About MicSem About MicSem

New Trends in Micronesian Migration

By Francis X. Hezel, SJ, with Michael Levin



The air routes that crisscross the Pacific have carried thousands of islanders away to more developed Pacific rim countries for some years now. Extensive out-migration has become a fact of life for many Pacific Island nations--Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, Cook Islands and Kiribati, to mention just a few. In recent years, the Federated States of Micronesia [FSM], a newly-formed nation of 105,000 people divided into four states (Yap, Chuuk, Pohnpei and Kosrae), has joined the coterie of island countries sending large numbers of their people abroad. FSM's Compact of Free Association with the United States, implemented in November 1986, granted its citizens free access to the US and its territories. This created new opportunities for Micronesians, who hitherto had been allowed into the US for schooling but not for employment. It also opened a "new and rather unique chapter in Pacific Islander migration" (Rubinstein 1991: 1). This article will chronicle the latest developments in this "new chapter" of Pacific migration.

The first significant emigration from the Federated States of Micronesia began in the years following the implementation of the Compact of Free Association in 1986, as hundreds of FSM citizens left for Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands [CNMI]. Micronesians had settled in Hawaii and the mainland US even before the implementation of the Compact, but always sporadically and in small numbers. The emigration was overdue, for this new island nation was beset by high population growth and almost no job expansion. The beginnings of the outflow were first noted in an article that appeared three years after Compact implementation (Hezel & McGrath 1989). In subsequent years a growing body of literature documents the migration and describes the evolution of migrant communities on Guam (eg, Rubinstein 1990, 1993; Rubinstein & Levin 1992; Connell 1991; Smith 1994).

The explanation of the outflow, at least in its earliest years, is simple. Citizens of FSM, disappointed at the lack of employment at home, left in search of the many jobs available on Guam and CNMI. These islands were enjoying an economic boom fueled by a surge in Japanese tourism. Guam was the preferred destination of migrants, but some moved to Saipan to join relatives and take work in the expanding garment industry. The proximity of Guam and Saipan to FSM allowed migrants to visit their home islands frequently. Some of the migrant laborers maintained such close social bonds with their families and communities that they were virtually commuters (Rubinstein & Levin 1992: 351). Those who left had the freedom to return home permanently, with little or no rupture of kinship ties, if personal circumstances demanded. The Compact of Free Association, which permitted Micronesians free entry into the US and its territories, removed the last immigration barricade. At the same time, the Compact signalled the beginning of the reduction of the large US subsidies to which Micronesia had become accustomed since the 1960s. So it was that island peoples who had never in recent memory experienced a sizable outflow of population, peoples once described as possessing a "homing instinct," initiated their tentative, purposeful migration northward (Hezel & Levin 1989: 43).

In this article the authors, using more recent data on migrant communities, propose to furnish an update on the magnitude of this migration and to present a profile of Micronesian migrant communities. We draw mainly on two sources. The first is a 1992 census of Micronesians residing on Guam, supervised by Donald Rubinstein, an anthropologist at the University of Guam who has studied the new migration from the beginning. The second source is a 1993 survey of FSM-born residing in the CNMI. To the best of our knowledge, this article is the first attempt to analyze the data collected on the Northern Marianas. We are using that data here to shed light on the significant differences between the migrants on Guam and in the CNMI. Since the data on which this article is based are two or three years old at the time this is written, we will be offering a description of a social phenomenon that has probably already undergone further transformation. Nonetheless, we can hope that this paper, building on the analysis of Rubinstein and others, will show trends in the new migration and patterns in the social development of Micronesian households on Guam and in CNMI. On the basis of the survey data for Guam and CNMI, this article will provide a comparative view of the characteristics of the FSM migrant populations and their economic well being in these two destinations. Moreover, this article offers, for the first time, a comparison between the educational attainments of migrants and the resident population of FSM in order to establish whether the vaunted "brain drain" is reality or myth. Finally, drawing on data from the 1994 FSM Census, the article also quantifies the economic impact of this migration on the FSM in the form of remittances.

Sources of Migration Data

As Table 1 shows, 4,954 FSM citizens were residing on Guam in 1992 and 2,261 were living in the Northern Marianas in 1993.

TABLE 1:  FSM Citizens Residing in Guam and the CNMI by Stae of Origin and Year


Year Total FSM Chuuk Pohnpei Yap  Kosrae
1988 (Sept.) 1,700 1,100 300 150 150
1990 (April) 2,944 1,843 662 303 136
1990 (Sept.) 2,973 2,143 377a 318 135
1992 (Sept.) 4,954 3,587 866 309 192


Year Total FSM Chuuk Pohnpei Yap Kosrae
1990 1,754 1,063 522 152 17
1993 2.261 1,119 717 376 49

We have been able to plot the growth of the migrant community on Guam during its nascent years since we have four sets of data derived from surveys conducted there between September 1988 and September 1992. The first was based on a partial household survey done in the fall of 1988. Estimates of the size of the migrant populations for each state were extrapolated from the sample on the basis of the ratio of the known number of college students to the total number of migrants. These estimates were checked against the emigration rate from sample FSM municipalities, as calculated by a gate count, and found to concur nicely (Hezel & McGrath 1989: 49-51). The second set of figures, which recorded all residents of Guam who had been born in the FSM, was drawn from the decennial US census conducted on Guam in April 1990 (Rubinstein & Levin 1992). The third set of data is derived from a household survey conducted by Fr. Kenneth Hezel, the head of the Catholic Micronesian Ministry program, about September 1990. The survey, which was never published, includes infants born on Guam as well as those born abroad. The fourth set of figures comes from the census of migrants from FSM and the Marshalls that was probably the most thorough to date. This census, using mid-1992 as the reference date, was conducted by a paid and trained staff of Micronesian interviewers under the supervision of Don Rubinstein (Rubinstein 1992).

