Work-life Experiences of Circulating Filipino Irregular Migrants in Sabah, Malaysia: An Exploratory Study

  • Teresita Ibarra Taberdo
Keywords: borders, circulation, irregular migrants, livelihoods


The long history of economic and cultural exchange and common access to the maritime resources of the Sulu-Sulawesi seascape had allowed social groups around this territory to crisscross porous borders. This continued until the surrounding nation-states declared independence and sovereignty over territories in the first half of the 20th century; rendering these centuries-old border crossings subject to state laws and policies. Against this backdrop of changed socio-political and legal systems, why do people undertake perilous border-crossings? This paper presents an exploratory descriptive study of irregular migrants in Sabah, Malaysia from Southern Palawan, Philippines.  It explores the economic and socio-cultural context of their home origins, their motivations, their lived experiences in host country and decisions to go home or come back. In addition, it explores the concept of circular migration characterising the irregular migrants’ movement as a strategy towards sustaining livelihoods. The paper used qualitative data from a coastal barangay using survey of households’ profile, semi-structured interviews of individual cases, key informants and observations. Interview data showed that irregular migrants’ decision to migrate had the family’s welfare at the centre of aspirations and such movements were either encouraged or facilitated by contacts in host country. Lacking proper documents, data showed majority of case migrants experienced difficulties in mobility and sanctions related to their irregular status but this did not deter some to come back.


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How to Cite
Taberdo, T. I. (2021). Work-life Experiences of Circulating Filipino Irregular Migrants in Sabah, Malaysia: An Exploratory Study . Journal of Borneo-Kalimantan, 7(1), 35-52. Retrieved from