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Global migration map

Updated Tuesday, 8th April 2008

Where do migrants come from - and where do they go to? Our interactive map tracks just some of the significant migration patterns

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As long as there have been boundaries, there have been movement across them. Nicola Yeates explains why people are always on the move.

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The UK is a country founded on international migration. By the Middle Ages, England had been ‘ruled by a cosmopolitan, non-English elite for nearly three centuries’ and by the 16th century economic migrants were commonplace. Others came from continental Europe in search of political and religious freedom, while others still were forcibly settled here under the slave trade.

Emigration paralleled this immigration, being a necessary element in building the British Empire. Britons remain internationally mobile: between 2004 and 2006, some 300,000 British citizens emigrated to settle in countries such as Australia and Spain.

In 2006 almost 10% of the UK population were born overseas. There are estimated to be 1.25 million people from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh living in the UK, 400,000 from the Old Commonwealth; 400,000 from the Irish Republic; a further 1.7 million from the rest of the EU and a further 2.5 million people are from other countries around the world. Between 2001 and 2006, over 400,000 people from the eight Central and Eastern European countries that joined the EU in May 2004 migrated to the UK: they represent 7% of the total overseas born population.

From hosting refugees from neighbouring states in the 1970s and early 1980s, Sudan has become a generator of forced migration on an unprecedented scale, creating the world’s largest crisis of human displacement. Since 1983, two million Sudanese have died as a result of conflict, about a million have fled to neighbouring countries, and some six million - one sixth of the population - have been displaced within the country.

Before 1989, displacement had been a secondary consequence of conflict. From the late 1980s the deliberate uprooting of local populations became a strategy for the conduct of war involving militia attacks on the ground, burning, looting and the abduction of women and children, coupled with bombardment from the air.

It's estimated fighting between rebel factions has displaced somewhere between 1.5 and 2 million people inside south Sudan. Hopes for resettlement after the January 2005 peace agreement have not been realised as South Sudan is still volatile and devoid of infrastructure. In Darfur, escalating violence continues to threaten the viability of aid operations, and prospects for return are limited. USAID has upwardly revised its figures of the number of affected and at-risk civilians to 2.2 million people.

For more than a century, Poland has served as a vast labour supplier for Western Europe and North America. Today, Poland is shifting from a major sending country into a country of net immigration and transit migration. In 2005, about one in five of Poland’s population is foreign-born.

Opening labour markets was intended to solve Poland’s high unemployment. But a substantial discrepancy between labour market demand and migrant worker qualifications resulted in a shortage of skilled professionals and only a slight decrease in unemployment.

Between 800,000 and 2 million Poles are estimated to have left the country since it joined the EU in 2004 including 400,000 to the UK. The UK, Sweden, and Germany have become the most popular destinations for Polish health workers.

One ironic result of migration is a skills shortage, resulting in a search for overseas labour to build football stadiums for the 2012 European football championships. India is one of the countries Poland is targeting as Indian construction workers have a history of labour migration to the Middle East in 1970s and 1980s to service the construction boom there and currently to countries like Dubai to do the same today.

Germany experienced considerable emigration in the 19th and early 20th centuries, with many leaving for the US. Since the end of World War II Germany has been a country of immigration, the second most favoured destination in the OECD, after the US. About one in eight (13%) of Germany’s population is born abroad.

In the 1960s, in order to alleviate labour shortages, Germany signed treaties with Turkey, Greece, Spain, Portugal and Morocco to recruit unskilled workers, many of whom settled in Germany permanently. Of the nearly 6 million immigrants with foreign nationality, Turks account for one about in five.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Germany received large numbers of ‘ethnic Germans’ (people from Eastern Europe and Central Asia who have German ancestors), peaking at 400,000 in 1990. At the same time, the numbers of humanitarian migrants increased as did xenophobic attacks on immigrants, especially asylum seekers and refugees. Germany has recently developed new immigration systems welcoming skilled migrants, introducing limits on ethnic Germans, and curbing asylum rights.

Australia’s national development is intimately bound up with immigration, experieincing successive waves of immigrants from Britain and Ireland and, later, during the gold rush, from China. A backlash against diversified migrant flows led to a ‘White Australia’ policy, which was formally revoked in the early 1970s.

While many immigrants to Australia are still from English-speaking OECD countries, recent years have seen increased immigration from non-OECD and Asian countries. Foreign-born citizens make up 23% of the Australian population. 50% from Europe, 25% from Asia, 12% from Oceania.

Current Australian policy welcomes highly skilled migrants as permanent or temporary migrants. Permanent immigration is subject to a points system which emphasises age, work experience, education, work and language skills.

Australia’s humanitarian immigration programme has annual numerical limits (quotas), currently around 13,000. In the 1970s the Vietnamese accounted for the largest share, while in the 1990s, most came from Iraq, Afghanistan and Yugoslavia. Currently, most come from Sudan.

Throughout the Communist era Romania was a major source of asylum-seekers in Hungary, West European countries, the US and Canada. In the early 1990s, Romania continued to be a major source of asylum-seekers in Europe. Recent asylum applications come from the Rom ethnic minority who face prejudice and various forms of institutionalised discrimination.

