Precarity chains: cycles of domestic worker migration from Southeast Asia to the Middle East

Rachel Silvey, Rhacel Parreñas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

73 Scopus citations


This article examines how the emergent serial labour migration patterns (Parreñas, Rhacel, Carolyn Choi, Maria Hwang, and Rachel Silvey. 2018 (on-line). “Serial Labor Migration: Precarity and Itinerancy among Filipino and Indonesian Domestic Workers.” On-line First: October, 2018. Accessed January 15, 2019. doi:10.1177/0197918318804769 [IMR]) of migrant domestic workers are shaped by their precarious positions in the global labour market. Based on interviews with migrant domestic workers from the Philippines (n = 82) and Indonesia (n = 79) working in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the article outlines the forms of precarity at work in various stages of the migration cycle: (1) the precarity of migration engendered by their levels of indebtedness prior to migration and their dependency on a recruitment agency to determine not only their employer but also country of destination; (2) the precarity of labor that results from their employment in countries of destination that offer only limited-term contracts and very limited rights to domestic workers; and then finally (3) the precarity of future reflecting the low levels of income, savings and investment they are able to accumulate. We argue that overall, domestic workers from Southeast Asia working in the Middle East are embedded in precarity chains, a concept we introduce that refers to the transfer of insecure jobs and insecure financial status (low wages, indebtedness) across migrants’ places (origins and destinations) and their family members. Precarity chains effectively remit persistent dependence and future precarity on the families and household economies of these low-wage domestic workers, tending overall to reproduce the relative poverty, persistent socio-spatial precarity, and transnational subordination of domestic workers over the life-course.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3457-3471
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Ethnic and Migration Studies
Issue number16
StatePublished - Dec 9 2020
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Demography
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


  • domestic workers
  • global care economy
  • migrant workers
  • mobility/immobility
  • Precarity chains


Dive into the research topics of 'Precarity chains: cycles of domestic worker migration from Southeast Asia to the Middle East'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this