It should be noted that, in view of the methodological unevenness of the surveys, the internal consistency of the figures is remarkable and should inspire greater confidence in these data than methodological considerations alone might warrant.

For the Northern Marianas the two data points are 1990 and 1993. The 1990 data are taken from the US decennial census, while those for 1993 come from a household survey done by CNMI Central Statistics Division. Although the figures show an increase in the migrant population, the paucity of data points makes it difficult to extrapolate with any statistical confidence the FSM population in CNMI today.

Increase in Migration

The FSM population on Guam has grown rapidly, but not as alarmingly so as some seem to think. Early wildly exaggerated estimates in the Guam press were shown by Rubinstein to be groundless, but the latter's own 1991 figure of "5,500 Micronesian migrants in Guam" with an "increase by roughly one thousand per year" is still inflated (Rubinstein 1991: 2). Rubinstein's figures would yield an FSM-born population of over 8,000 by the end of 1994, a figure that is widely quoted by Government of Guam authorities in addressing the issue of post-Compact immigration (eg, Territory of Guam 1995).

The FSM population on Guam, already about 1,700 two years after the Compact of Free Association was implemented, numbered 4,954 by 1992 and was estimated at about 6,300 in 1994 (See Tables 1 & 2). In the Northern Marianas the FSM-born population increased by 29 percent, from 1,754 to 2,261, between 1990 and 1993 and was estimated at 2,420 in 1994. Growth of the migrant community there has been much slower than on Guam. Table 2 shows the projected size of the migrant population from each state on Guam and CNMI in 1994.

TABLE 2: Estimated FSM-born Population in Guam adn the CNMI by Stae of Origin, 1994
  Total FSM Chuuk Pohnpei Yap Kosrae
Total 8,750 5,900 1,800 750 300
Guam 6,330 4,770 1,000 320 240
CNMI 2,420 1,130 800 430 60

Source: Authors' Projections

The growth of FSM migration to Guam by state between 1988 and 1992 is graphed in Figure 1. Migrants from Chuuk State, who have outnumbered the other three states (Pohnpei, Kosrae and Yap) combined, constituted 79 percent of the total FSM population on Guam in the fall of 1992. As the graph indicates, the flow of Chuukese migrants to Guam has been linear, with the Chuukese population there growing by almost 600 a year.

The Pohnpeian community's growth, unlike that of the Chuukese, has not been steady and progressive. Table 3 shows that, while Pohnpeians have continued migrating to Guam year by year, the number moving there each year did not increase between 1990 and 1992. There were roughly 180 Pohnpeians a year who first entered Guam during this period. Although Table 3 indicates 563 Pohnpeians first arriving on Guam during those three years, the Pohnpeian migrant community showed a net increase of only 204 persons during this period, according to Table 1. The difference may be attributable to back migration--that is, the return of earlier Pohnpei migrants to their home island. The data are not robust enough to determine a reliable growth rate, but it appears that migration from Pohnpei has slowed down during the first six years following the Compact. We can only make a crude estimate that in 1994 the Pohnpeian population on Guam must have been a little more than 1000.

TABLE 3:  Year of First Arrival on Guam for FSM-born Migrants by State of Origin, 1992
Year Total FSM Chuuk Pohnpei Yap Kosrae
Total 4,953 3,586 866 309 192
1992 or later 1,191 894 184 63 50
1991 1,036 743 208 50 35
1990 920 658 171 61 30
1989 611 438 120 31 22
1988 425 308 87 20 10
1987 276 222 34 14 6
1986 155 119 16 17 3
1985 & before 273 172 40 26 35
NA 66 32 6 27 1

Source: University of Guam 1992: table 19.

The size of the Yapese migrant population on Guam has hovered at a little more than 300 between 1990 and 1992 (see Table 1). Table 3 indicates that the number of Yapese arrivals in more recent years has remained steady at 50-60 a year, with many of the new migrants presumably offset by those returning to their home islands. The Yapese community on Guam has shown no signs of expansion in the 1990's.

The Kosraean population on Guam is growing slowly, as the survey data in Table 1 reveal and the arrival data in Table 3 confirm. Since 1986 the number of arrivals from Kosrae has been increasing each year, as the figures in Table 3 show. The data do not furnish a basis for reliable prediction of future growth, however.

TABLE 4: Year of First Arrival in the CNMI for FSM-born Migrants by State of Origin, 1993
Year Total FSM Chuuk Pohnpei Yap Kosrae
TOTAL 2,261 1,119 717 376 49
1992 or later 281 142 75 51 13
1991 226 117 81 24 4
1990 268 143 88 31 6
1989 235 133 69 31 2
1988 182 112 61 4 5
1987 178 109 51 16 2
1986 119 54 47 18 0
1985 & before 439 193 144 92 10
NA 333 116 101 109 7

Source: CNMI 1994: table 19

The data for CNMI are inadequate for the purpose of extracting migration rates, but some important inferences can be made. Table 4 shows the year in which migrants first came to CNMI. An average of 134 Chuukese a year arrived during the period 1990-1992 even though the Chuukese population in CNMI had a net growth of only 56 people during that whole period. This substantial back migration among Chuukese may largely be the return of women who once held jobs in the garment factories on Saipan. By contrast, the other states had little back migration; the more recent arrivals from Pohnpei, Yap and Kosrae, when added to the 1990 figures, roughly account for the increase in the migrant population between 1990 and 1993. Hence, we can assume that Chuukese migrants tend to drift in and out, much like Chuukese residing on Guam, while those from the other states move to CNMI to stay.

