MANILA, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Jan. 26, 2007) - More than 21,000 new Filipino nurses sought employment in the United States last year and the exodus continue, draining the country of much needed hospital professionals.
The Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP) said a total of 21,499 Filipinos took the US National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) for nurses for the first time -- excluding repeaters -- from January to December 2007.
This represents an increase of 6,328 or 42 percent compared to the 15,171 Filipinos that took the NCLEX for the first time in the whole of 2006, TUCP spokesperson Alex Aguilar, said.
He said the 2007 NCLEX statistics, released Jan. 24 by the US National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN), only shows the Philippines' position as America's top provider of foreign nurses.
Aguilar said the Philippines readily topped the five countries with the most number of nationals taking the NCLEX for the first time in 2007. 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 as well as foreign-trained nurses are trying to enter the profession in the US.
TUCP's disclosure came a day after the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) expressed confidence that global demand for Filipino workers would remain robust despite fears of an economic slump in the US.
Many foreign countries, particularly the developed ones, are still approaching the Philippines wanting to recruit Filipino workers, particularly professionals and other skilled personnel, POEA chief Rosalinda Baldoz said.
"Foreign employers come to us because they are short of capable workers and their nationals refuse to handle the dirty, dangerous and difficult jobs," Baldoz said.
Even in the US, where there are fears of a looming recession, Baldoz said they see a growing demand for nurses as well as temporary workers in hotels.
Buoyed by record high crude oil prices, Middle Eastern countries also need thousands of foreign workers to support heightened economic activity in that part of the world, she added.
The TUCP has been pushing the deployment of surplus nurses and other highly skilled workers to lucrative job markets overseas.
"Our sense is, if we must advance the export of services, we might as well consciously encourage the deployment highly skilled surplus professionals such as nurses, who are generally immune from employer mistreatment," Aguilar said.
He said the government should "purposely discourage" the overseas deployment of unskilled workers such as domestic helpers. "Their skills are easily replaceable. This is why they are undeniably far more susceptible to employer abuse," he added.
Aguilar said Filipino nurses looking for greener pastures could definitely count on greater employment opportunities in the US, where more than 800 new hospitals would be put up until 2012.
He said some 78 million American baby boomers -- those born between 1946 to 1964 -- now comprise 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 pointed out.
Aguilar played down fears of a brain drain with the continuing deployment of Filipino nurses to overseas labor markets.
"We are now producing nurses at a rate of 100,000 to 150,000 every year, and less than five 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.
Just last August, he noted that the Professional Regulation Commission (PRC) admitted to the local nursing profession a total of 31,275 candidates who passed June 2007 licensure examination.
This does not include the thousands of candidates who took the December 2007 nursing eligibility examination, the results of which will be released soon.
On top of those who took the December examination, the PRC earlier said it expects anywhere from 80,000 to 100,000 nursing graduates to take the June 2008 licensure test.
Meanwhile, TUCP renewed its objection to a House bill 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 labor group was referring to a bill that seeks to oblige nursing graduates of state colleges and universities to perform 24 months of mandatory service here before they may be lawfully recruited to work abroad.
Aguilar said the bill was "totally counterproductive and uncalled-for," considering the massive oversupply of nurses in the local labor market.