The United Nations has released a 2015 update on the state of the world’s migrantion stock – those who have left the land of their birth to work and live overseas (usually as economic migrants, but also as refugees). The results have been reproduced in a number of interesting and colourful graphs and infographics (as well as some less colourful and interesting spreadsheets). Some of the more interesting numbers are as follows:

  • There are 244 million international migrants in 2015. In 2000 there were 173 million. (This represents an increase of 41% over that time which gives an indication of our growing interconnectedness and globailisation.)

  • International migrants are generally older and more masculine than the world population. The median age of these migrants is 39 years old (the world’s is about 30 years). They are 48% female (50% for the world).

  • Around a third of these migrants live in Europe, another third in Asia and a quarter in North America.

  • By far and away the most popular country for migrants to head to is the USA. It has been in this position since at least 1990 and is home to 46.6 million internation migrants (one-fifth of the world’s total).

  • The countries that are the next most popular destinations of international migrants after the USA are, in order: Germany (with 12 million); the Russian Federation (11.6 million); Saudi Arabia (10.2 million); the United Kingdom (8.2 million); and the UAE which has shot up the rankings with 8.1 million. The biggest surprise on that list might be Saudi Arabia – international migrants make up a third of its resident population!

  • On the flip side, the country with the largest number of their citizens-at-birth who have left and live somewhere else is now India with 15.6 million of its citizens living elsewhere.

  • The other countries topping the list with the largest diaspora are, in order: Mexico (12.3 million); the Russian Federation (10.6 million); China (9.5 million); Bangladesh (7.2 million); and Pakistan (5.2 million).

  • The big riser on the diaspora list is the Syrian Arab Republic with 3.9 million people living in other countries – for obvious and tragic reasons.

  • As the UN Highlights Reports shows, the number of refugees worldwide is continuing to grow:

      “The number of refugees worldwide has reached the highest level since World War II. In 2014, the total number of refugees in the world was estimated at 19.5 million, representing about 8 per cent of all international migrants…Developing regions hosted 86 per cent of the world’s refugees (12.4 million persons), the highest value in more than two decades…In 2014, Turkey became the largest refugee-hosting country worldwide, with 1.6 million refugees. Turkey was followed by Pakistan (1.5 million), Lebanon (1.2 million), the Islamic Republic of Iran (1.0 million), Ethiopia and Jordan (0.7 million each). More than half (53 per cent) of refugees under UNHCR’s mandate come from just three countries: the Syrian Arab Republic (3.9 million), Afghanistan (2.6 million) and Somalia (1.1 million).”

Migration is certainly a pressing issue in many countries around the world. The ability to control one’s borders is one of the definitions of a Westphalian nation-state and growing numbers of migrants and refugees is placing pressure upon that ability in many areas of the world. It will not be surprising if the number of migrants continues to grow throughout the 21st century. While migrants are economically useful, particularly for countries that will not reproduce their own populations, migrants also pose challenges. These challenges fall on the host country in terms of questions of assimilation, multi-culturalism, or changing one’s own culture. But they also fall upon migrants themselves who have to face language, cultural, economic and personal hardships. How different countries respond to migration will go a long way to determining the changing face of our planet in the 21st century.

Marcus Roberts was two years out of law school when he decided that practising law was no longer for him. He therefore went back to university and did his LLM while tutoring. He now teaches contract and...