Emigration from a Lebanese Village: A Case Study of Bishmizzine (By PATRICIA NABTI)

Emigration from a Lebanese Village:

A Case Study of Bishmizzine

P A T R I C I A   N A B T I


The diversity inherent in Lebanese villages precludes presenting one village as typical of all the others. Each village has its own confessional balance, educational orientation, and relationship to the country’s urban centres – factors which affect its migration experience. Nevertheless, Bishmizzine shares much in common with those Lebanese villages whose people have dispersed to other countries and continents of the world over the past century.

          Bishmizzine is located in the Kurah District of North Lebanon about 12 miles from Triopli. Its population of under 1,500 is predominantly Greek Orthodox Christian with less than 5 per cent Sunni Muslim. Sectarian conflict in Lebanon as a whole since 1975 has not significantly altered the religious configuration of Bishmizzine.

          The emigration experience of Bishmizzine extends over a period of more than a hundred years. This study has traced over a thousand Bishmizzins who emigrated as adults to more than forty countries of the world. Seventy-six per cent of that emigration has been concentrated in the four countries which will be considered in depth here: the United States (30 per cent), Australia (19 per cent), Argentina (16 per cent), and Saudi Arabia (11 per cent).

Bishmizzinis in the United States

The United States has attracted the largest number and most consistent flow of Bishmizzine emigrants. One Bishmizzini is believed to have entered the United States in 1884, and two brothers from the village travelled there together sometime between 1878 and 1889. In total, only 23 Bishmizzinis are known to have migrated to the United States by 1899, but over the next 15 years at least 67 Bishmizzinis migrated there – a threefold increase.

          The First World War interrupted migration. After the war, the Immigration Act of 1917 and the national origins quota system imposed in 1924 served to make immigration more selective, favouring literate immigrants and those from northern Europe. Ninety Bishmizzinis entered the United States before the First World War, while only 47 are known to have entered during a comparable length of time between passage of the 1917 legislation and the Second Wrodl War. The actual dates of entry for 40 pre-Second World War Bishimizzine emigrants are not known, yet even if they all entered between the two wars it is clear that the acceleration of entires had halted, but that immigration had not altogether cased.

          Immigration restrictions eased after the Second World War. It was not until the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 was passed, however, that the national origins quota system was phased out, leading to a relative increase in the emigration from Asia and Latin America. Considering Bishmizzine emigration through 1987, 43 more Bishmizzinis had emigrated to the United States before the Second World War than after it: 177 before as compared to 134 after. More than one-third of the latter have entered the United States since 1975.

          Information about Bishmizzine emigrants corroborates the findings of Alixa Naff that most of the early Lebanese emigrants came to the United States for economic reasons and that most of them became merchants, generally starting as itinerant pedlars, while a smaller number worked in factories. They had intended to work hard and then return home to enjoy the material comforts and prestige which they felt they could not have acquired had they stayed in Lebanon. This process of accumulating wealth, however, took longer than they had generally anticipated and, in the meantime, most had become entrenched in American society and culture.

T H E  R O L E  O F  E D U C A T I O N

The development of education in Bishmizzine has had a considerable impact on Bishmizzine immigration into the United States. As early as the middle of

the nineteenth century a person whose sole profession was teaching became responsible for education in the village. He taught reading, writing, arithmetic, science and – notably – English. A number of educational systems emerged in Lebanon during that period including American, French, English, German Greek Italian, Russian, Turkish, and indigenous Lebanese. In Bishmizzine, the American system was clearly the most influential. In the 1880s the American Protestant mission established an elementary school in Bishmizzine. The school, whose teachers were Lebanese and Syrian Protestants, had a short and erratic existence due to opposition from Orthodox church officials. Contrary to their fears, few from Bishmizzine ever converted, but the Protestant mission contributed to the American orientation of education in Bishmizzine and established in the minds of the villagers an association of America with education. Even when the village subsequently established its own non0sectarian community school, the influence of former students of the earlier school as well as emigrants returning from America, gave the school a decidedly American orientation. French influences temporarily dominated the community school during the Second World War. The school’s American orientation, however, was reasserted after the war and was institutionalized in 1947 with the school’s accreditation by the American University of Beirut.

          Education in Bishmizzine contributed significantly to the alienation of its population from the village and the emigration of many of its brightest and most capable young people. As Dr Tannous wrote in 1940:

             In the village, the children studied English, French, Literary, Arabic,

            Geography, History – to the end of the list–even Algebra! Not a single

            one of these subjects was related to the immediate needs of village life..

