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Germany eyes Filipino nurses to ease labor shortage

Nikka Valenzuela
March 14, 2024

Germany is looking to the Philippines to fill its growing health care worker shortage, with plans to recruit more Filipino nurses. Will Germany follow the UK in bringing more Filipino nurses into its health care system?

Filipino nurses walking in a hospital in the Netherlands
Nurses working in national hospitals and agencies in the Philippines earn a fraction of the monthly salary offered abroadImage: Marcel van Hoorn/ANP/IMAGO IMAGES

An expanded and more concrete migration and mobility partnership between the Philippines and Germany was one of the main talking points between German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. when the two leaders met in Berlin on Tuesday.

"The Philippines has a treasure of well-skilled workers," Scholz said in a joint press conference. "This is also relevant for our health sector."

Scholz said labor cooperation with the Southeast Asian nation is an important area for Germany, adding that he wants to make progress here in "a very concrete fashion."

The German chancellor said a "very comprehensive further development" of cooperation in the skilled sector was planned.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz hosts Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. in Berlin
Germany and the Philippines also want to work more closely together on thedevelopment of raw materials and climate actionImage: Sebastian Gollnow/dpa

"We also plan to put this into concrete texts that we can agree on," he added.

Marcos recognized the growing workforce of Filipino health care workers in Germany, adding that the two countries were finalizing talks on deploying more Filipino skilled workers beyond the health sector.

Correcting Germany's labor shortage

The Philippines is an important source of skilled workers for Germany, and remittances from Filipinos living abroad is a crucial source of economic boost in the Philippines.

The Philippines' central bank reported that in 2023, over €573,000 of remittances came from Germany alone.

There are currently around 6,000 Filipino nurses working in Germany — roughly 2,000 of whom migrated through a government-to-government program that prepares and deploys Filipino nurses to German health care facilities.

Between 2030 and 2040, the shortage is expected to be a bigger issue as Germany's aging population needs increased care, according to Wido Geis-Thöne, senior economist at the German Economic Institute.

While Germany is also tapping other countries to fill in the labor shortage across different industries, Geis-Thöne said immigrants from the Philippines are mostly from the crucial health sector.

How does the medical 'brain drain' affect the Philippines?

The Philippines is the world's top supplier of nurses, with a talent pool of 620,000 licensed health care workers who are active in the workforce, some 51% of whom work abroad, according to the Philippine Health Ministry.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, in a previous visit to the Philippines, maintained that the bilateral cooperation would not lead to the loss of talent in the country. 

Filipino nurses in a hospital elevator
Thousands of skilled workers from the Philippines work in Germany and Europe, especially in the nursing sectorImage: Marcel van Hoorn/ANP/IMAGO IMAGES

Despite the sizable number of health care workers in the Philippines, the country struggles with understaffing, which, in 2022, was pegged at 106,000 vacancies for nurses across public and private facilities and hospitals, according to figures from the Health Ministry.

The ministry said there should be one nurse for every 12 patients, but the health care workers' groups said this is far from the reality on the ground.

In many cases, there is only one nurse for every 20 — or sometimes even 40 — patients.

Why are so many Filipino nurses moving abroad?

Germany is just one of the many countries seeking qualified medical workers from abroad to offset its labor shortage.

The National Health Service in the  United Kingdom employs around 40,000 Filipino nurses. Thousands more have migrated to the United States, Australia, Canada and other countries where health care workers receive better wages and working conditions than in the Philippines.

Eleanor Nolasco, president of Filipino Nurses United, said nurses working in national hospitals and agencies in the Philippines earn only 36,000 Philippine pesos (€595/$650) — a fraction of the monthly salary offered abroad.

The pay in the private sector is even lower, Nolasco pointed out, as many nurses receive the minimum wage of around 15,000 pesos.

Nurses also complain of being overworked, clocking in longer hours and tending to unsafe numbers of patients at a time, Alliance of Health Workers president Robert Mendoza told DW

Both groups said low wages as well as a lack of job security and career advancement remain the main reasons why the demoralized workforce chooses to leave home.

Philippines eyes stronger economic cooperation with Germany

Edited by: Keith Walker