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Filipino nurses suffer abuse and exploitation: Filipino nurses--often desperate to work abroad to support their families back home--are easy prey to unscrupulous immigration agencies.

When president of the Wellington-based Philippine Nurses' Society, Josefa Viernes, came to New Zealand in 1998, there were few Filipino nurses working here and most had arrived here under their own steam, as she did. They simply presented their credentials and a record of their nursing experience to the Nursing Council and were able to receive registration in New Zealand. If they could find a job, they were able to stay. "I had family connections here, so they were able to help me with my application," said Viernes, who has worked as a recovery nurse at Wakefield Hospital since 1999. From 2000 on, many more Filipino nurses have arrived, with the Largest numbers now Living in Auckland and Wellington. Up to 150 Filipino nurses work in the Wellington region, and several hundred in Auckland. Many of these nurses have arrived here over the Last five years through the assistance of immigration agencies or international recruitment firms. For a fee of between $10,000 and $15,000, the agent, working in Manila or in the provinces, will arrange the necessary paper work with immigration and the Nursing Council, find a place for the nurse on one of the four to six-week overseas competency courses which run at a number of polytechnics around the country, arrange air fares, find accommodation and secure initial employment in New Zealand.

The Philippine Nurses' Society now deals regularly with complaints from Filipino nurses who feel the agencies have ripped them off. "Many of these nurses are quite desperate to come to New Zealand to work. They are looking for greener pastures, higher wages and the chance to send money back to family members in The Philippines," said Viernes. "Many will borrow the money from relatives or lending institutions to pay the agency fees. They will be quite stressed about leaving and, when presented with documents to sign only one or two days before they are due to leave The Philippines, will sign them without really understanding the implications. Some agencies are paid up to $5000 by rest-home employers to bring in a Filipino nurse to fill a nursing vacancy. Some nurses have found they are bonded for up to three years to work for this employer, when they might prefer to use their nursing skills elsewhere. This can cause a nurse a great deal of frustration."

Although some members of the Philippine Nurses' Society wiLL be nurses brought into New Zealand by agencies, many are discouraged from making contact with other Filipino nurses working here. "It is to the agencies' advantage to keep these nurses separate. Some will even advise nurses to avoid support group Like ours." The Philippine Nurses' Society is presently working on a website that could include information and advice for Filipino nurses wanting to come and work in New Zealand. "We would like to help these nurses, so they can avoid being exploited by immigration agencies."

Registered nurse Rosita Ofalia has been working at Wellington's Hazelwood Elderly Care Rest-home and Hospital for a year now. Her experience with immigration/nursing agencies is typical of many.

Around three years ago, she and her two friends approached an agency in manila that had an office in Auckland. They gave the agent their application fee to attend a nursing competency programme in New Zealand, filled in the necessary papers for entry into the country and waited a year for confirmation of whether they could do the course at the Manukau Institute of Technology.

Having discovered they were not even on the school waiting List, they decided to cut theft Losses and try again with another agency. "The first agent only returned ten percent of the money we had paid him, but we were too stressed to complain and were just desperate to get to New Zealand so we could repay our families and the bank the money we had borrowed from them for our application," said Ofalia.

When Ofalia and her friends contacted the second agency in Manila, their papers were complete--all they needed was to find a nursing school that would accept them into an overseas registered nurse competency programme. Ofalia and her friend decided to combine their remaining money so at Least one of them could get to New Zealand. Their plan was to eventually raise enough money to enable the other to come at a Later date. Ofalia paid the agency $9000. This covered her air fare, school fees at the Western Institute of Technology of under $3000 and one month's accommodation in New Plymouth. With a quarter of the total costs still outstanding, an agreement was made for Ofalia to pay the agent $50 a fortnight from her wages in New Zealand in order to repay the full costs. However, the agent demanded more, and when Ofalia refused, she held onto her passport, nursing certificate and immigration papers, refusing to return them for over two months and delaying applying for Ofalia's permanent work permit. Ofalia also asked for a statement of account, but did not receive one. It took fetters from the Wellington Law Centre and The Philippines Embassy to finally persuade the agent to return Ofalia's papers to her.

