The Fifth Largest Country – International Migrants

The first step toward making migration manageable is to understand why people migrate. Most people do not want to cross national borders, and even though the number of migrants is at an all-time high, international migration is still low relative to the 97 percent of the world’s residents who did not migrate.

Furthermore, economic growth can turn emigration nations into destinations for migrants, as it did for Ireland, Italy, and Korea. The challenge is to manage migration by reducing the differences that encourage people to cross borders, while taking into account how investment, remittances, and aid can stimulate economic development and reduce migration pressures in the countries that migrants leave.

—Philip Martin, editor of Migration News and Rural Migration News and Gottfried Zürcher, Director General of the International Center for Migration Policy Development in Vienna

If the global migrant population were a country, it would be the fifth most populous country in the world. People of every age, nationality, and income level leave home to look for better opportunities elsewhere. Some want to help their families financially. Others go abroad to attend school, join family members, or escape political instability. For many, migration is a chance to obtain an education, earn meaningful wages, assist family, and improve their overall quality of life. Migration patterns take many shapes and tell countless stories.

Regardless of the policies implemented by receiving countries, migration is an aspect of modern demography that is here to stay. In fact, according to Christopher Horwood, coordinator of the Nairobi-based Regional Mixed Migration Secretariat, “When borders and policies become more restrictive the unpleasant truth is that migration doesn’t stop, it merely adapts. [It] makes smugglers more desperate to evade police and thereby take further risks with the men and women in their boats, in their containers and misnamed `safe-houses.’”

Leaving family and community behind to relocate legally, or slip illegally into another country, is never an easy decision. Often, parents immigrate to countries with higher-paying jobs, leaving children behind with grandparents or other family members. More commonly, one parent finds work overseas and subsidizes the spouse and children that remain in the home country.

Breaking up family may be a last resort to ensure that those in the home country can make ends meet. Parents often wrestle with guilt. Children struggle emotionally with feelings of abandonment. Juana’s son has not seen his father since he was 11 years old. He migrated from Mexico to the U.S. to earn money to support their first son who was often sick. “It feels bad because he left when I was a child. It was hard to go through my adolescence without the support of a father. Without having him, without him giving me advice or him orienting me. That he would help me get through whatever problem I may have. For me it was something tough, difficult. Having him distant and far away. It is a problem that I feel bad about.”

Sri Lankan Tamil refugees wait at the South India coastal border for a security check after a riskycrossing at sea. Photo: Senthil, Courtesy of Photoshare

Risking Everything

Border crossings can be a dangerous— even deadly—endeavor. In July of 2012, a raft carrying immigrants of various nationalities from Libya to Italy was stuck at sea for 15 days, during which time 54 people died of dehydration as their raft slowly deflated. There was only one survivor.

A group of Ethiopian immigrants trying to reach South Africa were left on the side of the road in Tanzania to hide in the bush while their smugglers checked the route ahead. They had no food or water for fi ve days. “We shared the little water we had and ate leaves,” recalled Abdo Giro, an Ethiopian immigrant. “Many of us got sick from the heat and malaria; four people died while we were there.” Giro was traveling in a cramped truck, which was uncomfortable and a far cry from the “nice car” promised by the smugglers, but he fi nally arrived in South Africa (with a large debt to pay his smugglers). Others in his group weren’t so lucky. Half of them were traveling in the back of a truck loaded with wood—16 suffocated along the way.

Where Do Immigrants Settle?

Over 215 million people (including 15.4 million refugees)—or approximately 3 percent of the world’s population, live outside their home countries. A large number of them (61 million) migrated from one developing country to another. About the same number migrated from a developing country to a developed one. The remaining immigrants moved between developed countries. The third group is actually the largest.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are 40 million foreign born residents in the United States—about 13 percent of the total population. The Pew Hispanic Center estimates that approximately 11.2 million of these foreign born residents are unauthorized to be living here, representing 28 percent of the nation’s foreign-born population, and about 3.5 percent of the total population. A little less than half of them arrived legally and overstayed their visas or border crossing cards. The rest entered illegally.

After the United States, Russia is the second largest immigrant-receiving country. It is also the third largest sending country. Ukraine is at the top of both lists as well. India is among the top fi ve sending countries and is the tenth-largest receiving country. These examples illustrate the complexity of migration patterns.

Not counted among the 215 immigrants are the 27.5 million people who are internally displaced (IDPs). These people remain in their home countries but have fl ed to different regions. Until South Sudan declared independence in 2011, Sudan had the highest number of IDPs at 5.2 million. Columbia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, and Somalia each currently have over a million IDPs.

Top Receiving Countries in 2012(millions of immigrants)

  • United States (42.8)
  • European Union (18.5)
  • Russia (12.3)
  • Germany (10.8)
  • Saudi Arabia (7.3)
  • Canada (7.2)
  • United Kingdom (7.0)
  • France (6.9)
  • Spain (6.9)
  • Ukraine (6.8)
  • India (5.7)
  • Australia (5.5)
  • India (5.4)

Migrant Remittances

Remittances are earnings that immigrant workers send to their home countries, usually directly to their families. In 2011, global remittances to developing countries were estimated by the World Bank to reach $372 billion. Remittances in many countries make up a huge percentage of GDP: e.g. Tajikistan (35 percent), Tonga (28 percent), and Moldova (23 percent). In fact, remittances are three times the size of offi cial development assistance. The top remittance-receiving countries are [in descending order]: India, China, Mexico, and the Philippines. In 2010, Indian workers abroad sent home $55 billion. Chinese workers sent $51 billion in remittances.

Immigration and Population Growth

According to population projections modeled by the Pew Research Center, 82 percent of the increase in U.S. population between 2005 and 2050 will be from immigrants and their descendants. However, immigrants who die in the U.S. are counted along with native-born deaths in mortality statistics, artifi cially boosting the percentage of population growth attributed to immigration. (Natural increase is the term used for population growth due to births minus deaths—it is meant to exclude immigration, but it doesn’t completely succeed, as many of the deaths that occur in the U.S. are those of people who immigrated.)

Immigration impacts other developed countries’ demographics as well. In 2010, net overseas immigration to Australia accounted for 60 percent of the country’s total population growth. That same year, Canada accepted more than 280,600 permanent residents—a record high. Between 2000 and 2010, immigration accounted for two-thirds of Canada’s population growth. Fertility in Canada is low, at 1.58 children per woman. But its population growth rate and net migration rate are both higher than those of the U.S.

Though it contributes to domestic population growth, immigration does not increase world population. In fact, moving to another country may enable people to have fewer children by increasing access to family planning and other health services. Revising immigration policies and tightening borders will not slow global population growth.

Historically, most migrants were men. Women who migrated did so primarily to accompany men. However, over the past several decades, studies have shown that women make up nearly half of all migrants, and recently, more and more women are migrating by themselves.

Large-scale immigration is one consequence of rapid population growth, which can create pressures that drive poverty, hunger, land degradation, poor health services, and limited social and economic opportunities. These problems motivate people to leave their homeland in search of better opportunities elsewhere.

Providing affordable access to voluntary family planning to the 222 million women in the developing world who say they do not want to become pregnant would go a long way in slowing population growth— easing immigration pressures as a result.

One thought on “The Fifth Largest Country – International Migrants

  1. I study immigration as a phenomenon. Thank you for the article, in it you reflected the main issues: understanding of immigration,
    economic consequences

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