Foreign Domestic Worker: Surrogate Housewife or Mail Order Servant?

80 Pages Posted: 25 Jun 2010

See all articles by Audrey Macklin

Audrey Macklin

University of Toronto - Faculty of Law

Date Written: 1992


Canadians often associate indentured labour with a remote past, and a racially stratified labour market with the legacy of slavery and colonization in other countries. The existence of a Canadian immigration scheme known as the Foreign Domestic Movement (FDM) program challenges this naive complacency and raises the possibility that these phenomena are neither passé nor confined beyond Canada's borders.

The FDM program is designed to import domestic workers who will provide childcare and other services on a live-in basis. Virtually all live-in domestic workers are women, and the majority of these are Filipina. Foreign domestic workers enter on temporary work permits but are permitted to apply for permanent residence in Canada after 2 years as live-in domestic workers. The author examines the provisions of the FDM scheme and its role in the social construction of the foreign domestic worker. The author employs the concept of the “inside/outsider” to describe the phenomenon of partial inclusion and exclusion experienced by foreign domestic workers. Four themes inform the article. First, that the assigned character of the foreign domestic worker is forged through the power relations of North/South nations, master/servant, man/woman, white/non-white, citizen/alien. Second, that the state reproduces, at the level of immigration law and policy, the invisibility of the domestic worker in the home/workplace. Third, that the FDM program may actually operate to facilitate exploitation of domestic workers in the workplace. Fourth, that the case of foreign domestic workers presents both a site for feminist inquiry and an opportunity to contemplate the competing interests of women whose race, class or citizenship shape the means available for mediating the effect of patriarchy on their lives.

After this article was submitted for publication, the FDM program was replaced by the Live-in Caregiver program. In a postscript, the author describes the new scheme and offers preliminary observations about the changes in light of her critique of the FDM program.

Suggested Citation

Macklin, Audrey, Foreign Domestic Worker: Surrogate Housewife or Mail Order Servant? (1992). McGill Law Journal, Vol. 37, 1992, Available at SSRN:

Audrey Macklin (Contact Author)

University of Toronto - Faculty of Law ( email )

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Toronto, Ontario M5S 2C5
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