Nepali Female Migrants and Informalization of Domestic Care Work: Service or Servitude?

Shobha Hamal Gurung

DOI: 10.2190/WR.14.3.g


Nepali female migrants are among the fastest-growing immigrant workforces in the South Asian community, particularly in service and domestic work in big cities of the United States. However, there has not until now been a study investigating the work experiences of Nepali immigrants/migrants employed in the service and domestic sectors in these cities. This article investigates the work experiences of Nepali female migrants who work in service and domestic/child care work in Boston and New York, focusing on examining the type and nature of women's work, labor practices, work and living conditions, women's experiences and views about their work, and their responses to labor policies. The data for this research were collected through semistructured, informal, in-depth interviews and narrative collection in 2005-2006. Twenty research participants (16-65 years of age) were selected using snowball sampling. The cases of Nepali women reported here support existing literature asserting that migrant/immigrant women are greatly involved and preferred in domestic (including child care) work, and that they encounter labor exploitation, emotional abuse, and prejudice. By demonstrating the downward occupational mobility/status of educated professional Nepali female migrants, however, this study also deconstructs the myths about domestic/child care workers (for example, that they come from impoverished and nonprofessional backgrounds; this is not necessarily true). The downward mobility of Nepali immigrant women is a significant factor in leading women to quit their jobs, as a last resort, when work conditions and labor relations become unbearable. Since quitting a job does not solve the underlying problems in these women's work lives, I suggest that these women need to become active in community-based social and political organizations to learn about workers' rights.

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