Number of international migrants rises above 232 million, UN reports

Director of UN-DESA Population Division John Wilmoth speaks to journalists in New York. UN Photo/Evan Schneider

11 September 2013 – More people than ever are living abroad the United Nations today reported, with Asia seeing the largest increase of international migrants over the past decade, and the United States remaining the most popular destination.

New figures from the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN-DESA) show that 232 million people, or 3.2 per cent of the world’s population, live abroad worldwide, compared with 175 million in 2000 and 154 million in 1990.

In addition, the figures also show a shift since 2000 with South-North and South-South migration at about 82 million international migrants.

“Most international migrants originate in developing country but in recent years they have been settling in almost equal number in developed and developing regions,” John Wilmoth, Director of UN-DESA’s Population Division told journalists in New York. He spoke alongside Bela Hovy, Chief of the Migration Section.

The figures are released ahead of a high-level global summit on migration and development to be held by the General Assembly in New York on 3 and 4 October.

This second high-level dialogue will aim to identifying concrete measures to strengthen coherence and cooperation at all levels, with a view to enhancing the benefits of international migration for migrants and countries alike and its important link to development, while reducing its negative impacts.

“Migration, when governed fairly, can make a very important contribution to social and economic development both in the countries of origin and in the countries of destination,” said Wu Hongbo, UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs.

“Migration broadens the opportunities available to individuals and is a crucial means of broadening access to resources and reducing poverty.”

According to the latest statistics, Europe and Asia host nearly two-thirds of all international migrants worldwide. Europe remains the most popular destination region with 72 million international migrants in 2013, compared to 71 million in Asia.

Within Europe, Germany and France hosts the largest immigrant communities due to work migration and geographic routes with North Africa.

“New sources and destinations of migrants are emerging, and in some cases, countries have become important points of origin, transit and destination simultaneously,” Mr. Wilmoth said.

Compared to other regions of destination, Asia saw the largest increase of international migrants since 2000, adding some 20 million migrants in 13 years.

This growth was mainly fuelled by the increasing demand for foreign labour in the oil-producing countries of Western Asia and in South-Eastern Asian countries with rapidly growing economies, such as Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand.

The world’s largest corridor of international migration, however, remains between the United States and Mexico, according to the latest figures.

The US gained the largest absolute number of international migrants between 1990 and 2013—nearly 23 million, equal to one million additional migrants per year.

The United Arab Emirates recorded the second largest gain with seven million, followed by Spain with six million.

The findings also show that 74 per cent of international migrants are of working age, between 20 and 64 years of age, and that are about evenly spread between genders, with women accounting for 48 per cent of all international migrants.


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