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VII. Filipino Immigration

The Unique Situation of Filipinos

Two Sides of the Same Coin

History of Filipino American Immigration

The history of Filipino immigration is quite different from that of other nationalities because of the colonial relationship between the United States and the Philippines.

Historians generally divide Filipino migration into four “waves.” The first wave of Filipino migration was during the period of the Spanish Empire when the Philippines were first part of New Spain, later part of the Spanish East Indies. It initially consisted of Filipino sailors from Spanish ships plying the Manila to Acapulco route.

On October 18, 1587, the first Filipinos landed onto what is now the Continental United States in Morro Bay, California. They arrived aboard the Nuestra Señora de Buena Esperanza, which had sailed from Macao, as part of the Manila galleon trade.1 It is interesting to note that Filipinos arrived in California several decades before the Pilgrims arrived in Massachusetts. Others arrived and settled in Louisiana long before American independence in 1776.

Feast Poster
Our Lady of Mercy, Jersey City

The second wave began when the United States annexed the Philippines after the Spanish-American War of 1898. Only anecdotal evidence exists of Filipino presence in the United States during the early 20th century. In 1920, they numbered about 5,600.2 During the early years of the American colonial regime, the law considered Filipinos to be United States “nationals.” Therefore, although they were not citizens, they were not subject to the restrictions on Asian immigration enacted by the Immigration Act of 1917 and the immigration quota legislation of 1924. Initially, they had the right to enter America, whereas “aliens” did not.

While the 1930 census records over 45,000 Filipinos in the United States, the census found only 286 in New Jersey, up from only 30 ten years earlier. The Philippine Independence Act in 1934 was a mixed blessing for Filipinos. This law promised independence to the Philippines but restricted new Filipino immigrants to a ridiculously low quota of 50 per year.

A third wave of immigration began after World War II, when, in accord with various military agreements between the United States and the newly-independent Republic of the Philippines, Filipinos who had served in the United States Navy and brides of American service personnel were allowed to enter the United States as immigrants. The Luce-Celler Act of 1946 gave the Philippines a quota of 100 persons per year, still an unreasonable number. However, records show that 32,201 Filipinos migrated between 1953 and 1965.3

One cannot but marvel at the ingenuity of these migrants and wonder how they managed this feat!

Santo Niño in Jersey City
Santo Niño in Jersey City – Saint Aedan’s

Many Filipinas took advantage of the severe shortage of American nurses.  Hospitals, including the hospitals in Jersey City and other parts of the archdiocese of Newark, actively recruited Filipina nurses. The Information and Education Exchange Act, passed in 1948, gave foreign nurses an opportunity for further study and practical experience in American hospitals before returning home. However, many hospitals found the English-speaking Filipinas an ideal remedy for the nursing shortfall and retained their services indefinitely. Soon the islands were “exporting” doctors as well, and Filipino students hoping to migrate to America entered medical school in increasing numbers.4

The fourth and present wave of immigration began in 1965 with the passing of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. It ended national quotas, and provided an unlimited number of visas for family reunification.

In 1960, the census counted 1,451 Filipinos in New Jersey. In 1970, five years after the passage of the immigration reform, the number was 5,623. This new wave continued the flow of medical professionals due to the continuing shortage of qualified nurses. From 1966 until 1991, at least 35,000 Filipino nurses migrated to the United States.5

During this period, many Filipinos settled in Jersey City, convenient to nearby hospitals. Jersey City is home to the largest Filipino population in New Jersey, with over 16,000 Filipinos in 2010. Seven percent of Jersey City’s population is Filipino.

Jersey City
Jersey City

Some settled in the downtown area where Grove Street eventually became Manila Boulevard. The majority settled in the west side of the city. They immediately joined the local parishes. The rapid growth of the Filipino community in Jersey City led to their quickly forming the majority of parishioners in Our Lady of Mercy, Our Lady of Victories, and Saint Aloysius Parishes. They also are a major part of Saint Aedan’s Parish, now Saint Peter’s University Parish, as well as other parishes throughout the city.

