Objective. To look at nurse migration flows in the light of national nursing workforce imbalances, examine factors that encourage or inhibit nurse mobility, and explore the potential benefits of circular migration.
Principal Findings. The number of international migrants has doubled since 1970 and nurses are increasingly part of the migratory stream. Critical nursing shortages in industrialized countries are generating a demand that is fueling energetic international recruitment campaigns. Structural adjustments in the developing countries have created severe workforce imbalances and shortfalls often coexist with large numbers of unemployed health professionals. A nurse's motivation to migrate is multifactorial, not limited to financial incentives, and barriers exist that discourage or slow the migration process. The migration flows vary in direction and magnitude over time, responding to socioeconomic factors present in source and destination countries. The dearth of data on which to develop international health human resource policy remains. There is growing recognition, however, that migration will continue and that temporary migration will be a focus of attention in the years to come.
Conclusions. Today's search for labor is a highly organized global hunt for talent that includes nurses. International migration is a symptom of the larger systemic problems that make nurses leave their jobs. Nurse mobility becomes a major issue only in a context of migrant exploitation or nursing shortage. Injecting migrant nurses into dysfunctional health systems—ones that are not capable of attracting and retaining staff domestically—will not solve the nursing shortage.