Looking at the Migration of Nurses Through a Utilitarian Ethical Lens

Looking at the Migration of Nurses Through a Utilitarian Ethical Lens

A utilitarian ethical approach views to balance the greatest good over harm to everyone involved while considering the benefits and consequences (Velasquez et al., 2021). Migration occurs when a new circumstance or opportunity is better than the existing situation. The looming shortages in the nursing workforce globally make migration inevitable. It is essential to weigh the benefits and consequences of nurses’ migration.looking-at-the-migration-of-nurses-through-a-utilitarian-ethical-lens

Nurses can migrate and work in other countries if the country’s visa and employer requirements are met. Frances Hughes, RN, BA, MA, DNURS, FAAN says that nurses in lower-income countries migrate to higher-income countries seeking better career and financial opportunities (Hughes, 2022). Stakeholders directly impacted by the migration process include individual nurses and their families, recruitment agencies, and supplying and accepting countries.

Benefits and Consequences 

There are several benefits to migration. Nurses who migrate to higher-income countries are happy with the host countries’ social, financial, and health-related advantages (Hendriks, 2018). One of the greatest benefits of migration is the diversity foreign nurses bring to the workforce. Recruiting foreign nurses also improves the workforce shortage in the host country. A diverse workforce elevates the quality of patient care by ensuring the provision of culturally competent care to a diverse patient population (American Association Colleges of Nursing, 2023). The benefits are not only limited to the host or higher-income countries. The remittance from immigrant nurses financially benefits the supplying countries (Shaffer et al., 2022), families, and individual recruitment agencies.

From a utilitarian view, other consequences of migration are the potential depletion of the workforce in supplying countries due to mass migration and the demand for additional resources by host countries to train foreign nurses to meet the needs of a diverse patient population. It is also important to remember that adapting to a new country and environment could be challenging for individual nurses.

Takeaways: Finding Solutions

The migrating nurses bring cultural diversity, unique knowledge, and skills to the nursing workforce in the host countries (Hughes, 2022). It is unethical to prevent migration considering the overall benefits to the individual, host, and supplying countries. However, a utilitarian cannot ignore the other consequences.

Migrating from one country to another comes with challenges, which vary for individuals from different countries. It is essential to identify the unique needs of foreign nurses and distribute resources in a manner that is easily accessible to avoid waste of resources. Most often, it is not the availability of the resources that is challenging but the need for knowledge in accessing them and finding the best resource that works for each individual—having a common website that provides information on the boarding process, eligibility exam centers, financial support, mentoring, and other essential resources during migration.

Regulated and ethical recruitment practices can be implemented to prevent nursing workforce depletion in supplying countries. From a utilitarian view, it is recommended to ensure transparency on the benefits and consequences of each nurse migration experience for all stakeholders. The availability of information on benefits and consequences will allow better planning and implementation of policies, programs, and resources that support migrant nurses and migration.


American Association of Colleges of Nursing. “Enhancing Diversity in the Nursing Workforce.” AACN. April 2023. https://www.aacnnursing.org/news-data/fact-sheets/enhancing-diversity-in-the-nursing-workforce.

Hendriks, Martijn. “Does Migration Increase Happiness? It Depends.” Migration Policy Institute. June 21, 2018. https://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/does-migration-increase-happiness-it-depends.

Hughes, Frances. “Nursing Shortage and Migration: The Benefits and Responsibilities.” CGFNS International. 2022. https://www.cgfns.org/nursing-shortage-and-migration-the-benefits-and-responsibilities/.

Shaffer, Franklin A., Mukul Bakhshi, Kaley Cook, and Thomas D. Álvarez. “International Nurse Recruitment Beyond the COVID-19 Pandemic: Considerations for the Nursing Workforce Leader.” Nurse Leader 20, no. 2 (February 2022): 161–67. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1016/j.mnl.2021.12.001.

Velasquez, Manuel, Dennis Moberg, Michael J. Meyer, Thomas Shanks, Margaret R. McLean, David DeCosse, Claire Andre, Kirk O. Hanson, Irina Raicu, and Jonathan Kwan. “A Framework for Ethical Decision Making.” Santa Clara University. November 8, 2021.