Numbers, Facts and Trends Shaping Your World

Summary of findings: Europe’s Unauthorized Immigrant Population Peaks in 2016, Then Levels Off

New estimates find half live in Germany and the United Kingdom

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Nov. 13, 2019) – At least 3.9 million unauthorized immigrants – and possibly as many as 4.8 million – lived in Europe in 2017, according to new Pew Research Center estimates. These totals are up from Center estimates for 2014, when between 3.0 million and 3.7 million unauthorized migrants resided in European nations, but are little changed from the recent peak of 4.1 million to 5.3 million in 2016.

This is the first time Pew Research Center has estimated the size of Europe’s unauthorized immigrant population and the first comprehensive European estimate in a decade. The new estimates are based on data from the 28 European Union member states and from four additional European Free Trade Association (EFTA) nations: Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.

Even with the growth of the unauthorized immigrant population in EU-EFTA countries since 2014, unauthorized immigrants in 2017 accounted for less than 1% of Europe’s total population of more than 500 million. Among immigrants in Europe, there were four times as many authorized immigrants from outside the EU-EFTA as there were unauthorized immigrants.

Every EU-EFTA country has some unauthorized immigrants, but the largest populations in 2017 were in Germany and the United Kingdom, amounting to about half of Europe’s total. Substantial shares also lived in Italy and France. Together, these top four countries had more than two-thirds (70%) of Europe’s unauthorized immigrants.

The recent rise in Europe’s long-standing unauthorized immigrant population from countries outside the EU and EFTA is largely due to a surge of asylum seekers who mostly arrived  in 2015. According to the Center’s estimates, asylum seekers in Europe awaiting a decision on their application accounted for roughly a quarter (20% to 24%) of the unauthorized immigrant population in 2017.

“The surge of asylum seekers contributed to a higher number of unauthorized immigrants in many European countries,” said Senior Researcher Phillip Connor, the lead author of the report. “But unauthorized immigrants also include those who overstayed a visa or entered Europe illegally, many of whom migrated years ago.”

Since asylum seekers waiting for a decision have a temporary lawful status, the Center also produced estimates without this group. Not including asylum seekers awaiting a decision on their application, the Center estimates between 2.9 million and 3.8 million unauthorized immigrants lived in Europe in 2017, an apparent increase from the estimated 2.4 million to 3.2 million in 2014.

The Center used the best available data and methods to obtain the European estimate, including methods used in the U.S. and by researchers in Europe in previous projects.

The findings are for immediate release and available at: Among the report’s findings:

Unauthorized immigrants residing in Europe in 2017 were from a diverse set of origin countries. Three-in-ten unauthorized immigrants were from Asia-Pacific countries, while an estimated 23% were from European countries outside of the EU and EFTA. Some 21% were from countries in the Middle East-North Africa region. Meanwhile, 17% were from sub-Saharan African countries and 8% were from countries in the Americas.

More than half (56%) of unauthorized immigrants in Europe in 2017 had lived there less than five years. In Germany, about two-thirds (66%) of unauthorized immigrants had lived in the country for less than five years, while unauthorized immigrants in the UK were more likely to be long-term residents – fewer than half (43%) had lived there for less than five years.

About two-thirds of the unauthorized immigrants residing in Europe were younger than 35 years old (65%) in 2017, and slightly more than half were male (54%). Majorities of the unauthorized immigrants living in Germany (65%) and the UK (58%) were below the age of 35. The gender shares also differed in both Germany (60% male) and the UK (48% male).

For more information, or to arrange an interview with the study’s authors, Senior Researcher Phillip Connor, Senior Demographer Jeffrey Passel, or Director of Global Migration and Demography research Mark Hugo Lopez, please contact Stefan Cornibert at 202.419.4372 or

Accompanying this new analysis are:

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