Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts

Volume 2, Number 50              January 26 - February 1, 2003            Quezon City, Philippines

Join the Bulatlat.com mailing list!

Powered by groups.yahoo.com


Brain Drain Refrain
(First of two parts)

A surge in the demand for caregivers and nurses abroad is triggering a new round of out-migration of Filipino professionals. A different kind of ‘brain drain’ is taking place, however. While the country is increasingly losing its highly-skilled nationals, the new migrant professionals end up taking low-end jobs and are deskilled.

By Ely Manalansan 
PMC Reports/Reposted by Bulatlat.com

From the mid-1990s until 2000, the migration of highly skilled professional Filipinos has been recorded to rise from 25 percent to 31 percent. Academics called it the brain drain effect of globalization in Third World countries.

Now, a bonanza of job offers for caregivers and nurses abroad is inducing an escalation of the same phenomenon.

Nurses and even doctors are joining teachers, engineers, accountants, and other highly educated Filipino yuppies in migrating or applying for overseas work en masse.

What is tragic about this is that many who are taking advantage of the rash of job opportunities abroad see this as their only option to have a better future for their family. Even if they end up working in low-end jobs – a demotion from their erstwhile professions.

Alarmed, activists in the health profession have coined a new term for this development: “Brain drain in the south, brain waste in the north.”

Philippine top government officials, however, see nothing wrong with this. The labor and health departments are even instituting mechanisms to enhance the country’s capability to send “globally-competitive” health professionals abroad.

Health Secretary Manuel Dayrit, quoted in an article which appeared at a recent issue of the Health Alliance for Democracy (HEAD) Pulso ng Bayan newsletter, expressed powerlessness over the overwhelming number of health professionals leaving the country to work abroad. But he adds that the Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) should make sure that local nursing graduates be at par with international standards.

The government, through the Technical Education Skills Development Authority (TESDA), is at the forefront of training and exporting caregivers, among others, abroad. Nowadays, officers and staffers at TESDA district offices in Metro Manila have their hands full with almost a hundred accredited plus some 100 more yet unregistered caregiver schools which have sprouted along with an increasing number of professionals applying as caregivers abroad.

TESDA is the government institution mandated to accredit and monitor technical and vocational schools in the country. Caregiver training institutions are among TESDA’s areas of concern.

To make sure that the country meets the standards of foreign employers, TESDA has forged partnership with countries such as Canada that seek to raise the quality of education of Filipino caregivers.

Current rules provide that departing caregivers need to be given a “Special Order” by TESDA prior to having a Certification, Authentication and Verification (CAV) of the six-month caregiver course they took in a TESDA-accredited caregiver training school. Their prospective employers demand the same requirement.

But while Filipino professionals who are taking chances to leave their families for employment abroad may have no other choice given the bleak economic condition in the country, this phenomenon, according to the research director of the IBON Foundation, is likewise “deskilling” the country’s human resources, even as many of them end up “deskilled” in their country of destination.

“Third World professionals are deskilled while Third World countries are ‘deskilled’ or drained of skilled professionals,” Antonio Tujan, Jr., the IBON research director, says.

Wanted: caregivers and nurses

Especially in affluent countries, there is currently a boom in jobs for caregivers and nurses.

Caregiver Jobs Clearinghouse, a US-based website, advertises that 800,000 new caregivers will be needed in the US for the next seven years. At present, it adds, 100,000 positions are available.

Meanwhile, an advertisement is posted through the Philippine health department’s Exchange Visitors Program (EVP) for 500,000 nurses needed for the next five years in the US. Many doctors are said to be undergoing a one-year special course for registered nurses so they could qualify under the program.

The out-migration of nurses and other medical professionals is exacting a toll on the country’s already sub-standard health service, however. A shortage of nurses is threatening to paralyze the operations of public and private hospitals– many of their nursing staff are applying in hordes, unmindful of the work they will leave behind. At the Jose Reyes Memorial and Medical Center, for example, 25 out of 30 working nurses have pending applications abroad.

A report by the Alliance of Health Workers (AHW) reveals that over the last two years, 800 or 17 percent of nurses in 11 hospitals went abroad. This, according to AHW’s national president Emma Manuel, has come to a point where “operating rooms are staffed with novice nurses, and experienced ones often work double shifts.”

Government data puts the number of Filipino registered nurses working abroad at 300,000 – and rising. From January-August this year alone, 7,855 professional nurses left for abroad, according to statistics from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA).

Caregivers who left the country in the first six months of the year, on the other hand, according to underrecorded data of the POEA, shot up to 86 percent. From 465 leaving caregivers POEA documented last year, as of July, 3,388 caregivers left for abroad. This further went up last August to 3,798.

Yet POEA’s statistics, especially of those going to Canada under Canada’s Live-in Caregiver Program (LCP), can be underrecorded. Many young Filipino LCP applicants do not go to the POEA since the recruitment agency they applied with in Canada takes care of their documentation requirements.

Moreover, it was only last year when the POEA started documenting Filipino migrant workers leaving as caregivers. Previously, POEA lumped caregivers together with domestic helpers.

Domestic helpers or domestics are among job categories which were recorded to be among massively deployed Filipino overseas workers, ranking fourth in latest POEA statistics. As of August, 41,597 domestics were deployed overseas.

Caregivers, according to Tujan’s article, “Health Professionals Migration and its Impact on the Philippines,” which appeared in the June 2002 issue of the Asia Pacific Research Network journal, fall under the category of Personal Services Workers which official records place at 104,000.

