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SUVA, Fiji Islands (July 27, 2002 – Daily Post)---Fiji is expected to go through a major brain drain -- with 100,000 citizens already applying for permanent residency in the United States of America.

U.S. Embassy public diplomacy officer Chris Hodges said about 100,000 people "have applied to get permanent residency through the Green Card Lottery.

"This is when names are picked out of a hat at random.

"Applicants must have at least Form Seven education or two years experience in a job to be eligible," he said.

However, Mr Hodges said only a fraction of those who apply get a green card.

"We have had a extremely high number of applicants showing interest, from May 2000 up to now," he said.

Labor Minister Kenneth Zinck said government could not match offshore salaries but "just ask people not to leave."

Mr. Zinck said salaries could not be upgraded as the economy "is still reeling from the May 2000 crisis."

"This will definitely affect us very badly … and these will either be doctors, nurses or jobs that most locals are not qualified to do."

Mr. Zinck admitted that unless there was good governance and stability -- "which the country is trying to achieve with a lot of difficulty -- I am afraid the brain drain is going to continue."

"All we can do is urge these people not to leave or either say all the best," he said.

Senior economists based at the University of the South Pacific predicted, a fortnight ago, that Fiji would continue to lose highly skilled and professional people to developed countries, among which is the United States.

The economists said at the Fiji Update 2002 that the country’s economy would be badly affected as the result of the brain drain if the government did not develop strategies to stop the migration.

They said the country would continue to lose qualified doctors, teachers, accountants and trade oriented people – crippling the health and education sector of the country.

Update 2000 revealed that some 150,000 Indo-Fijians have left the country since independence.

Mr. Hodges said the recipients of the green cards leave the country and settle in America with a permanent residence visa. After a certain period of time they can apply for citizenship.

For additional reports from Fiji’s Daily Post, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Other News Resources/FijiLive.

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