In his 2013 State of the Union Address President Obama hailed a Filipino nurse as a role model.

He said “We should follow the example of a New York City nurse named Menchu Sanchez. When Hurricane Sandy plunged her hospital into darkness, she wasn’t thinking about how her own home was faring…Her mind was on the 20 precious newborns in her care and the rescue plan she devised that kept them all safe.”

Menchu represented all Filipino nurses – skilled, efficient, caring and compassionate. They are highly prized around the world for these outstanding qualities. They speak English, are trained in American-caliber medicine, they are hardworking, and they come from a culture where families take care of their own sick and aging relatives. No wonder they have become a mainstay of many hospitals and nursing homes in the US and other parts of the world. They are recruited in their homeland with perks like free airfare. Some are offered thousands of dollars in bonuses to relocate.

How did we get to this point? 
In the 1900s, Filipinos were sent to the US to be trained as nurses. They were supposed to apply their American training in the Philippines but some stayed in the US  Following the post-World War II economic boom, particularly in the 1960s, waves of Filipino nurses went to America to fill in nurse shortages.

At the turn of this century, the Philippines became the United States’ single largest source of foreign nurses. Filipino nurses made up 50 percent of all foreign nurses. Today, there are 200,000 nurses of Philippine origin in the USA. Outside the US, Saudi Arabia and other countries in the Middle East emerged as popular destinations for nurses in the 1970s.

In the 1990s, as a result of a shrinking market in the US, Filipino nurses, including doctors who re-trained as nurses, began to migrate to Canada, the United Kingdom, Libya, United Arab Emirates, Ireland, Singapore, Kuwait, Qatar, Japan, and Brunei.  From 1992 to 2009, the number of Filipino nurses who made an exodus to these countries reached 160,000, according to the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration. From 2000 to 2008, the US had been replaced by Saudi Arabia as the leading destination of Filipino nurses – with an aggregate total of 53,771; and UK with 14,722; followed by the UAE, Ireland, Singapore, Kuwait, US (with only 2,104), Qatar, Taiwan, and Canada . Today the Philippines is the largest exporter of nurses globally – roughly 25 percent of all overseas nurses worldwide. About 85 percent of employed Filipino nurses work in more than 50 countries.

Why the exodus? Filipino nurses in the US, for example, earn 15 times more than those working in the Philippines. On average, Filipino nurses working abroad earn five times higher than what the average lawyer or CEO makes back home. Filipino nurses working abroad remit about US$1billion – or roughly P44 billion – to the Philippines every year. Along with other professionals and skilled workers in the US, they contribute nearly half of the 80 percent total remittances sent by overseas Filipinos from just 9 countries (namely, US, Canada, UK, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Italy, Germany, and Hong Kong). These remittances make up 13 percent of the Philippines’ Gross Domestic Product (GDP), with the total amount increasing from $20 billion in 2011 to $21 billion in 2012.