During the transition from Communism, 3.5 million jobs vanished, causing many Romanians to migrate in search of work. Since 1989 Romania has lost between 2.0 and 2.5 million of its workforce, about 10% of the country’s population. At first, between 1990 and 1995 they migrated to Israel, Turkey, Hungary and Germany; from 1996 to 2002, they headed to Italy and Spain. Since 2002 major destinations include Italy, Spain, Portugal and the UK. Remittances from migrant workers amounted to US4.7 billion in 2005.

A considerable number of Romanian labour migrants were still irregular in 2006. Estimates place the number of irregular Romanian residents in Italy at 600,000 in addition to the 300,000 legal Romanian residents recorded by Italian authorities in 2005.

Romania is a major transit country for migrants coming to western Europe from Africa, the far east, middle east and the former Soviet Union. Arab country nationals are the most numerous immigrants in Romania: refugees especially from Iraq, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Somalia.

Dubai has a nationally and ethnically diverse population. 17% of the population of Dubai is comprised of UAE nationals. The remainder consists of immigrants from neighbouring countries, expatriates and temporary residents with work related or other visas.

From 1993 to 2002, Dubai’s total population increased by 79% to nearly 3 million, growing by an average of 6% every year. Immigrants make up 85% of the population. UAE authorities are concerned at the demographic imbalance in the country, which has over the decades seen the number of foreigners grow to make up more than 90 percent of the 1.7 million workforce.

The breakdown of this foreign presence is a startling revelation of the country's dependence on migrant workers — Indians 53.7 percent, Pakistanis 18 percent, other Asian nationalities 15.4 percent and Arabs 10.6 percent. Government ‘cultural diversity policy’ calls for the recruitment of increasing numbers of Arab migrants to offset dependence on Asian migrants.

Migration from India since independence involves two distinct groups: people with professional or technical qualifications migrated to industrialised countries, and semi-skilled and skilled workers migrated to the Middle East.

Migration to industrialised countries grew steadily between 1950 and 2000. Nearly 1.25 million Indians emigrated to the US, Canada, UK and Australia during this period. Average annual flows to these destinations increased nearly five-fold between the 1950s and the 1990s.

Migration to the Middle East increased rapidly between the late 1970s and early 1980s, falling sharply in the mid to late 1980s and increasing substantially again during the 1990s. 3 million Indian migrants live in the Gulf states today.

Most migrants come from Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Punjab. As in China, the number of overseas migrants accounts for less than 1% of the total Indian workforce. The effects of migration are significant in major sending regions, in Kerala with remittances making up about one-fifth of state income.

Mexicans constitute about one in four of the foreign-born population in the US and far outnumber other source countries. Mexico is the leading source of unauthorised immigration to the US.

The US is growing more dependent on Mexican labour, and the two economies are becoming more integrated. In 2001, according to the US Embassy in Mexico City, the US processed 2,650,912 non-immigrant visa applications in Mexico. This was an increase of nearly 18% over the numbers of applications processed in 2000, which represented a 37 percent increase over the numbers of applications processed in 1999.

Facing increased pressure from the US to police its border, Mexico has participated in multilateral efforts to reduce poverty and decrease emigration. It joined a regional initiative to influence the US immigration reform debate. Mexico is beginning to see itself as a country of emigration, immigration, and transmigration, requiring a coherent migration policy, rather than one which simply reacts to US pressure.

The US has a long history of regulating immigration, dating back to the 1860s. Early legislation strongly favoured immigrants from Europe over other regions of the world. In the 1960s, policy changes transformed immigration to the US, from predominantly European immigration to Latin American and Asian immigration.

Since the 1960s, the number of foreign-born people in the US has increased. In 2003, 33.5 million foreign born lived in the US, representing about 12% of the entire population – though well below the historic highs of almost 15% in both 1890 and 1910.

About 53% of foreign-born persons originate from Latin America, 25% from Asia, 14% from Europe, and 8% from other regions of the world. Migrants from Central America (including Mexico) account for nearly one-third of the entire foreign-born population. Mexicans, the largest single group, now compose 27% of all foreign born.

Applications for naturalization increased in the 1990s in response to legislative developments restricting access to public schools, medical care, social services, food stamps and legal protections for non-citizens.

Until recently, Ireland was a country of massive and sustained emigration. Unskilled workers predominated amongst emigrants, but emigration by skilled workers and graduates was also significant. Levels of emigration declined during the 20th century, but remained high by European standards.

Ireland is now a net importer of people, experiencing, over the last 15 years, a rapid increase in the numbers of people from all parts of the world moving to live, work and study there. About 60% of immigrants are returning Irish emigrants and their families. Immigrants increasingly originate from countries other than the United Kingdom, the US, Canada or Australia. While European enlargement has had an impact on immigration, many immigrants to Ireland originate from non-EU countries.

Immigration is fuelling Ireland’s dynamic economy. Labour shortages have occurred at the ‘top’ and ‘bottom’ ends of the labour market with about 3 out of every 4 work permits being for services sector workers. The Irish economy and social systems have become dependent on immigrants: the health and social care systems have become reliant upon care workers trained and educated overseas.