Migration Rates

Table 5 shows the resident population of each state of FSM, as recorded in the 1994 census, alongside the total estimated size of its migrant population on Guam and in CNMI. The table also shows the percentage of the total population that has emigrated to the northern islands since the Compact and the approximate annual migration rate.

TABLE 5: FSM Resident Population and Migrant Population (in Guam and the CNMI) in 1994, wiht Migrants as Percentage of Total FSM-born Population and Yearly Migration Rate
FSM Total 105,146 8,750 113,896 7.7 1.0
Chuuk 53,292 5,900 59,192 10.0 1.2
Pohnpei 33,372 1,800 35,172 5.1 0.6
Yap 11,128 750 11,878 6.3 0.8
Kosrae 7,354 300 7,654 3.9 0.5

Source: FSM 1995: Table 2

A full ten percent of the entire Chuuk-born population was living in Guam and the Northern Marianas in 1994, and there is every reason to believe that the 1.2 percent annual emigration rate will continue in the years to come. The preliminary 1994 FSM Census figures show no evidence of a decline in the fertility rate in Chuuk, and Chuuk's economy is unlikely to take an upswing. The annual growth rate of the resident population in Chuuk for the intercensal period of 1989-1994 was 2.3 percent despite the fact that its migration rate of 1.2 percent was the highest in FSM.

The annual net out-migration rates from the other states were lower, ranging from 0.5 percent for Kosrae and 0.6 percent for Pohnpei to 0.8 percent for Yap. These figures reflect the lower annual growth rates of the population in these states, and perhaps the slightly better economic conditions there as well.

An estimated 8,750 FSM citizens resided on Guam and CNMI in 1994 (see Table 2), representing 7.7 percent of the entire FSM-born population. The emigration rate for FSM between 1986 and 1994 was about one percent a year.

Composition of Migrant Populations

The earliest FSM migrants to Guam were predominantly young males in search of jobs. Many of the original households were inherently unstable, composed as they were of several young men in their 20s or 30s working at low-paying jobs and pooling their income to cover rent and other expenses (Hezel & McGrath 1989: 58-60). In the absence of a viable authority structure and generational depth, such "peer-group households," as Rubinstein terms them, were continually "dissolving and reforming, with new arrivals coming moving in, others moving out" (Rubinstein 1993: 260). Rubinstein went on to note the gradual evolution of this fragile type of household into more typically Micronesian forms. In the second stage of the pattern Rubinstein identified on Guam, two-generation households emerged around a nuclear family, but they contained a potpourri of loosely related kin and friends. In the final stages, the members of the household were selected according to the kinship principles normative back home, and grandparents or other older people were added, giving the household important generational depth (Rubinstein 1993: 260-261).

Guam has had a broad range of migrant households, extending from "peer-group households" to the much more stable types that mirror social organization in the migrants' home islands. The tables on gender and age distribution of migrants on Guam and CNMI offer strong hints about how far households in each place have advanced on Rubinstein's spectrum.

TABLE 6:  Males per 100 Females in Guam and the CNMI by Birthplace, 1992/1993
FSM Total 116 132 88
Chuuk 115 129 77
N. Namoneas 97 112 75
S. Namoneas 106 118 70
Faichuk 150 155 100
Mortlocks 109 126 79
Oksoritod 123 146 57
Pohnpei 103 115 90
Pohnpei Island 102 115 86
Outer Islands 110 135 101
Yap 152 209 119
Yap 188 188 NA
Outer Islands 296 296 NA
Kosrae 156 167 123

Source: University of Guam 1992: CNMI 1994

The overall ratio of males to females among FSM migrants on Guam, as Table 6 shows, is 132:100. Thus, in 1992 there were about four FSM males for every three females. Surprisingly, the preponderance of males on Guam increased since 1990, when the ratio was 121 males per hundred females (Rubinstein & Levin 1992: 354). Males outnumbered females on Guam among the migrants from every state, but the imbalance was greatest for Yap and Kosrae, which approached a ratio of two males for each female. For Chuuk and Pohnpei, the ratio was highest for the outer islands of both places and for Faichuk.

In the CNMI, on the other hand, the ratio was reversed and women outnumbered men. Only among Kosraeans and Yapese were males more numerous, and even among them the ratio was much lower than on Guam. While the higher percentage of women in the Northern Marianas might be attributed in part to employment that the garment industry offers women, it could also indicate the relatively high degree of normality found in composition of the migrant households there. The data on age distribution in the Marianas, as we shall see, supports the latter interpretation. Our assumption, of course, is that equal numbers by sex and a broader age spread reflect a normal demographic pattern and suggest that migrant households are beginning to resemble households back home.

TABLE 7: FSM Migrants in Guam and the CNMI by Age, 1990 and 1992/1993
Age Group Guam (1990) CNMI (1990) Guam (1992/1993) CNMI (1992/1993)
Total Number 2963 1817 4932 2212
Percentage 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0
  Under 15 years 21.8 19.8 19.5 30.3
  15 to 29 years 50.7 44.5 49.7 34.4
  30 to 44 years 20.5 21.8 23.4 22.6
  45 to 59 years 5.2 8.8 5.7 4.9
  60 + years 1.8 5.1 1.8 7.8
Dependancy Ratio 31.0 33.0 27.0 61.6

Sources: U.S. Deparztment of Commerce 1992: table 46; University of Guam 1992; CNMI 1994.
Note: Percentages in this and following tables may not sum to 100.0 percent owing to rounding.

