Importing Nurses

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Nathan Newman raises an interesting issue here. Democrats in Congress offered an amendment to the immigration bill currently being debated that would allow an unlimited number of foreign nurses to enter the United States, on the grounds that there’s a nurse shortage in this country.

That sounds like a good idea, but here’s the problem: won’t it cause an even more disastrous nurse shortage in developing countries, perhaps causing collapses in health care systems around the world? That already seems to be the case in the Philippines and India. On the broader issue, the New York Times ran a good piece a while back on the “brain drain” developing countries face when all their skilled workers leave for OECD countries. It can cause “a vicious downward cycle of underdevelopment.” Not good for them, and it’s hard to know what to do. Restrict immigration of skilled workers? Screw the poorer countries?

Now Newman’s solution to the nursing issue seems unexceptionable—train more nurses in the United States, since there are currently more people who want to become nurses than spots in nursing school. On the other hand, for those worried about keeping health care costs down, it’s much cheaper to “outsource” nursing education to the Third World, where education costs are naturally lower. Ideally, perhaps, the United States would do more to help develop the poorer countries that are sending us all their cheap labor, but that would involve more drastic changes than anything being contemplated in Congress right now.

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