Recent figures out of the UN’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) highlight how labour mobility is increasing.
Today, the number of international migrants (defined as anyone who has changed their “country of usual residence” involuntarily or voluntarily) has reached 272 million people, or 3.5 percent of the global population. In 2010 this figure was 221 million, while in 2000 the percentage of the global population who were international migrants was only 2.8. This means that in the first two decades of this century the number of people who are changing country is growing at a faster rate than the world’s population.
About a quarter of the increase in international migrants numbers since 2010 is due to more refugees and asylum seekers – there were 13 million more today than there were in 2010.
As for the destinations of these international migrants, despite the popular perception, the United States is still the number one destination for migrants – there were 51 million in the US alone (or a fifth of the world’s migrant population). The other top country destinations for migrants were Germany and Saudi Arabia, while Europe was the continent with the most migrants (82 million). As a proportion of the population Oceania has the largest foreign-born population (over a fifth of our population are international migrants).
The UN’s DESA is of course supportive of the Global Compacts for refugees and migration and trumpets the benefits of migration for the economic success and development of both their new homes (through their labour and consumption) and their countries-of-origin (through remittances).
Furthermore, DESA also argues that migrants contribute “a major social contribution through transmission of ideas”.
However, migration can also be a destabilising force for the destination country (see Europe) as well as depriving the countries of origin of some of their brightest minds and young people. As Africa’s population continues to grow and other parts of the world, especially Europe, continue to have stagnating and ageing populations, the number of migrants will probably only increase.
In the years ahead the movement of peoples from Africa northward will be one of the geopolitical realities and crises that will garner the most attention. We live in a mobile world and it is getting more mobile.
Marcus Roberts is co-editor of Demography is Destiny, MercatorNet's blog on population issues.