September 2, 2014

7 facts about world migration

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Since humans first left Africa 60,000 years ago, they have been migrating around the planet in great numbers – and the advent of international borders certainly did not stop global migration. Although the percentage of the world’s people living outside of their birth countries has remained steady in recent decades, the world’s increasing population means that the sheer number of international migrants has never been higher.

This interactive map, which uses United Nations Population Division data, lets you view the total number of people living outside their birth countries. It also shows migrants in both directions – as emigrants, who have left their origin country, or as immigrants, who have entered a destination country. The U.N. defines an international migrant as a person who has been living for one year or longer in a country other than the one in which he or she was born.

Here are seven interesting global migration patterns we found using the map.

1The United Kingdom is home to the most diverse immigrant community in the world. It used to be said that the sun never set on the British Empire. Now, people from the many countries the British once ruled live inside the U.K.’s borders. Based on the Herfindahl-Hirschman index – which is widely used by biologists, ecologists, linguists, economists, sociologists and demographers to measure the degree of concentration of human or biological populations – the diversity of immigrant birth countries in the U.K. on a 0 to 100 scale is 97. For immigrants living in the U.S., it is 91.

2The French like to live all over the world – emigrants from France live in more countries than emigrants from any other nation. Using the Herfindahl index, the destination diversity of emigrants born in France is 95 on a 0 to 100 scale. It is 89 for American-born people living outside of the U.S. There are at least 1,000 French-born people living in each of 83 different countries and territories; the most popular destinations are Spain (220,000) and the United States (180,000).

3The Mexico-to-U.S. link is the most popular bilateral migration path in the world. As of 2013, more Mexican immigrants (13 million) were living in the U.S. than all immigrants to Russia combined (11 million). Russia has the second largest number of total foreign-born residents, after the United States, which has a total foreign-born population of about 46 million.

4The number of Indian-born people living outside of India and the number of Chinese-born people living outside China both doubled between 1990 and 2013 – for India, from 7 million to 14 million, and for China, from 4 million to 9 million. India has the largest number of people living outside of its borders, in 2013 surpassing Mexico, the former leader. (Russia and China rank third and fourth, respectively.) The United Arab Emirates (2.9 million) and the United States (2.1 million) have the most Indian migrants, while Hong Kong (2.3 million) and the U.S. (2.2 million) are the top destinations for Chinese migrants.

5The number of immigrants living in Spain grew nearly eightfold between 1990 and 2013, from less than 1 million to more than 6 million. Spain’s economy was soaring prior to the global recession, drawing migrants from Europe, Latin America, North Africa and elsewhere. Spain’s economic structure, immigration laws and demographics combine to create an attractive landing spot for prospective immigrants.

6The United Arab Emirates has the highest share of foreign-born people (84% of its population). The next three highest – Qatar (74%), Kuwait (60%) and Bahrain (55%) – also are in the Persian Gulf area. Immigrants in the UAE and neighboring countries come from many different places, but the largest numbers are from India, Bangladesh and Pakistan. The foreign-born population has grown by nearly 500% in recent decades, from 1.3 million in 1990 to 7.8 million in 2013.

7Countries with the fewest resources send lower shares of migrants. Although international migration is intrinsically tied with the search for jobs, people in the most impoverished countries may not have the money to finance a trip. The Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Niger – countries with some of the lowest U.N. Human Development Index ratings and GDP per capita – all have less than 3% of their population living outside their borders.

Category: 5 Facts

Topics: Immigration, Demographics, Migration

  1. is a former advanced analytics intern at Pew Research Center.


  1. Anonymous1 year ago

    The article didn’t help

  2. Evelyn2 years ago

    Great article: Thank You!!!!

  3. calvin2 years ago


  4. Hailey2 years ago

    Cool article! I’m doing a project on early migration and this was the perfect tool!

  5. Bill Weller3 years ago

    Fascinating story. Kudos to the writer.

  6. nelson maldonado3 years ago


  7. Sharon3 years ago

    OK Christopher, what nationality is “Inkpen,” and do you have an Irish sense of humor?

  8. Ryan3 years ago

    Can the diversity of immigrant populations based on the Herfindahl-Hirschman index be shared for all the countries surveyed?

  9. Lovezite3 years ago

    Why is Mexico and Africa the same color? I didn’t understand the color match

    1. Raul2 years ago

      The color is a scale, Numbers only

  10. Eric Brock3 years ago

    Some of the UN data looks suspect. The Bangladesh data in particular: 21,000 Antiguans & Barbudans in Bangladesh? 86,000 Laotians? More Hong Kongers living in Bangladesh than in mainland China?

  11. Linda Kotran3 years ago

    Excellent article. Quite interesting. Well done, Chris!