MicSem Publications

The Great Flight Northward: FSM Migration to Guam

by Francis X. Hezel, SJ, with Thomas McGrath

1989 Migration

Over the past two decades regular warning have been issued about the inevitability of a brain drain in Micronesia. As the imminence of such an event was being argued in scholarly and not so scholarly circles, one of us could confidently report in a paper written four years ago and only now being published that emigration from the Federated States of Micronesia up to that time had been merely a "trickle" (Hezel & Levin, In Press).1 This is no longer true today. Emigration from the nation-states of Micronesia — particularly from the Federated States of Micronesia, our main focus in this paper — has increased from a trickle to a substantial outflow. The long-anticipated exodus has begun in earnest, it appears. The purpose of this paper is to document this sudden demographic occurrence: that is, to indicate the magnitude of emigration, its causes, the reason for the choice of destinations, and significant changes in household patterns of recent migrants. Let the reader be warned, however, that this article makes no claim to being a thorough analysis of recent emigration. It is but an initial exploration of a phenomenon that, except for this brief article, has been undocumented and unresearched. Indeed, this should be read as an invitation to demographers and students of social change to consider undertaking more rigorous studies.

The newly formed nation known as the Federated States of Micronesia represents the core of what until recently had been the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands. During the course of the long negotiations on the Trust Territory's political future, three of its island groups expressed the desire to establish separate political identities. The Northern Marianas, which shared a cultural tradition with Guam, chose commonweath status, while Palau and the Marshalls formed their own governments, each in free association with the US — although Palau's new status has yet to be formally implemented. The remainder of the former Trust Territory took the name Federated States of Micronesia and adopted a status of free association with the US under the terms of a compact that was put into effect in November 1986. The FSM is composed of four states: Yap, with a current population of 10,000; Truk, whose 51,000 people constitute half the population of the FSM; Pohnpei, which numbers 31,000; and Kosrae with 7000.2

Of all the new nations fashioned from the Trust Territory, the FSM has been the most visibly affected by the emigration wave of the past few years. The greatest outflow by far has been northward to the Territory of Guam and the Commonweath of the Northern Marianas Islands (CNMI). That emigration should be occurring in the new island-nation of the FSM is not in itself surprising. Recognizing the limited resource base and economic potential of their islands, Micronesian leaders purposely provided for emigration under their new political status. The Compact of Free Association grants Micronesians free entry into the US to "lawfully engage in occupations and establish residence as non-immigrants in the US and its territories." (Compact 1982: Title I, art 4). Emigration to the US was regarded as necessary to permit run-off of excess population, which is still growing at more than 3 percent yearly in FSM, and as a safety valve in the event that plans for developing the island economy fail. Even so, the rapidity of the outflow during the first two years under the FSM's new status was a shock to the nation's leaders.

Micronesian emigration to its northern neighbors has a history that goes back to the earliest Trust Territory days. Ever since the 1950s Guam was the destination of many emigrants from Palau, an island that has always had a reputation as the most progressive and achievement-oriented society in Micronesia. Palauans thronged to Guam long before Filipinos in any appreciable number arrived there, and they owned the small bars and diners along Marine Drive that later passed into the hands of Koreans (Solenberger 1953: 7-8). Their number increased from perhaps 100 in 1953 to well over 1000, and perhaps closer to 1500, by the early 1980s (Connell 1983 21-2; Hezel and Levin, In Press). Meanwhile, islanders from other parts of Micronesia arrived in Guam to do college studies from the early 1960s when boarding facilities for Trust Territory students were first built. The number of young Micronesian college students on Guam first increased during the early 1970s, then dropped sharply as Micronesians turned to the US for school, but picked up again later as education and travel cost rose, and finally peaked by mid-1980s with over 500 students from FSM and another 140 from Palau and the Marshalls (Hezel and Levin: In Press, Table 12). Most of these students returned home after completion of their studies, but a few trickled into the mainstream of life as Guam residents.

