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Waves of Filipino Immigrants


Filipino Immigration to the United States

When were the major waves of immigrants from the Philippines to the United States?

  • During the first wave from 1903 to the beginning of World War II, many young men emigrated to the U.S. to enroll in universities there.  Many of them returned.
  • The second wave occurred from 1907-1930's bringing plantation workers to Hawaii.  From 1920-1934 workers were also immigrating to the West Coast.
  • The third wave occurred after WWII. during the late 1940s and 50s.  This group included war brides and the "1946 boys."
  • The fourth and largest wave occurred after the 1965 Immigration Act was passed.

From which regions of the Philippines did they leave?

  •  Luzon's northwestern Ilocano provinces supplied many of the laborers to the Hawaiian sugar plantations because of economic hardship and overpopulation in that area.

Where did Filipino Immigrants Settle?

  • By 1930 there were 63,052 Filipinos in Hawaii, 30,470 in California, 3,480 in Washington and 1,982 in New York.
  • Recent immigratns moved to major cities of the United States where there were better employment opportunities.  There are large concentrations of Filipinos in Queens and Westchester County in New York and Jersey City, Riverdale and Bergen County in New Jersey.

Push Factors

  • From 1909-1935 poverty in the Ilocano provinces pushed many men to migrate
  • In 1972 Ferdinand Marcos became the dicator of the Philippines.  Many of his political opponents fled the country.

 Pull Factors

  • During the Spanish-American War, the United States took control of the Philippines.  On Sept 1, 1900 the U.S. entered into a 47 year relationship with the islands.  Those connections prepared the way for immigration.
  • The United States established primary and secondary schools as well as teacher colleges, vocational colleges and the University of Manila in 1908.  The United States established the Pensionado Act in 1903 to send Filippino students to U.S. colleges and universities.  Other students sought similar opportunities even without enrolling in the Pensionado Program.  Between 1910 and 1938 nearly 14,000 Filipinos had enrolled in colleges in the U.S.  Due to language and other difficulties, not all were successful, and many became unskilled laborers.
  • After a ban on immigrants from China, Japan and Korea in 1909, the Hawaiian Sugar Planters Association recruited Filipino workers to work on sugar plantations.  They were guaranteed passage to Hawaii and free subsistence and clothing.
  • The War Brides Act of 1946 led to the immigration of 5,000 Filipina brides.
  • Hawaiian sugar plantation owners brought 7,000 Sakadas or "1946 boys" to break up a strike by the International Longshoremen and Warehousmen's Union.
  • In 1947 the US-RP Military Bases Agreement allowed the Navy to recruit Filipino men to work in the mess halls.  By the 1970's more than 20,000 Filipinos had entered the U.S. through the U.S. Navy.


  • Filipinos faced discrimination in housing.  Therefore "Little Manilas," or congested ghettos, popped up in cities like L.A., San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, New York and D.C.


  • The pre-war immigrants were unskilled laborers in West Coast and Hawaiian agriculture or in Alaska's salmon factories.  Their plan was to get rich quick and return home.  Often they became trapped in these jobs due to the higher cost of living of the U.S.
  • California's agriculture relied on migratory field workers.  Filippinos harvested specialty crops like asparagus, cantaloupes, citrus fruits and strawberries.  Up until the 1950's more Filipinos worked as migrant agricultural workers in the west than any other group.
  • In urban areas, Filipinos worked in service jobs as busboys, hotel attendants, houseboys, elevator operators and dishwahers.
  • Many Filipinos worked in the mess halls in U.S. Navy Bases
  • The fourth wave of immigrants were well educated, spoke English well and entered a wide range of professions: bankers, doctors, nurses, insurance salesmen, lawyers, secretaries and travel agents.
  • The Philippines is a leading foreign provider of engineers, nurses, doctorsm teachers and technical workers.  By 1980 it passed all European countries in providing high skilled labor to the U.S.


  • Discrimination and the inability to acquire citizenship slowed the pace of integration for Filipino immigrants.
  • Single men without relatives would band together to form a surrogate family called a kumpang.  This way they continued to cook their tratitional food and celebrate customs from the Philippines.

Stereotypes, Discrimination, and Other Struggles

  • As a color-visible minority, Filipinos faced prejudice and discrimination.
  • A 1925 Supreme Court decision, Toyota v. United States, declared that only whites or people of African descent were entitled to citizenship.  Thus unless they had served in the U.S. military, Filipinos were denied citizenship until 1946.  Inability to acquire citizenship limited access to many professions and no political representation.  Additionally during the Depression Years, they could not qualify for federal relief since they were not citizens.
  • In the 1930's on the West Coast, Filipinos were often barred from swimming pools, movies, tennis courts, restaurants and barbershops.
  • The first waves of Filipinos were primarily young, single uneducated men.  Casinos, dance halls and prostitution flourished and these young men got the reputation for being immoral and lawless.  
  • In the 1930's there were 14 Filipino man for every Filipina women.  It is no wonder that the men paid attention to white American women, which angered many in American society.  In some states, miscegenation laws forbade Filipinos to marry whites until the Supreme Court case Perez v. Sharp in 1948.

Contributions to the United States

  • Filipinos were instrumental in the labor union movement both in Hawaii and California.
  • Filipinos served in the U.S. military in significant numbers beginning in World War I. 

Interesting Facts about Filipino Immigration

  • Since 1970 only Mexican immigrants outnumber Filipino immigrants.
  • When Marcos was in power, the government of the Philippines offered inexpensive airfare to entice U.S. immigrants to return to the Phillippines to visit and invest in land and education for their relatives still there.
  • The Philippines have a higher number of univeristy graduates per capita than any other country and have increasingly been a source for high-skilled workers recruited to the United States.

Comparisons to Today's Immigration Debate

  •  In 1930 a biased study, Facts about Filipino Immigration into California, claimed that Filipino immigrants were a social and economic threat.  In December of 2005 Minnesota Governor commissioned a report titled The Impact of Illegal Immigration in Minnesota that only accounted for the cost, not the benefits of undocumented immigrants to the state.
  • Filipinos were welcomed as cheap labor by farmers and other businesses.  Meanwhile discrimination kept them in low-paying jobs and inferiour conditions.
  • Filipino immigrants sent money home to the Philippines to educate relatives, buy land, pay taxes and fulfill other obligations. 

Resources Used for this Report
Gale Encyclopedia of Multicultural America, 2nd edition.  Edited by Jeffrey Lehman.  New York: Gale Group, 2000.