Age distribution is a further index of the stability of migrant households, since the presence of children and older persons to fill out the normal family unit usually indicates readiness to settle into their new homeland for a long duration. By this index, migrants in CNMI show a much greater degree of stability than those on Guam. As indicated in Table 7, the percentage of children (ie, persons under the age of 15) in CNMI, at 30 percent of the total migrant population, is significantly higher than on Guam (20 percent), although much lower than the 43 percent recorded for FSM in the 1994 census (FSM 1995). A look at the other end of the population tells much the same story, for elderly migrants (60 and older) represent about 8 percent of the CNMI population, as compared to less than 2 percent on Guam. This age group comprises about 5 percent of the total population of the FSM (FSM 1995).

To gauge the extent to which migrant communities on Guam and CNMI have been normalized, we can look at the changes in the age distribution in both places between 1990 and 1992/1993. On Guam no appreciable reduction occurred in the relative size of the 15-29 age cohort, the largest among migrant communities inasmuch as it comprised the workers. This age cohort, which represented 51 percent of all migrants on Guam in 1990, still contained 50 percent in 1992. During the same two years, the size of the elderly population on Guam remained the same, while the percentage of children on Guam fell slightly--from 22 to 20 percent.

In the CNMI, on the other hand, the size of the 15-29 age cohort dropped from 44 percent to 34 percent over the three-year period 1990-1993. During the same period, the percentage of children rose sharply from 20 to 30 percent, and the over-60 age bracket showed a slight increase (5 to 8 percent).

Probably the most striking measure of the contrast between Guam and CNMI is in the dependency ratio--that is, the number of dependents (children and elderly) per hundred workers. While Guam's dependency ratio dropped slightly, from 31 dependents for every 100 workers to 27, the ratio in CNMI nearly doubled. It rose from 33 to nearly 62 in three years, indicating a substantial increase in the number of non-working members of FSM households. The data in these tables convincingly show that the FSM migrant community in CNMI was being rapidly transformed during these years, while the FSM community on Guam showed little evidence of parallel changes. It would appear that migrant households in CNMI are much further along the road of normalization and stabilization than are Guam's.


FSM citizens living on Guam in 1992 were distributed in 627 housing units, with an average of 7.9 persons in each (see Table 8). The average migrant housing unit in CNMI held only 5.1 persons. Housing units in general in CNMI tend to be larger than those on Guam, in part because many more of the migrants in CNMI lived in single-family houses while Guam migrants lived in apartments. Migrant housing on Guam was considerably more crowded than housing in CNMI, owing in great measure to the much higher rental rates on Guam. A single room on Guam had an average of 2.4 occupants, 50 percent higher than the 1.7 figure for CNMI.

TABLE 8: Housing Conditions of FSM mIgrant Households in Guam and the CNMI, 1992/1993 Percentage

Units in building        
  Total buildings 599 440 100.0 100.0
     1 324 380 54.0 86.4
     2 103 26 17.1 5.9
     3 or 4 90 19 11.6 4.3
     5 to 9 41 7 6.8 1.6
     10 or more 61 8 10.1 1.8
Persons per unit        
  Total buildings 599 440 100.0 100.0
     1 10 42 1.6 9.5
     2-4 137 162 22.8 36.8
     5-7 184 136 30.7 30.9
     8-10 123 71 20.5 16.2
     11-14 77 24 12.9 5.5
     15 or more 68 5 11.4 1.2
Persons per room        
  Total buildings 599 440 100.0 100.0
     Less than 0.5 6 22 1.0 5.0
     0.5 to 0.9 34 58 5.7 13.2
     1 to 1.9 170 203 28.4 46.2
     2 to 2.9 198 86 33.1 19.6
     3 to 3.9 97 35 16.2 8.0
     4 to 4.9 55 17 9.2 4.0
     5 or more 39 19 6.5 4.3
Material in Construction
of building
  Total buildings 599 440 16.2
     11-14 77 24 12.9 5.5
     15 or more 68 5 11.4 1.2
Persons per room        
  Total buildings 599 440 100.0 100.0
     Less than 0.5 6 22 1.0 5.0
     0.5 to 0.9 34 58 5.7 13.2
     1 to 1.9 170 203 28.4 46.2
     2 to 2.9 198 86 33.1 19.6
     3 to 3.9 97 35 16.2 8.0
     4 to 4.9 55 17 9.2 4.0
     5 or more 39 19 6.5 4.3
Material in Construction
of building
  Total buildings 599 440 100.0 100.0
     Concrete 405 202 67.6 46.0
     Metal 50 131 8.4 29.8
     Wood 142 106 23.7 24.0
     Thatch 2 1 0.3 0.2

Sources: University of Guam 1992: table 2; CNMI 1994: table 2

Although crowded, the housing on Guam was superior to that in the CNMI; more of the units were built of concrete and had cement rather than metal roofs. As Table 9 indicates, Guam migrants also enjoyed other amenities. Many more had hot water than the migrants in CNMI, almost one-third of whom did not even have running water in their houses. Nearly two out of five of the CNMI migrants had to do without a flush toilet or a shower in their houses, conveniences that only a very small percentage of the Guam residents lacked. The contrast between Guam and CNMI migrants extended to other amenities like sewage disposal and to appliances like electric stoves, refrigerators, and television sets.

