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[afro-nets] Gates rejects idea brain drain hurts developing nations


  • From: "Claudio Schuftan" <claudio@hcmc.netnam.vn>
  • Date: Wed, 28 Mar 2007 06:34:02 +0700

Gates rejects idea brain drain hurts developing nations
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>From maija.kagis@sympatico.ca

http://www.canada.com/nationalpost/story.html?id=d0b68ad2-42f9-49f0-8f13-e018a5dafe97

Fast track immigrants with skills, Gates urge. He rejects idea brain drain hurts developing nations

Steven Edwards
National Post

Saturday, March 24, 2007

NEW YORK - He's behind the world's biggest charity, which is spending billions to help the developing world lift itself from poverty.

Yet Bill Gates is pushing harder than ever for immigration reform that would allow the United States, the richest country on the planet, to skim off the cream of the few educated workers in developing nations.

At a conference this week in Mexico, the co-founder of the Bill &Melinda Gates Foundation said Washington's immigration laws should give more flexibility to higher-skilled foreign workers.

"I'm a big believer that as much as possible -- and there's obviously political limitations --freedom of migration is a good thing," he said. "I think every country in the world should make it easier for people with high skills to come in."

It's a position he's long held and it's easy to see the advantage for Microsoft, the company he was central in building and which has made him the world's richest man.

Of course, taking measures that would effectively deplete the intellectual resources of fast rising developing countries like China and India may not be a bad thing -- it would enable the West to maintain its competitiveness by giving it a counterbalance to lower operating costs in those countries.

But development economists have long shown that the "brain drain" from poor countries deprives them of the doctors, nurses, teachers and engineers they need to break the cycle of poverty.

Every year, about 20,000 skilled workers leave Africa, the world's poorest continent and a major recipient through health and development work of more than US$13-billion in Gates' largesse since 1994.

Similarly, many of the best and brightest are heading north from Latin America, where the Gates Foundation runs programs like Pro Mujer, which helps provide loans for poor people.

Gates himself rejects the notion that this brain drain impedes development in those countries. When the bright sparks get jobs in the West, he says, the money they send home directly helps people who need it.

"There's this incredible benefit to the country that they come from of the remittances they send back to the country," he said this month in testimony before a U.S. Senate committee hearing on strengthening U.S. competitiveness.

"And that's a huge thing in terms of bootstrapping those economies, letting them send kids back there to school, and having the right nutrition and great things."

Remittances have effectively become an income supplement for the inhabitants of many developing countries. Figures released this week show they exceed direct foreign investment and foreign aid to Latin America, source of most legal and illegal immigrants in the United States today.

According to Inter-American Investment Bank, Latin American migrant workers send more than US$62-billion a year to their families -- and that figure could increase to US$100-billion in four years' time. The money keeps between eight and 10 million families above the poverty line.

But most of it does not come from people who entered the United States on visas for highly skilled immigrants.

In 2000, George Borjas, a Harvard economist, found 63% of immigrants from Mexico -- by far the biggest contributor to U.S. immigration-- had not finished high school. Most of the US$23-billion they sent back was in the form of small monthly remittances, Inter- American Bank says.

Of course, unskilled workers from many other parts of the world find it far more difficult to enter the United States -- and notwithstanding the positive impact of the money they send home, their home countries are arguably worse off for their departure.

A recent UN conference on international migration and development said African countries like Angola, Kenya, Burundi and Mozambique have lost 33% to 55% of their highly educated population to developed countries.

Mary Robinson, a former UN human rights commissioner, says the rich countries must start spending more on training their own people, instead of raiding poor nations.

"It is of utmost importance to stop the brain drain," she said recently.

One of the most affected areas is the health sector.

"In the U.S., where I am currently living, 500,000 nurses and 200,000 doctors are needed by the year 2015," Ms. Robinson said. "Nurses are being imported. The fact of acquiring them cheaply by not having to educate them is unacceptable."

Canada, too, has been guilty of raiding developing world countries for medical staff and not training enough at home.

Gates complained to the Senate committee that scientists and engineers from India and China working for his software firm wait for more than five years to get U.S. permanent resident green cards. Wouldn't his foundation's goals be better served if they stayed put and helped to build their homelands?

--
Claudio Schuftan
mailto:claudio@hcmc.netnam.vn