Later at high school and college, the curriculum finished up the       process of alienation begun in the village school.[1]

          Formal education under all the systems present in Lebanon have contributed to the alienation discussed here. The American orientation of education in Bishmizzine, however, made students not only less willing to follow traditional village pursuits, but also more interested in and prepared for studying and living specifically in America. As early as 1902 a Bishmizzini graduated from medical school in New York. In the late 1980s, at least 61 Bishmizzine emigrants living in the United States held college degrees. Thirteen of these were MDs who received their medical training at the

American University of Beirut; 14 had Ph.D.s all earned in the United States; 2 were dentists; 13 had Master’s degrees; and the rest had Bachelor’s degrees.

Avenues of entry into the United States

The various restrictions imposed on immigration beginning in 1917 left four primary avenues for Lebanese entry into the United States, a situation that has not changed greatly since the 1920s, although the relative significance of each has fluctuated.


Some Bishmizzinis have entered the United States with full immigrant status, generally as the spouses, parents, unmarried children or siblings of adult citizens or permanent residents. In addition, a few Bishmizzinis have been granted permanent residence while still in Lebanon by providing evidence of employment in the United States.


Another important basis on which Lebanese have entered the United States has been on the visitor’s or tourist visa. Many Bishmizzinis who have been eligible to apply for residence through immediate relatives have entered the United States as visitors, processing their applications for permanent residence in the United States.

          A few young people from Bishmizzine have entered the United States as visitors and then stayed, working illegally, usually for fellow Bishmizzinis or other Lebanese who own businesses. This practice continues despite the ruling in 1986 requiring employers to verify that their employees are legally allowed to work in the United States.

          The visitor’s visa has also been used in recent years by a number of Bishmizzine couples who view migration in terms of a very longtime frame. They come to the United States when the wife is in the last stage of pregnancy in order for the child to become a citizen by birth. When the children reaches the age of 21 he or she can then sponsor their parents.


The third important avenue for Bishmizzine entry to the United States is the student visa. As noted above, Bishmizzine has had a long tradition of sending many of its educated sons and, to a lesser extent, its daughters to the United States to further their education. Most of those who came on student visas through the 1950s and even the 1960s, like their less educated predecessors, sought to achieve a limited goal and return to Lebanon with greater status and capability to succeed the in the village or in one of Lebanon’s urban centres. Like their less educated predecessors, however, many of them remained in United States whether they failed or succeeded in achieving their initial objectives.

          Those who were already in the United States when the Lebanese conflict unfolded in 1975 were forced to reconsider their future in midstream. Many of them were forced into a state of limbo, waiting for stability to be restored in Lebanon so that they could feel both safe to return and confident that employment opportunities would be available for them. For many who entered the United States on student visas in the 1970s and 1980s, however, education was not their primary objective, but was used instead as a means to achieve their real objective of emigrating to the United States. Some were serious students while others only took the minimum number of units required to maintain their student visas while working and developing strategies to remain in the United States permanently.

          Through the 1960s most Bishmizzinis on student visas came for graduate study after having completed a degree at the American University of Beirut or one of the other post-secondary institutions in Lebanon. Entering the United States for undergraduate study has been a more recent phenomenon. While a decrease in the American college student population has made many US colleges easier to be accepted into, increased income from employment in the oil exporting countries has largely provided the financial means and the troubles in Lebanon have provided the incentive to send younger students to the United States.


A fourth important avenue of Bishmizzine entry into the United States has been the exchange visa, issued to students and professionals who are sponsored by an approved private or governmental agency. This visa has been notably used by doctors from Bishmizzine who have come to the United States for their residency or further specialization.


In considering a fifth avenue, illegal entry, some Bishmizzinis have become illegal aliens by allowing their student or visitor’s visas to expire. Only two Bishmizzinis, however, are known to have entered the United States illegally. One came across the Mexican border in the 1920s. The other made an overnight transit stop in New York on a flight destined for Latin America in the mid-1970s and simply never returned to the plane.

From entry to permanent settlement

A large number of those who entered the United States without permanent residence have been able to acquire it and, subsequently, citizenship. How have they been able to do so?


The one Bishmizzini who illegally overstayed a transit stop in New York was able to secure his permanent residence through the amnesty programme of 1986.


A more broadly used method to obtain permanent residence has been through sponsorship by an employer. This method has usually required some proof that the alien is not displacing an American from employment. Many from Bishmizzine who have earned Ph.D. or MD degrees have been sponsored by employers, in addition to those in such diverse occupations as a Middle East specialist, a medical librarian and a maker of Lebanese sweets. This option has been particularly successful in times or area of low unemployment.


The other important means by which Bishmizzinis have become permanent residents has been through marriage. The significance of marriage in this context is that it is the one means available for any single alien to qualify for permanent residence – including those without close family relatives in the United States and without unusual skills. Those who have obtained their residency through marriage can be divided into four categories.

