Nurse Migration from a Source Country Perspective: South Africa

Table of Contents
registered nurse in india

Globally, there is a dramatic shortage of nurses. An increase in nurse migration from a source country to a destination country is having a global effect on the healthcare system of Canada. This is a phenomenon that finds its base in historical, social, economical, and political factors.  Typically, nurse migration starts from developing countries to the developed ones. South Africa is one of the biggest sources of migrant nurses globally. Nurses from South Africa have been migrating to Canada in search of high-quality nursing education and successful professional lives.  There are a couple of push and pull factors that affect the migration of nurses from South Africa to other countries such as Canada. The nurse migration from South Africa has been benefitting the nursing professionals and hence it continues to grow.  In this blog, we will see the nurse migration from a source country perspective of South Africa to understand the trends better. 

South Africa’s Historical Background and Nurse Migration 

The human resources for health planning, development, and implementation can be best understood in the context of the historical background of South Africa. The ideology of South Africa that underpinned radical capitalism did not just compound inherent inequality in the healthcare provision along the lines of race, class, and gender, but it also affected the development of skilled health workers along similar lines.  In South Africa, there has been an unequal distribution of skilled health workers favoring the private sector. This is something that was inherited from the Apartheid era along with the underfunded public sector. The mix of health workers and the supply of health workers are still influenced by these legacies. The common nurses do not get many opportunities to build a successful career. Hence, they consider moving to foreign countries in search of a better life.  The nurses form a major part of the healthcare professionals in South Africa and their migration to developed countries can be attributed to a trend that has been going forward for a long time. The study of causes responsible for nurse migration gives attention to the range of policy responses that decision-makers at different levels take or the ones that stem from the emigration of health professionals.  Below, we will see the factors that address the flow, causes, and some benefits of nurse migration from the perspective of South Africa. 

International Nurse Migration Trends in South Africa: 

The number of international health care migrants has increased much more since the 90s and nurses are professionals who form an important part of this stream. Nurses from South Africa have been fulfilling the critical nursing shortages in industrialized countries. They enroll for nursing study in Canada, get employed, and spend a respectable life in the country.  Moreover, this nurse migration in South Africa has also increased because of structural adjustments in the country that creates a severe workforce imbalance and shortfall along with a large number of unemployed healthcare professionals. The motivation of a nurse is often multifactorial and is not limited to financial incentives.  The flow of migration varies in direction and overall magnitude with time while responding to the socioeconomic factors present in the source and destination countries. The fact is that the number of nurse migrants from South Africa on the move each year has continued to increase. There has been a remarkable growth in labor migration flows to industrialized countries such as Canada in recent years.  Many male and female nurses are migrating either independently or with their families while changing the social dynamics associated with the migration process in the source and destination countries. In fact, the women nurse migrants are also becoming the agents of economic change as they enter the international labor market of healthcare and participate in a new distribution of worldwide economic growth. 

Factors Influencing International Nurse Migration

The worldwide nursing shortage is not the only factor that has led South African nurses to migrate to countries like Canada for pursuing nursing programs focusing on improving their practical knowledge. There are underlying factors involved that account for this migration. In the case of South Africa, the conditions of the destination countries such as Canada serve as a pull factor because they attract and facilitate the movement of nurses towards themselves.  In South Africa, substandard conditions and circumstances encourage the nurses to leave their country or location of work which then represent the push factors.  

Pull Factors

The availability of jobs, professional advancement, improved work environment, better employment policies, quality of life, stable socio-political environment, lucrative salaries, and social and retirement benefits represent the pull factors that attract nurses.  

Push Factors: 

On the other hand, push factors in the source country of South Africa consist of low wage compensation, limited professional opportunities, lack of resources for working effectively, unstable working conditions, lack of social and retirement benefits, and unsatisfactory political environment.  The South African nurses migrate because of a desire to experience more professional development opportunities, a need for greater wage compensation, and in many cases, a need for personal safety because of political upheaval. Hence, it is a combination of both the push and pull factors that incite the international nurse migration in the case of South Africa.  Nurses from South Africa with lower compensation rates get attracted to rich countries that offer better salaries and employee benefits. In addition, the implementation of attractive recruitment strategies from the destination countries such as Canada also improves the pulling force. Canada attracts nurses, offers them the best nursing education, and promising employment opportunities as well.  

Effect of Migration on Nurse Immigrants:  

The nurses benefit from migration immensely. Some of the effects of migration on them are:  

1. Financial Situation:

The most fundamental and rather important benefit that migration has on the nurses is an improved financial situation for the nurse and his/her family. For many migrant nurses, financial considerations are also the primary factors that influence this decision.  A majority of South African nurses are not compensated as they should be, specifically in the developing nations. Even though the pay of a nurse is not so high in the developed countries from the start, this money is comparatively much more substantial for nurses than what is offered in the source countries.  After completing their postgraduate nursing courses in Canada, the nurses can earn a lot more than what they were earning back in their home country. This increase in income also allows the nurses to send money back to their home countries and improve the lives of their families.  

2. Multicultural Experience:

South African nurses do not face many challenges while adjusting to the new work environment. The entire process of leaving behind families to study and work in developed countries such as Canada does not turn out to be disappointing because nurses are able to find a support network quickly.  Canada welcomes multicultural people with open arms and so, the nurses from South Africa do not have any trouble adjusting to the new environment. Even after the apparent language and cultural differences, the South African nurses are accepted.  

3. Healthy Work Environment:

Immigrant nurses face no challenges in forming work relationships in healthcare organizations. They are able to establish good relationships with their colleagues and are motivated to stay in their work because the safety and quality of care can be increased.  A healthy work environment encourages these nurses to work hard and make a successful nursing career in Canada. They are supported and encouraged as they go up the career ladder.  

Effect of Nurse Migration on Source Country (South Africa):  

One of the most obvious and favorable effects of nurse migration on South Africa is the substantial amount of money sent home from nurses abroad each year. The remittances sent by the migrant nurses offer much-needed financial support to the source country.  In addition, nurses who work abroad can also help in the development of transactional connections and partnerships. In case these nurses decide to come back home, they bring with them enhanced skills and ideas while coming back. The experience gained by these nurses helps in enhancing the knowledge and skills while building more self-confidence in healthcare practice.  Even though some people may not support nurse migration from South Africa because the healthcare system in the country is already disadvantaged, there are many others who understand that nurses have the right to migrate for obtaining better living conditions, professional development, and career advancement opportunities.  


Nurses from South Africa have been moving to developed countries such as Canada for an improved personal and professional life. This is a trend that has deep-rooted causes in the historical context. There are many pull factors that play a role in encouraging nurses to decide to move abroad and have a better life. 


Enquire now

Enquire now

Send Us Your Information

Upload your Resume or CV below:

Thank you

We will contact you shortly