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More and more countries are recruiting doctors and nurses overseas, unleashing global debates on the proper regulation health worker migration. The World Health Organization (WHO) has advanced a “Global Code of Practice” on health worker recruitment. Numerous countries are internally debating adoption of the Code—formally or in practice—including the United Kingdom, Germany, the United States, Canada, and Australia. A pillar of the Code discourages active recruitment from countries with a “critical shortage” of health workers. We show that the WHO definition of “critical shortage” has little medical or statistical basis, and that the Code’s contradictions pave the way for arbitrary and counterproductive implementation. As an alternative to categorical bans on recruitment from entire countries, we propose alternative frameworks for approaching recruitment regulation. We offer examples of these global lessons from the German context.