Studies to stem the flow of skilled migration under way
900 regional nurses left in 2002-03
Stabroek News
May 24, 2004

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Studies are being conducted on the migration of skilled workers from the Caribbean to North America and Europe to quantify the loss of human resources and finances and to find solutions to stem the migration flow.

Stabroek News understands that at present the Caricom Secretariat is putting together briefs on the managed migration of nurses, teachers and other professionals for discussion with stakeholders including recruiters. In addition, the Caribbean Nurses Associa-tion, in association with Caricom, is assessing the loss and its impact on the region's health care programme.

It is expected that regional heads of government will eventually have to take a policy decision on the issue. Managed migration is also being seen as an agenda item for negotiations with the developed countries which are actively recruiting skilled workers from the region.

The Caricom Secretariat was unable to provide data on the number of professionals being lost through the migration of skills or active recruitment drives. However, a report out of the recent Council for Human and Social Development (COHSOD) meeting in Tobago noted that some 900 nurses from the region had migrated to Europe and North America between 2002 and 2003.

The communique issued at that meeting said COHSOD saw the need to develop strategies and mechanisms to recruit and retain nurses and other health professionals, in view of the economic cost to the region and the loss of its investment and training, through migration.

COHSOD supported a review of the existing policies, to ensure that they are consistent with the recruitment and retention of nurses in the region. It agreed there should be regional representation at the proposed Commonwealth Secretariat Meeting on trade in services, with specific reference to Mode IV, which is scheduled for October 2004. It has also endorsed the Declaration on Nursing issued by the International Nurses Confer-ence on Managed Migration held in Barbados earlier this year.

COHSOD, in April 2002 in Georgetown, agreed to work on the development of a strategy for "managed migration" with the training of professionals for export on a rotation basis. The idea of managed migration had been put forward by Jamaica's Minister of Health John Junor who saw "the management of the migration of skilled labour" as part of the solution to retaining much needed skills in the region.

Shortly after, at the UK and Caribbean Forum held in Georgetown, the UK agreed to support an assessment of the situation facing Caribbean countries and to explore ways of addressing the underlying causes. According to Caricom sources, the UK is currently assisting with funding in this regard.

No figures for teachers' migration were made available for last year but a great many were recruited to teach in England, New York and Botswana from the Caribbean in 2002. Jamaica alone lost 500 that year while Guyana continues to lose between 250 and 280 teachers annually, according to officials of the Ministry of Education.

Recent recruitment drives targeted Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Jamaica, Panama and the Dominican Republic, specifically because of the number of nationals from those countries living in the US and the UK. It is estimated that the US alone will need 2.6 million teachers in the next five years because of retirement and non-replacement.

Officials of the Guyana Teachers Union (GTU), however, claim that the local education system loses more than 300 teachers annually which is about the same number who graduate from the University of Guyana with Bachelors of Education (BEd) degrees or a Certificate of Education. An average of 300 trained teachers graduate from the Cyril Potter College of Education annually but university graduates are the ones whom recruiters target.

A senior lecturer attached to the Faculty of Education at UG told Stabroek News that in recent years the number of teachers seeking entry to the BEd and Cert Ed programmes had increased significantly.

GTU officials and even Ministry of Education officials acknowledged that the figures the ministry would release to the media would only take into account the number of teachers who would seek to obtain their trained teachers' certificate from the Ministry of Education, or transcripts from the University of Guyana. They said there were many teachers who had resigned or were absent on leave and had left the country, for whom there was no record.

One head teacher explained, too, that the names of teachers remained on the payroll for months after they had left. Repeated requests had to be made to the ministry to take the names off the payroll and returning teachers' unpaid salaries was a cumbersome process.