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Migration – the global picture

23 February 20160 comments

Migration by people to foreign countries has risen by 41 per cent over the last 15 years with 244 million people deciding to leave their homelands in 2015, according to a recent United Nations study.

Of those, just 20 million are refugees.

Over the last 15 years, migration to foreign countries has risen by 41 per cent

Over the last 15 years, migration to foreign countries has risen by 41 per cent

The UN is holding a series of meetings in 2016 to address migration, including a gathering in Geneva in March where countries can pledge to take in Syrians fleeing civil war.

But while the Syrian refugee crisis has grabbed the headlines, it is just a drop in the ocean of international migration.

The United States is by far the most popular destination for migrants with the largest portion of the world’s migrants at 47 million, or a fifth of the total.

Germany and Russia shared the second spot with about 12 million each, followed by Saudi Arabia (10 million), Britain (nine million) and the United Arab Emirates (eight million).

The vast majority of international migrants — two-thirds of the total — are in Europe or Asia. Europe is home to 76 million international migrants, while Asia has 75 million.

While Asia and Europe host the largest portions of international migrants, they also contribute the most. Asia is the biggest regional source of international migrants, with 104 million, or 43 percent. Europe accounted for 25 percent, or 62 million.

The UN report said that migration occurred mostly between countries located in the same region. Latin America and the Caribbean was the third-largest regional source of international migration, with 37 million, or 15 percent.

Only two percent, or four million, are from North America.

India had the world’s biggest diaspora, with 16 million people, followed by Mexico (12 million), Russia (11 million), China (10 million) and Bangladesh (seven million) and Pakistan and Ukraine (six million each).

Global migrants are almost equally divided by gender with 48 per cent being women.

Most are working-age. The median age of migrants in 2015 was 39. A significant portion — 15 percent — were under 20 years old.

But country populations will not get any younger as a result. The report said migrants can help ease old-age dependency ratios in some countries but will not halt the long-term trend toward population aging.

All major areas of the world are still projected to have significantly higher old-age dependency ratios in 2050.

So, what does this mean for the world’s population?

The vast majority of the world’s people stay put. Migrants made up just 3.3 percent of the global population in 2015, up from 2.8 percent 15 years ago.

But international migration is growing faster than the world’s population, with significant consequences for many regions.

Migrants make up ten percent of the populations of Europe, North America and Oceania. In North America and Oceania, migrants have contributed to 42 percent of population growth since 2000.

The story is different in Europe, where the population would have declined over the same period had it not been for the influx of migrants.

Even if current migration levels continue, Europe’s population is still projected to decline over the next 35 years because of its surplus of deaths over births, the report said.


Laurie Nowell
AMES Australia Senior Journalist