that everyone always reaches a point when one needs help and that, most especially in the Bilog situation, the only persons one can lean on are compatriots.

Manong and Subaru also cited how health cards are routinely lent by legal migrants, who are able religiously to pay the monthly fees, to both regular and irregular migrants, allowing 70% lower health costs for those currently in need of medical attention. Etimo, Iking and Billy noted that relatives and friends in Japan have provided them a network of safe-houses to which they could always go as a last resort despite, the well-known risks and negative implications of harbouring irregular migrants at one’s home. Lodging and other critical utilities such as mobile phones and Internet access subscriptions are often secured by Bilogs through proxy representation by compatriot regular migrants.

Iking and Etimo explain how the early warning network among Filipinos has helped them countless times proactively to avoid arrest or even just the risk of detection. This early warning network is an informal yet highly reliable system where currently-mobile Filipinos call or text ahead to known Bilogs to avoid train stations or bus stations or any other public place where they see spot inspections being conducted by Immigration officials or where police presence is heightened due to some public event or accident.

Interestingly, it is also commonly noted that since the value of help and favours extended to Bilogs is often beyond simple and straightforward measure, the method and amount of reciprocation of favours, or the length of the period of indebtedness by a recipient of help is also hard to establish. The cumulative effect of this is that the Bilogs and the community stay in a state of perpetual interdependence, mutual assistance and co-indebtedness.

To be sure, not all Filipinos are helpful, supportive or sympathetic to the situation of Bilogs. My respondents are quick to stress however that Filipinos who squeal on Bilogs to Immigration are by far the exception rather than the rule.

Seeing this high level of solidarity among compatriots in the case of bilogs, how can actual witnesses or confidants with first-hand information of domestic violence resist extending a helping hand? If Filipinos can come together to help compatriot Bilogs who are in a non-life threatening situation, how much more should they come together for the often-times life-threatening situation of domestic violence? Again, the situation of Bilogs clarifies and sets a benchmark for how compatriots can and should help out claims-making by Filipina victims of domestic violence.


This paper began by outlining possible theoretical intersections between, on the one hand, current discourses on migration and democracy and, on the other hand, irregular migration. These intersections can be found in the way experiences of Bilogs act as a foil to those of regular migrants, in the process clarifying the democratisation process, or the way in which rights are made to become more fully innate to a claims-making group. By contributing to the re-interpretation of the democratisation process of regular migrants, irregular migrants and their direct but often only tacitly recognised contribution to Japanese society would seem to represent another form of challenge to the nation-state, that is, a postregular one where regardless of legal status—or beyond those conditions set by the sovereign power as constituting the regular process—all migrants within national borders legitimately transact with the state, its citizens and non-citizens, and with others beyond the state’s physical boundaries.

Indeed, this theorised postregular challenge can be argued to originate not only from factors external to the state (that is, through irregular migrants who in fact originate from outside the state) but also from internal societal factors. These include, among others, the complicit condoning by local authorities of irregular migrants through their inconsistent and, at best, conflicted application of immigration policies and other official stances on foreign worker programs; the continued utilisation and benefitting by vested local interests of irregular migrants because of their cheap labour, unbridled work dedication and persistent pursuit of work efficiency. In this light, this proposed postregular challenge is different from the postnational and multicultural challenges to the nation-state in that it involves self-inflicted damage, if you will, against its own sovereignty. Further validation needs to be done on whether the postregular challenge represents an argument for or against open borders, or the removal of all restrictions on the mobility of people.

At the very least, I suggest that the postregular challenge to the nation state embodied in the persistent realities of irregular migration establishes the fact that the endpoint of democratisation processes is not only a set of rights but more importantly a definition of who is included and who is excluded in that journey. The current immigration regimes attempt to exclude Bilogs in their democracies but Bilogs nevertheless triumph over these temporary hurdles and prove that they are very much a part of it, whether formally recognised or not.


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[1] The term irregular migrant is used here to refer to irregular economic migrants or those who enter irregularly or stay irregularly, or do both, in a host country in order to work and send money to their dependents.

[2] Filipinos who remain in Japan beyond the period specified in their visas become “overstayers” or, as his 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.

[3] Akin to the door-to-door service of courier companies, a migration agent’s responsibilities end once you successfully get past immigration control at an entry port.

About the Author

Joselito Jimenez is a doctoral student at the Human Sciences Department at Osaka University.

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