          The first is comprised of emigrants, almost exclusively women, who have become permanent residents through marrying earlier Lebanese emigrants

who already have permanent status or have become naturalized citizens. Many of the early emigrants returned to Lebanon when they had saved enough money, married, and brought their brides back with them to America. This is no long common in the United States but does occasionally happen.

          In the second category are the Lebanese, usually males, who genuinely choose to enter a long-term marriage relationship with an American and for whom a visa is a side benefit. Many Bishimizzinis have established stable marriages with Americans both of Lebanese and non-Lebanese heritage. One should not assume, however, that all of them qualified for permanent residence through marriage.

          The third category consists of the Lebanese who openly make arrangements with Americans to ‘marry’ only for the purpose of obtaining permanent residence status, divorcing as soon as it becomes safe. This appears to have become more prevalent among Bishmizzinis in recent years. American friends have served as de jure spouses or a spouse has been found through friends – none ever mentioned having used marriage services. Some of these Americans have acted as spouses for the sake of friendship, while others have charged considerable fees. One person from the village revealed that he paid his ‘wife’ $1,500 for this service, although evidence suggests that the prevailing rate by the mid-1980s had risen to $3-4,000.

          A final category is comprised of those who enter into a marriage to obtain permanent residence status by deceiving the American spouse into believing that it is a genuine marriage. As with the third category, the person divorces soon after obtaining immigrant status. There is no evidence that any Bishmizzinis fall into this last category, although it is unlikely that anyone would admit to such deception.

          While it may seem obvious, obtaining residency through marriage has one important restriction: it is only available to those who are initially unmarried. Since most Lebanese who come to the United States as students are single, this is usually not a serious problem. It has, however, led to at least one unusual case in which a married couple came to the USA for education but remained because of the troubles in Lebanon. After exhausting all legal channels to obtain immigrant status they divorced. While continuing their de facto marriage, one established a de jure marriage to an American, obtained immigrant status, and plans to divorce and then remarry the de facto spouse as soon as possible. It is noteworthy that the pseudo-marriages discussed here appear, in practice, to be exclusively male options. There is no evidence of any Bishmizzine woman who has married expressly to secure permanent residence with the intention of divorcing when it is safe to do so.

Latin America

Latin America was the second destination attracting large numbers of Bishmizzine emigrants. This study has traced 283 Bishmizzine emigrants to twelve countries in Latin America, although this figure counts a few Bishmizzinis twice due to secondary migration within the region. This discussion will focus on Argentina where 59 per cent of all Bishmizzie emigrants in Latin America settled. In addition, Bishmizzinis have migrated to 11 other Latin American countries: Brazil (18 per cent), Cuba (8 per cent), Mexico (6 per cent) and the remaining 9 per cent distributed among Colombia, Jamaica, Uruguay, Dominion Republic, Venezuela, Panama, Paraguay and Barbados.

          From the beginning, the United States was the preferred destination of most Bishmizzine emigrants, largely due to the influence of the American Protestant missionary movement. It is probable that the early emigrants from Bishmizzine, like many other Lebanese, ended in Latin America because they were rejected by US immigration officials due to health problems or illiteracy, or were the victims of unscrupulous ticket agents and steamship lines who sold them tickets to the United States but took them instead to Latin American ports.[2] Evidence strongly suggests that the flow of Lebanese emigrants to Latin America could not have been more than a trickle before 1870, but reached a significant stream in the 1880s. the first Bishmizzini known to have emigrated to Latin America settle din Colombia in 1887. Eight years later, the first Bishmizzinis entered Argentina.

          Between 1895 and 1904, 13 Bishmizzinis emigrated to Argentina, two of these were female. In the next decade, from 1905 to 1914 47 Bishmizzinis entered Argentina: 32 males and 15 females. This was not only a fourfold increase but a change in the ratio of males to females from voer 5:1 to slightly over 2:1. During the war years and immediately following, from 1914 until 1920, commercial transportation was seriously obstructed and, in any case, few had the financial means to consider emigration. But in the decade from 1921 to 1930, after the First World War and before the Great Depression had had its full impact, there was another wave of migration from Bishmizzine to Argentina. During this period, 41 Bishmizzinis emigrated to Argentina; 21 males and 20 females. The decreased rate of migration relative to the period 1904 to 1914, coupled with the balanced ratio of males and females, can be seen as a stabilizing of the Bishmizzine community, with fewer single males

choosing to emigrate to Argentina, but those who were settled there bringing wives, sisters and widowed mothers to join them.

