Gov’t urged to find migration balance

By Nathaniel R. Melican - BusinessWorld
The Philippines should determine the “optimum level” of migration for different professions to prevent either a shortage or surplus in the country’s human resources.
Such an exercise will benefit both the country and its labor force by ensuring that the economy is well supported and at the same time providing the workers ample opportunity to recover their investments in education, Winfred M. Villamil, dean of the De La Salle University School of Economics, told BusinessWorld in an interview.
Migration for better work abroad is not bad in itself, Mr. Villamil said.
“People who would otherwise not invest in a college degree or in learning a new skill will be encouraged because of the prospect of working abroad and earning more. A certain optimum amount of migration will therefore raise the welfare not only of the migrants but also of the people left behind,” Mr. Villamil said.
But the migration rate must be monitored as an imbalance will have a negative impact, he said.
Mr. Villamil said signs that migration in a particular profession has breached the optimum point is when shortages occur and when average productivity of workers in the profession is declining. Another sign is when there is a surplus of workers in the profession.
Such an imbalance can be observed in the nursing profession, Mr. Villamil said.
“When nursing became in demand abroad and a lot of people were being hired as nurses abroad, you saw all these nursing schools sprout and you see all these people enrolling in nursing schools,” he said, noting that this sudden outflow of nurses temporarily caused a shortage of nurses locally.
“Today, I think we are now experiencing a surplus [of nurses],” he said.
Similarly, the number of Philippine workers in the maritime industry might also be breaching the optimum mark, as the demand abroad is now for more skilled workers.
“In terms of crews for ships, I think the demand is starting to decline.
We are also facing competition from other countries. I think the trend now is more toward the higher skilled level, for people who are going to be officers in ships,” he said.
Mr. Villamil said once the national government determines the optimum level of migration in different sectors, it can encourage people to develop skills in professions where labor supply has not reached the optimum mark, so they can enhance their employment opportunities abroad.
“The government should also think about ways to control migration so that the flow is optimal, but without infringing on the right of people to go where they want to go,” he said.
But Rene E. Ofreneo, professor at the University of the Philippines’ School of Labor and Industrial Relations, is cautious of the promotion of migration, saying this produces a “vicious cycle” that will end in the depletion of the country’s human resources.
“Our dependence on migration drains us of many high-end workers, such as engineers. This will slowly but surely affect the local industry and could even lead to the failure of local industries and even mission-critical services, such as health care,” Mr. Ofreneo said in a telephone interview.
He urged the government to focus on developing the local job market.

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