Asian Migrant Women Workers and ICTs

Information and communication have never undergone so much transformation as in the age of globalization. The information explosion as well as the easier, greater and more manifold access to information that is happening today is such that the age of globalization is also sometimes referred to as the “information age.” For Asian migrant women workers, however, ICTs’ role goes beyond information. They are an indispensable tool for making mobility possible as well as surviving and thriving in it.

Job Search and Recruitment

One of the most basic and most important ways in which ICTs play a role in the lives of migrant women is through jobs search and recruitment. Not so long ago, people found jobs on their own by scouring the classified ads pages of newspapers. Today, while some still look for jobs using print newspapers and others use the online edition, many simply browse the World Wide Web that offers manifold ways of looking for a job overseas. At the click of a mouse and with the correct words or phrase typed on the search toolbar, for example, “nursing jobs in UK,” one could see job opportunities overseas. With the commercialization of migration, women migrants today find jobs also on the internet via placement or recruitment agencies that are increasingly doing business in the cyberspace.

James Tyner’s study on the use of internet technology within the migration process sheds light on this web-based recruitment in the case of Asian migrant women domestic workers. In analyzing the data collected on 25 agencies specializing exclusively or predominantly in domestic workers, Tyner contends that there is a cyber-commodification of female foreign domestic workers, particularly in the (re)presentations of both “the product” (the domestic worker) and the “expected performance” (the job requirements) of the domestic worker. To stay competitive, recruitment agencies bend over backwards to prospective employers’ needs. On their websites they offer a range of services that objectify potential maids from

“collection” and “delivery” of the domestic workers to creating “catalogues” (through bio-data and photos of women in a maid’s uniform) of the product.5 Some agencies’ websites even cater to prospective employers’ preferences that can be interpreted as biases, in terms of personality (applicants are advertised as reliable, docile, hardworking and subservient), nationality (“Indonesians are cheaper, require no day-off and hence no disruption to daily work routine and are generally teachable and obedient”), physical appearance (especially weight and hair), complexion (one agency even has a tripartite classification—fair, tanned or dark), and religion. Worse, recruitment agencies offer services that disenfranchise domestic workers by offering employers the ability to “order” and “reserve” a domestic worker on-line to being entitled to “warranties” (as much as three months) or free “replacements” (anytime during the first year) for their products.6 Nicole Constable points out that some recruitment agencies offer as much as three free replacements if the employer is not satisfied with the “product.” An agency, at one time, even put domestic workers on “sale” with a “15 percent discount” price tag because it is celebrating its 15th anniversary.7 Domestic workers, then, become like goods in the store where one has the ultimate freedom to choose which to buy, and if the “goods” are “damaged” you can return her, free of charge.

The internet also becomes a means for turning migrant women workers’ dreams into a nightmare when the job they thought they have applied for via the internet is actually non-existent and they become victims of illegal recruiters. Such is the case of the victims of ISA4U, a local corporation in the Philippines that falsely advertised itself online as having the capacity to bring Filipino nurses and health professionals to the United Kingdom on a “study and work” program even when it was only licensed to provide advisory and marketing consultancy services on training courses, college courses and university courses of other foreign countries.8

Migrant workers, however, fight back against job scams and illegal recruiters by also using the internet. Overseas Filipino Workers or OFWs in Afghanistan, for example, used social media networks to warn relatives and fellow Filipinos against three groups of illegal recruiters in the Philippines, who try to lure victims to high-paying but phantom jobs in Afghanistan. These OFWs who have already been victimized by the illegal recruiters, posted their bad experiences on Facebook.9 Others used social media networks to exchange information and conduct verifications on recruiters or recruitment agencies.

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