The 1980 Guam Census showed 410 FSM residents on Guam, but about half of these were students who were on the island temporarily (US Census Bureau 1980: Table 26). The size of the permanent FSM community that had taken root on Guam by that time, then, was no larger than 200-250. During these twilight days of the Trust Territory when Micronesians still were unable to immigrate freely into Guam, the Northern Marianas was the favorite destination of young Micronesians seeking employment. Since there were no restrictions on entry into the Marianas, which was still officially a part of the Trust Territory even then, scores of Trukese and others headed for Saipan or Tinian to take jobs in the garment factories that were just opening, in the fishing plant on Tinian, and in the dozens of businesses that were sprouting up as the tourist industry expanded.

The Extent of the Outflow to Guam

When the Compact of Free Association between the FSM and the United States was implemented on November 3, 1986, the situation changed entirely. For the first time Micronesians were allowed free entry into the US and its possessions to live and work without restriction. The Guam Department of Labor quarterly economic survey figures for March 1985 and March 1986 showed about 1100 ethnic "Micronesians" 16 years of age and older, most of them presumably Palauans.3 By March 1987 the number had risen by 430, and by March 1988 by another 800. According to Labor Department estimates, 1200 Micronesians over the age of 16 had been added to the Guam resident population within a year and a half of the inauguration of the Compact. If another 20 percent is added to this figure to account for dependents under the age of 16, it appears that the number of Micronesian newcomers to Guam may have totaled about 1600 by early 1988.4 These, as we will see, constituted the first large wave of FSM people moving to Guam on a permanent or semi-permanent basis.

In the absence of any gate-count of FSM emigrants at either their point of departure or their destination, the authors undertook a rudimentary household survey in September 1988 to determine the number of FSM citizens who were then residing on Guam. The survey form, which included the name, age, occupational status, and birth island of each Micronesian in the household, was distributed as widely as possible throughout the community. Questions about the social organization of the household or the economic condition of its members were deliberately excluded, despite the valuable information they might have yielded, for fear that a longer and more complex survey would have discouraged respondents from completing the form. Responses were then tabulated and the information obtained was used to extrapolate to the total number of emigrants from each state in the FSM.

The Truk sample, for instance, contained 375 migrants living in 55 households (see Table 1). These 55 households included about 33% of the 242 students who were known to be studying at the University of Guam and Guam Community College. Assuming that the ratio of students to non-students was the same in the households not surveyed, we could extrapolate to the size of the entire Trukese population on the island. The result is 1100 Trukese living in about 160 households. This estimate concurs nicely with another estimate based on the known emigration from two small communities in Truk. The island of Fanapanges, with 10 persons living on Guam out of a population of about 500, showed a 2.0 percent emigration rate; while Foup, with 19 out of 700 on Guam, had a slightly higher rate of 2.7 percent.5 If these rates were typical for the whole of Truk with its population of 50,000, then the number of Trukese on Guam would be between 1000 and 1350.

Table 1: Household Survey of Micronesians on Guam by State and Occupational Status

  Households Sample 
Employed Unemployed Students Attending 
Truk 55 375 151 82 142 79
Pohnpei 16 55 10 9 36 13
Kosrae 14 66 42 15 9 5
Yap 16 89 49 12 28 21

Source: Data collected by MARC and Micronesian Seminar. This survey was conducted in October 1988.

