11 September 2013
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference by Population Division on International Migration Statistics


The number of international migrants worldwide had reached 232 million in 2013, up from 175 million in 2000 and 154 million in 1990, United Nations officials said at a Headquarters press conference today, stressing the importance of accurate, timely and unbiased research for evidence-based policy making.

“More people than ever are living abroad,” said John Wilmoth, Director, Population Division, Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), as he provided a new set of data on persons living outside their country of birth, adding that Member States and other stakeholders had repeatedly called for an improved evidence base. 

His Division had worked hard to respond to that demand, he said, expressing hope that the new data would inform the ongoing debate about international migration, particularly the High-Level Dialogue on International Migration and Development, to be held on 3 and 4 October in New York.

Highlighting some major findings from the recent publication “Trends and International Migration 2013 Revision”, he said that six in every 10 international migrants were living in developed regions.  Those numbered 136 million, versus 96 million in the developing world.  Data had been fully disaggregated by age, sex, country of origin and destination.

The number of international migrants worldwide, however, only accounted for 3 per cent of the total population — 11 per cent in the developed countries and less than 2 per cent in the developing world, he said.  Yet, “the effect of migration is much broader than these simple percentages suggest,” he added, noting that “many people who do not migrate are also impacted by migration”.

Europe and Asia hosted the largest number of international migrants — 72 million in Europe and 71 million in Asia, together accounting for nearly two thirds of all migrants worldwide.  The migrant population was highly concentrated in 10 nations, with the United States topping the list with 46 million, followed by the Russian Federation at 11 million, Germany at 10 million and Saudi Arabia at 9 million.

About three quarters of the total migrant population was of working age, between 20 and 64 — significantly higher than 58 per cent for the general population.  Women accounted for 52 per cent of migrants in the global North and 43 per cent in the South, he said. 

Migration between countries in the South was most common around 1990, but since 2000, migration from South to North had become as common as South-to-South flows, with the former category totalling 82.3 million people in 2013 versus 81.9 million for the latter group.  The world’s largest corridor of international movements was between the United States and Mexico, with the former hosting 13 million Mexicans.

Refugees accounted for a relatively small share of migration, at 15.7 million, or 7 per cent of all migrants in 2013, he went on.  Nearly 9 of 10 refugees worldwide were in developing regions, with Asia hosting by far the largest number, at 10.4 million.

Asked if data included a breakdown for Syrian refugees, Mr. Wilmoth said that his Division had statistics provided by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which indicated that there were more than 2 million in Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Iraq, with Lebanon hosting more than one third of the total.  

To a question about whether Puerto Rico was categorized as a “country”, he said the Statistics Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs carved up the map into 232 countries and areas for a statistical purpose, not based on national boundaries.  For instance, Hong Kong and China were separate. 

Concerning an Australian policy of sending migrants and asylum seekers to Papua New Guinea, Bela Hovy, Chief, Migration Section of the Population Division, said “this is not the right place to debate a country’s policy”.

Regarding heavy migrant flows between Ukraine and the Russian Federation, Mr. Wilmoth explained that that was due to the break-up of the Soviet Union.  Many people of Russian origin now lived in Ukraine and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).  What used to be internal migration had now become international migration, he added.

Asked if there had been any changes in migration trends between Mexico and the United States, Mr. Hovy said that migration from China and India to the United States had outpaced migration from Mexico over the past 10 years.  There had been a “reverse” of flows, he added, due to the American economic downturn, stronger border controls, robust Mexican economy and some demographic factors, such as a declining birth rate among Mexican women.

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For information media • not an official record