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5th Mar 2024

African states fear brain drain through EU blue card

The EU should make sure its "blue card" scheme for skilled migrants respects ethical principles and does not cause a brain drain in the developing world, health ministers from African countries have warned.

"We cannot afford schemes that seek to cream the very limited health skills we still have in developing countries," said South Africa health minister Manto Tshabalala- Msimang, according to Sapa news agency.

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  • African states worry the EU could undermine their health systems by attracting local doctors (Photo: European Commission)

Speaking at the ministerial session of 79 African, Caribbean and Pacific countries (ACP) held in Belgium on Friday (26 October), the ministers were referring to recently-announced EU incentives and fast track procedures for attracting the best brains from around the globe, including doctors.

The project was proposed by the European Commission last week as a tool for EU member states to boost legal migration, with Europe expected to suffer severe labour shortages in the coming years due to its ageing population and low birth-rates.

But the South African minister pointed out at the meeting that "Many developing countries are already struggling with the challenge of migration of health workers," and urged the EU not to add to this pressure.

"The EU member states need to address the issue of the recruitment of health workers from the ACP Group of States, and give consideration to the development of a code on the ethical recruitment of health workers," she said.

Some experts have expressed even harsher criticism for the blue card scheme, introduced by EU justice commissioner Franco Frattini.

"This is a new form of colonisation, of discrimination, and it will be very hard to find support for it among southern countries," Moroccan international economic law professor Tajeddine El Husseini was quoted as saying by Reuters.

"They spend a lot of money educating and training technical students and then in the end the northern countries will cream off the best ... it is a big mistake and a criminal act of the north to drain the south of its brainpower."

For its part, Brussels says that it will "minimise" the danger of brain drain from poor countries, mainly Africa, as part of EU's blue card scheme.

It says that its proposals suggests "ethical recruitment standards" to limit or ban active recruitments by EU countries in developing countries already suffering from serious brain drain.

It has made much of its proposal for circular migration which would allow those with a blue card to go back to their native country but return again to Europe in the future if they wanted, without having to undergo the whole application procedure again.

Brussels says that by keeping the door open for a return, skilled workers are more likely to go back to their home countries to work.

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