Why Migration Is Bigger and More Contentious Than Ever

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The world is on the move as never before. Migrants, defined as people living outside their country of birth whether for work, to follow a family member, study or escape adversity, numbered more than 250 million in 2017. That was 3.4% of the global population, an increase from 2.8% in 2000. Half were living in high-income countries, where they made up 14% of the population, up from 9.6% in 2000. The swell has produced a backlash. In the U.S. and Europe, concerns that migrants are stretching local services and disturbing order have been harnessed by nativist politicians embracing tighter controls. Advocates for migrants lament the many who die attempting to reach a new land or face exploitation once there.

Why is migration rising?

While conflicts and instability have increased the number of people forced from their homes, refugees make up only about a 10th of the migrant population. Work is the main reason people move to another country, and the falling cost of travel has made it easier to do so. So has the online boom, enabling voyagers to learn about their destinations and connect to home once they’ve arrived. Opportunities to study abroad have expanded significantly. There were more than 4.8 million international students in 2016, up from 2 million in 2000. Climate change and the water shortages, bad harvests and rise in sea level it’s causing are expected to push more people from their homes in the future.

Number of migrants by region, as of 2017 👆

Change since 2005:

Increase of 1%-25%

26%-50%

51%-100%

More than 100%

People:

1m

10m

From

To

Latin

America &

Caribbean

Latin

America &

Caribbean

Northern

America

Northern

America

Europe

Europe

North

Africa &

the Middle

East

Sub-

Saharan

Africa

North

Africa &

the Middle

East

Sub-

Saharan

Africa

Asia

Asia

Asia

Oceania

Oceania

Change since 2005:

Increase of 1%-25%

26%-50%

51%-100%

More than 100%

People:

1m

10m

From

To

Latin

America &

Caribbean

Latin

America &

Caribbean

Northern

America

Northern

America

The European Union hosts a high number of migrants from within the bloc, thanks to its rules guaranteeing the right to work anywhere within its boundaries. The U.K. was the world’s fifth-largest destination for migrants in 2015, a factor in its voters deciding the next year to exit the EU.

Europe

Europe

Conflicts in North Africa and the Mideast have spurred emigration, while violent extremism has raised concern about migrants committing terrorist acts. President Donald Trump cited security threats in a 2017 order generally barring the citizens of four nations in the region from entering the U.S.

Unauthorized migration via the Mediterranean Sea has provoked resentment in Europe, notably in Italy, and concern over the safety of smuggled migrants. An estimated 17,600 died making the journey from 2014 through 2018.

North

Africa

& the

Middle

East

Sub-

Saharan

Africa

The oil-rich countries of the Persian Gulf attract large numbers of migrants from the region and Asia. The kafala (sponsorship) system tying migrant workers to their employers makes many vulnerable to exploitation, including forced labor.

North

Africa

& the

Middle

East

Sub-

Saharan

Africa

India had 17 million natives living abroad in 2017; China had 11 million. But that represented just 1.2% and 0.8%, respectively, of their huge populations. China is the world’s biggest source of international students, accounting for 1 in 6.

Asia

Asia

Asia

Oceania

Oceania

Change since 2005:

Increase of 1%-25%

26%-50%

51%-100%

More than 100%

People:

1m

10m

From

To

Latin

America &

Caribbean

Latin

America &

Caribbean

Northern

America

Northern

America

Europe

Europe

North

Africa

& the

Middle

East

Sub-

Saharan

Africa

North

Africa

& the

Middle

East

Sub-

Saharan

Africa

Asia

Asia

Asia

Oceania

Oceania

Change since 2005:

Increase of 1%-25%

26%-50%

51%-100%

More than 100%

People:

1m

10m

From

To

Latin

America &

Caribbean

Latin

America &

Caribbean

Northern

America

Northern

America

Europe

Europe

North

Africa

& the

Middle

East

Sub-

Saharan

Africa

North

Africa

& the

Middle

East

Sub-

Saharan

Africa

Asia

Asia

Asia

Oceania

Oceania

Change since 2005:

Increase of 1%-25%

26%-50%

51%-100%

More than 100%

People:

1m

10m

From

To

Latin

America &

Caribbean

Latin

America &

Caribbean

Northern

America

Northern

America

Europe

Europe

North

Africa

& the

Middle

East

Sub-

Saharan

Africa

North

Africa

& the

Middle

East

Sub-

Saharan

Africa

Asia

Asia

Asia

Oceania

Oceania

Change since 2005:

Increase of 1%-25%

26%-50%

51%-100%

More than 100%

People:

1m

10m

From

To

Latin

America &

Caribbean

Latin

America &

Caribbean

Northern

America

Northern

America

Europe

Europe

North

Africa &

the Middle

East

Sub-

Saharan

Africa

North

Africa &

the Middle

East

Sub-

Saharan

Africa

Asia

Asia

Asia

Oceania

Oceania

Source: United Nations Population Division
Note: Northern America contains Bermuda, Canada, Greenland, Saint Pierre and Miquelon and the U.S.

Are migrants a burden?

Economists say that migration can benefit economies. Studies show that the social services migrants use are largely paid for by their tax contributions. By adding (mostly younger) workers, migration can raise gross domestic product and ease

pressure on pension systems. Still, large inflows sometimes stress schools, health care systems and housing markets. Some analyses have found that an increase in newcomers reduced native wages, though the effects were small. Immigration critics often highlight specific crimes committed by new arrivals, but research challenges the notion that migration leads to more lawlessness. In the U.S., a number of studies have concluded that migrants commit crimes at lower rates than native-born Americans. In Germany, crime fell 10% amid an influx of migrants.

