Where are the Immigrant Women on International Women’s Day?

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They are most likely working, looking for better opportunities and sending money home to the family members that have stayed behind.

The number of male and female migrants has increased as has the proportion of women (from 47% in 1960 to 49% currently, with differences between countries), but what really has changed over the past forty years is the fact that an increasing number of women is migrating independently in search of work, rather than as “dependent” family, traveling with their husbands or to meet with them abroad.

According to estimates by the UN Population Division by 1990, immigrant women from Latin America and the Caribbean were the first in the developing world to reach parity with male migrants and in 2005 and by 2010 they constituted 50.1% of total migrations from this region.

In the United States more women became Legal Permanent Residents, naturalized United States Citizens and were adopted during 2009.   The number of male refugees and asylees continue to be slightly higher.    Interestingly the estimates for the unauthorized migrant population in the United States indicate that women accounted for 52 percent of the 45 and older age groups of undocumented women in the United States.   It must also be noted that an estimated 1.3 million undocumented children live in the United States of those more than 600,000 are immigrant girls.  Immigrant girls represent 13 per cent of the total female unauthorized immigrant population in the United States.

The feminization of migratory process is also evident among migrants moving from Central and South America to Spain, where in 2001 70% of all migrants were women from Brazil and Dominican Republic. According to the United Nations population Fund Caribbean migrant women outnumbered men to North America since 1950s and are well represented in skilled categories.

IOM’s forthcoming publication “Crushed Hopes: Underemployment and Deskilling in Skilled Migrant Women”, gives voice to the plight of high skilled migrant women unable to translate their education and professional skills into decent work.  Previous studies have shown that under-employed and de-skilled women are likely to suffer from demoralization, shame, depression, powerlessness, stress, intense frustration, unhappiness, anxiety as well as feeling invisible and trapped.

As quoted by IOM, one woman migrant recounts: “I had always been very active and busy, making my own money so when I was stuck at home, had no job and was very dependant financially, I felt like a piece of my body had been cut off.” Generally, the more severely underemployed they are, the more likely they will be to experience several of these disorders.

Although migrant women represent 105 million international migrants, almost 50 per cent of the global international migrant population, and most are migrating in search of employment opportunities, they are still not offered the same opportunities as their male counter-parts and are, therefore, still often disproportionately affected by risks arising from mobility.

Still it must be highlighted that even if they earn less than immigrant men, gender also affects the amount and frequency of remittances that migrants send home. For example, immigrant women in Spain are responsible for 60 percent of the total remittances sent from that European country. At the global level female migrants send approximately the same amount of remittances as male immigrants, however, IOM notes that women send a higher proportion of their income, even though they generally earn less than men.

-Sheila I. Vélez Martínez


About Sheila Velez Martinez

Visiting Clinical Professor Immigration Law Clinic University of Pittsburgh - School of Law 210 South Bouquet Street - Sennott square - Room 5211 Pittsburgh, PA 15213 Telephone: 412-383-9897 Fax: 412-648-1947 Mailing Address: University of Pittsburgh School of Law P.O. Box 7226 Pittsburgh, PA 15213-0221
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