For years Western countries have taken the most skilled workers as immigrants from the world's poorest nations, thereby helping to perpetuate the poverty in those countries.
This problem was highlighted by Tim Colebatch, the economics editor for The Age in October 2005. Colebatch wrote two important articles (see here and here) in which he set out the considerable evidence that wealthier nations were harming poorer countries by taking their professional workers as immigrants.
- 75% of all graduates from Tonga and Samoa and 62% of all graduates from Fiji have emigrated, mostly to Australia and New Zealand.
- 89% of graduates from the Caribbean have emigrated to Western countries.
- within 10 years of graduating 75% of doctors trained in Ghana had emigrated.
- 91% of surgical posts in Malawi's hospitals were vacant in 2003 because local doctors had emigrated. Only 23% of nursing posts were filled. One hospital with funds to employ 24 surgeons only had one.
- Overall one third of highly qualified Africans live in the West
This year Australia has come under pressure from Pacific nations to open our borders to accept "guest workers". The Pacific nations appear to see this as their economic salvation.
The Government has so far rejected the proposal. I was impressed by the reasons given by the Treasurer, Peter Costello. He has argued that it isn't in either Australia's interests, or those of the Pacific nations, to pursue such a policy.
He wants the Pacific nations to focus on what they need to do at home to develop their economies, rather than relying on the Australian economy. He message was that,
The absence of corruption, the observance of law and order, the recognition of important economic institutions and private property are all critical for development in the Pacific. Until such time as governance is put on a sound footing, then living standards won't rise.
But most significantly he warned of the "expatriate" option for Pacific nations by noting:
... if they keep sending their best and their brightest off to Australia, that's not going to help them long-term. They need their best and their brightest to stay in their own countries.
So finally it's been said! A leading Government figure has taken on board the kind of evidence presented by Tim Colebatch.
Peter Costello, to his credit, is taking a principled and long-term view of the issue. Instead of accepting the idea of the Pacific nations remaining undeveloped, and sending workers off to Australia, he is looking toward the conditions for development in these countries, so that they have a chance to develop toward modern economies of their own.