Published on People Move

Around the World, More Say Immigrants Are a Strength Than a Burden

This page in:
Publics divided on immigrants’ willingness to adopt host country’s customs

Majorities in some of the world’s top destinations for international migrants say immigrants strengthen their countries, according to a new Pew Research Center report with data from 18 nations which host more than half the world’s migrant population.

In 10 of 18 countries surveyed, majorities view immigrants as a strength rather than a burden. Among those 10 are some of the largest immigrant receiving countries in the world: the United States, Germany, the United Kingdom, France, Canada and Australia (each hosting more than 7 million immigrants in 2017).

In the U.S., the nation with the world’s largest number of immigrants, six-in-ten adults (59%) say immigrants make the country stronger because of their work and talents, while one-third How PFM Reforms Around Budget Credibility Impact Service Delivery(34%) say immigrants are a burden because they take jobs and social benefits. Views about immigrants have shifted in the U.S. since the 1990s, when most Americans said immigrants were a burden to the country.

Views about the impact of immigrants have also changed in six of the European Union countries surveyed since 2014, the last time the Center asked European publics this question. In Greece, Germany and Italy, three countries that experienced high volumes of arrivals during the 2015 refugee surge, the share saying immigrants make their countries stronger dropped significantly in 2018. By contrast, public opinion shifted in the opposite direction in France, the UK and Spain, countries that received fewer asylum seekers in 2015.

The survey also finds that publics are split on immigrants’ willingness to adopt their societies’ customs and way of life. In six destination countries – Japan, Mexico, South Africa, the U.S., France and Sweden – publics are more likely to say immigrants want to adopt the host country’s customs and way of life than say immigrants want to be distinct. By contrast, in eight destination countries – Hungary, Russia, Greece, Italy, Germany, Poland, Israel and Australia – more people say immigrants want to be distinct than say they are willing to adopt the host country’s customs.

Around the world, there is less concern about immigrant crime than the risk posed of terrorism. In several immigrant destination countries, large majorities say immigrants are not more to blame for crime than other groups. This is the case in Canada, the U.S., France and the UK. Only in South Africa, Sweden and Greece do majorities believe that immigrants are more to blame for crime than other groups. By contrast, majorities in seven European nations – Hungary, Greece, Italy, Sweden, Russia, Germany and the Netherlands – believe immigrants increase the risk of terrorism in their countries.

In addition, majorities in many countries think immigrants in their country illegally should be deported. In seven of the 10 EU countries surveyed, majorities support the deportation of immigrants living in their country illegally.

These are among the findings of a Pew Research Center survey conducted among 19,235 respondents between May 14 and August 10, 2018 in 18 countries. More details about our international survey methodology and country-specific sample designs are available here.


Ana Gonzalez-Barrera

Senior Research, Pew Research Center

Phillip Connor

Senior Researcher, Pew Research Center

Join the Conversation

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly
Remaining characters: 1000