by Boo Chanco – The Philippine Star, 15 Dec 2021
Many of our young people dream of working abroad. Indeed, many cannot wait to go abroad. They have seen their parents go abroad to support their families. They know how tough it is to get a good paying job at home.
It may soon be easier to realize that dream. An interesting article in the New York Times reports that many developed countries are facing labor shortages brought about by an aging population and declining birth rates.
COVID’s disruptions have also pushed many people in developed countries to retire, resign or just not return to work. Rapidly aging rich nations are not producing enough new workers, while countries with a surplus of young people are often unable to provide employment for all.
As a result the New York Times reports a race is on to recruit, train, and integrate skilled foreigners with fast-track visas and promises of permanent residency.
Come to think of it, Germany’s Angela Merkle’s decision to accept about a million refugees must have been driven not just by humanitarian considerations, but a practical response to a worker shortage.
Germany, NYT reports, with its vaunted vocational system, with strict certifications and at-work training, is increasingly short-handed. Germany’s new Immigration Act accelerated the recognition process for foreign professional qualifications.
According to the NYT, German officials have recently warned that “the country needs 400,000 new immigrants a year to fill jobs in fields ranging from academia to air-conditioning…
“Immigrants have become a stopgap. Around 1.8 million people with a refugee background live in Germany as of three years ago. And over time, the country has tried to improve how it integrates both asylum seekers and foreigners with work visas.”
So Germany is training foreign workers in classrooms and work spaces to be professional hairdressers, electricians, carpenters, welders, painters, plant mechanics, cutting machine operators and custodial engineers, NYT reports.
Here is how other countries are reacting to their worker shortage according to the Times:
Canada plans to give residency to 1.2 million new immigrants by 2023.
Israel recently finalized a deal to bring healthcare workers from Nepal. Israel has expanded its bilateral agreements for health workers. Inbal Mashash, director of the Israeli government’s program for managing foreign labor, noted that there were currently 56,000 immigrants, mostly from Asia, working in the country’s nursing care sector, and that may not be enough.
In Australia, where mines, hospitals and pubs are all short-handed after nearly two years with a closed border, the government intends to roughly double the number of immigrants it allows into the country over the next year.
Belgium, Finland, and Greece, granted work rights to foreigners who had arrived on student or other visas.
New Zealand extended temporary work visas indefinitely.
In Japan, a country with a declining and aging population that has long resisted immigration, it has offered pathways to residency for aged-care, agriculture, and construction workers two years ago. A Japanese official said the government was also looking to let other workers on five-year visas stay indefinitely and bring their families.
In the United States, the US Chamber of Commerce has urged policymakers to overhaul the immigration system to allow more work visas and green cards.
In Britain, a survey of 5,700 companies in June found that 70 percent had struggled to hire new employees.
The NYT noted that these developments described in a new O.E.C.D report on the global migration outlook – amounted to early warnings of labor market desperation. Humanitarian concerns seemed to combine with administrative uncertainty.
The Times reports that in advanced economies, the immigration measures being deployed to attract foreign workers include “lowering barriers to entry for qualified immigrants, digitizing visas to reduce paperwork, increasing salary requirements to reduce exploitation and wage suppression, and promising a route to permanent status for workers most in demand.”
Of course for countries like ours where immigrants often come from, the drive to attract more skilled migrants poses the risk of a brain drain. But it also offers the young and frustrated a release valve for what our economy cannot provide in terms of good paying jobs.
Exporting our people has been in place for decades now. What started as a temporary program to absorb the unemployed and underemployed is now one of the two pillars of our economy.
This reported increased openness of the West to foreign workers opens up the need to make up our minds on the right and consistent approach. We can’t change the rules on the spur of the moment.
For instance, our government cannot just stop our health workers, specially those with signed contracts, from leaving the country just because we need them. As it happened, few of those prevented from leaving ended up working in our hospitals during the pandemic.
Better regulation of maritime schools and other institutions training our exportable labor force is required. Sending poorly trained workers abroad weakens our brand.
Because a large part of our labor force have not been sufficiently educated and trained, they are forced to take lower paying jobs that are often subject to abuse. We need to work with foreign governments to help train workers prior to deployment, like what Japan is doing now.
While the possibility of sending more OFWs abroad may sound good for our economy, losing our best and brightest to foreign markets will also slow down our economic development. If only we can export our politicians there will be no loss, but there is no market for non recyclable trash.
Our doctors, nurses, engineers, accountants are badly needed here. But we can’t force them to stay home when there is better personal career fulfillment abroad. At some point, our job market will have to compete internationally.
The way it looks, the Filipino diaspora will only get larger in the years ahead. What that means for the future of our country is something that we must think about. We don’t have a choice because individual decisions to improve the quality of one’s life is a right every Filipino has.