Cuba puts travel restrictions on doctors to ease brain drain

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HAVANA, Cuba, Tuesday December 1, 2015 – In an attempt to stem the brain drain that it has blamed on a United States policy that fast tracks residency, Cuba is reinstating a controversial measure that requires its highly skilled doctors to get permission from the Ministry of Health to leave the Caribbean island.

The government announced on the front page of state media today that health professionals in specialties that have been drained by large-scale emigration in recent years – including anaesthesiology, neurosurgery, obstetrics and gynecology and neonatal care – would be affected. The reinstatement of the measure comes two years after president Raul Castro started allowing unrestricted travel for citizens as part of broader social and economic reforms.

The announcement followed a meeting yesterday at the US State Department, at which officials from both countries discussed migration problems.

“The migration of Cuban health professionals is a concern for the country,” the government said.

Many Cuban doctors leave the country because of low pay and sometimes poor working conditions, according to reports. However, the government said the US policy of giving special benefits to Cuban doctors overseas is to blame for the brain drain.

Cuba is known to have some of the best doctors in the world, and under America’s Cuban Parole Programme for Medical Professionals, medical personnel sent by the Cuban government to study or work in a third country are allowed into the US. Havana said the policy has “the perverse objective of pushing Cuban health professionals to abandon their missions in other countries”.

In a statement issued after the meeting, Cuba lamented that the US government had no intention of putting an end to initiatives that give automatic legal residency to Cuban immigrants, which also include the “wet-foot, dry-foot” policy which allows Cubans who make it to the US to remain legally and obtain permanent residency after a year and a day; and the Cuban Adjustment Act which provides for a special procedure under which Cuban natives or citizens and their accompanying spouses and children may get a green card (permanent residence).

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