TABLE 9: Conveniences in FSM Migrant Households in Guam and the CNMI, 1992/1993 Percentage
Running Water        
  Total 599 440 100.0 100.0
     Hot & cold 348 60 58.1 13.6
     Cold 241 247 40.2 56.2
     None 10 133 1.7 30.2
Flush Toilet        
  Total 599 440 100.0 100.0
     None 37 184 6.2 41.8
     1 or more 562 256 93.5 58.2
  Total  599 440 100.0 100.0
     None 39 84 6.5 19.1
     With electricity 560 356 93.5 80.9
Cooking facilities        
  Total 599 440 100.0 100.0
     Electircal stove 481 215 80.3 48.9
     Gas stove 67 94 11.2 21.4
     Other or none 51 131 8.5 29.8

Sources: See Table 8

In short, Guam offered its migrants well-built but rather cramped housing with less living space per person than those in CNMI enjoyed. Even recreational space and the cooking area was indoors, in marked contrast to Micronesian custom on their home islands (Levin & Mailos 1992: 5-7). On the other hand, the housing on Guam was equipped with all of the conveniences that a significant number of the CNMI migrants lacked. In short, CNMI offered migrants a life style that was not too dissimilar to the one they had become habituated to back home. Whatever the housing facilities there may lack, the environment seems to be a more comfortable one for the larger families that are gradually being assembled there.

Language Use

FSM born spoke English at home much less frequently than did the general population (see Table 10). Only 6 percent of FSM citizens on Guam used English as their main language, compared with 37 percent of the total Guam population. In CNMI the difference between FSM migrants and general population was not nearly as great, since a very small fraction (5 percent) of the local people use English as their first language, preferring instead the still widely used Chamorro and Carolinian languages, and the newer Filipino languages.

TABLE 10: Frequency of English Use of FSM-born and General Populations in Guam and the CNMI, 1990 and 1992/1993

                                                                                    Guam 1990                                    CNMI 1990                           Guam 1992              CNMI 1992

[in number]
Total FSM-born Total FSM-born FSM-born FSM-born
Total (age 5+) 118,055 2,791 39,206 1,754 4,739 1,941
  Speak English only 44,048 180 1,878 38 139 294
  Speak other language 74,007 2,611 37,328 1,716 4,291 1,512
  Not stated         309 135
[in percentage]
Total FSM-born Total FSM-born FSM-born FSM-born
Speak English only 37.3 6.4 4.8 2.2 2.9 15.1
Speak other language            
  More than English 35.6 71.5 65.4 75.6 86.9 60.2
  Both equally often 36.2 19.4 17.4 16.1 9.8 32.5
  Less than English 26.6 7.2 7.2 6.6 3.3 6.3
  Don't speak English 1.6 1.9 9.9 1.6 NA NA

Sources: U.S. Department of Commerce

It is not very remarkable that migrants as recent as those from FSM should favor speaking their own language within their households or community. More noteworthy is that a growing percentage of migrants in both Guam and CNMI speak no English at all. Between 1990 and 1992/1993, the percentage of those listed as knowing no English jumped from about 2 to 7 on Guam, and from 2 to 9 in CNMI (see Table 10). This could be attributed to the fact that the 1990 census was collected by non-Micronesians, while the later surveys were done by Micronesians, and that respondents might have been more forthcoming to the latter about their language limitations. This reported finding is consistent with the profile of the migrant community in CNMI that we see emerging from these data: a community with a broader range of age and aptitude than that formed by the educated young men or women who first set out to find employment. The finding is more surprising for Guam, however, where the migrant population is still heavily young and male--and presumably relatively well educated.


Table 11 reveals that the average education of the migrant from FSM was substantially poorer than that of the general population in CNMI and Guam in 1990. While 71 percent of the Guam population over the age of 24 had a high school diploma, only 56 percent of the FSM citizens on Guam did. The gap was slightly greater in CNMI, where 66 percent of the general population had finished high school, compared with only 47 percent of FSM citizens. The difference in the college-educated was even greater: the percentage of the FSM born with college degrees was only about one-third that of the general population in both places. This relatively low level of educational attainment explains why FSM migrants have usually held entry level jobs (eg, security guards, chambermaids, seamstresses, waiters and cooks), even after several years abroad.

TABLE 11: Educational Attainment of FSM Migrants and Total Populations in Guam and the CNMI, 1990 (cumulative percentages)

Guam & CNMI Guam CNMI

Level Completed
Total (age 25+) 91,333 2,268 66,700 1,347 24,633 921
  Finished elementary 87.7 84.1 88.4 88.3 85.8 78.0
  High school graduate 71.4 56.3 73.3 62.4 66.3 47.4
  College, no degree 37.6 26.3 39.9 31.9 31.1 18.1
  Associate's degree 19.5 7.9 20.0 8.1 18.1 7.7
  Bachelor's degree 17.0 5.1 17.5 5.3 15.6 4.8
  Graduate/professional degree 3.8 0.7 4.3 0.6 2.5 0.8

Sources:  U.S. Department of Commerce 1992: table 51; CNMI 1994

The comparison in Table 12 between the educational level of migrants and the resident FSM population is more illuminating. Since the older age cohorts, under-represented in the migrant communities, have had fewer opportunities for schooling inasmuch as many were raised during Japanese times, we selected only a mid-range age group (25-44) in an effort to make the comparison more valid. Migrant communities in CNMI and Guam had a significantly greater percentage of those who had obtained their high school diplomas. Fully 53 percent of all FSM citizens on Guam and nearly 59 percent in CNMI had finished high school, compared with 39 percent of the FSM resident population in 1994. As we progress up the educational ladder, however, the figures lean in the other direction. The percentage of those who had some college but did not finish their degree was roughly the same in all three populations, while the rate of college degree holders in the FSM was much higher than in either of the migrant communities abroad. Nearly 12 percent of all FSM residents aged 25-44 had either Associate or Bachelor degrees, whereas only 5 percent of FSM migrants on Guam and about 6 percent of those in CNMI had such degrees.

