Migration worldwide

Over 258 million people in the world do not live in the country in which they were born. These people, called international migrants, represent approximately 3.4% of the world’s population.

According to the United Nations, in 2017 there were 258 million international migrants worldwide. These people represent a very small proportion of the world’s population: approximately 3.4%. Their numbers are rising, however: from 2010 to 2015, the total number of international immigrants rose from 220 million to 248 million, corresponding to an average increase of 2.4% per year.
Of the 258 million international migrants in 2017, 106 million were born in Asia. Europe is the birth region that accounts for the second largest number (61 million), followed by Latin America and the Caribbean (38 million) and Africa (36 million).
Refugees, who account for only 10% of international migrants, were estimated at 25.9 million in 2016. Most refugees (82.5%) live in developing countries.

Most migrants live in developed countries

In 2017, 64% of international migrants (58% in 2000), or 165 million persons, were living in a developed country.
The continents of Asia and Europe have the most international migrants: respectively 80 and 78 million, or 61% of all migrants. North America is in third position with 58 million international migrants.

Most immigration is to other countries in the same world region

In 2017, the majority of international migrants (67% of migrants from Europe, 60% of those from Asia, 60% of those from Oceania, and 53% of those from Africa) were living in a country located in the same world region as the one they were born in. However, 84% of international migrants from Latin America and the Caribbean, and 72% of international migrants from North America, lived first in a country situated outside the geographical zone in which they were born.

The United States is the country with the most immigrants

Proportion of immigrants by country in 2013 INED’s "Migrations worldwide" interactive map, UN figures

The United States continues to have the highest number of immigrants: 49.8 million, or one in five residents. It is far ahead of Saudi Arabia and Germany (each with 12.2 million), Russia (11.7 million), the United Kingdom (8.8 million), the United Arab Emirates or UAE (8.3 million) and France (7.9 million).
However, the United States does not have the greatest share of immigrants relative to its population. Immigrants represent 15.3% of the US population, whereas in the UAE they represent over 88% (88.4%)—the highest proportion of all. In Western Europe, immigrants in the tiny country of Liechtenstein account for 65.1% of the population—a much higher proportion than in France (12.2%).

India, Mexico and Russia are the main countries of departure (emigration)

The greatest number of migrants come from the Asian continent (106 million, including 17 million from India). 13 million Mexicans and 11 million Russians live outside their country of origin.

Nearly half of migrants are women

The image of migrants as young, single, unskilled men come to find work in a global North country no longer corresponds to reality. In 2017, half of international migrants were over 39 years of age (whereas one in two persons in the world is under 30) and 48% were women. There are more women than men migrants in Europe, North America, Oceania, Latin America and the Caribbean, whereas migrants from Africa and Asia, particularly Western Asia, are mostly men. Migrant flows are made up of increasingly qualified persons, male and female. Women now migrate less often to join a life partner and more often to work or study. They now constitute the majority of immigrants in global North countries, a situation due in part to ageing of the immigration population, as women live longer than men. In the global South the proportion of women immigrants has fallen recently, notably because more and more men are leaving Asia to work in Gulf oil states.

Stock and flow, two glances on the migrations

To study migration, demographers observe stocks (total number of immigrants living in a given country or region) and flows (migrant entries and exits over a given period). The net migration rate is the difference between the number of persons who immigrate and the number who emigrate. Countries may have a considerable stock of migrants but low migrant flows or vice-versa.

To measure migration, the UN defines international migrants as foreign-born persons or, if that information is not available, foreign nationals. In France, statistical studies define immigrants as persons born non-French outside France, a definition that excludes foreign-born French citizens and includes migrants who have acquired French citizenship.


Source: International Migration Report 2017, Population Division, Department of Economic et Social Affairs (DESA), United Nations

Online: March 28, 2018