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The effect of nurse emigration on the countries of origin is not that simple, despite yesterday's somber New York Times piece, "U.S. Plan to Lure Nurses May Hurt Poor Nations." Yes, the Philippines has been the world's top exporter of nurses for decades, but today it has more nurses than almost any other country in its income group. According to the World Health Organization (PDF), it actually has more nurses per capita than Great Britain. Why? Because there is no such thing as a fixed quantity of nurses to be "drained" from the Philippines or Africa, like petroleum from the ground. People -- in this case mostly low-income women -- react to global markets and change their career plans accordingly. Many Filipinas wouldn't have become nurses if not for the migration opportunity, and thus are not 'lost' in any sense when they depart. Africans are starting to follow suit, opening career paths for professional women who would otherwise have few. This should not be discouraged through closed immigration policy, but rather taken advantage of -- through the establishment of for-export nurse training programs as the Philippines has done en masse. Unlike petroleum, these women are human beings. They have rights and ambitions whose fruition in the United States is a beautiful thing.

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CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.