          In the next decade, from 1931 to 1940, only ten Bishmizzinis emigrated to Argentina: five males and five females. All of these had siblings or spouses in the country. The economic circumstances in both Lebanon and Argentina precipitated by the Great Depression, coupled with the resulting imposition of immigration restrictions, were important factors contributing to this slowdown which in any case, continued a trend seen in the previous decade.

          Immigration into Latin America halted completely during the Second World War. After the war, the region became less desirable for both economic and political reasons. Furthermore, the need to learn Spanish and Portuguese made it less and less attractive as an increasing number of Bishmizzine students learned English in school. During the 45 years after the war only ten people are known to have migrated to Argentina from Bishmizzine: seven males and three females.


Marriage has played a different role in the migration experience of Bishmizzinis in Latin America than of those in the United States . Most notably, there is no evidence that it was used as a calculated means for Bishmizzine emigrants to qualify for permanent residence. Of the 121 Bishmizzinis for whom marital information is available, 103 married spouses with Arabic surnames, most of these being emigrants or descendants of emigrants from Lebanon and Syria (52 of these Bishmizzine origin). In contrast, only 18 Bishmizzinis are known to have married Argentinians or people of European origin, while eight remained single or entered Argentina as widows who did not subsequently remarry. Many women came to Argentina through marriage to settled Lebanese emigrants, but they settled in Argentina as a consequence of marriage, and did not marry in order to qualify as immigrants.


To the extent that it is significant at all, education must be seen as a negative factor relative to Bishmizzine emigration to Latin America. Only a small number of those who went to Latin America had completed a high school education in Lebanon, none are known to have been educated beyond high school, and there is no evidence that any of them emigrated to Latin America to further their education.

It is noteworthy that more Bishmizzinis emigrated to Latin America than to the United States and Australia combined prior to the Second World War. Since that war, however, the Bishmizzine community in Latin America has clearly been on the decline. Most of the Bishmizizne emigrants who went to Latin America have either returned to Lebanon, emigrated elsewhere, or died, and only 28 new emigrants have joined these communities since the Second World War. Furthermore, very few of the Bishmizzine community who were born in Latin America speak Arabic or have visited Lebanon. Thus, while the number of those in Latin America who could trace their origins to Bishmizzine continues to grow, their identity with Bishmizzine has become progressively weaker.


Bishmizzine emigration to Australia began about the same time as its emigration to Latin America. Most emigration to Latin America, however, occurred before the second World War, while most emigration to Australia took place after the war. The first Bishmizzini is believed to have entered Australia in 1887. At least seven more form the village entered Australia during the 15 years prior to the passage of restrictive legislation in 1901 while another seven came between 1901 and the beginning of the First World War. The inflow thus seemed to maintain a steady though very slow rate. Considering the large number that went to Latin America during that period, coupled with the English language orientation of the village, it is very likely that there was an increased desire to emigrate to Australia which was thwarted by the new legislation.

          The end of the First World War and the lifting of various discriminatory policies made it easier for the Lebanese to enter Australia again. At the time, the Lebanese and, in particular, the Christian Lebanese, were being treated as acceptable though not preferred immigrants. This, combined with the imposition of restrictive quotas in the United States, contributed to an influx of Lebanese into Australia. A small, but increasing flow from Bishmizzine thus began in 1921 and continued until the Depression with a peak between 1924 and 1926.

          From 1929 to 1945, there was a slowdown in Bishmizzine emigration to Australia due first to the Depression and then to the Second World War. There were, in fact, only 16 emigrants from Bishmizzine between 1927 and 1938 and none from 1939 through 1946.

           Australia’s fear of foreign invasion during the Second World War, as well as ambitious post-war plans for economic reconstruction and development gave

rise to the belief that Australia needed to increase its population significantly. In order to achieve this major population expansion, the Australian government gradually dismantled its policy of restricting the immigration of non-Europeans, unofficially known as the ‘White Australia Policy’. The liberalization of its immigration policy, coupled with a post-war economic boom in Australia, led to a major resurgence of Bishmizzine immigration from 1948 through 1957. One significant development during this period was the immigration of families for the first time. All prior emigration from the village had been of single, usually young men and women or of brides joining settled emigrants from Lebanon. Beginning in 1948, a ne pattern developed of married men emigrating to Australia, followed after a few months or even a few years by their wives and children. A second pattern also developed during this period of adult children bringing out their parents and siblings, thus transplanting whole families to Australia. After 1957, Bishmizzine emigration to Australia experienced another slow period until 1967, with only a brief upturn in 1960. This was followed by the last large influx from 1968 through 1972. Between 1945 and 1975 at least 111 Bishmizzinis emigrated to Australia, considerably more than emigrated to the United States during that same period.

