Thursday, April 26, 2007

Migration operates like compound interest

The New York Times Magazine has a long and exceptionally well-written essay, "A Good Provider Is One Who Leaves" by Jason DeParle. His subject is migrant workers with a focus on workers from the Phillipines.

Here's one bit about the UAE:
As an Islamic state that bans socializing between unmarried women and men, Saudi Arabia held out few hopes for marriage or kids. Rosalie approached her 30th birthday resigned to a dutiful life alone. She celebrated at a Jeddah restaurant with Filipino friends; one of them, knowing they had a private room, disregarded the gender rules by bringing along her nephew, a construction engineer. The nephew, Christopher Villanueva, took Rosalie for an after-dinner walk, trailing her by a few paces in case the religious police happened by. “I was trembling!” Rosalie said. With both of them living in guarded single-sex dorms, their 18-month courtship occurred largely by cellphone. When they flew home in 2002 to marry, they had never been alone.

In the Philippines the following year to deliver her first baby, Rosalie saw an ad seeking nurses in Abu Dhabi. At $1,100 a month, the job paid twice what she made in Jeddah, and Abu Dhabi had no religious police. She aced the test and caught another plane to the Middle East, this time as a mother. Christine — “Tin-Tin” — was 7 months old when Rosalie tore herself away. The baby stayed on the farm and soon called her Aunt Rowena “Mama.” When a second daughter, Precious Lara, followed, she considered Rowena her mama, too. The girls cried when Rosalie held them on visits, filling her with worry and regret.
Migration operates like compound interest, building upon itself. Capitalizing on permissive visa laws, Rosalie has now brought a cousin and three siblings to Abu Dhabi. Rowena will soon start a secretarial job, and Roldan and Boyet are working with computers. Rosalie has also gotten Tin-Tin back, though not without some continuing distress: the girl, now 4, still treats Rowena like her real mom.

Already the family benefactor, Rosalie recently got a big promotion. As a charge nurse at the Al Rahba Hospital, she now earns $2,000 a month — 20 times what she earned a decade ago when she left the Philippines. Plus she has free health care and housing. Nonetheless, she is determined to stamp one more visa on the passport page. After a decade of trying, she has passed the American nursing exam and will soon retake the English test, which she narrowly failed. “The U.S. is the ultimate,” she said. “If you make it to the U.S., there is no place else to go.”
Read it all here. It's worth it.



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