Aims and objectives. To explore sub-Saharan African nurses' reasons for moving to the UK, their views on the skills and brain drain, and what can be done to stem the situation. Background. The UK and other developed nations such as the USA, Canada and Australia have been recruiting internationally qualified nurses including those from sub-Saharan African, which has raised concerns of skills and brain drain from these countries that are known to suffer from nurse shortages. Methods. A purposeful sample of 30 nurses from sub-Saharan African was drawn from four National Health Service trusts in the north-east of England. Using focus group discussions and personal interviews, the study explored and examined nurses' views on their motivation to move to the developed countries and what can be done to reduce nurse migration from sub-Saharan African and give those countries a chance to develop their health systems by retaining their health personnel. Results. Five main themes emerged from data analysis: poor remuneration, lack of professional development in the home countries, poor health care and systems, language and education similarities and easy availability of jobs and visas. Conclusion. Data indicate that migration motives for nurses are complex and inherent in historical links and in global values. Nurses stressed that they would like to stay in their own countries and help develop healthcare there, but reasons for moving were often strong and apparently not within their control. Relevance to clinical practice. Nurse migration from sub-Saharan African has often been cited as a limitation in providing effective healthcare in those countries. Delineating motivational factors for nurses could help to stem this migration. © 2013 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.