TABLE 12: Educational Attainment of FSM Migrants and FSM Residents (cumulative numbers and percentages)

               A                       B                   C

Level Completed No.  % No. % No. %
Total (ages 25-44) 22,655 100 1,406 100 2,032 100
  High school degree 8,955 39.5 827 58.8 1,077 53
  Some college 4,981 22.0 268 19.1 544 26.8
  Associate's degree or equivalent 2,633 11.6 45 3.2 74 3.6
  Bachelor's degree or equivalent 951 4.2 35 2.5 33 1.6

A: FSM Residents, 1994
B: FSM Migrants in CNMI (1993)
C: FSM Migrants in Guam (1992)

Sources:  FSM 1995; University of Guam 1992; CNMI 1994.

These data reveal that the outflow of migrants to Guam and CNMI cannot be called a "brain drain" in the usual sense of that term. They also confirm the authors' suspicion that those Micronesians with the best degrees, and thus the brightest prospects for employment, will remain in the FSM and take the best jobs (Hezel & McGrath 1989: 62). Those who have left home characteristically have been those with a high school diploma, or perhaps a year or two of college, who would be entering the labor pool in the FSM without the kind of credentials that would have given them the competitive edge in the battle for employment.


Figures from 1990 in Table 13 indicate that Micronesian participation in the labor force on Guam was comparable to that of the general population on the island. Close to 70 percent of all FSM-born migrants were either working or seeking employment at the time, whatever their original reason may have been for moving to Guam. In CNMI there was an appreciable difference in participation in the labor force: 64 percent of FSM migrants versus 82 percent of the general population. The Micronesian participation in the labor force in CNMI was lower than for Guam because of the higher ratio of dependents in CNMI, as we have already seen, while the very high rate of participation of the general population there can be explained by the great number of foreign-born workers on the island.

TABLE 13:  Labor Force Status of FSM-born and General Populations in Guam and the CNMI, 1990

                                                                                           Guam                      CNMI

  Total  FSM-born Total FSM-born
Persons (age 16+) 90,990 2,280 32,522 1,425
    In labor force 66,138 1,579 26,589 905
    Percentage 72.7 69.3 81.8 63.5
    Armed forces 11,952 11 8 0
    Civilian labor force 54,186 1,568 26,581 905
    Employed 52,144 1,410 25,965 830
    Percentage 94.2 89.9 97.7 91.7
    Unemployed 2,042 158 616 75
    Percentage 3.8 10.1 2.3 8.3
    Not labor force 24,852 701 5,933 520

Sources: U.S. Department of Commerce 1992; table 53; CNMI 1994

Unemployment was higher among FSM migrants who entered the labor force than among the general Guam and CNMI population. Eight to ten percent of FSM-born seeking employment were unemployed, compared to under four percent of the Guam labor force and two percent of the CNMI labor force (see Table 13). Inasmuch as Micronesians were new arrivals and many were still looking for work or were between jobs, the higher unemployment rate is not surprising.

TABLE 14: FSM Migrants Employed in Guam and the CNMI, 1990 and 1992/1993
  Guam (1990) CNMI (1990) Guam (1992/1993) CNMI (1992/1993)
Persons (age 16+) 2,280 1,425 3,904 1,479
Employed 1,410 830 2185 826
Percentage 61.8 58.2 56.0 55.8

Sources: U.S. Departement of Commerce 1992; University of Guam 1992; CNMI 1994.

The common perception in the past year or two is that fewer FSM migrants now come to Guam to work; many simply wish to educate their children in Guam's schools or take advantage of the munificent welfare benefits that the island offers. The data in Table 14 would seem to offer some support for this perception, although we should recall that the early 1990's was a slack economic period for Guam because of the Japanese recession, several serious typhoons and a downturn in tourism. The percentage of adult Micronesians on Guam who were employed decreased from 62 percent to 56 percent between 1990 and 1992. It is unlikely that this drop in employment among migrants can be ascribed mainly to Guam's economic troubles, since total island employment rose by 24 percent during this same two-year period (Territory of Guam 1993).

The decrease of employed FSM migrants in CNMI during roughly the same period has been much smaller; the percentage of employed adults was down from 58 to 56 percent. We can expect this downward trend in employment to continue as migrants reconstitute their households and bring in an increasingly large number of housewives and older people who will not enter the labor force.


TABLE 15: Hourly Income of Employed FSM Migrants on Guam by State of Origin, 1992
  Total FSM Chuuk Pohnpei Yap Kosrae
Persons (age 16+) 2185 1534 348 184 119
    Less than $2.00 10 6 4 0 0
    $2.00-2.99 4 2 0 2 0
    $3.00-3.99 5 3 1 1 0
    $4.00-4.99 656 529 75 37 15
    $5.00-5.99 153 542 103 57 51
    $6.00-6.99 352 243 60 23 26
    $7.00-7.99 200 129 40 20 11
    $8.00 to $9.99 113 50 45 9 9
    $10.00 to $20.00 53 14 19 15 5
    $20.00 or more 13 10 1 0 2
    NA 26 6 0 20 0
Median (dollars) 5.73 5.41 5.91 5.74 5.87
Mean (dollars) 6.43 6.03 6.35 6.29 7.03

Source: University of Guam 1992: table 30.

As Table 15 shows, the 2,185 FSM-born persons working on Guam in 1992 were making an average of $6.15 an hour, a figure that was $1.90 above the minimum wage at the time but significantly lower than the $8.61 average hourly wage of Guam private sector employees and the $16.91 average of those employed by the government (Territory of Guam 1993). Although the salaries of migrants were low, their cumulative earnings were significant and could have considerable impact on the FSM economy. If we assume that all were working full time (that is, 2,000 hours a year), the total annual wages earned by FSM migrants would have come to nearly $27 million.