          After 1975, a variety of special concessions were made by the Australian government to ease immigration policies for the Lebanese due to the troubles in Lebanon. It has been estimated that as a result, in just over two years, between 1975 and 1978, the Lebanese population in Australia almost doubled.[3]

Bishmizzine’s location in northern Lebanon and its relative lack of involvement in actual fighting have saved it form the destruction and severe human dislocation suffered by so many other villages in Lebanon. Furthermore, opportunities in both the United States and the Middle East have accommodated most of those who have wished to emigrate since 1975.


In considering why Bishmizzine immigration into Australia did not become significant until after the Second World War, immigration restrictions are only part of the answer, at the beginning of Bishmizzine’s emigration history

there was little opportunity for Bishmizzinis to acquire information about Australia. There was no Australian missionary movement in Leabno comparable to that of the American Protestants, and Australia was too far from the United States to serve, like Latin America, as a repository for those rejected at Ellis Island, the primary gateway to/into the U.S. Some Lebanese, however, did become aware of the expansion of opportunities in Australia resulting from the gold-rush there between 1860 and 1900, and they in turn motivated others to emigrate to Australia through correspondence and return visits.

          Later, interest in Australia increased through personal contact with Australians. Lebanon was used during the war as a rest and recuperation centre for armies of the Allied Forces. Among them were soldiers of the British Commonwealth. The Bishmizzinis felt a special affinity to the Australians stationed within and around the village partly because of the Bishmizzinis who had already emigrated to Australia. In addition, the villagers appreciated the Australians who, more than any of the other soldiers, generously shared supplies with the villagers and treated them with warmth and friendship. Two Bishmizzinis were, in fact, sponsored by Australian soldiers who were stationed in the Kurah District during the Second World War.


Pursuit of higher education has not played a prominent role in emigration to Australia. Over the hundred years of Bishmizzine emigration to Australia not one person from the village initially went there to pursue an education centre, Lebanon has not looked with awe at the Australian educational system. One young man studying at Bishmizzine High School in the 1960s did write to his aunt in Sydney suggesting that he would like to finish his high school education and continue on to college there. His aunt’s response was that ‘Australia is a place to work, not to get an education.’ A new trend, however, may be emerging. During the 1908s, four Bishmizzinis (two pairs of brothers) went to Australia to attend college. Their families had previously emigrated to Australia and then returned to Lebanon. As returning Australian citizens, these Bishmizzinis are entitled to a free college education as long as they are academically qualified.

          Despite this new development, the Bishmizzinis generally perceive Australia as a working-class society – a place where those with little education are not only eligible to emigrate but can become success stories. It is viewed as a place appropriate for those who aspire to work in or own shops and factories, but not a place for professionals or scholars. Many of the early Bishmizzini immigrants in Australia completed the little education that was available in Bishmizzine t the time that they were students and some furthered their education outside the village. Nevertheless, most Bishmizzinis who have emigrated to Australia never completed high school and many had less than six years of education upon arrival. A few furthered their education in Lebanon in order to increase their chances of being accept as immigrants in Australia, but in all of these cases the education was in trade skills – typing, tailoring, hairdressing, electrical work and carpentry.

          No one who has emigrated to Australia from Bishmizzine has held a graduate degree while only six are known to have had any education beyond high school, three of whom completed their undergraduate education. None of the six furthered their education in Australia or pursued a professional or academic career.

Saudi Arabia

Lebanese immigration within the Arab world, unlike its immigration elsewhere, has been primarily based on the immigrations’ higher educational attainment relative to the indigenous population, as well as their extensive experience as entrepreneurs. A small number of Bishmizzinis have settled permanently in Arab countries, notably Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Iraq. Far larger numbers have engaged in temporary labour migration, a tern used here for the broad category of people who temporarily join another country’s laour force, whether as professionals or non-professionals, employees or entrepreneurs. Most of this labour migration from Bishmizzine has been to Saudi Arabia.

          Oil was discovered in Saudi Arabia in commercial quantities in 1938, but it was not until the end of the Second World War that this discovery began to have a significant impact on the development of the country. The first Bishmizzini to work on the Arabian Peninsula was a single medical doctor who went to Saudi Arabia in 1952 to work as part of the medical support services for ARAMCO (the Arab American Oil Company). He was followed in 1957 by a single woman from Bishmizzine who worked as a nurse at a pipeline station.

          Government oil revenues in Saudi Arabia began to increase in the 1960s, and skyrocketed in the 1970s through nationalization of the oil industry and a dramatic rise in oil prices on the world market. These developments provided revenues to finance increasingly ambitious development programmes which, in turn, required an ever larger foreign labour force. The Lebanese who

joined this foreign labour force have demanded greater remuneration in general than most other Arab nationals with comparable qualifications due to the higher standard of living in Lebanon and the other options available to them, including emigration. As a result, they have in many cases priced themselves out of the Gulf labour market. This is especially true of the less educated and unskilled Lebanese.

