By Jerome Aning/Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines—More Filipino nurses are now leaving for the United Kingdom than those going to the United States over the past three years as immigration policies continue to impede demand for foreign nurses in America.
Emmanuel Geslani, a consultant of several Manila-based recruitment agencies, said Filipino nurses were finding it easier to seek employment in the United Kingdom via the study-and-work program introduced by the British health service four years ago.
“Filipino nurses hoping to work in the United States may have to wait five to seven years for H1-B working visas and two to three years for EB-3 immigrant visas before they can enter the US while those interested in improving their academic qualifications can enter the UK under the study-and-work program,” Geslani said.
He cited statistics released by the UK Borders and Immigration Agency showing that the annual average number of Filipino nurses who went to the United Kingdom reached 7,000 from 2007 to 2009.
By contrast, there was an annual average of less than 300 registered Filipino nurses entering the United States from 2003 to 2009 using H1-B work and EB-3 immigration visas, data from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) show.
Among countries, Saudi Arabia has received the biggest number of Filipino nurses, with an average of 8,000 deployed yearly. The POEA figures show a yearly average of 13,000 nurses deployed to various countries including the United States, Geslani said.
“The opening of study programs that include on-the-job training (OJT) for Filipino nurses has been a blessing for the more than 300,000 unemployed licensed nurses in our country, with the glut increasing each year with more than 100,000 graduates each year,” said Geslani, a former vice president of the Federated Association of Manpower Exporters and a recruiter for the past three decades.
The huge number of unemployed licensed nurses in the country has led to a sharp drop in enrollment at nursing schools.
The study-and-work program allows Filipino nursing undergraduates to improve their academic background by studying in a British university for nine months to two years while being deployed to an appropriate work place.
While studying, Filipino nurses are given an opportunity of 15.5 hours OJT with pay. Nursing graduates from overseas are required to work 20 hours a week while taking units to upgrade their skills to British standards.
One international consultancy firm with an office in Manila has a work-and-study program that could send Filipino nurses to the United Kingdom within six months, Geslani said.
Other health workers
The firm offers two-year courses in the United Kingdom for Filipino physical therapists, medical technologists, public health workers and even social workers who would like to enter the British healthcare industry.
A new program allows Filipino nursing graduates an opportunity to study in Britain for an additional year. They will then get a work experience of up to two years and be issued work permits.
Most Filipino nurses in the United Kingdom end up becoming caregivers, as the country is also suffering from a shortage of health workers, according to Geslani.
Filipino caregivers are in demand in Britain because they are better English speakers than their counterparts from European Union countries such as Poland and Romania, he said.
Many Filipino nurses also try to apply to become registered nurses in Britain and get permanent residence status immediately although the entry requirements are much tougher, he added.
Typically, overseas workers in Britain can apply for permanent residence after working there for five years.
Geslani said that while going to the United States was “not entirely hopeless” for aspiring Filipino nurses, getting there was becoming more difficult.
“The US Citizenship and Immigration Service treats the migration of foreign nurses as a border-and-security issue and despite legislation to increase the number of foreign nurses government bureaucratic red tape has failed to find solutions to the lack of nurses in the US healthcare system,” he said.
US hospitals and health institutions are also suffering from funding problems due to the global financial crisis.
US President Barack Obama’s healthcare program augurs well for Filipino nurses because more hospitals and health facilities are to be set up in the following years as the US government implements universal health care, Geslani said.
Call center agents
“The problem is that the implementation just takes too long. Our students and graduates couldn’t wait to work abroad and deployment to the UK seems more promising. We already have many nursing graduates here who are working as call center agents while applying for work in the US,” he told the Inquirer.
Filipino nurses’ interest in going to the US may be actually waning because of the weak demand there. For the first time, there was a drop in Filipino nurses taking the National Council Licensure Examinations (NCLEX).
Only 3,024 took the exam from January to March this year, compared with 4,194 in the same quarter of 2009.
The NCLEX refers to the licensure examination administered by the US National Council of State Boards of Nursing Inc.