The Immigration Debate

On Jon Stewart’s Daily Show the other night, correspondent John Oliver met with Kenyan ambassador to the United Nations, Azchary Muburi-Muita.  Their conversation focused on the need for Kenyan expertise in the United States.  They already gave us a Head of State, Oliver argued.  Now we need a Banking Czar, Car Czar, a new American Idol, and so on.  In the second half of the interview, Oliver raised the question of British recolonization of Kenya–much to the dismay of the Kenyan ambassador. 

The clip is available through the Daily Show website.  The exchange follows the classic formula of other Daily Show interviews, and pointed to some real issues as well.

Perhaps the most important question centers on the political economy of global immigration.  The immigration debate in the United States tends to focus on illegal immigration by unskilled workers.  However, from the perspective of many developing countries, an equally important problem of the out-migration of highly trained professionalize, often referred to as the brain drain. 

It is estimated that 30 percent of sub-Saharan-born doctors and 15 percent of its nurses work outside Africa.  Training a doctor in Mozambique, to pick one example, costs the state approximately U.S. $80,000.  There are some benefits that accrue from immigration–certainly for the individual, who is able to earn much higher wages in working in Western hospitals than African ones; and likely for the family and the economy more generally, largely through wages sent home through remittances.  And, as Michael Clemens points out, we can’t necessarily assume that doctors working in the developing world necessarily translate directly into better health care systems.  That said, the cost of training doctors, nurses, and other professionals represents a real and uncompensated cost for the countries of the developing world.

Certainly something to think about next time the immigration debate reheats.

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