          Most Bishmizzinis who have joined the Saudi labour force have thus been professionals, entrepreneurs, or fairly high-level, skilled workers. Many are independent entrepreneurs or hold managerial positions in government departments or private businesses where they make decisions pertaining to personnel. These Bishmizzinis have in some cases arranged for the employment of unskilled or minimally skilled workers from the village, particularly during the construction boom of the mid-1970s. While these people have usually been paid better than their skills alone would warrant, the benefit to their patron has generally been in the form of greater loyalty and productivity on the job, as well as greater status and reciprocal favours within the village network. At least 118 Bishmizzinis have worked in Saudi Arabia, most of these during the development boom of the mid-1970s. Only 33 adult Bishmizzinis were living there in 1987.

          The Bishmizzinis in Saudi Arabia have gradually evolved from a large community of single males of working age to a smaller but more normally structured population, a process known as demographic settling. There has become a greater balance of females and of young children, as single males have over time returned to Lebanon and either remained there or brought brides back to Saudi Arabia. Due to Saudi policies and the high cost of living, there is a notable absence of old people and dependent children over the age of 14.


In considering the characteristics of Bishmizzinis in Saudi Arabia, education is particularly important. Most of the males who have been long-term residents have entered the Kingdom with Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees, mostly in engineering. However, some of the Bishmizzinis who came during the development boom of the mid-1970s had not completed high school. Few if any of these remain there. Only one Bishmizzini who worked in Saudi Arabia had a Ph.D. There have also been a number of medical doctors, both male and female. With regard to Bishmizzine women in Saudi Arabia, those who came to work have all held university degrees I education or medicine while those who have come as dependants vary widely in their level of education.

          Because of Saudi restrictions on naturalization and residency, virtually all Bishmizzinis have gone there on a temporary basis. They have chosen the Saudi option despite the fact that it is a situation in which they have little, if any, job security and where social interaction with the indigenous population is almost nonexistent. They have had to live, at least publicly, according to a highly restrictive social code. Their wives cannot drive and, with few exceptions, cannot work while their families often cannot participate in public activities together because of gender segregation. Furthermore, the options for the education of their children are generally considered unsatisfactory. The Bishmizzinis in Saudi Arabia are not poor or uneducated people like most of the guest workers in Europe and the United States, desperate to earn money for their families’ survival. Why then are these circumstances tolerable?

          First and foremost, these Bishmizzinis are able to earn much more money in Saudi Arabia than they would almost anywhere else. Many have contracts with generous provisions for housing, cars, education for their children and other amenities. Thus they have the opportunity to accumulate substantial savings to buy land, build or remodel homes, or invest in business enterprises in Lebanon or elsewhere.

          Living in Saudi Arabia not only pays well but has also provided Bishmizzinis with a place to wait out the troubles in Lebanon. The conflict started in 1975, soon after the development boom began on the Arabian Peninsula. Many who wanted to escape the instability, personal insecurity and accompanying unemployment in Lebanon, found Saudi Arabia a welcome refuge. They calculated that they would earn money while others fought and would return when stability was restored, although the conflict, unfortunately, outlasted the development boom.

          The Saudi option also provides a place for Bishmizzinis to wait out the application process to emigrate elsewhere. One Bishmizzine family explained in 1987 that their applications for permanent residency in the United States (through the wife’s sister) had already been approved, but that it would take about five years for their applications to be processed. This is because there were enough people ahead of them to fill the quota assigned to their application category for five more years. Another Bishmizzine family was waiting for the wife’s brother to become an American citizen so that he could qualify to sponsor them. There were others who anticipated an even longer wait. As noted earlier, a number of people working in Saudi Arabia have travelled to the United States on visitor’s visas near the end of the wife’s pregnancy so that the child would be born a US citizen and be able to sponsor them at the age of 21 barring any significant change in immigration policies.

          Another reason given by Bishmizzinis for their sojourn on the Arabian Peninsula is that in some cases it improved their eligibility to emigrate elsewhere. A number of Bishmizzinis in the Easter Province of Saudi Arabia have attended meetings held to attract Lebanese to Canada. The Canadian government calculates that these people have already been screened politically and morally by the Saudi government; they are educated and have transferable skills; many speak English; and they have significant sums of money to invest in their new country.

          Some Bishmizzinis actually prefer the Saudi option over emigrating to the United States, Canada, Australia or elsewhere because it is close to home. Despite the Troubles in Lebanon, Bishmizzine has been relatively secure and generally accessible. Some who live in Saudi Arabia visit the village two or three times a year, and many spend their summers there, enjoying the temperate weather, the abundant social life and the opportunity to visit parents and other relative without having to worry about Lebanon’s high inflation rate, since they come with foreign currency.

