Bulletin of the World Health Organization

The migration of nurses: trends and policies

James Buchan & Julie Sochalski


This paper examines the policy context of the rise in the international mobility and migration of nurses. It describes the profile of the migration of nurses and the policy context governing the international recruitment of nurses to five countries: Australia, Ireland, Norway, the United Kingdom, and the United States. We also examine the policy challenges for workforce planning and the design of health systems infrastructure. Data are derived from registries of professional nurses, censuses, interviews with key informants, case studies in source and destination countries, focus groups, and empirical modelling to examine the patterns and implications of the movement of nurses across borders.

The flow of nurses to these destination countries has risen, in some cases quite substantially. Recruitment from lower–middle income countries and low-income countries, as defined by The World Bank, dominate trends in nurse migration to the United Kingdom, Ireland, and the United States, while Norway and Australia, primarily register nurses from other high-income countries. Inadequate data systems in many countries prevent effective monitoring of these workforce flows.

Policy options to manage nurse migration include: improving working conditions in both source and destination countries, instituting multilateral agreements to manage the flow more effectively, and developing compensation arrangements between source and destination countries. Recommendations for enhancements to workforce data systems are provided.