Estimates for the remainder of the FSM are more questionable since the sample size in the survey was much smaller and the margin of error greater. Yet, if we use the same method to extrapolate from the samples for the other states, while allowing for the number of students living in the UOG dormitories, we can make reasonable projections of their immigrant populations. Pohnpeians would number about 300 and Yapese about 150. The Kosraean projection, which must be modified considerably since 40 percent of Kosraean college students live in the dormitories, would be around 150. Altogether these three states have roughly 600 citizens on Guam, their combined total falling well below the number of Trukese on the island. This estimate is supported by the preponderance of Trukese among the FSM college students on Guam (see Table 2). As Table 2 shows, fully 62 percent of all FSM students are Trukese — roughly the same percentage as the Trukese immigrant community to all FSM citizens living on Guam, if our estimates are accepted. It might be noted that there are also 50-80 Marshallese on Guam, although we have not included the Marshalls within the scope of this study because of the small size of the Marshallese community.6 The migration flow from the Marshalls runs in the opposite direction, with Hawaii and mainland US as the normal destinations. In all, the number of FSM citizens residing on Guam would seem to be in the neighborhood of 1700, about the same size as the estimate derived from Guam Labor Department survey data.

Table 2: Micronesian College Enrollment on Guam for Fall 1988


  GCC UOG Total % of FSM students
Truk 163 79 242 62
Pohnpei 35 38 73 19
Kosrae 14 20 34 9
Yap 30 10 40 10
Total 242 147 389 100

Source: University of Guam registration figures; Registrar's Office of Guam Community College.

The Search for Jobs

There is no mystery at all as to what is driving Micronesians in such great numbers to Guam today. They are emigrating to find there the jobs that they are unable to procure on their own home islands, as they will plainly tell anyone who asks. By the early 1980s the job boom of the previous decade was decidedly over in Micronesia, Table 3 shows. Between 1979 and 1982, more than 1700 jobs throughout the FSM were lost. Only in Pohnpei was there any continuing growth in employment during the early 80s, and this was due to the transfer of the FSM capital to that island a few years before. The decline in employment was due mainly to the radical cutbacks in US Federal Program funds for the Trust Territory in preparation for the onset of its new political status. The level of US assistance had risen from $54 million in 1970 to a high of $138 million in 1979 before dropping off sharply at the beginning of this decade (Micronesian Seminar 1984: 40). The cut in funds also affected the private sector, which had always been dependent on government spending as its main impetus.

TABLE 3: Total Salary Employment in Micronesia

Year Truk Pohnpei Kosrae Yap
1970 1,832 1,847 N/A 952

1,939 365 1,126
1976 3,743 3,239 717 1,421
1979 5,599 3,442 510 2,027
1982 3,782 3,913 682 1,484
1985 4,054 N/A N/A N/A
1988a 6,116 6,253 2,376 2,190

NA = not available

Note: a. The figures for 1988 derived from social security records, are unadjusted. Since they include persons who have worked less than 25 hours weekly, they are inflated by comparison with precious years.

Source: TT Annual Report 1981; FSM Social Security Office records.

Employment figures for 1988 appear to show an appreciable increase in the number of jobs within the past few years, but these figures — the only ones available — are still unadjusted and hence include individuals working an average of only a few hours each week. Even if there was in fact an increase in fulltime employment, the increase was probably too little and too late, considering the number of educated Micronesians entering the labor pool. In populous Truk, for instance, there the figures show only 600 jobs more than there were in 1979, while in Yap there are 100 more positions. Although Kosrae and Pohnpei show healthy gains, the overall apparent increase in employment in the FSM — 5300 jobs since 1979 — is modest compared to the 14,000 who entered the labor pool in this same period.

The cutback in government funding and the concomitant loss of jobs hit Micronesia all the harder because of the euphoria that the education boom of the 1970s had brought. High school enrollment swelled during those years and hundreds of young Micronesians went off to college abroad in the expectation of finding jobs awaiting them upon their return. The early returnees were fortunate enough to find employment in the growing economy of the mid-1970s, but those who followed them were not as lucky. During the period 1979-1982 in which FSM lost more than 1700 jobs, about 1800 recent graduates, half of them with at least some college education, entered the labor force (Hezel & Levin, In Press). Needless to say, large numbers of this and later crops of students were disappointed in their search for salary employment within Micronesia. Their frustration was reflected in a slight fall-off in high school and college enrollment, but even so, great numbers of young people continued to pursue higher studies even in the face of a very uncertain future. In 1985 there were still about 1200 young FSM citizens abroad in college, with over one-third of them in Guam (Hezel & Levin, In Press: Table 12). Job prospects in Micronesia had by this time become dismal, but before these young people finished school, the Compact would open for them new doors to the future.

