Posted on December 14, 2010

US Is Still the World’s Leading Destination for Immigrants

Guardian (London), December 14, 2010

In a study published last month, France’s Demographic Studies Institute (Ined) lists countries that have the largest number of migrants in absolute or relative terms, and also where the millions of migrants come from.

Although a large number leave their homes in the developing world in search of work in industrialised countries, there is still significant movement between emerging economies, and from one part of the developed world to another.

Of the 214 million people living outside their home country (just over 3% of the world’s population, according to a UN estimate published this year), 62 million left a country in the south for a destination in the north. Migration between countries in the south involved 61 million people, against 53 million in the north.

With 43 million foreign nationals on American territory in 2010, according to UN forecasts, the US remains the world’s prime destination for immigration, well ahead of Russia, with 12.3 million immigrants. In all, some 13% of the population were born outside the US. For the last five years its “migratory balance”–the difference between the number of people entering and leaving the country–is estimated at 1 million a year.

In most other industrialised western democracies the proportion of immigrants ranges from 7% to 16%, according to Ined. This category includes Germany (13%), France (11%), the UK and the Netherlands (10%), and Belgium (9%). Spain is a relative newcomer, having only become a big destination for immigration in the past 20 years, with a peak in 2002-07. Immigrants now account for 14% of the population.

But in terms of the share of the total population these countries have fallen far behind the Gulf states, where immigrants sometimes outnumber the natives, as in Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait. Europe has also been overtaken by Australia and Canada, where 21% of the population are immigrants.

Lastly, the proportion of immigrants is particularly high in countries with an attractive tax system, such as Monaco (72%), Singapore (41%), or to a lesser extent Luxembourg (35%) and Switzerland (23%).

So where do the migrants come from? The answers here are less precise, “arrivals being more accurately registered than departures”. Mexico ranks as the top source country (10 million migrants) with many of its citizens resident in the US. India is close behind (9 million), followed by Bangladesh (6.5 million).

But as a percentage of total population the smaller countries rank highly for emigration. A third of the population of the Cape Verde islands live abroad. The same is true of Bosnia, with almost as many (27%) having left Albania. The UK stands out: in 2000, it had almost as many emigrants (4.2 million) as immigrants (4.9 million). In contrast, France is one of the countries with the smallest number of expatriates.

Finally a word of caution: the national perspective underpinning the Ined study fails to reveal the full picture regarding migration. For example, proportionally only a very few Chinese move abroad (0.1%), but huge numbers of people have migrated from one province to another in recent years.

This article originally appeared in Le Monde.