Do Visas Kill? Health Effects of African Health Professional Emigration
The emigration of highly skilled workers can in theory lower social welfare in the migrant-sending country. If such workers produce a good whose consumption conveys a positive externality—such as nurses and doctors in a very poor country—the loss can be greater, and welfare can even decline globally. Policies to impede emigration thus have the potential to raise sending-country and global welfare. This study uses a new database of health worker emigration from Africa to test whether exogenous decreases in emigration raise the number of domestic health professionals, increase the mass availability of basic primary care, or improve a range of public health outcomes. It identifies the effect through two separate natural quasi-experiments arising from the colonial division of the African continent. These produce exogenous changes in emigration comparable to those that would result from different immigration policies in principal receiving countries. The results suggest that Africa's generally low staffing levels and poor public health conditions are the result of factors entirely unrelated to international movements of health professionals. A simple model proposes that such results would be explained by segmentation of health workforce labor markets in the sending countries. The results further suggest that emigration has caused a greater production of health workers in Africa.
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