Guam's economy, meanwhile, was just the reverse image of the FSM's. In contrast to Micronesia, Guam's economy had been sluggish after the wind-down of the Vietnam War in the early 1970s, and the number of jobs, which dropped sharply in 1974, hovered at about the same level (30-34,000) for the next ten years (see Table 4). Then in early 1984 the real boom began. Thanks to the devaluation of the US dollar and the resultant strength of the yen, the Japanese tourist industry on Guam began to show prodigious growth. This in turn helped to power a new construction boom and rapid growth in island business. The misfortune that had befallen the US economy had become a windfall for Guam. Private sector employment on Guam showed enormous gains since 1984, with the addition of 11,000 new jobs in the past four years. Overall, private sector employment has increased from 15,680 positions in December 1983 to 29,860 in June 1988 — a growth of nearly 100 percent in less than five years (Gov Guam 1986: 110). And the boom shows no signs of abating.

TABLE 4: Total Employment on Guam, 1974-1988

































































Source: 1986 Annual Economic Review, 109-110; Guam Department of Labor, Current Employment Report (June 1988).

At present Guam has a very limited labor supply from which to draw in order to fill these new positions. Unlike the Northern Marianas, which is experiencing a tourist boom of its own, Guam has severe restrictions on importation of alien labor. All H-2 work permits for foreign laborers must be signed by the governor, and the present size of the alien labor force is only about 1600 (Gov Guam 1988: 22). With a current unemployment rate of only 4.5 percent, there is little hope that Guam can find in its own population an adequate workforce to handle all the new jobs that are being created. It may be providential, then, that the bars to Micronesian immigration dropped at the very time that the labor shortage was becoming acute. Hundreds of Micronesians who had little hope of finding salary employment in their own islands have already moved to Guam to take up the entry-level jobs — in hotels, in stores and gas stations, and in construction — that would otherwise have been unfilled. The prospect of a job, even a lower status job, at US wage levels — which are princely by comparison with FSM standards — has attracted hundreds to Guam and may lure many more in years to come.

Guam's attitude towards the large influx of Micronesians within the past two years is ambivalent; most long-time residents look upon it a mixed blessing. There is no doubt that the newcomers play an essential role in Guam's expanding economy, but they are also regarded by many as a burden that Guam must somehow bear with whatever good-humored resignation it can muster. "Trukese" (the word can be understood to apply equally to other Micronesians) have apparently won a reputation for brawling in nightspots, smashing into telephone and power lines with their cars while intoxicated, and trashing apartments that they lease or rent.7 Some Trukese have found it necessary to identify themselves as Marshallese or Pohnpeians to avoid being blacklisted when they attempt to rent an apartment. But Trukese are not the first migrant group in history to be tagged with unflattering stereotypes.

The more substantial reservations that Guam has about its recent arrivals have to do with the social service costs and who will pay them. Education of dependents, medical care, and the other welfare programs for which Micronesians are eligible will cost the Government of Guam a sizable sum, and Guam authorities are asking themselves how to pass along part of the price tag to the US Federal Government (Gov Guam 1987). The annual cost of educating a public school student on Guam is $3000, and projections based on partial enrollment figures for 1988 indicate that the number of Micronesian students may have increased by more than 100 during the past year (see Table 5). Furthermore, since Micronesians are currently ineligible for federally funded public assistance programs, the welfare burden may fall upon the Government of Guam and private service agencies. But even as Guamanians ponder whether the costs of having large numbers of Micronesians may outweigh the benefits, the island remains firmly committed to its present economic growth course. The number of visitors to the island has just reached the half million mark in a year for the first time ever, the number of hotel rooms is expanding by several hundred each year, and hotel employees now work in three full shifts to keep up with the work demand. The large hotels are attempting to lure employees away from their rivals with higher salaries as the tourist industry vigorously competes for the limited labor supply. Unless Guam wishes to call a sudden halt to its economic boom, the island must find additional large supplies of labor over the coming years — and of the various alternatives continued reliance on Micronesian labor is probably the cheapest, social costs notwithstanding.

