No brain drain from Filipina nurse migration?

We estimate the effect of skilled migration on educational investment in the country of origin by exploiting the aggressive nurse recruitment policies and subsequent visa restrictions employed by the United States in the 2000s. Using a new administrative dataset combining the universe of permanent migrant departures from the Philippines with the universe of institution-level post-secondary enrollment and graduation, we show that enrollment and graduation in nursing programs increased in response to demand from abroad for nurses. For each new nurse that moved abroad, approximately two more individuals with nursing degrees graduated. The supply of nursing programs increased to accommodate this. New nurses appear to have switched from other degree types. Nurse migration had no impact on either infant or maternal mortality.

That is from a paper by Paulo Abarcar and Caroline Theoharides, via Michael Clemens and Dina D. Pomeranz.


Color me suspicious. Nurses come in different skill levels. Look at programming for an example of what the talented few early innovators can do versus the later multitudes.

So, people who could have been technicians and work in technical fields become nurses, half of them leaving the country and the other half having no effects on health outcome. Good use of scarce resources.

But no brain drain!

The Philippines is one of the few countries where the Catholic ban on contraception seems to be taken seriously, perhaps because Cardinal Sin played a big role in taking down the Marcos kleptocracy in the 1980s. Even the Pope was a little stunned by the birthrate on a visit to the islands a few years ago, and came back muttering about breeding like rabbits.

Filipino nurses who were married and/or had children were not allowed to come to US however Canada for example allowed immigration of married nurses.

I'm not sure that the nurse migration would have much impact on infant or maternal mortality rates. First, as the extract notes, the exodus resulted in increased enrollment -- presumably with a corresponding increase in graduation rate. (There does seem to be a large number of Filipinos seeks that career to me though that is entirely anecdotal.) Second without looking into the relative statistic related to births and related mortality rates controlled by location (urban versus "province") I don't think any conclusion is possible.

In the provinces folk medicine still exists. By this I mean I don't mean the herbal or "eastern" type medicines but what westerns might characterize and believing in magic. Things like not taking a bath for 7 days after giving birth (IIRC the period of time correctly).

"New nurses appear to have switched from other degree types. "

Seems to be brain drain, just not from the nursing field.

Many third world nations have inefficient labor markets (often by design) that don't allow firms the ability to expand enough to absorb such workers. Hence in this case there is no net loss of skilled workers. Also note that as in many other poor countries, unemployment rates are HIGHER the more education a person has.

Yes, I would agree with the inefficient labor markets in the Phillipines. They have masses more underutilized talent than the US or Canada. It would be a brain drain, but it would go unnoticed, with little or no impact on the local economy, other than potentially increasing the general wealth via income flow back to the families in the Phillipines.
The unemployment rate comment I would want to see backup on - sounds fishy to me. Another thought, based on personal observation of 3rd world economies, is that some 3rd world economies WOULD experience a brain drain from such an export of skilled workers. Not because of a lack of basic talent, but because the basic education of the lower economic classes is insufficient to support higher education aspirations in general. And the fault for that is not just in the educational system, but in the culture as well. "It it was good enough for Ma (or Pa), it's good enough for me."

His silence here is telling...

One might suspect that it would actually improve the quality of nurses in the Philippines. Nepal has been exporting soldiers for 200 years, and the military is perhaps the only globally competitive institution in the country.

It seems more likely to me that this is a HARRIS TODARO type effect.

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