Coronavirus disproportionately affects Filipino nurses in the US, Philippines

Details of this blog post came from “Why the US has so many Filipino nurses” by Christina Thornell, VOX June 2020

I have over 20 cousins, relatives and extended family who are nurses or healthcare workers in a critical healthcare setting during this Covid19 pandemic. My family is not an outlier. Many Filipino families like mine face the same outsize proportion of exposure to the pandemic. The Covid19 pandemic laid bare many deep fissures in health care inequality. Filipino nurses have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus in the US. And that’s because they make up an outsize portion of the nursing workforce in the US. About one-third of all foreign-born nurses in the US are Filipino (Vox, June 2020).

The Covid19 pandemic laid bare the ongoing healthcare deficiency in the Philippines and the coronavirus exacerbated the ongoing severe nursing shortage in the islands. The Philippines has a current shortage of 20,000 nurses. To stem the hemorrhaging, the Philippine government enacted a  temporary ban of Filipino health care workers migrating to the US or abroad as a stopgap measure (Manila Bulletin, September 2020). Is it enough to stem the tide? I don’t think so.

The Covid19 pandemic also laid bare that the long-term migration and recruitment of nurses from the Philippines to the US might not be sustainable. The trend of nurses migrating to the US and other countries has been going on for over 50 years (Vox, June 2020). You can trace it further back when the Philippines was a colony of the US. In the early 20th century, the Americans instituted “benevolent assimilation” and established Americanized hospital training system in the Philippines during their colonial rule. This set up laid the foundation of ongoing recruitment and pipeline of nurses migrating from the Philippines to the US (Choy, Empire of Care, 2003). The constant push and pull of migration of Filipino nurses to the US further exploded when the US enacted the Immigration and Naturalization Act (INA) of 1965.

The Covid19 pandemic will someday be over and everything will return to the way it was. So should the status quo of constant migration of Filipino nurses to the US continue? How about the the racial discrimination of Filipino nurses in the US; the ‘glass ceiling’ of  having only lower paying nursing positions of bedside care available to Filipino nurses; the ‘English only’ discriminatory rules; and the lower pay compared to native born nurses?

Both the US and Philippine governments have benefited from exporting nursing labor. The Philippines cannot just stop and turn off the spigot of nursing migration. It needs the remittances these workers send back home. Remittances accounts for more than 10% of the country’s GDP. The Philippines is also the largest exporter of nurses in the world, sending over 20,000 nurses to the US and worldwide every year and the critical care they provide to the US healthcare system is badly needed (Vox, June 2020).

To make a long story short – it’s complicated. At the same time I don’t think the status quo should remain. There must be a better solution to this healthcare inequality both in the US and the Philippines. If this is not solved, the outsize toll on Filipino healthcare workers will continue. My cousins who are nurses and health care workers and generations more of nurses coming through the pipeline will continue to bear the brunt of this health care inequality.

About daleasis

President of the Bayanihan Foundation Worldwide
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