TABLE 5: "Micronesian"a Enrollment in Guam Public Schools













Middle School






High School












Notes: Figures are for fall enrollment.
a) "Micronesians" includes FSM, Marshalls, and Palau, but excludes the Northern Marianas.
b) The 1988 figures are projections based on the incomplete enrollment reports from the schools.

Source: Guam Department of Education, ethnic enrollment reports.

An Alternate Destination: The Northern Marianas

Guam has not been the only destination of FSM emigrants. The Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas is now the home of nearly as many FSM citizens as Guam — between 1200 and 1400, our estimates show. In addition, there are about 1000 Palauans, many of whom found jobs and took up residence in Saipan when it was still the capital of the Trust Territory, and perhaps 100 or so Marshallese.8 Exact figures for the number of FSM residents in the Marianas are impossible to obtain, and no household survey similar to the one on Guam was done in the CNMI. Yet the number of FSM children enrolled in the public school system provides a fairly good clue as to the size of the immigrant population (see Table 6). We can presume on the basis of data that we possess for other places that the 273 FSM school children represent about 20 percent of the total FSM population, which would put the latter at just below 1400. Trukese once again seem to be the largest group, with an estimated immigrant population of 700. There are probably 400-500 Pohnpeians and perhaps 200 Yapese, with a mere handful of Kosraeans.9

TABLE 6: FSM Enrollment in Northern Marianas Public Schools

State of Origin






























Note: Figures include enrollments for grades 1-12 in public schools.

Source: CNMI Department of Education.

Hundreds of FSM citizens moved to Saipan, the capital of CNMI, during the early 1980s before Micronesians were allowed free access to Guam. The CNMI, like Guam, has recently been enjoying an economic boom that is in good measure the result of the growing Japanese tourist industry. Visitor entries have risen steadily since 1983, reaching more than 200,000 in 1988.10 Hotel expansion has been so rapid that in five more years Saipan is expected to reach the tourist level that Guam attained in 1986 (Stewart 1988: 137). In addition to the tourist industry and related services, a sizable manufacturing industry has grown up around the 24 garment factories that now produce clothing for export to the US. The garment industry, which has quickly expanded since its beginnings in 1983, offered new openings and was one of the main attractions to Micronesians. Although the vast majority of the employees were Asian (mainly Chinese, Korean, and Filipino), Commonwealth law mandated that twelve percent of the total workforce be "local" employees — a term that is interpreted broadly enough to include Micronesians from outside the Marianas (Stewart 1988: 76). Factory managers have never found enough Chamorro and Carolinian workers to make up their quota and so have had to recruit from other parts of Micronesia. Of the 580 employees in the largest of these factories, 105 are "local," with all but 30 of these coming from the FSM.11 At present it is estimated that there are upwards of 450 citizens of the FSM — most of them women — employed in the garment industry on Saipan. Scores of other FSM citizens have found jobs in the tourist industry as chambermaids, bellhops, and warehouse clerks, while many others have hired on as security guards for hotels and other private businesses. Apparently there are also a number unemployed, since over 200 FSM citizens were receiving food stamps as of October 1988.12

