Migration and Gender

Protecting Male and Female Filipino Nurses Migrating Abroad

When skilled workers can't make enough money at home, many migrate overseas. But without labour laws that protect migrant workers, the dream of working abroad can quickly turn into a nightmare. Women are especially vulnerable to abuse and exploitation, because they often work in sectors where labour law enforcement is weak. But when laws protecting migrants are effective, the dream becomes reality, with a surprising benefit when these workers return home.

Date issued: 22 December 2008 | Size/duration: 00:04:05 (12.1 MB)


The Philippines are famous worldwide for their highly-skilled nurses. Every year thousands of Filipino women and men train for a profession that is increasingly in demand, as the world’s population continues to age.

But the country that produces some of the world’s most skilled nurses can’t pay them what they can earn overseas. Many try their luck working abroad. Most of them migrate to Saudi Arabia, like Fernando Urutia. This experience however is not always easy.

Fernando Urutia, Nurse

I was crying for three months because number one, the language. You know, Saudi Arabia, they speak Arabic.

The exodus of skilled Filipino workers has led to a crisis in the country’s health care, with wider implications for the entire society.

Leah Primitiva Paquiz, Philippine Nurses Association

Now, almost all, many of our matured and experienced nurses are out of the country.

Annie Geron, Public Service Labor Independent Confederation

We’re talking also of families, children growing up without their parents, if both parents are working overseas. And you have a different kind of culture being sort of developed because of migration.

For some migrants, the dream of finding a new life abroad turns into a nightmare of exploitation, abuse, and hopelessness. Women are particularly vulnerable, especially in sectors where there is little protection from national legislation, such as domestic work and agriculture.

Gloria Moreno-Fontes Chammartin, ILO Migration Specialist Geneva

For us, it is very important for example, the issues of migration status – are they going abroad as documented or undocumented? As you know, those who go abroad undocumented are much more vulnerable.

The protection of Filipinos working abroad has been a concern for the Philippines government. For more than 40 years, it has been building bilateral agreements with countries interested in hiring Filipino nurses and other workers.

In partnership with overseas governments, the Philippines Overseas Employment Administration regulates recruitment, contracts and employment in destination countries, especially in Saudi Arabia, the destination of three quarters of Filipino nurses working overseas.

Hans Cacdac, Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA)

I think it’s a model in Asia because as far back as the 1970s…there is a network of administrative protection, a set of guarantees of rights of our migrant workers if and when they do work abroad.

Thanks to the agreements between the two countries, Fernando Urutia got help and support whenever he needed it from the Philippine Embassy in Saudi Arabia and from his own government back home. The rest was up to him.

Fernando Urutia, Nurse

I’ve learned that when going to one country, you have to embrace their culture as well so that you can stay. That’s why, that’s the reason why I stayed in Saudi Arabia for 15 years.

And it turns out the “brain drain” effect of migration isn’t the whole story.

Hans Cacdac, Philippine Overseas Employment Administration

We’re also emphasizing the “brain gain” effect. Which is, some point in time, when these nurses return, they shall have derived a wealth of experience abroad, more talent and more skills, and therefore they may bring it back here to either reinvest and share the talent and skills that they have acquired abroad.

Fernando is proof of migration’s “brain gain.” When he came back home from Saudi Arabia, he got a masters degree, and a job as a professor. Now he is teaching student nurses who want to try their luck working abroad.

Fernando Urutia, Nurse

I want to share my knowledge, I want to share my experiences with these student nurses, because they are the new generation. Nursing is not just like you want to earn dollars. It’s a vocation, it’s a calling.