The global migration picture

  • traveller at the airport
Published last week

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the international migrant population is steadily growing as the movement has become easier thanks to the digital revolution and more affordable travel costs. In 2015 there were about 244 million international migrants — 89 million more than the number of migrants in the year 2000. In most cases, people are moving to high-income countries for work in the service sector. If done in a humane and orderly way, IOM believes that migration is beneficial for both the society and migrants, and can boost the global social and economic development.

The international migrants’ profile

immigrant from Asia

In 2015, which is the latest available data regarding global migration, the total estimated number of people living outside their country of birth was 244 million. In 1990 the number of international migrants was 153 million, and in 1970 was 84 million. Thus, in 2015 one in 30 people was a migrant or, in other words, 3.3% of the world's population was living abroad. Around 72% of the migrants in 2015 were between 20 and 64 years old, which automatically qualifies them for the workforce category. From these 244 million people, 52% were men and 48% women.

The global migration flow

European Commission
Alexandros Michailidis /        

All regions in the world are sending and receiving migrants, with some sending more and receiving less or vise versa, depending on the socioeconomic state of the region. Asian populations tend to purchase better living conditions and career opportunities in Northern America and Europe, as well as within Asia. The European, Oceanian, Northern American, and African people migrate mainly within and to Europe, whereas the Latin American and the Caribbean migrants prefer to stay closer to their roots, and head mostly to Northern America and less choose Europe. Precisely, in 2015, Germany was the top destination for migrants from the 37 OECD member countries, accepting more than two million new international migrants (two times more than the number of arrivals in 2000). The USA received around one million migrants that year, and the United Kingdom a bit less than half a million.

Origins and destinations

The Statue of Liberty

Around 62% (75 million) of the total global migrant population is in Europe and Asia. North America hosts 22% (54 million) of the global migrant population, followed by Africa’s 9%, Latin America and the Caribbean’s 4%, and Oceania’s 3%. Precisely, the USA, which has been the number one destination country for migrants since 1970, has 46.6 million foreign-born residents, according to the latest reports. The second most popular destination country among international migrants is Germany, with over 12 million migrants recorded in 2015. The Russian Federation in third place completes the top ten of destination countries along with Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom, the UAE, Canada, France, Australia, and Spain in tenth place.

Half of all international migrants come from Asian countries, with India being the primary country of origin worldwide. Mexico is the second largest country of origin, followed by the Russian Federation at third place, China, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Ukraine, the Philippines, Syria, and the United Kingdom.

Finances and occupation

worker in a hotel

As per the latest statistics, two-thirds (157 million) of international migrants live in high-income economies, 77 million in middle-income countries, and about nine million are in low-income countries. In 2013, most migrant workers (71.1%) were occupied in the services sector, followed by manufacturing and construction (17.8%), and agriculture (11.1%).

Migrants send financial and in-kind transfers to their families and communities back home. Even though the records of such amounts aren’t entirely accurate due to informal ways of sending remittances, which has been impossible to calculate, the data shows an overal l increase from 126 billion American dollars in 2000 to 575 billion in 2016. However, between 2014 and 2015 a 2.7% decline has been recorded, as well as a 1.2% decline between 2015 and 2016. In 2016, the top five countries to receive remittance are India, China, the Philippines, Mexico, and Pakistan. China and India gained more than 60 billion American dollars whereas the other three countries received less than 30 billion American dollars in 2016. As it’s expected, the high-income countries are the main source of remittances, with the USA being the top remittance-sending country, followed by Saudi Arabia, and Switzerland.