Local diocesan clergy assumed their pastoral care. Since most Filipinos spoke English, the diocesan priests did not have to master another language. Eventually, priests came from the Philippines. They initially served as adjunct clergy and eventually some were incardinated into the archdiocese. Young immigrant Filipinos began to enter the seminary and Filipino-American priests now form an important part of the archdiocesan clergy, serving in parishes with large Filipino populations and in parishes of other nationalities. For a time, the archdiocese recruited seminarians in the Philippines.

Good Friday Procession
Good Friday Procession, Saint John the Evangelist, Bergenfield

The Filipino tradition of dedication to the Church and participation in church activities, combined with their English language skills, facilitated their rapid integration into the parishes. Very quickly Filipino devotions became part of parish life. The Sambáng Gabi novena before Christmas, devotion to the Blessed Virgin under many titles such as Our Lady of Peñafrancia, devotion to the Santo Niño, all became part of parish life in the west side of Jersey City. Many Filipinos also continued their participation in the charismatic movement, charismatic communities, and the Legion of Mary.

Over the years, many Filipino Catholics settled in or eventually moved to the suburbs. The prevalence of so many Filipinos following careers in the health care area drew them to hospitals throughout the state, In Bergen County, Bergenfield, Paramus, Hackensack, New Milford, Dumont, Fair Lawn and Teaneck have significant Filipino populations. Between 2000 and 2010, the Filipino-American population of Bergenfield grew from 11.7 percent, or 3,081 residents, to 17.1 percent, or 4,569, and increasing further to 5,062 (18.4 percent) by 2016.6

The rapid growth of the Filipino community is truly extraordinary. In 1960, before the passage of the immigration reform law of 1965, there were only 1,451 Filipinos in New Jersey.7

The 2010 census counted 110,650. About half (55,362) reside in the archdiocese of Newark.

Saint Aloysius, Jersey City
Saint Aloysius, Jersey City

While about eight-in-ten Filipinos, 81 percent, are Catholic; a somewhat smaller share of Filipino Americans, 65 percent, identify as Catholic.8

According to Pew studies, many Filipinos in the United States join evangelical churches or simply report no religion at all. This indicates that the secular American culture and the proselytizing of various sects have had an impact.

Filipino American loyalty to family in the Philippines is very strong. In 2017, Filipinos living abroad sent nearly $33 billion in remittances to the Philippines via formal channels, according to World Bank data. Remittances more than doubled in the past decade and represented about 11 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2016.9

Filipino Population in New Jersey
United States Census Bureau
Year Total New Jersey
2017 136,721
2010 110,650
2000 85,245
1990 53,146
1980 24,470
1970 5,623
1960 1,451
1950 596
1940 333
1930 286
1920 30


Filipino Population in the Archdiocese of Newark
NJ Bergen Essex Hudson Union RCAN
2010 110.650 18,155 9,003 20,638 7,565 55,361
2017* 136,721 24,537 10,475 24,049 8,679 67,740
Decennial dates are Official United States Census
*United States Census Bureau Estimate

«VI. Asia / Korea« : »VIII. Asia Vietnam, China, India»


  1. Landing of the first Filipinos.
  2. Jim Corrigan. “The Early Years of Filipino Immigration” in Filipino Immigration. Broomhall PA, 2003 12-19 passim.
  3. Segal, Uma Anand (2002). A framework for immigration: Asians in the United States. New York: Columbia University Press. p. 149.
  4. Ibid.
  5. David K. Yoo; Eiichiro Azuma. The Oxford Handbook of Asian American History. Oxford, 1916. 402.
  6. [1] United States Census Bureau 2000 and 2010 and United States Census Bureau Estimates.
  7. Filipinos in the New York Metropolitan Area
  9. Jie Zong and Jeanne Batalova. “Filipino Immigrants in the United States,” in Spotlight, March 14, 2018, Migration Policy Institute.