Migration from FSM to the Northern Marianas has slowed considerably since 1986 when Guam became an alternate destination. The hourly minimum wage in the Northern Marianas at $2.15 is over 40 percent below the $3.75 minimum on Guam and the employee benefits are less comprehensive. Moreover, the Northern Marianas has an ample supply of relatively cheap alien labor — the foreign labor force now numbers about 15,000 — and there is little need to encourage Micronesian immigration except to fill the quotas for the garment factories.13 Indeed, there are still some Trukese and Pohnpeians emigrating to Saipan today to take jobs in the garment industry or to join their families in the CNMI, but FSM labor plays a far more marginal role there than it does in Guam. One small gauge of this is that, of the 285 persons employed by the newest luxury hotel, the Nikko Saipan, only eight are citizens of the FSM.14 The Northern Marianas, therefore, can be expected to remain what they have been since the transfer of Trust Territory Headquarters there in the early 1960s — an economic fallback when all else fails.

Characteristics of the Households on Guam

The results of our household survey on Guam revealed significant differences in the composition and structure of the communities that the new arrivals from FSM form (see Table 7). Some of the new households are built around a family group and their structure is not much different from what it would be in Truk, Pohnpei or anywhere else in Micronesia. One Yapese in his twenties shares a house with his Trukese wife and their two children as well as three older relatives of his wife and several of his Yapese friends. A Yapese couple in their forties provide for their six children, all but one of whom are in school, as well as six others who are related to either the man or his wife. These households often depend on the income of only one or two wage-earners and they have the usual trouble making ends meet, especially when kinfolk in any number unexpectedly descend on them for a long stay on Guam. But these problems, normal ones for any Micronesian family, are offset by the clear lines of authority that exist in such households. At least everyone in the household knows who is in charge, even if the head of the household is sometimes inhibited from exercising his authority as fully as he might like for cultural reasons. As the family sinks roots in its new home, it will gradually summon more of its children to Guam to attend school and family life will come to resemble what it was back home.

TABLE 7: FSM Sample on Guam by island Group and Household Typea





































Notes: a) "Family Household" is defined as one in which a husband and spouse, regardless of their age, serve as nucleus of the resident group.
b) "Peer-Group Household" is one in which a group of persons of the same sex share a residence and household responsibilities.
c) includes single-person, non-dormitory households.

Source:Data collected by MARC and Micronesian Seminar in a survey conducted in October 1988.

The composition of many of the Micronesian households on Guam, however, is far less stable. Slightly more than half of the 101 FSM households surveyed were made up almost entirely of young people, usually in their twenties and often related or at least from the same island, who banded together under the same roof in a commune-type arrangement.15 One such group from Nomwin, an atoll north of Truk, has six of its members working, most of them as security guards; in another from Puluwat four of the six young males work at a fast-food steakhouse. Households of this type, which can have as many as ten or twelve members, usually experience more serious problems, as we might easily imagine. Since the males in the household are roughly the same age, it is not an easy matter for one of them to assume a leadership role, even when he happens to be the single source of income. Normally, however, several have jobs and contribute to the support of the group, but each hesitates to impose any regimen on his peers. Even ordinary care and cleaning of the house is often overlooked, and life in the household is sometimes just a bit short of the anarchic. People drift in and out of these houses regularly. Older relatives or friends from home may come to Guam, even if they do not speak English and lack the skills to find a job, just to sample life in the city. The young people who belong to these communes often leave for better surroundings and a new household as soon as the opportunity arises. These households are provisional and their members are experimenting to work out viable authority structures in a setting that is still alien to them. The wonder is that amid such chaotic conditions Micronesians are able to make a successful adjustment to their new surroundings; yet some do. One group of bachelors learned to control their partying, budget their money, and take turns cooking and cleaning; they now live in a well-managed household and own six cars, all of them paid for and insured.