TABLE 16:  Hourly Income of Employed FSM Migrants in the CNMI by State of Origin, 1993
  Total FSM Chuuk  Pohnpei Yap Kosrae
Persons (age 16+) 825 415 277 108 25
Less than $2.00 5 2 1 2 0
$2.00-2.99 352 229 93 29 1
$3.00-3.99 132 59 54 16 3
$4.00-4.99 60 19 23 14 4
$5.00-5.99 42 16 14 11 1
$6.00-6.99 30 11 13 3 3
$7.00-7.99 47 19 19 7 2
$8.00 to $9.99 49 13 22 11 3
$10.00 to $20.00 49 10 26 9 4
$20.00 or more 15 5 5 2 3
NA 44 32 3 4 1
Median (dollars) 4.44 2.83 3.68 4.25 7.00
Mean (dollars) 6.30 3.89 6.12 6.26 8.71

According to Table 16, there were 825 FSM citizens working in CNMI in 1993 for an average hourly wage of $5.49. If they averaged about 2000 work hours during the year, their annual earnings would total about $9 million.

TABLE 17: Ratio of Income to Poverty Level for FSM-born and General Populations in Guam and the CNMI, 1990 (cumulative numbers and percentages)
Total # (Guam)
FSM-Born # (Guam)
Total # (CNMI)
FSM-born # (CNMI)
Total # (Guam)
FSM-born % (Guam)
Total % (CNMI)
FSM-born % (CNMI)
Persons 126,460 2,933 43,025 1,797 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0
    Below 50% of poverty level 8022 862 11,449 541 6.3 29.4 26.6 30.1
    Poverty level 18,957 1,497 22,084 1,056 15.0 51.0 51.3 58.8
    Below 125% of poverty level 29,323 1,859 86,107 1,236 21.6 63.4 60.7 68.8
    Below 185% of poverty level 47,916 2,312 31,878 1,481 37.9 78.8 74.1 82.4

Sources: U.S. Department of Commerce 1992: table 52; CNMi 1994

Five or six dollars an hour can seem like a regal salary to the islander who has just arrived from a place where the minimum wage may be little more than a dollar an hour. In fact, the high salaries to be made on Guam and in the Northern Marianas are one of the main attractions of these places. Nonetheless, the average Micronesian salary is small by Guam or Saipan standards, and most migrants find themselves hard pressed to stretch their take home pay enough to provide all the necessities, especially in view of the high cost of housing, the need to buy all their food, and the outlay they are required to make for suitable clothes in the work place. Indeed, the 1990 US Census revealed that about 59 percent of the migrants in CNMI and 51 percent of those on Guam were classified as living at or below the US poverty level. We may safely assume that these figures did not change much in the past two or three years.


With the new jobs on Guam and in CNMI has come a substantial amount of additional income for FSM citizens. We need only recall that in 1992 FSM-born migrants earned an estimated $27 million on Guam and in 1993 another $9 million in CNMI. The remittances that economic planners have been anticipating since the beginning of the outflow have been slow in coming due to the migrants' set-up needs on Guam and in CNMI. Hitherto, the major benefits those at home received from their relatives abroad were the cases of frozen chicken and boxes of secondhand clothing that were being shipped back regularly.

TABLE 18: Total Remittances from Abroad Received in FSM, 1994
Total FSM
Total households 22,423 9,904 7,779 2,632 2,108
  Households reporting remittances 3,290 2,831 260 68 131
  Total amount $1,260,000 $952,750 $196,200 $41,725 $69,325
  Average amount per household reporting remittances $383 $336 $755 $614 $529

Source: FSM 1995

Finally, after several years of population outflow, we have begun to see the first clear sign of monetary remittances. The 1994 FSM Census has provided us with our first measure of the magnitude of remittances to Micronesia. In FSM as a whole, 3,290 households, or 14.7 percent of all households in the nation, reported receiving remittances, as Table 18 reveals. The income from remittances reported everywhere in FSM totaled $1,260,000. Remittances constituted nearly 15 percent of the total income of the households reporting them, according to the 1994 FSM Census. It appears that remittances have become a significant source of income for families remaining in FSM.

In Chuuk, a populous state with a depressed economy, few jobs and a plethora of its people abroad, remittances have had a particularly great impact. About 29 percent of the households, or twice that of the FSM as a whole, reported receiving remittances (see Table 18). The total dollar figure put on the remittances Chuukese received in 1994 was about $950,000, more than three-quarters of the total reported remittances for FSM.


The migration rate from FSM, which has been rather steady since 1986, shows no signs of falling off in the immediate future. The outflow from Pohnpei and Kosrae has slowed down between 1990 and 1992, and the Yapese stream was diverted to the Northern Marianas, but emigration from Chuuk, which supplies about two-thirds of the migrant pool, has continued unabated. In view of the high total fertility rate (over 6 children) recorded for Chuuk in the recent FSM Census, we can expect Chuukese emigration either to maintain its present level or to increase, unless the governments of Guam and CNMI intervene.

Over the first six years of the Compact period (1986-1992), the average annual migrant outflow was about a thousand persons, or one percent of the FSM resident population per year. In all likelihood, this rate will not be reduced significantly in the near future. By the year 2000, at the present rate, there will be 10,000 FSM people on Guam, including more than 8,000 Chuukese.

We know from census items that the traffic to Guam and CNMI is not one-way; considerable back migration occurs, that is, return of former emigrants to their original home. Indeed, much of the appeal of Guam and CNMI, in contrast to Hawaii or mainland US, is the ease and inexpensiveness of a return trip to one's home island in FSM. The extent of back migration has yet to be adequately measured, however.