          Finally, some Bishmizzinis in Saudi Arabia have come to prefer the lifestyle there over available alternative in Lebanon or elsewhere. One person from Bishmizzine who had resettled his family in the village fond the inadequate roads, sporadic electrical supply, haggling for money, and incessant war sounds intolerable and returned with his family to Saudi Arabia. Other have become accustomed to a very extravagant lifestyle in Saudi Arabia, including nannies an other domestic servants, and are not enthusiastic about the possibility that they might have to give up much of this lifestyle in Saudi Arabia, including nannies and other domestic servants, and are not enthusiastic about the possibility that they might have to give up much of this if they return to Lebanon or emigrate elsewhere. One Bishmizzini disdained settling among relatives in Australia, viewing Bishmizzine emigrants there as uneducated and uncultured. Another Bishmizzini opposes emigration to the United States because he feels that work is too programmed and social life lacks intimacy. Yet another expressed concern about the effects on his children of exposure to such problems as drugs and homosexuality if he emigrates to the Unites States.         

          There are thus many reasons why people from Bishmizzine have chosen to live in Saudi Arabia. Many of them say that they would like to stay there as long as they can. Nevertheless, they are acutely aware of the insecurity of their situation and thus employ a variety of strategies to face their future.

The dispersion of Bishmizzine emigrants

For most Bishmizzinis included in this study, the initial decision to emigrate was a short-range decision was not perceived as a commitment to settle

permanently abroad. This has been true throughout the hundred years under study regardless of the destination. The dream which Bishmizzinis carried with them as they left the country was to accumulate the wealth or acquire the education to return and live well in Lebanon. In reality, however, few actually returned to stay. While the dream has changed very little, this study has reveled that the actual dispersion pattern has changed considerably over time.

          The United States has been the only destination that has consistently been a major recipient of Bishmizzine emigrants. More Bishmizzinis went to the US than anywhere else before the First World War, but this position of prominence was usurped by Latin America between the First and Second World Wars due largely to restrictions on immigration into the United States. The magnitude of emigration to Latin America was such that by World War II more Bishmizzinis had settled in Latin America than in the United States and Australia combined. Since the war, however, Latin America has received only a trickle of Bishmizzine emigrants, replaced by Australia as the primary alternative to the United States at least until the 1970s. since then most Bishmizzinis have left Lebanon for the Arabian Peninsula or the United States, seeking whatever degree of permanency their circumstances can provide. It is noteworthy that only a very small number Bishmizzinis have followed the many other Lebanese who have settled in Europe or in Africa.

Work, education and marriage

The study of emigration from Bishmizzine has revealed an important relationship between migration and three other issue – work, education and marriage – whose significance has varied with the different destinations of Bishmizzine emigrants.


Among the pre-Second World War Bishmizzine emigrants, whether to the United States, Latin America or Australia, the overwhelming majority of males, as well as most unmarried females, emigrated for work regardless of destination. With few skills, little or no capital and usually a minimal knowledge of the language, they generally began as pedlars, with a smaller number engaged as domestic help or as employees in retail stores and factories. Many of the women emigrated as brides of earlier emigrants.

          The pattern of work diverged significantly between the different destinations only after restrictive immigration policies were imposed. In the

United States, those who have qualified for immigrant status through their work, have had to do so on the basis of exceptional skills to prevent them form displacing Americans from limited employment opportunities. Some have established small business – gas stations, stores and small-scales restaurants – either instead of or after finishing a degree. An even more recent trend has been to enter the United States on a visitor or transit visa and then work as an illegal alien in the United States, generally in businesses owned by other Lebanese.

          The work pattern of Bishmizzinis in Australia has changed little since the 1920s. Peddling had by then ended and most Bishmizzinis were working in factories, owning small businesses, or serving as employees of others. A small number of Bishmizzinis are currently supported or partially subsidized by the extensive social welfare system in Australia or by workman’s compensation, and an even smaller number have become financially very successful, as owners of factories or other businesses. The work pattern for Latin America before the Second World War is comparable to that of Australia. Since then, political and economic difficulties as well as language barriers essentially ended the flow of Bishmizzine emigrants.

          In the case of Saudi Arabia, virtually all of the Bishmizzinis who have gone there have done so far work, either as labour migrants or the dependants of labour migrants. Most of these have been professionals, but village patronage made it possible for many unskilled and minimally educated Bishmizzinis also to work there during the mid-1970s. These emigrants share much in common with earlier Bishmizzine emigrants who went to the United States, Latin America and Australia before the Second World War, intending to earn money and return to Lebanon. The main difference is that those in Saudi Arabia do not have the option of permanent settlement although many have stayed there longer than some of their fellow villagers who went to the United States, Latin America and Australia.


