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The deliberate seduction of highly skilled individuals away from the most resource-constrained countries in the world to address perceived gaps in the Canadian workforce is morally reprehensible.  Our federal government is boasting profound changes to the immigration system. In a recent interview for the Globe and Mail, Prime Minister Stephen Harper describes a “shift to an activist policy where we define what the immigration needs are that we want, where we actually go out and try and recruit immigrants.”

If the current government believes that this cherry-picking approach to immigration will endear middle-class immigrant voters, they are misinformed about the loyalty that many new Canadians retain to their country of origin. Not only would many new Canadians oppose this kind of queue jumping in the immigration line, neither would they want to see Canada steal away the most valuable resources that are produced in their countries of origin – that is, the human resources.

As physicians, we are particularly concerned with the impact of this new approach to immigration on the physician workforce in countries such as Ethiopia where the physician to population ratio is 100 times lower than that in Canada. The intentional recruitment of physicians, for example, would be a direct violation of the WHO Global Code of Practice on the International Recruitment of Health Personnel which states that “Member States should discourage active recruitment of health personnel from developing countries facing critical shortages of health workers.”

The issue goes far beyond the recruitment of health workers from low- and middle-income countries. Even if Canada were to abandon the specific recruitment of health workers from these countries where they are so sorely needed, it is clear that the poaching of any number of highly trained professionals from resource-limited settings has serious adverse consequences for the development of these nations. Engineers, teachers, economists and others are just as important for the health of a country as doctors are. If Canadians have any commitment to the health and welfare of some of the poorest nations of the world, we cannot intentionally lure the best and the brightest individuals away from the countries where they have been educated.

Most low- and middle-income countries are addressing the crises through the massive expansion of higher education institutions. They invest significant funds from meagre resources with the hope that it will pay off and ensure future development. Active recruitment of skilled workers not only hampers development but also has a devastating effect on the morale of individuals and governments that are investing in this training. Imagine trying to fill a broken pot with water. Active recruitment from Canada is widening the hole in the pot.

Clearly these professionals and other highly skilled workers have the right to live and work where they choose but it is unconscionable for Canada to intentionally entice these people away from the countries that trained them.  This reckless self-interest will eventually come back to bite us. In his 1964 Nobel lecture, Martin Luther King Jr. stated that “Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies.” To preserve a great Canadian society, our doors should remain open for immigration but our loyalty to humankind means that we cannot solve our problems by deliberately ravaging human resources from the nations where they may be genuinely indispensable.

This post has been written in collaboration with Dr. Dawit Wondimagegn who is the Associate Dean of the Addis Ababa University School of Medicine.

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