The data for 1992-1993 reviewed in this article reveal some pronounced differences between the FSM migrant communities on Guam and in the Northern Marianas. The households in CNMI were rapidly filling out with dependents--women, children and the elderly--and were evidently well on the way to full reconstitution as normal Micronesian households. Although no strong evidence exists that this was happening on Guam, the data provide hints of the ways in which the Micronesian community there was being transformed between 1990 and 1992. The drop in employment rate among Guam migrants and the possible increase in the number of those who do not speak English suggests that more migrants are choosing not to enter the labor force. We can expect that in future years the size and pattern of the households of FSM born will continue to develop along the lines of the model elucidated by Rubinstein.

A comparison of the educational achievement of migrants with the resident FSM population explodes the myth of a "brain drain" from FSM since the implementation of the Compact. Contrary to what we read in the academic and popular press, FSM is not being deprived of its most valuable human resources through migration. The best educated of FSM citizens, those with college degrees, generally stayed home to take their pick of jobs on their own island. Meanwhile, the unemployed high school graduates without the skills or educational attainment to compete for jobs at home left to take advantage of the job market on Guam and CNMI. By and large, they took jobs having little appeal for local people and lack the background to advance beyond these entry-level occupations. Far from being a "brain drain," out-migration is a spillway for excess bodies in the labor pool--that is, those who would be unemployable at home.

The total income earned by migrants on Guam and CNMI is estimated at more than $35 million a year during the period studied and ought to be well over $40 million by now. This represents a substantial sum of money, given the present feeble condition of FSM's economy. The remittances that were recorded in 1994 for the first time signal a change in direction of the dollar tide; the money has at last begun to flow inward rather than outward and the remittances of $1.26 million last year should increase in years to come.

The data on the short period between the 1990 census and the surveys on Guam and CNMI a few years later are less significant for the numbers they record than the trends they reveal. Not only are the extent and rate of the FSM population outflow more precisely defined, but the changing patterns of household composition and other features of life in the migrants' destinations are taking clearer shape. In a word, the survey data offer us a surer base from which to project migration and its attendant consequences on FSM and the destinations to the north in years to come.


Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands

1994 Survey of Micronesians in the CNMI. Report from CNMI Central Statistics Division.

Connell, John

1991 "The New Micronesia: Pitfalls and Problems of Dependent Development." Pacific Studies 14(2): 87-120.

[FSM] Federated States of Micronesia, National Census Office

1995 "1994 FSM Census of Population and Housing: Preliminary Counts." Office of Planning and Statistics, FSM, Pohnpei.

Hezel, Francis X., and Michael J. Levin

1989 "Micronesian Emigration: The Brain Drain in Palau, Marshalls, and the Federated States." In Migration and Development in the South Pacific, ed. John Connell (Canberra: Australian National University), 42-60.

Hezel, Francis X., and Thomas B. McGrath

1989 "The Great Flight Northward: FSM Migration to Guam." Pacific Studies 13(1): 47-64.

Levin, Michael J., and Eflove Mailos

1992 "Homelessness on Guam." Paper presented at the meeting of the American Anthropological Association, San Francisco, December 3.

Rubinstein, Donald H.

1990 "Coming to America: Micronesian Newcomers in Guam." Paper presented at the College of Arts and Sciences Research Conference, University of Guam, March 5.

Rubinstein, Donald H.

1991 "The Future of Micronesian Migration to Guam." Paper prepared for the XVII Pacific Science Congress, 27 May to 2 June, session on "The Future of Migration in the Pacific and Asia." Unpublished.

Rubinstein, Donald H.

1993 "Movements in Micronesia: Post-Compact (1987) Micronesian Migrants to Guam and Saipan." In A World Perspective on Pacific Islander Migration: Australia, New Zealand and the USA, ed. Grant McCall and John Connell (Centre for South Pacific Studies, University of New South Wales), 259-263.

Rubinstein, Donald H., and Michael J. Levin

1992 "Micronesian Migration to Guam: Social and Economic Characteristics." Asian and Pacific Migration Journal 1(2): 350-385.

Smith, Kyle D.

1994 A Survey of Micronesian Immigrants to Guam: Predictors of Coping and Access to Life Essentials. Micronesian Language Institute, University of Guam.

Territory of Guam, Department of Labor

1993 "Current Employment Report: December 1992." Prepared by Gary A. Hiles. Guam.

Territory of Guam, Office of the Governor

1995 "Impact of P.L. 99-239 on the Territory of Guam: the Compact of Free Association with the Federated States of Micronesia and the Republic of the Marshall Islands, FY 1989 Through FY 1994." Preliminary Draft. Guam, January.

University of Guam

1992 Micronesian Census: Guam 1992. Produced by University of Guam in cooperation with Government of Guam Bureau of Planning. Unpublished.

US Department of Commerce

1990 US Census of Population and Housing: Social, Economic and Housing Characteristics: Guam. Washington: Department of Commerce.

Pacific Studies, Vol. 19, No. 1, March, 1996: 91-114



No comments have been posted. Be the first! SIGN UP, or LOG IN to the MicSem Forum Discussion here.

Sign up for the MicSem e-mail list to be notified of new MicSem publications:






  • Public Schools
  • Diabetes Awareness
  • Beachcombers
  • History of Micronesia
  • Catolic Church Micro.
  • MicSem by Category

About MicSem

Micronesian Seminar, Post Office Box 160, Pohnpei, FM 96941 | tel. 691.320.4067 | fax. 691.320.6668 | email. micsem@micsem.org | ©2010 all rights reserved.

Sign up for the MicSem e-mail list to the right.
Want print copies via postal mail? Click here.