A closer look: Pathways of more than 1 million people, as of 2017 👆

Change since 2005:

Decrease

Increase of 1%-25%

26%-50%

51%-100%

More than 100%

People:

1m

10m

From

To

Cuba

Dom. Rep.

El Salvador

Mexico

U.S.

Puerto Rico

Poland

Romania

Russia

France

U.K.

Germany

Ukraine

Italy

Algeria

Russia

Pal. territ.

Syria

Ukraine

Iran

Burk. Faso

Jordan

Afghanistan

Kuwait

Lebanon

Bangladesh

Oman

China

S. Arabia

U.A.E.

India

Ivory Coast

Hong Kong

Indonesia

India

Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan

S. Korea

Malaysia

Malaysia

Pakistan

Myanmar

Singapore

Pakistan

Thailand

Philippines

Turkey

Turkey

Australia

Uzbekistan

Vietnam

Change since 2005:

Decrease

Increase of 1%-25%

26%-50%

51%-100%

More than 100%

People:

1m

10m

From

To

Cuba

Mexico is the biggest source of migrants to the U.S., but its role is diminishing. In recent years, arrivals have surged from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, where poverty, corruption and gang violence are widespread.

13 million of Mexico’s native sons and daughters live abroad. The vast majority are in the U.S. and roughly half of them lack legal status there, fueling a decades-long debate over immigration and border security.

Dominican Rep.

El Salvador

Mexico

U.S.

Puerto Rico

Poland

Romania

Russia

France

U.K.

Germany

Syria’s war has driven 5.6 million people from the country, pushing global refugee numbers to a record 25.4 million at the end of 2017. Like other refugees, Syrians tend to take shelter initially close to home, with Turkey the largest host.

Ukraine

Italy

Algeria

Russia

Pal. territories

Syria

Ukraine

Burkina Faso

Iran

Jordan

Afghanistan

Kuwait

Lebanon

Bangladesh

Oman

Saudi Arabia

China

U.A.E.

India

Ivory Coast

Hong Kong

Indonesia

India

Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan

S. Korea

Malaysia

Malaysia

Pakistan

Myanmar

Singapore

Pakistan

Thailand

Philippines

Turkey

Turkey

Australia

Uzbekistan

Vietnam

Change since 2005:

Decrease

Increase of 1%-25%

26%-50%

51%-100%

More than 100%

People:

1m

10m

From

To

Cuba

Dominican Rep.

El Salvador

Mexico

U.S.

Puerto Rico

Poland

Romania

Russia

France

U.K.

Germany

Ukraine

Italy

Algeria

Russia

Pal. territories

Syria

Ukraine

Burkina Faso

Iran

Jordan

Afghanistan

Kuwait

Lebanon

Bangladesh

Oman

Saudi Arabia

China

U.A.E.

India

Ivory Coast

Hong Kong

Indonesia

India

Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan

S. Korea

Malaysia

Malaysia

Pakistan

Myanmar

Singapore

Pakistan

Thailand

Philippines

Turkey

Turkey

Australia

Uzbekistan

Vietnam

Change since 2005:

Decrease

Increase of 1%-25%

26%-50%

51%-100%

More than 100%

People:

1m

10m

From

To

Cuba

Dom. Rep.

El Salvador

Mexico

U.S.

Puerto Rico

Poland

Romania

Russia

France

U.K.

Germany

Ukraine

Italy

Algeria

Russia

Pal. territories

Syria

Ukraine

Burkina Faso

Iran

Jordan

Afghanistan

Kuwait

Lebanon

Bangladesh

Oman

Saudi Arabia

China

U.A.E.

India

Ivory Coast

Hong Kong

Indonesia

India

Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan

S. Korea

Malaysia

Malaysia

Pakistan

Myanmar

Singapore

Pakistan

Thailand

Philippines

Turkey

Turkey

Australia

Uzbekistan

Vietnam

Change since 2005:

Decrease

Increase of 1%-25%

26%-50%

51%-100%

More than 100%

People:

1m

10m

From

To

Cuba

Dominican Rep.

El Salvador

Mexico

U.S.

Puerto Rico

Poland

Romania

Russia

France

U.K.

Germany

Ukraine

Italy

Algeria

Russia

Pal. territories

Syria

Ukraine

Burkina Faso

Iran

Jordan

Afghanistan

Kuwait

Lebanon

Bangladesh

Oman

Saudi Arabia

China

U.A.E.

India

Ivory Coast

Hong Kong

Indonesia

India

Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan

S. Korea

Malaysia

Malaysia

Pakistan

Myanmar

Singapore

Pakistan

Thailand

Philippines

Turkey

Turkey

Australia

Uzbekistan

Vietnam

Change since 2005:

Decrease

Increase of 1%-25%

26%-50%

51%-100%

More than 100%

People:

1m

10m

From

To

Cuba

Dom. Rep.

El Salvador

Mexico

U.S.

Puerto Rico

Poland

Romania

Russia

France

U.K.

Germany

Ukraine

Italy

Algeria

Russia

Pal. territ.

Syria

Ukraine

Iran

Burk. Faso

Jordan

Afghanistan

Kuwait

Lebanon

Bangladesh

Oman

China

S. Arabia

U.A.E.

India

Ivory Coast

Hong Kong

Indonesia

India

Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan

S. Korea

Malaysia

Malaysia

Pakistan

Myanmar

Singapore

Pakistan

Thailand

Philippines

Turkey

Turkey

Australia

Uzbekistan

Vietnam

Source: United Nations Population Division