More Filipino nurses are expected to leave their country as coronavirus border controls relax and hiring becomes more aggressive, putting the Philippines in a difficult position as it deals with its own shortage of health care workers.
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. stated in September that he wants to raise the annual cap on the number of nurses allowed to travel abroad from 7,500 to 10,000, but that the government must also strive to “improve opportunities domestically.”
The cap is a policy that the Philippines implemented in 2020 in order to retain enough nurses to fight the pandemic at home. It has since been eased gradually.
Filipino nurses who are fluent in English are in high demand abroad. According to an advocacy group called Filipino Nurses United and the Health Department, over 310,000 of the Philippines’ more than 910,000 registered nurses were working abroad as of the end of 2021.
Previously, between 13,000 and 22,000 nurses migrated each year to more developed countries such as Australia, the United Kingdom, Germany, Japan, Saudi Arabia, and the United States, where they could earn significantly more.
Following the implementation of the cap, the combined number of nurses seeking employment abroad fell to 16,391 in 2020 and 2021. Despite this, the Health Department reported in September that the Philippines lacked over 100,000 nurses.
According to Melvin Miranda, president of the Philippine Nurses Association, low pay and poor working conditions have been an issue for a long time but became more apparent during the pandemic as hospitals saw a high turnover of nurses.
According to Miranda, Filipino nurses continue to be the lowest paid in Southeast Asia, with a monthly salary of $687, compared to their peers in Vietnam ($1,083) and Singapore ($4,058), according to a 2020 study by data aggregator iPrice Group.
The nurses’ union is attempting to amend the 20-year-old nursing law in order to standardize nurses’ wages and benefits, such as overtime and hazard pay. Miranda stated that the Philippines may not be able to compete with rates in Singapore or the United States, but it must catch up somehow.
“One of the reasons I felt strongly about going to the UK was the pandemic,” she explained. “Because we were understaffed, we worked 16 hours straight while wearing PPE. Because there was no public transportation, some of us were forced to stay in the hospital for weeks. I enjoy what I do, but that was exhausting.”
According to Elnora Villafana, a service recruiter in Manila, Filipino nurses are in high demand in countries with an aging workforce. She expects nurse outflow to increase, as she sees hospitals, particularly in the United States, becoming more competitive by paying for nurses’ licensing exams and dangling immigrant visas.
In the United States, nurses can earn up to $70,000 per year.
An additional year of language training discourages some nurse applicants in countries such as Japan and Germany, according to another recruiter, Marivic Ochoa.
Jan Yago, a junior nursing student and anime fan, is not one of them. He intends to relocate to Japan immediately after completing two years of clinical work experience, which is required in every foreign country.
“The pay (in the Philippines) is quite low,” Yago stated. “I’d like to go to Japan,” he said, “but once I have enough savings to support myself and my family, I’ll return to the Philippines.”
Junior nursing student Jan Yago (C) talks with fellow students in Manila on Oct. 29, 2022. (Kyodo)