KASAMA Vol. 20 No. 3 / July-August-September 2006 / Solidarity Philippines Australia Network

CMA LogoIssues and Problems
in Filipino-Australian Marriages

by Rhodora A. Abano, Center for Migrant Advocacy

From 1989-2005, the Commission on Filipinos Overseas provided guidance to 284,841 Filipino partners of foreign nationals. In 2003 Filipino-Australian couples were the third largest grouping, following Filipino-American and Filipino-Japanese couples. Women account for 89% of Filipino-Australian intermarriage.

Round Table Discussion Panelists

It is in this context that the Center for Migrant Advocacy (CMA) in cooperation with the Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO) held a Round Table Discussion on Filipino Women in Intercultural Relationships: The Case of Filipino-Australian Marriages at the Heritage Hotel last June 14, 2006.

In his opening remarks, CFO Executive Director Mr Jose Z. Molano Jr stressed that to ensure equality, equity and enjoyment of Australia for Filipinos who choose to live there, a collective approach is required of all stakeholders. He hoped the discussion will result in specific initiatives responding to the concerns and interest of women in intercultural relationships. He noted that some Filipinas have been victims of violence and human trafficking.

The resource persons were Ms Jennifer Gonzales, CFO Deputy Executive Director, who spoke about the situation of Filipinas marrying Australians and CFO services; Ms Peta Dunn, Principal Immigration Officer, Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Australian Embassy in the Philippines, on the embassy’s processing of visa applications of Filipina partners of Australian men; Ms Nicki Saroca, a post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Anthropology, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies of the Australian National University, on the key issues and commonalities that have emerged from her research into Filipino-Australian relationships and families [1]; and Ms Estrella Masigan, who spoke of the violent death of her sister, Rosalina Canonizado, killed in Australia on 13 April 1991. [2]

Ms Masigan related how her sister met her husband in Australia, his trial and acquittal of her murder. She asked why the case has not been reopened since he has subsequently been found guilty of murdering his first wife.

During the open forum, participants from government and civil society raised questions and suggestions for service improvements.

Situation Of Filipinas In Filipino-Australian Relationships

Of the 284,841 Filipino partners of foreign nationals, CFO records at least 23,532 Filipino-Australian couples. The Australian Census surveyed at least 103,990 Filipino migrants as of 2001, 65% women, of whom more than 70% were sponsored as fiancées or spouses of Australian resident men. The embassy receives some 1,500 visa applications year round, of which 400 are for fiancée visas. Ms Gonzales said that the majority of couples were introduced by common friends and relatives but there are also those introduced through the sex industry and via the Internet.

Problems And Issues

Ms Gonzales enumerated the most pressing concerns reported by the migrating Filipinas in their CFO pre-counseling questionnaire: 47% mentioned adjustment to the environment, followed by homesickness and marital adjustment; 33% planned to work and 8% perceived it as a problem; 12% planned to send financial support to their family while 9% plan to petition their family members. Difficulties fed back by settled Filipinas pertained to employment and adjustment to the environment and local culture.

Prior to counseling, only 39.7% claimed sufficient knowledge of Australia, 44.7% had only limited knowledge, while 15.6% said they had none at all. In general, research indicates that exposure to the English language and the dominant culture enables them to better access services and facilitates adaptation to Australian life with lesser stress. However, Ms Saroca emphasized that the support or lack of support of Australian partners may aid or impede the women’s socialization and settlement. Some even object to their partners mixing with other Filipinas.

In relation to this, differing views and cultural values may lead to friction, for example in regard to parenting. While there are Filipino-Australian children, or “Filos” as some describe themselves, who are proud of their Filipino heritage, others distance themselves from all things Filipino, usually where the Australian father denigrates their Filipino mother, her country and her culture. An aggravating factor is the negative stereotyping of Filipinas in the Australian media.

The Australian media’s sensationalist racialized and sexualized portrayal of Filipinas as so-called ‘mail order brides’ and prostitutes, as illegitimate wives bought by their Australian husbands, has created a negative perception of Filipina women. Stereotyping promotes a general unwillingness of the Filipino community to acknowledge domestic violence and discourages them from opening up about their abuse.