Ofalia had saved around $200 as pocket money to use while attending the nursing course. But the agent had taken this money and the unused return air ticket from her and then refused to return them. This meant Ofalia had no money for transport or other expenses while doing the course. She was forced to borrow money from a classmate or to walk over an hour to get home at the end of the school day. She did not share these problems with her family in Manila, as they had already helped her as much as they could and she did not want to worry them. Despite these problems, Ofalia, who had already had ten years' registered nurse experience, found the four-week course helpful, particularly in orientating her to the New Zealand nursing system and culture.

The agent had found Ofalia a position at Hazelwood. Fortunately, her friend's sister lived in Wellington and was able to give her free accommodation and free food while she established herself in the new job and in a new city.

If the agent had reimbursed her for her return airfare as she should have, many of Ofalia's financial difficulties would have been Lessened. Ofalia also discovered she was more or less bonded to work at Haze[wood for at least a year. This was because the hospital had paid a "finder's fee" of $5000 to the agent. However, investigation by NZNO showed there was no formal bonding arrangement between Ofalia and her employer. Since beginning work at Hazelwood, Ofalia has been able to assist her third friend get to New Zealand, helping with her air fare and school fees. The two nurses now share a flat in Wellington and are working hard to repay the debts left behind in Manila.

Ofalia has met several other Filipino nurses who have also felt abused and exploited by recruitment agents. She has even heard of nurses who have committed suicide as a result of the stresses they had been under. "But we have to be tough; we have to survive. Life in The Philippines is not easy either, especially when you are expected to support your families on wages that are only a quarter of the New Zealand nursing wage. The cost of living in the Philippines is too high. Only those who have family abroad remitting money home are able to afford the basics of life."

Ofalia is enjoying living in New Zealand and finds the people polite. She enjoys the cooler climate, the Lack of congestion and pollution, the hills and vegetation. Ideally she would like to stay here, but in order to support her family, she may need to move to another country in order to earn higher wages.

Her advice to other Filipino nurses wanting to come to New Zealand is to check the reputation of the agent they are considering joining. This can be done through the Philippines Overseas Employment Agency who can check whether the agent is registered. Neither of the agents she paid money to were registered with this body. She also recommends that nurses ask for a formal contract and an official receipt for any money paid. "There are some agencies in The Philippines that you can trust and who will give good support and advice, but many others will take advantage of nurses wanting to work abroad. You need to make sure you have a proper contract. A verbal or written agreement is not enough, as this won't give you Legal protection. "Nurses should also do their own research. Check directly with the nursing school as to whether your name is really on the waiting List. If you find yourself in difficulties, look for a support group like the Philippine Nurses' Society and join NZNO who can clarify your rights and the nature of your contract. Don't be scared to ask questions or to contact groups Like the Refugee and Migrant Service, the Embassy of the Philippines and the Community Law Centre for advice." Above all, Ofalia advises nurses to hold onto their faith in God. "God will strengthen you and bring you justice in good time," she said.
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mvlarimer@yahoo.com
Maricar Larimer (Member): Thank you! 12/7/2010 11:42 PM

Hi Ofilia I do love your life story about you coming to New zealand to work as a nurse. You are so brave and I salute you for that. Keep up the good work. My sister is a regestered nurse too and she is currently working in saudi Arabia as a nurse and wanting to move from there to another country. Can you give some advice regarding this matter. The hospital where you working at now, are they hiring at this time? Hope to hear from you. My email address: mvlarimer@yahoo.com

Respectfully yours,
Maricar V. larimer

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Author:Manchester, Anne
Publication:Kai Tiaki: Nursing New Zealand
Geographic Code:9PHIL
Date:May 1, 2005
Words:1550
Previous Article:Working with Whanau in the far north: Adrianne Murray is the country's first nurse practitioner to be endorsed in the whanau ora scope of practice....
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