RP nurses seen as prime export commodity

By Nora O. Gamolo – For decades, nurses have been among the most exportable of Filipino professionals.

Starting in the late 1950s, nurses sought work in the United States, which remains a major job destination for them. In the 1960s, they trained their sights on Canada. From later that decade to the present, they have been seeking employment in various countries of the Middle East, particularly in Saudi Arabia and Libya. In the 1990s, they also started going to the United Kingdom in droves.

Now, nurses are among those envisioned to be exported to Japan. In fact, one of the most pressing considerations for the ratification of the controversial Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA) is the possibility for Filipino nurses to enter this labor-stringent country.

In 2007, more than 21,000 new Filipino nurses sought US jobs, according to the country’s biggest labor federation, the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines.

Trade Union spokesman Alex Aguilar said a total of 21,499 Filipinos took the US National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) for nurses for the first time—that is, excluding repeaters—from January to December 2007.

This represents an increase of 6,328 or 42 percent compared to 2006, when 15,171 Filipinos took the NCLEX for the first time.

He said the 2007 NCLEX statistics, released on January 24 by the US National Council of State Boards of Nursing, “solidified” the Philippines’ position as America’s top supplier of foreign nurses.

In 2007, the Philippines readily topped the five countries with the most number of nationals taking the NCLEX for the first time. India came second, with 5,370 examinees; followed by South Korea, 1,906; Canada, 888; and Cuba, 673.

Passing the NCLEX is usually the final step in the nurse licensure process in the US. Thus, the number of people taking the examination is a reliable indicator of how many new US-educated and foreign-trained nurses are trying to enter the profession in the US.

The Trade Union has been pushing for the deployment of surplus nurses and other highly skilled workers to lucrative job markets overseas, rather than the overseas deployment of unskilled workers such as domestic helpers whose “skills are easily replaceable” and “far more susceptible to employer abuse,” Aguilar said.

Filipino nurses looking for greener pastures could definitely count on greater employment opportunities in the US, where more than 800 new hospitals will be put up until 2012.

Aguilar said some 78 million American baby boomers—those born between 1946 and 1964—now compose 26 percent of the 300-million US population. The oldest baby boomers started turning 60 years old in 2006, he added.

“These seniors and the deluge of migrants from Mexico are creating a huge demand for hospitalization and health care in the US,” Aguilar said.

He played down fears of a brain drain with the continuing deployment of Filipino nurses to overseas labor markets.

Because of the lucrative jobs available overseas, the nursing profession is one of the most popular in the Philippines.

In August 2007, the Professional Regulation Commission admitted to the local nursing profession a total of 31,275 candidates who passed the June 2007 licensure examination. This does not include the thousands of candidates who took the December 2007 nursing eligibility examination.

On top of those who took the December examination, the commission said it expects anywhere from 80,000 to 100,000 nursing graduates to take the June 2008 licensure test.

Meanwhile, the Trade Union has renewed its objection to a bill filed in the House of Representatives that seeks to require nurses who obtained government-subsidized schooling to render at least two years of compulsory local service before they can leave for overseas employment.

The bill seeks to obligate nursing graduates of state colleges and universities to perform 24 months of service here before they may be lawfully recruited to work abroad. The Trade Union said the bill was “totally counterproductive and uncalled-for,” considering the massive oversupply of nurses in the local labor market.

“We are now producing nurses at a rate of 100,000 to 150,000 every year, and less than 5 percent of them are getting employed locally, either by the government or the private sector. So we definitely have a large surplus of nurses,” he said.

“Our sense is, if we must advance the export of services. We might as well consciously encourage the deployment of highly skilled surplus professionals, such as nurses, who are generally immune from employer mistreatment,” Aguilar said.

Better protection needed

The Trade Union’s position, however, is being belied by the convoluted issues surrounding the Sentosa 27++ nurses. Even highly trained and respected Filipino nurses, among the most sought after, are no longer immune from the issues of mistreatment, if the complaining Sentosa nurses are to be believed.

Leah Primitiva Samco-Paquiz, president of the Philippine Nursing Association, also called for better protection for nurses in the proposed JPEPA, which she charged will only give $400 training allowance to any professional Filipino nurse who hasn’t passed Japan’s stiff nursing licensure examination.

Even those already practicing as professional nurses have to take the examination. Failure to pass it in three years will cause the deportation of the nurse back to the country, Paquiz said.

“It will only ensure a supply of low-paid nurses to Japan,” she added.

She also called for a program for government to streamline recruitment of nurses and assist families of Overseas Filipino Workers in dealing with labor-migration issues, calling attention to the need for a database of all nurses working inside and outside the country to be drawn up to track their welfare.

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