CFO statistics show a prevalent huge age difference between the Filipina partners who are mostly 20-34 years old and the Australian partners who are aged 55 and up. Prior to the relationship, 87% of the Filipino women were single as compared with only 47% of the Australian men, half of whom were separated or divorced with family obligations from previous relationships. On the other hand, many of the Filipinas include children from previous relationships in their visa application. They want their Australian partners to accept their children.

Working back in the Philippines, many Filipina partners also plan to work in Australia. They often take on more than one job, to support not only the children they brought along but also those they left behind or their other family members. They do not ‘feed off’ or ‘sponge off’ their Australian partners as portrayed in media. For the women, the support they give not only improves the finances of family in the Philippines but also reaffirms the woman’s place in this family. But, the Filipinas’ employment opportunities are limited by the non-recognition of their qualifications in Australia.

The Filipinas’ need to support their children and/or their families back in the Philippines increases their vulnerability to domestic violence, especially when they depend on their Australian partners for their immigrant status.

In relation to this, Filipinas also stay within violent relationships because of their cultural values i.e. “hiya” or shame over being a victim, “takot” or fear of further violence, etc. Some remain to discourage further negative stereotyping of Filipinas, and this endangers these women, other women and children as well. These factors should be taken into account when considering the high representation of Filipino women in violent relationships. Ms Saroca recalled the research of Chris Cunneen and Julie Stubbs [3] that found Filipinas are almost six times more likely to be victims of homicide than other women in Australia, aside from Indigenous women. Ms Saroca noted though that domestic violence is pervasive in Australia across ethnic groups.

There is an emerging concern about the introduction of Filipinas to Australians through the Internet. The CFO has counselled 771 such women. Ms Gonzales stressed that a single Internet search for ‘Filipina bride’ yields more than 100,000 hits containing over a hundred personal and bride-matching websites. Ms Dunn said the increasing role of the Internet concerns younger Filipina visa applicants.

Nicki Saroca

Areas Where Intervention Is Needed

Ms Saroca presented the following recommendations:

  1. The documentary shown during SMEF-COW [4] pre-migration orientation seminars for Filipinos migrating on partner visa to Australia should have an Australian focus. There should also be versions in languages and dialects other than Tagalog.

  2. While Filipinas should be informed that some Australians abuse their Filipina partners, domestic violence is not the whole picture. There should be a documentary on other aspects of Australian life to give a balanced view.

  3. A mentor-like system can effectively provide additional support and information on women’s rights to help Filipinas settle in Australia. The Australian government should compile a comprehensive list of Australia-based Filipino/Filipino-Australian organizations in urban, regional and rural areas that can be distributed during the SMEF-COW guidance sessions. Counselors should emphasize the importance for new arrivals to seek out other Filipinas to develop their support network.

  4. The Australian government should fund CFO and SMEF-COW counselors to visit Australia to gain a better understanding of what Australian life is like for Filipinas married to Australians. These groups should liaise with Filipino NGOs like the Center for Philippine Concerns Australia (in Brisbane and Melbourne) and the Filipino Women’s Working Party (in Sydney) as well as key women who can provide referrals to services.

  5. There is a need to provide racism and sexism awareness training and cross-cultural communications training for immigration officers, police, judiciary, lawyers, advocates, social workers, educators, journalists and others who come in contact with Filipinas, particularly regarding domestic violence and its manifestations, racist abuse and how to treat those affected with respect and dignity.

Issues Raised In The Open Forum

Ms Gonzales likened Internet introduction agencies to the ‘mail order bride’ catalogs and marriage agencies of the past. CFO refers these to the Philippine Center on Transnational Crime (PCTC). [5] Ms Saroca added however that not all Internet introductions take place in matchmaking web sites and some couples meet in chat rooms, email lists, forums, etc. Also, introduction agencies organised for the purpose of marriage, on the Internet or otherwise, are not illegal in Australia.

Fr. Edwin Corros of ECMI/CBCP [6] noted the negative attitude of some sections of the Filipino community in Australia toward these Filipinas. Priests are oriented to be aware of this form of emotional violence and heal this division in the community. Ms Saroca confirmed that she also found this form of social distancing while researching, but there are also Filipinos who help support and empower women.