Global partnership

Why the high demand for caregivers and nurses abroad especially in affluent societies, may be attributed partly to the professional preference of the young population of developed countries, where nursing shortages along with the rise of private home care have been reported. Many youths in these countries loath the idea of training as nurses thus leading hospitals and other medical institutions to hire applicants from abroad.

However, Tujan says, this high demand for caregivers and nurses in developed countries is also being exploited by labor recruitment agencies which charge fees for recruitment services to hospitals and other health-care institutions, including private employers.

“They tie up with job placement agencies that proliferate in many sending countries in Asia to exploit the demand for jobs by charging placement fees for the unemployed and underemployed in such job-starved countries as the Philippines,” writes Tujan.

“This partnership is a phenomenon of globalization, an internationalization of contractual hiring, exploiting even cheaper migrant labor,” he adds.

According to Tujan, this partnership is now a major business where both sending and receiving countries profit from transactions in recruiting migrant labor from third world countries.

He explains: “Private placement agencies in collusion with government amplify by attraction and fulfill the demand for jobs in third world countries and wring the migrant worker of an even greater share of his or her future income, not from the employer, but directly through government placement fees, usury and other forms of exploitation.”

Explaining the exodus of nurses and caregivers from the Philippines, Tujan says this is due to the preference of health insurance companies for cheaper home care than hospitalization. This is one offshoot of the global trend in the privatization of health services, as a result of globalization.

“This results in the increase in the deployment of nurses for home care through manning agencies or as caregivers where their situation is no better than that of domestic help,” he says.

Canada’s LCP: a study in contrast

Nowhere is there a more dramatic surge in migration of Filipino caregivers and nurses as caregivers than in Canada.

From zero POEA-processed deployment last year, the POEA facilitated the overseas employment of 1,389 caregivers to Canada in the first six months of the year.

A staff at the marketing department of the POEA who declined to be named, says the quantity of Filipinos applying for the Canada LCP is just not enough to fill that country’s “enormous demand” for caregivers.

Canada is the only country that has a program specifically tailored for foreign caregivers. Began in 1992, the LCP is the antecedent of Canada’s 1981 Foreign Domestic Program (FDP) where migrant workers from third world countries are lured and given temporary working permits.

Under the LCP, foreign caregivers are given three years to complete a two-year requirement of serving as a caregiver, either in private nursing homes or in residences of rich Canadian citizens. After that, they are allowed to apply for immigration in Canada and seek other jobs or profession.

The LCP, however, has been criticized for keeping many Filipino professionals, especially nurses, under a 24-hour day household work for middle and upper class Canadian families.

Filipino nurses under the LCP are exploited and their development stalled, a classic example of the deskilling happening to Filipino professionals working abroad, declares the Health Alliance for Democracy (HEAD) in an article, “Globalization and the Exodus of Filipino Nurses.”

To date, as many as 300 Filipino nurses who came to Canada under the LCP, and who have been organized by the Filipino Nurses Support Group (FNSG), are slugging it out with Canadian immigration policies in seeking to be registered as nurses – which they are – and allowed to work as such.

In Canada, no point system is in place for the immigration of foreign nurses.

Canada Immigration grants zero occupational points to foreign-trained nurses applying as independent immigrants, says Maita Santiago, formerly from Canada. She now acts as spokesperson of Migrante International, a Philippine-based organization of migrant Filipinos.

Unlike Filipino nurses who came to Canada 30 years ago, Filipino nurses cannot immediately practice their profession. This, says Santiago, forces many foreign nurses to go to Canada as caregivers under the LCP.

After finishing their two-year contract as caregivers, however, Filipino nurses find out that they still cannot practice their profession without undergoing a series of examinations, including possible re-schooling, if they fail the tests or if they have not practiced their profession for the last five years.

Taking these exams or, worse being told to retake a nursing education, costs a lot in Canada, Santiago explains. “And because most of them prioritize their family back in the Philippines or would rather first send for their families to Canada, majority eventually end up becoming permanent caregivers or discriminated as low-wage workers,” she adds.

This is in stark contrast to the acute shortage of nurses in this country where since 1998 hospitals have been reported closing due to a crisis in the supply of professional nurses.

There can be many more Filipino nurses working as caregivers in Canada. In 2000, out of 2,780 people who entered Canada through the LCP that year, more than 2,000 were Filipinos many of them nurses, according to Immigration Canada.

A social problem

AHW’s Manuel comments that the often-recurring brain drain phenomenon along with labor migration “is really a social problem.”

With the average salary of a nurse in the country (at P5,000 a month) 43 times lower than that for a nursing aide in the US (at $18 per hour) or 17 times lower that earned by a caregiver in Ontario, Canada (at $7.85 per hour), it is not hard to understand why Filipino nurses, doctors and other professionals are leaving the country by more than 10,000 annually.

Students in one caregiver school in Manila cite “economic necessity” as the number one reason for seeking caregiving jobs abroad.

“Kapag hindi daw sila nakaalis, hindi makakapag-aral ang mga anak nila” (Their children cannot go to school if they can’t work abroad), says Annie Pardines, one of the owners of a caregiver school in Manila, quoting her students who are mostly breadwinners of their family.

She adds their other students are disgusted over the way things are happening in the country, “with widespread corruption in government and hopelessness that the economy can still improve in the country.” With Miriam Anzurin, PMC Reports/Reposted by Bulatlat.com

Conclusion: Who Profits from the Brain Drain?: The Philippine Labor Export Policy

We want to know what you think of this article.