Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

The Global Raiders: Nationalism, Globalization and the South African Brain Drain

Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

The Global Raiders: Nationalism, Globalization and the South African Brain Drain

Article excerpt

"The cycle, as I understand it, is that your city doctors go to the States for richer pickings. And then your rural doctors come here (to urban centers) and our doctors go to your rural areas. And we get Cuban doctors." (2)

In 1998, the provincial government of Alberta, Canada, developed a proactive strategy to deal with the growing shortage of family doctors in rural communities of the province. (3) The government's health ministry retained a private immigration agency to recruit South African doctors. The agency launched a recruiting drive in South Africa with lavish dinners and slick presentations for interested physicians. A chartered jet flew 44 physicians and their families to Canada for a weekend at Lake Louise, one of Canada's premier tourist resorts. The physicians then dispersed to spend some time in the communities, where they were feted and offered considerable financial inducements to come. All subsequently decamped to Alberta, along with another 40 who emigrated under the same program without taking advantage of the recruiter's largesse. The estimated cost of training a South African doctor is $150,000. The Alberta government spent a mere $1.2 million on the recruiting scheme, providing a $10.4 million net gain of medical expertise at South African expense. (4) Organized government-sponsored skills raiding of this kind represents one end of a spectrum of public and private-sector international recruiting activity that targets the skill base of developing countries like South Africa. (5)

The South African government has suggested that the movement of health professionals to other countries is primarily the result of organized skills raiding by other countries. The minister of health noted recently in parliament, for example, that the government would "continue to object vigorously whenever developed countries plunder the meager skills resources of developing countries in organized raids. Countries that systematically under-produce skilled workers because it is cheaper to poach them from poorer countries are guilty of exploitation." (6) In April 2001, the president of the South African Medical Research Council, Dr William Makgoba, visited Canada as an emissary of the South African government to protest against the organized poaching of South African health professionals by Canadian provincial governments. (7)

To the chagrin of Makgoba and his government, the charge that Canada was raiding South Africa's skills base was treated with considerable indifference by his hosts. The main charge was openly admitted; but the blame was often displaced onto either the United States or South Africa itself. As long as Canadian-trained health professionals continue to be poached by the United States, Canada had little alternative but to make up its own shortfall from places like South Africa. Alternatively, as the head of the Canadian Medical Association suggested, the South African government should accept responsibility for not retaining its doctors by making conditions more attractive for them at home. (8) While there has been no repetition of the Alberta recruiting junket, only one Canadian province (Nova Scotia) agreed not to recruit doctors actively in South Africa. Meanwhile, Canadian, Australian and British agencies continue to recruit South African professionals aggressively in the medical, education, IT and commercial sectors.

The strategy of replacement recruiting is central to Canadian policy discourse on skilled immigration. In policy terms, as Don DeVoretz puts it, the idea is to use "rest-of-the-world human capital" to substitute for Canadian flows to the United States. (9) Canada now views the world as a global hunting ground for skills that are in increasingly short supply domestically. (10) New immigration legislation aims to streamline and facilitate the permanent import of skills from abroad. There is little in this public policy discourse that acknowledges that there may be serious negative impacts on the source areas of skilled migrants, particularly in the south. …

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