To the questions about the success of Filipino-Australian marriages compared with those of other nationalities, Ms Dunn said, without denying there are problems, studies in the 80s and 90s reported these marriages are successful and last longer than Australian marriages. Ms Saroca added that some marriages last because Filipinas work hard to make them successful. There are Filipinas who even stay in violent relationships because of their commitment to the sanctity of marriage and the responsibility of women for the well-being of children and family.

Regarding follow up, the CFO provides feedback forms prior to departure which are supposed to be sent back after three months of settlement, but the retrieval rate is only 8% and around 70% of those say they are in good condition. Ms Gonzalez acknowledged the need to strengthen links with partners in Australia in addition to the existing post-arrival assessment arrangements.

On the issue of privacy protection of Australian nationals, Ms Dunn said Australia’s very strict privacy law protects everyone and limits the circumstances to share information such as criminal history. Under Australia’s privacy law, such information cannot be shared with a partner without the sponsor’s permission, but if either partner is entering the relationship not fully informed and this has a negative impact upon the assessment of the genuineness of the relationship, the embassy may refuse a visa. If there are psychological issues, the embassy looks closely at the sponsorship, especially where children are involved.

Ms Saroca stressed that privacy does not detract from the abusive situation and the abusive partner. She explained that abusive men conceal their violence so a domestic violence situation is an insidious problem. No matter how much legislation is passed, it won’t stop violent men from being abusive. Violent men are responsible for their violence.


[1] To find out more about Dr. Nicki Saroca’s current research on Interpersonal & Family Relations in Intercultural Marriages, visit the project’s website at or contact her by email at

[2] The case of Rosalina Canonizado’s death, the murder of Jean Strachan Keir and the trials of their husband Thomas Andrew Keir have been extensively covered in these issues of KASAMA: V18 N4 Oct/Dec 2004, p.18, ‘In Court’; V17 N1 Jan/March 2003, p.18, ‘Thomas Keir convicted on re-trial gets a lighter sentence’; V16 N4 Oct/Dec 2002, p.12, ‘Keir Retrial Verdict: Guilty’; V16 N1 Jan/March 2002, p.12, ‘Appeal Court grants Thomas Keir retrial’; V15 N2 April/June 2001, p.18–19, ‘In Memory of Rosalina Canonizado’; V14 N2 April/June 2000, p.2, ‘In Remembrance – Memorial Mass’, p.4, ‘Rosalina’s family seeks justice’; V14 N1 Jan/March 2000, p.1–3, ‘Justice for Jean’, p.4–5, ‘Forum Tackles Violence Against Filipinas in Australia’; V13 N4 Oct/Dec 1999, p.18, ‘Thomas Keir Convicted At Last’. They are also available at See also the update ’’Evil husband’ action thrown out’ on page 19 of this issue of KASAMA.

[3] Cunneen, Chris & Stubbs, Julie, Gender, ‘Race’ and International Relations: Violence Against Filipino Women in Australia, Institute of Criminology, University of Sydney, Australia, 1997, [originally distributed as Cunneen, C & Stubbs, J, Violence Against Filipino Women, Report for the Race Discrimination Unit, Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission and the Institute of Criminology, (1996)].

[4] SMEF–COW (Sister Mary Euphrasia Foundation–Center for Overseas Workers) and PRISM (People’s Reform Initiative for Social Mobilization) are accredited by the Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO) to conduct guidance and counselling programs for the Filipino partners of foreign nationals and other emigrants who intend settling permanently abroad.

[5] Philippine Republic Act 6955 of 24 July 1989 declares unlawful the practice of matching Filipino women for marriage to foreign nationals on a mail-order basis and other similar practices. The PCTC is a Philippine government agency supervised and controlled by the National Security Adviser under the Office of the President.

[6] Episcopal Commission for Migrants and Itinerants of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines.


RHODORA ABANO is CMA’s Advocacy Officer. She has been working with overseas Filipinos for the past 20 years.

You can contact her at:

Center for Migrant Advocacy
72 Matahimik Street
Teachers’ Village
Quezon City, Philippines

Phone/Fax: +632 433 0684