Indian Economy, Population, Stories, World

Review: International Migrants more than doubled in 30 years, representing 3.6% of World Population


The World Migration Report 2022 presents updated statistics and understanding of migration and mobility throughout the world. The latest report indicated that there were around 281 million international migrants in the world in 2020, up from 128 million in 1990. The total migrant population represents only 3.6% of the global population. Here is a review.

The World Migration Report 2022 presents updated statistics and understanding of migration and mobility throughout the world. In this story, we look at evidence-based analysis of emerging migration trends and issues.

Migrations constitute 3.6% of global population; only 1 in 30 people are migrants

According to current global estimates, there were around 281 million international migrants in the world in 2020, which equates to 3.6% of the global population. Overall, the estimated number of international migrants has increased over the past five decades, from more than 128 million in 1990 to 281 million in 2020.

The UN Report calculates that vast majority of people continue to live in the countries in which they were born and hence only one in 30 are migrants.

Significantly, the great majority of people do not migrate across borders; much larger numbers migrate within countries (an estimated 740 million internal migrants in 2009). However, the increase in international migrants has been evident over time – both numerically and proportionally – and at a slightly faster rate than previously anticipated. 

Although there is only a small proportion of the world’s population overall who are international migrants (3.6%), there exists wide variation at the country level. In some countries, such as the United Arab Emirates, over 88% of the population are international migrants.

Remittances soar to USD 702 billion in 2020; faced only a 2.4% dip due to COVID-19

International remittances are financial or in-kind transfers made by migrants directly to families or communities in their countries of origin. The World Bank compiles global data on international remittances. This data, however, does not capture unrecorded flows through formal or informal channels. The actual magnitude of global remittances is therefore likely to be larger than available estimates.

According to current global estimates, there has been an overall increase in remittances in recent decades, from USD 126 billion in 2000 to USD 702 billion in 2020. Despite predictions of a large decline in international remittances due to COVID-19, the year 2020 saw only a slight drop from the 2019 global total. One of earlier stories discusses this in detail.

India & China are top remittance recipients

In 2020, India, China, Mexico, the Philippines, and Egypt were top five remittance recipient countries. India and China were considerably above the rest, with total inward remittances exceeding USD 83 billion and USD 59 billion, respectively. Mexico, Philippines, and Egypt recorded remittances at USD 42.9 billion, USD 34.9 billion, and USD 26.6 billion, respectively.  This is followed by Pakistan at USD 26.1 billion, France at USD 24.5 billion, and so on.

The following graph shows how the top ten remittance recipients have shifted since 1995.

Source: World Migration Report 2022

India’s inward remittance grew by 6.5 times in the last 20 years and 34.7 times in the last 30 years

As per the World Bank (WB) Group’s Migration and Development Brief 2021, India has remained as the top destination for inward remittances. After a slight fall in 2020 due to COVID-19, India inward remittance was estimated at USD 87 billion in the WB Brief, which is close to the actual figures reported in the present UN Migration Report. For the past 20 years, from 2000 to 2020, the value of remittances to India grew by 6.5 times during this period.  One of earlier stories discusses this in detail.

In the last 30 years, the value of remittances to India grew by more than 34.7 times. From USD 2.4 billion in 1990, the inward remittance to India has grown to USD 83 billion in 2020.

As per the RBI’s fourth round of survey of authorised dealers on India’s inward remittances in 2016-17, about 58.7% of total remittances was received by four states namely Kerala, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. The Southern States dominated with a combined share of 46% in total remittances.

The RBI Bulletin states that the flows of remittances broadly mirror the State-wise composition of the stock of overseas migrants. These results are largely corroborated by surveys independently conducted by multilateral agencies, which have also highlighted a shift in cross-border migration flow from prosperous states such as Kerala and Karnataka to states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar largely comprising of low or semiskilled contractual workers with low level of income. For instance, states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar (two of the most populous states in India) together accounted for 4.4% of total remittances in 2016-17.

US remains the top remittance-sending country, followed by UAE, Saudi Arabia, Switzerland & Germany

In 2020, the United States has consistently been the top remittance-sending country, with a total outflow of USD 68 billion. This was followed by the United Arab Emirates (USD 43.2 billion), Saudi Arabia (USD 34.6 billion), Switzerland (USD 27.96 billion), and Germany (USD 22 billion).

China (also a top remittance recipient) is also the 6th largest remittance-sending country at USD 18.1 billion. This is followed by Russia at USD 16.9 billion, France (also 7th largest remittance recipient) at USD 15 billion, and so on.

High-income countries have remained the main source of remittances.

The following graph shows how the top ten remittance sources have shifted since 1995.

Source: World Migration Report 2022

Europe and Asia hosted the highest global migrant stock in 2020

The UN Migration Report 2022 highlights that COVID-19 travel restriction measures – both internal and international – were quickly put in place by the vast majority of countries around the world, with the peak occurring in late March to early April 2020.

While the number of international migrants increased in all UN regions, it increased at a higher degree in Asia and Europe as compared to other regions. In 2020, Europe and Asia each hosted around 87 and 86 million international migrants, respectively – comprising 61% of the global international migrant stock. These regions were followed by North America, with almost 59 million international migrants or 21% of the global migrant stock, Africa at 9%, Latin America and the Caribbean at 5%, and Oceania at 3%.

However, when compared with the size of the population in each region, shares of international migrants in 2020 were highest in Oceania, North America, and Europe, where international migrants represented, respectively, 22%, 16% and 12% of the total population. In comparison, the share of international migrants is relatively small in Asia and Africa (1.8% and 1.9%, respectively) and Latin America and the Caribbean (2.3%).

In a nutshell, the World Migration Report 2020 emphasises that migration corridors represent an accumulation of migratory movements over time. Multiple factors have shaped migration “corridors” over the years. Long-term data shows that international migration is not uniform across the world but is shaped by economic, geographic, demographic, and other factors resulting in distinct migration patterns, such as migration “corridors” developed over many years.

The report features interesting and interactive maps and timeline charts providing a snapshot of how migration patterns have evolved over the years.

Featured Image: International Migrants


About Author

Aprajita is driven by her ardent interest in a wide array of unrelated subjects - from public policy to folk music to existential humour. As part of her interdisciplinary education, she has engaged with theoretical ideas as well as field-based practices. By working with government agencies and non-profit organisations on governance and community development projects, she has lived and learned in different parts of the country, and aspires to do the same for the rest of her life.

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