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January 2020, Volume 26, Number 1

Global Trends

The IOM's World Migration Report 2020 surveyed trends in international migration, noting that UN's DESA estimated there were 272 million international migrants in 2019, up from 221 million in 2010. The number of international migrants has tripled since 1970, and the migrant share of the world's population rose from 2.3 percent to 3.5 percent of the world's 7.7 billion people in 2019.

Asia (84 million) and Europe (82 million) have over 60 percent of the world's migrants; migrants are a much larger share of Europe's 740 million people, 11 percent, than they are of Asia's 4.6 billion, 1.8 percent. Migrant shares were highest in Oceania, where eight million migrants among 38 million people made migrants 21 percent of residents, and North America (Canada and US), where 59 million migrants among 370 million people made migrants 16 percent of residents.

Migrants move to opportunity. There are several ways to classify countries by their level of income. The UN's "more developed" countries had 152 million or 55 percent of international migrants in 2019, while the World Bank's "high income" countries (with per capita incomes of $12,000 or more) had 176 million or 65 percent of international migrants.
The ILO estimated 164 million migrant workers in 2017, making two-thirds of all migrants workers. Most migrant workers are in high-income countries, where the 111 million migrant workers were 18 percent of the 600 million workers. There was rapid growth in the number of migrant workers in upper middle income developing countries between 2013 and 2017.

Mexico was the largest emigration country in the Americas, sending almost 12 million migrants abroad or 10 percent of its population. Colombia and Venezuela send the next largest number of people abroad, about three million each, but Jamaica sent the highest share of citizens abroad, over 40 percent, followed by El Salvador, 25 percent.

Urbanization. Half of the world's people lived in urban areas in 2009. Rural-urban migration is continuing, and over two-thirds of the world's people are expected to live in cities by 2050.

Most of the world's megacities with 10 million or more residents are in Asia, led by three cities with more than 30 million residents, Tokyo with 38 million, Shanghai with 34 million, and Jakarta with 32 million. Cities with 20 to 30 million people include Delhi, Seoul, Guangzhou, Beijing, Manila, Mumbai, New York, Shenzhen, Sao Paulo, Mexico City, Lagos, and Osaka. Cairo is the largest city in Africa with 19 million people, and Kinshasa is the largest city in sub-Saharan Africa with 12 million people.

Urbanization is most rapid in Africa, a continent whose population is expected to double by 2040 to over two billion. In 1960, a sixth of Africans lived in cities, compared with a third globally. Urbanization accelerated after independence from colonial powers, prompting many African governments to implement policies that aimed to reduce and regulate rural-urban migration. These policies have been relaxed, and urbanization is accelerating.

There are likely to be many changes as a result of urbanization in sub-Saharan Africa, where 60 percent of residents are under 25. City residents demand more accountability; they expect governments to provide basic services such as water and sewage. Optimists believe that an urbanizing Africa will increase democracy and accountability, while pessimists see massive slums fueling discontent.

Many megacities in developing countries have poor infrastructure, forcing poor households to pay for basic services such as water. Water utilities in Lagos, Karachi and other cities frequently fail to deliver water, allowing for-profit tank trucks that charge up to 20 times more than public water utilities to fill the gap.

In Katmandu, which gets water from the Himalyas but whose public water utility frequently fails to deliver water via its pipes, many people pay 1,800 rupees or $16 for 5,000 liters, 40 times more than the public utility charge. Some residents allege that the 400 tanker truck firms pay corrupt water utility workers to turn off water or slow down fixes in order to sell more tanker water to households.

Trade. After WWII, the US led global processes that lowered barriers to trade in goods. After the fall of Communism in the early 1990s, trade was expected to continue increasing and bind nations more closely together.

The election of Donald Trump in 2016 and Boris Johnson's victory in 2019 may pause or reverse the march toward freer trade, which is blamed by many middle class voters for displacement and inequality. Previous protectionism in the 1930s also prompted nationalist movements and eventually WWII.

Three development economists won the Nobel prize in economics in October 2019 for their use of experiments to determine which policies are most effective to reduce poverty. Two of the winners were immigrants, one born in India and one in France.

IOM. 2019. IOM's World Migration Report 2020.

UN DESA. 2019 revision of International Migrant Stock.