Editorial | The migration dilemma
We completely understand the frustration of Montego Bay’s Deputy Mayor Richard Vernon. The young politician placed his sentiments on the line during a recent speech when he labelled Jamaicans who flee to greener pastures as “cowards”.
Mr Vernon said, “Only cowards run away to America because they are seeking out opportunity. Opportunities are there overseas, but do not run away and leave your country, especially leaving indefinitely, and you don’t want to contribute to the further development of your country.”
When one considers the migration of child-bearing age females against the background that Jamaica’s fertility rate is declining, there is cause for concern. The development of a country rests heavily on assumptions about fertility, mortality and migration and how they affect the economy, as well as social and cultural growth.
In recent decades, there have been discussions about the ethics of recruiting nurses and teachers from developing countries in a scenario where most of their training is publicly financed. As the argument goes, the migration of these professionals to the developed world translates into a significant public subsidy for wealthy nations. The United Kingdom, the United States and Canada are the greatest beneficiaries.
There is a global shortage of teachers and nurses, fuelled by under-supply and high attrition rates. Developed countries rely on recruitment agencies to help them close the gap. And these agencies have grown in number and appear to be more aggressive in their efforts, often hiring potential recruits on the spot. Career opportunities, especially for teachers and nurses, with prospects of permanent settlement in a First-World country, have lured many families away from the developing world. It is estimated that more than 300 nurses are recruited from the Caribbean each year. One stark result is that those who are left behind are overburdened.
The statistics indicate that the region lost 900 of its 1,199 newly trained nurses to overseas migration between 2001 and 2003. And more than eight per cent of registered nurses and 20 per cent of specialist nurses are recruited from Jamaica annually. One impact of this is that the nurse-to-patient population is severely compromised.
Jamaica and countries like her are losing trained nurses faster than they are being trained. Caribbean countries collectively faced a shortfall of 35 per cent of nurses in 2000.
The salary differential and conditions of work between source and destination country is a definite pull, the expectation of permanent residency, not just for the teacher or nurse, but for their immediate family, is an additional sweetener. Of course, people do have a right to decide where they want to live and work.
The argument is made repeatedly how remittances which flow from migrants, particularly nurses and teachers, boost economic and social conditions in the country. The contribution of remittances to Jamaica’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2021 was an impressive US$3.4 billion. This is a factor not to be ignored but, is the gain from remittances enough to make up for sham-shackle healthcare and a tottering education system?
What are the prospects of addressing this complex problem of training and retaining our nurses and teachers in the foreseeable future? The tongue-lashing such as the one delivered by Deputy Mayor Vernon will not help. It requires sound reasoning to find a solution which will protect workers’ rights to seek out new opportunities while averting the collapse of our health and education systems.
We applaud attempts by Jamaica through the Caribbean Managed Migration Programme initiated in 2001, which brought together international stakeholders in a solution-seeking relationship to find solutions to manage the migration of nurses while safeguarding the interests of all concerned. It’s important to get a sense of whether this approach has been successful.
One model that seems to work is the one developed by Cuban where nurses work all over the developing world under governmental agreements backed by technical support programmes. Is there something in that Cuban model which could be adopted by Jamaica?
Besides, are there non-financial factors such as housing benefits and career development moves which may be seen as favourable and thereby curb migration? After all is said and done, high teacher turnover in the US suggests that things are not as rosy as they seem from afar. Why would satisfied teachers or nurses flee their jobs?