The issue of education is significant to Bishmizzine migration in a number of ways. First, education has affected village attitudes and perceptions. It has contributed to expanding the horizons of village, making people more aware of and interested in the world beyond and alienating them from the village. It has affected the migration preferences of Bishmizzinis leading the more educated villagers to prefer the United States. Education has served as the initial cause for many Bishmizzinis to venture abroad, again favouring the United States because of the American orientation of Bishmizzine education.

Education has also served to qualify many Bishmizzinis for permanent immigration status in the United States and Australia particularly in cases where a literacy test or similar policies have been imposed. And in the United States education ha given preferential status to those with advanced education and professional skills who seek residency through their work. In contrast, there is no evidence that education ever played a significant role in qualifying Bishmizzinis for immigration into Latin America. In the case of Saudi Arabia, education has been very important in qualifying Bishmizzinis for employment but has been of no value in securing permanent residence.


Marriage has also been an important factor in Bishmizzine emigration. Prior to the imposition of immigration restrictions, the relationship between marriage and migration followed a similar pattern in the United States, Latin America, and Australia. The earliest Lebanese emigrants were primarily young, single males. The preference for sectarian and, to a less extent, village endogamy led many of them to return to Lebanon, marry women from their own or nearby villages, and return to their host country with their new brides.

          In all the countries under study, Bishmizzine women who emigrated during the early period generally did so under the auspices of others – as newly married wives of established emigrants or as prospective brides. Those who came single generally married within the Lebanese community shortly after arrival. In all of the immigrant countries marriage has served to expand the individual’s opportunities for immigration through joining two families’ international networks.

          Marriage has also made it possible for some to qualify for immigration that otherwise would have been rejected. In the United States, the imposition of a literacy test in 1917 ended the free flow of Lebanese immigrants into the United States, but wives were exempt from the test. Further restrictions in the 1920s all but eliminated Lebanese immigration, leaving very few avenues for Lebanese to enter the ultimately to qualify for permanent residence. The strongest case for qualifying for permanent residence in the United States has, since then, been as the parents, spouse, or child of an adult citizen or permanent resident. Marriage has thus provided the only acquired relationship by which the individual can be sure to qualify. It is this fact which has led to the arrangement of pseudo-marriages. It is notable that such pseudo-marriages do not occur at all in Australia. Unlike in the United States, it is still common for Bishmizzine women to immigrate into Australia through marriage to naturalized Australians who had returned to Lebanon on visits, sometimes visits whose expressed purpose was to find a wife. This study, however, did not reveal a single case in which a Bishmizzini in Australia entered the country without an immigrant visa and married in order to obtain immigrant status. With very few exceptions, Bishmizzinis who have entered Australia have done so with immigrant visas in hand.

          Marriage is also of significance in terms of immigration into Saudi Arabia. Single men appear to have been preferred, while single women have only been allowed in a few restricted professions. Almost al of those working in Saudi Arabia have returned to Lebanon to marry, but only the men have brought their spouses back with them.

The global village

This study has traced the dispersion from one village over time in order to understand the various factors contributing to that dispersion. In the process, it has uncovered a vast international network of people in over 40 different countries who share a common village heritage. What, then, is Bishmizzine? This is no longer a village in the traditional sense: a community with geographical boundaries or social boundaries reflected in some degree of geographical proximity. Bishmizzine is at one and the same time a highly bounded village, as reflected in the official land survey map, and a completely unbounded village whose dimensions encompass the whole glove – hence, the term global village. Through emigration, the people of Bishmizzine have had access to many educational, social, cultural, and financial opportunities. Emigration has allowed the people of Bishmizzine to view the whole world as their community, with friends and relatives in many different countries and continents. Distance, however, has necessarily diluted the social intimacy of its people. As one Bishmizzini lamented: ‘We have been afflicted with too many advantages, but the worst of them is Migration.

From the book:Lebanese in the world, a century of emigration.

[1]  Afif Tannous, ‘Trends of social and cultural change in Bishmizzeen’, unpublished Ph. D. thesis in rural sociology, Cornell University, 1940, p. 208.

[2]  Clark S. Knowlton, ‘Spatial and social mobility of the Syrians and Lebanese in the city of Sao Paulo, Brazil’, unpublished Ph.D. thesis in sociology, Vanderbilt University, 1955, pp. 48-50.

[3]  Michael Humphrey and Steven Hausfeld, Family, Work and Unemployment: a Study of Lebanese Settlement in Sydney (Department of Immigratino and Ethnic Affairs, Canberra, 1984), p. 6. 

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