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January 2010, Volume 17, Number 1

Global: UN Migrants, Population

The UN estimated the stock of international migrants at 214 million in 2010, meaning that 3.1 percent of the world’s 6.9 billion people were living outside their country of birth ( The 128 million migrants in more-developed countries were 10.3 percent of their 1.2 billion population, while the 86 million in less-developed countries were 1.5 percent of their 5.7 billion people. The ratio of the share of migrants to share of population in industrial countries was 3.3 (industrial countries had a 3.3 higher share of migrants than their share of global population), highlighting the fact that migrants usually move from poorer to richer countries.

The 48 countries of Europe (including Russia) had the most migrants. Europe’s 70 million migrants were almost 10 percent of Europe's 733 million residents, and Europe’s share of the world’s migrants was three times its share of the world population. There were 61 million migrants in the 50 Asian countries, making migrants 1.5 percent of the 4.2 billion Asian residents; the ratio of Asia’s share of global migrants to its share of global population was one-half. Almost half of Asia’s migrants were in western Asia, which the UN defines as the Gulf countries and the Middle East (Saudi Arabia accounted for 12 percent of Asia’s migrants).

North America had 50 million migrants in 2010, including 43 million in the US and 7.2 million in Canada. North America’s share of global migrants was almost five times its share of global population, as a seventh of residents were foreign born. Oceania had the highest share of migrants among residents, as 22 percent of the residents of Australia and New Zealand were foreign born. Oceania had less than one percent of the global population and three percent of the world’s migrants.

Africa and Latin America had relatively few migrants in 2010, about 19 million and seven million, respectively. In both continents, a few countries had high shares of migrants in their population, as with Libya and Ivory Coast, which each had more than 10 percent migrants, or Costa Rica, which had more than 10 percent migrants, but the relative paucity of migrants in population giants such as Nigeria and Brazil reduced the share of migrants in Africa and Latin America.

The countries with the most migrants were the US, 43 million; Russia, 12 million; Germany, 11 million; and Saudi Arabia, Canada, and France, about seven million each; these six countries included 87 million migrants, or 40 percent of the total. Countries with the highest share of migrants in their populations were mostly Gulf oil exporters such as Qatar, where over 85 percent of residents are migrants, and UAE and Kuwait, with 70 percent migrants. The countries with the lowest migrant shares of residents include China, Indonesia, Vietnam, Peru and Cuba, where less than one tenth of one percent of residents are migrants.

Western Union-EIU. An online survey of 500 business leaders in September 2009, 90 percent of whom hired foreign workers, found three-fourths agreeing that migration benefits their business and the larger economy— the surprise may be that some leaders of businesses that hire foreign workers do not believe migrants benefit their businesses and the economy. Most business leaders say migrants have specific skills; 20 percent say they depend on migrants.

The survey asserts that migrants are "an economic engine in every region of the world, as foreign workers often fill an unmet demand."

Most business leaders are satisfied with current procedures for hiring foreign workers— a quarter said regulations made it difficult to hire migrants. Most are not involved publicly in trying to lower barriers to hiring migrants.

At the request of Western Union, the Economist Intelligence Unit in 2008 compiled a migration index (Global Migration Barometer) that ranks 61 countries by how attractive and open they are to migration.

Mobility. There are more countries, and more countries sending and receiving people between them, than at any time in history. Most migration is economically motivated, moving workers and their families from poorer to richer countries. Many receiving-country governments are unsure how to respond to some of their employers seeking to hire foreign workers who are eager to enter and work.

Governments who find it difficult to expand legal labor migration or to prevent unauthorized migration are by default allowing employers and labor brokers and other intermediaries to "make" immigration policy, defined as determining how many, from where, and in what status newcomers arrive.

What should governments do to improve migration management? Demetrios Papademetriou in "The Age of Mobility" provides a familiar summary of the problem and offers a familiar solution, open the front door wider to the immigrants desired by employers to help close the "back door" to unauthorized workers. Citing demographic projections of shrinking labor forces, Papademetriou urges "leadership" to overcome public opposition to more migration, calling on leaders to demonstrate both the "inevitability" of more migration and its economic benefits.

The debate about how leaders should "shape" inevitable migration may be sharpest in "non-immigrant" Europe, which has some of the largest gaps between elites groping to open front-doors wider and public opinion skeptical of more migration because of, for instance, high unemployment rates among foreigners. European elites have little credibility on migration, since governments that recruited low-skilled guest workers in the 1960s and 1970s promised they would not settle.

It is not clear that repeating the 1960s in the 21st century will have a different result. Papademetriou proposes a return to the 1960s, urging European governments to allow foreign workers to enter on probation and earn rights to settle with work and good behavior. Papademetriou assumes that migrants will obtain good jobs with good benefits, including health insurance, but proposes that access to non-work related benefits be limited while foreigners are on probation, creating layers or tiers in social assistance programs.

Papademetriou concludes that elites must "teach" restrictionist publics that immigration is inevitable and good for them. Papademetriou wants EU states to give the EU more power over migration (flow management), but give local governments more authority over integration. Essentially, this is an argument that employers should get what they want, and that governments should overrule restrictionist publics to open doors wider to immigrants.

Papademetriou, Demetrios. 2007. The Age of Mobility.