The migrant communities from different states appear to have their own characteristics, to judge from the household survey. The newcomers from Yap and Kosrae are unusually young — there are very few persons older than their early 30s — and they show a strong tendency to reside in the kind of peer-group households described above (see Table 7). About two-thirds of the sample from both states were living in communities made up entirely of young people their own age. Another feature of these households is that very few of their members are not occupied either with a job or schooling. The number of dependents is very low in these households; well over half the Yapese surveyed and nearly two- thirds of the Kosraeans had full-time employment (see Table 1). These same characteristics are shared by the immigrants from some of the islands in Truk, especially Uman and the outlying atolls of the Mortlocks, Westerns and Halls (see Table 7). On the other hand, Pohnpeians and most of the lagoon Trukese show a strong leaning toward more structured, family-like households. Such households, while less prone to conflict and better regulated, have a larger number of non-productive members. Less than 20 percent of all the Pohnpeians surveyed had wage employment. Among Trukese from lagoon islands the percentage employed was almost 40, much higher than for Pohnpei but considerably below the Kosrae and Yap samples. Overall, the FSM households that have sprung up on Guam can be described as economically "lean" in household composition as well as in earnings. There are as yet very few dependents in these new households, especially when compared with the average family size in the FSM, although this will undoubtedly change in the years ahead.

Given the adjustments they must make and the relative lack of supervision in their lives, it is no surprise that the emigrants have come to be regarded as trouble-makers by long-time residents on Guam. Their all-night drinking bouts and their drunken driving arrests, among other things, have been well- publicized and are a source of some concern to FSM government officials no less than to Guamanians. Police figures show that about six percent of all arrests made on Guam during 1987 were of FSM citizens, who at that time represented only slightly more than one percent of Guam's civilian population (Gov Guam 1987: Table 4.2). Most of the crimes seem to have been alcohol- related and fell under the categories of driving while intoxicated, disorderly conduct, assault and larceny. The disproportionate arrest rate of FSM citizens may look worse than it really is, since a great number of the new Micronesian arrivals on Guam are young males in the troublesome 15-35 age bracket and the crimes they commit are the explosive and foolish acts that are likely to occur after a drinking party has gone on too long. Nonetheless, the police figures do show the distance that transplanted Micronesians still must go before they have completely adjusted to life in their new surroundings.

The Significance of Recent Emigration

The extent of recent emigration to Guam and the Northern Marianas in the past few years has been unparalleled in the post- war history of central Micronesia. If the estimates proposed in this paper are accepted — a resident FSM population in the Northern Marianas of 1400 and a movement of 1700 FSM citizens to Guam in two years — it would appear that about 3000 FSM citizens have migrated north since 1982. A few of the FSM people living on Saipan are very likely former Trust Territory employees who chose to remain, but the great majority are recent arrivals. Although it is impossible to assign exact numbers to the annual outflow, our estimates suggest that the emigration rate has increased from perhaps 300 a year to the CNMI in the period 1983- 1986 to about 700-800 yearly to Guam during 1986-1988.

On the basis of an estimated total FSM population of 100,000, the annual outflow during the past two years would represent 0.7 percent of the population. In some areas like Truk, however, the emigration rate is over 1 percent a year, as we have seen. The extent of population leakage to Hawaii and the US mainland in recent years is unknown, but when added to the migration northward it could bring the overall emigration rate from FSM to something approaching 1 percent annually.

Although the high emigration of late is clearly rooted in economic motives, the choice of Guam and the Marianas as destinations seems to be based on other factors than merely the availability of jobs. Part of the appeal of Guam and the CNMI as work sites is their proximity to FSM, thus allowing emigrants to maintain fairly close contact with home and to visit relatives there from time to time. One has only to be standing in the Truk or Pohnpei airport on a Friday or Sunday evening as the turn- around flight from Guam disgorges its passengers to realize that the traffic between FSM and Guam is unmistakably two-way. There is a great deal of shuttling back and forth, as would only be expected of a people whose ties with family and birthplace remain as strong as Micronesians' are. This circular flow resembles that of Samoans between their islands and the western US except that much smaller distances in the Micronesian circuit encourage more frequent visits home.

