Published on People Move

International migration at all-time high, but far short of what is needed

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In observance of the International Migrants’ Day, December 18th

“International migration at all-time high,” that’s the headline of our press release (Also available in: Español | Français | русскийالعربية). We decided to release an advance edition of Migration and Remittances Factbook 2016 today, to mark the International Migrants’ Day. Yet, by all means the level of international migration is not too high: at 250 million, it is only 3.4 percent of world population, only slightly higher than 3.0 percent in 1990. Compared to the growth of international trade and investment flows, the increase in international migration is negligible. The world needs more migration, for growth, for reducing poverty, for sharing prosperity. But it can’t, because “we” don’t want too many of “them”. Even if that makes both us and them poorer, our societies less interesting, and not necessarily safer.

This is the third edition of the Factbook which was launched first in 2008. It presents numbers and facts behind the stories of international migration and remittances, drawing on authoritative, publicly available data. Some interesting highlights:

  • The top migrant destination country is the United States, followed by Saudi Arabia, Germany, the Russian Federation, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, France, Canada, Spain, and Australia. The top immigration countries, relative to population, are outside the high-income OECD countries: Qatar (91 percent), United Arab Emirates (88 percent), Kuwait (72 percent), Jordan (56 percent), and Bahrain (54 percent).
  • The volume of South-South migration stands at 38 percent of the total migrant stock. South-South migration is larger than South-North migration, which is about 34 percent. (The definition of the “North” and the “South” follows UN classification.) Immigration figures in the South are less reliable than those in the North, implying that the true share of South-South migration is likely larger than 38 percent. This has important implications: both immigration and emigration are important for developing countries. Indeed, this phenomenon will only grow in the future.
  • Excluding refugees from the West Bank and Gaza, the number of refugees in 2014 was 14.4 million, or 6 percent, of international migrants in 2013. About 86 percent of refugees are hosted by developing countries. Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon, Iran, Ethiopia, Jordan, Kenya, Chad, and Uganda are the largest host countries. The Syrian Arab Republic was the top source country of refugees in 2014. In Lebanon, refugees made up 35 percent of the population in 2014.
  • In 2015, worldwide remittance flows are estimated to have exceeded $601 billion. Of that amount, developing countries are estimated to receive about $441 billion, nearly three times the amount of official development assistance. The true size of remittances, including unrecorded flows through formal and informal channels, is believed to be significantly larger.
  • High-income countries are the main source of remittances. The United States is by far the largest, with an estimated $56.3 billion in recorded outflows in 2014. Saudi Arabia ranks as the second largest, followed by the Russia, Switzerland, Germany, United Arab Emirates, and Kuwait. The six Gulf Cooperation Council countries accounted for $98 billion in outward remittance flows in 2014.
  • The cost of remittances is the highest in Sub-Saharan Africa and in the Pacific Island countries (for example, it costs more than 20 percent to send $200 from Australia to Vanuatu, and 19 percent from South Africa to Zambia). As of the third quarter of 2015, the average cost worldwide remained closer to 8 percent---far above the 3 percent target set in the Sustainable Development Goals.


Dilip Ratha

Lead Economist and Economic Adviser to the Vice President of Operations, Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency, World Bank

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