Very few of those who have left for Guam or the Northern Marianas would regard themselves as permanent emigrants. Most profess the desire to return after earning enough money; few envision themselves retiring in their new home. In this respect recent emigrants are much like the outer islanders who moved into the district centers in search of jobs during the expansionist era of the 1960s and early 1970s. Yet there are indications that increasingly more are bringing their children to enroll them in the Guam and CNMI schools for the better education they supposedly offer. Children raised in Guam may find it as difficult to return permanently to their home island as young outer islanders raised in the glitter of the FSM's port towns.

To refer to this emigration to Guam and the CNMI as a "brain drain" is misleading. Those who have left FSM for the north are not the best and the brightest, the most creative and energetic individuals. In fact, they are often those whose job prospects at home are unpromising because they cannnot hope to compete with their better educated and more talented peers. The most competent of the high school and college graduates would generally prefer to stay at home and take a decent job with their own government if they could. It is the others, those who cannot count on jobs at home, who fly off to Guam and Saipan for lower- level work.

Finally, there is an undeniable economic significance to the recent emigration from FSM. An estimated 700 citizens of FSM who would otherwise not be working were able to obtain paying jobs on Guam, and possibly almost as many have found salaried employment in the Northern Marianas. There is no reason why this figure should not grow each year, given the economic prosperity of the areas to the north. Yet the economic impact is still more potential than actual. If emigration continues to accelerate, the prodigious population growth of the FSM will be slowed and could eventually decline to zero, as Palau's has for the past fifteen years (Hezel & Levin, In Press). Not only would the cost of government rise much less steeply if the population were stable, but economic planners could count on a considerable source of income from the remittances sent back to their families by overseas employees. The beginning of a sizable remittance component may ultimately prove to be the single biggest boost to the FSM flagging economy.


1) The article cited here (Hezel & Levin, In Press) has been used several times in this article since it presented a summary of emigration from FSM, Palau and the Marshalls prior to the start of the large-scale emigration described in this article.

2) Population data is from unpublishing figures issued by the FSM Office of Planning and Statistics, Pohnpei.

3) These quarterly surveys are conducted by Guam Labor Department, Bureau of Statistics, and issued in computer printout form as Report No. 18-711.

4) The 20 percent figure for dependents under the age of 16 is, of course, far smaller than the corresponding figure for FSM residents; the latter figure is close to 50 percent. The estimate of 20 percent was derived from samples of several emigrant households in which both the total size of the household and the number of young dependents was known.

5)The survey of these sample populations in Truk was done by one of the authors. The size of each community is small enough so that nearly any resident would be able to list virtually all recent emigrants. Population of these two communities was extrapolated from 1973 census data in Truk.

6)This estimate of the size of the Marshallese population on Guam was derived from data obtained in our household survey, which included Marshallese.

7)Recent FSM arrivals on Guam are known among local people as "Trukese" because of the preponderance of migrants from that state. Similarly, in former years all Micronesians were termed "Palauans."

8)The estimate of the size of the Palauan and Marshallese communities in CNMI was derived, like the size of the FSM population, from the number of dependents in elementary and high school. These numbers were 247 and 24 for Palau and the Marshalls respectively.

9)It may be worth noting that these estimates, as crude as they are, were confirmed by a number of knowledgeable individuals on the island as well as by recent FSM voter registration lists.

10)Marianas Visitors Bureau announced this in its periodic news bulletin for January 1989.

11)Information supplied in an interview with Jun Ha, owner of the largest garment factory.

12)Information provided by Federal Program Office, CNMI.

13)The latest figure in Stewart (1988: 132-3) is 11,654 foreign workers in 1986. The Immigration Department for CNMI, however, records over 15,000 applications for nonresident work permits in 1988.

14)Information supplied by personnel director of the Nikko Saipan.

15)The authors are grateful to Donald Rubinstein, Director of Micronesian Area Research Center, for his helpful observations on peer-group households.


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1982 Compact of Free Association and Related Agreements between the Federated States of Micronesia and the United States of America. FSM Plebiscite Commission, Pohnpei, October 1.

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