Nearly 10 million foreigners, most of them unskilled or semi-skilled migrants, work in the Gulf states. The majority of them are from Asia, welcomed during the oil boom years and currently performing most basic services in the Gulf.

One significant destination area for migrant health workers is Oman, where the development of health services has mainly drawn on non-national labour forces. The need for health workers in Oman and other Gulf states is supplied by migrants from the Philippines, Egypt, Bangladesh and India. A 1993 WHO study noted that in Oman 85% of nurses were non-Omani, while of 1,160 nurses in Bahrain, only 27% were Bahraini, with 65% being Indian and 6% Filipino.

In recent years, health authorities in Oman have been attempting to reduce their dependence on foreign migrant labour by developing health workforces comprised of nationals of those countries.

Iran has produced and hosted abundant flows of emigration and immigration, driven by political events. Iran is unique in experiencing simultaneous emigration and immigration to extreme degrees. In its recent history, Iran suffered the highest rates of ‘brain drain’ in the world while simultaneously being the world's largest refugee haven, mainly for Afghans and Iraqis. Iran also has one of the world’s sharpest urban growth rates, largely driven by internal rural migration.

The most recent wave of emigration, from roughly 1995 to the present, consists of two very distinct populations — highly skilled individuals leaving universities and research institutions, and working-class labour migrants and economic refugees.

At the end of 2005, the UNHCR estimated there were 111,684 refugees, asylum seekers, internally displaced persons (IDPs) and other persons of concern from Iran, with the largest populations of Iranian refugees in Germany, the US, Iraq, the UK, the Netherlands, and Canada.

Since its founding in 1500 by Portuguese colonists, Brazil has experienced major waves of immigration as governments encouraged migration to fill its vast territory and boost agricultural production.

The first wave saw an estimated six million Africans forcibly brought to Brazil between 1550 and 1850 to work on sugar cane plantations.

The next major wave, from 1880 to 1903, saw 1.9 million Europeans arrive, mainly German, Italians, Portuguese and Spanish. The following wave, from 1904 to 1930, saw another 2.1 million Italians, Poles, Russians and Romanians settle in Brazil, along with Japanese agricultural workers, who numbered 189,000 by 1941.

After the Second World War, numbers of immigrants were reduced until in 1964 the government dropped policies to attract immigrants. Since then, economic development has depended on internal migration.

In the 1980s Brazilians began to migrate in search of economic opportunities, with over 1.8 million of them living abroad in the 1990s, mainly in the US, Paraguay and Japan. In the 1990s, Brazil began receiving asylum seekers from West African countries, granting refugee status to just over 3,000 people between January 1998 and February 2005. It refugee resettlement programme also increasingly focuses on refugees from Colombia.

Cross-border migration between South Africa and its neighbours dates from the mid-19th century, varying from highly regulated contract worker migration in mining to informal migration by agricultural workers. The current mining workforce is almost 60% non-South African.

Since 1994, the government has attempted to stem migration, deporting nearly a million undocumented migrants to neighbouring states since 1994. The government’s highly restrictive immigration policy has seen numbers granted permanent residence drop from 14,000 annually at the start of the 1990s to less than 4,000 by the decade’s end. Temporary work permits dropped from 52,704 in 1996 to 15,834 in 2000.

South Africa also suffers from ‘brain drain’ to industrialised countries, principally the US, the UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand, with between 82,000 and 230,000 skilled workers leaving between 1989 and 1997.

Government policy seems designed to dissuade people from seeking asylum as it refuses asylum seekers permission to work, study or be self-employed and provides no state support. Of 63,000 people who applied for asylum since 1994, around 13,000 have been granted refugee status and a similar number refused.

With 2 to 3 million displaced persons, Colombia presents the highest number of internally displaced people in the western hemisphere, and the second largest displaced population in the world after Sudan, resulting from the country's four-decade-long internal armed conflict.

This 'dirty war' is a complex conflict between left-wing guerrillas, right-wing paramilitaries and Colombian armed forces, also involving drug traffickers, landowners, and other legal and illegal interests. It has killed over 40,000, mainly civilians, since 1990. Since 2000, over 100,000 Colombians have sought asylum abroad, fleeing to Costa Rica, Ecuador, the US and Europe.

The vast majority do not cross an international border, but become displaced within Colombia. More than 1.5 million displaced persons are registered with the Colombian government, but NGOs estimate that the real figure is more than double this.

Increasingly, displaced people are moving to the cities or to shanty towns nearby, which are also populated by Colombians who have been forced to migrate in significant numbers as a result of environmental degradation and disasters, illicit crop eradication programmes, development initiatives, and to escape poverty.

Congo has seen major displacement of population both internally and externally since the 1990s. During the 1994 Rwanda genocide more than a million refugees crossed into the DR Congo in only three days. Between 1998 and 2004, war in the Congo involving Congolese, Rwandan, Zimbabwean and Ugandan armed forces, as well as local and regional militias, fuelled by a quest for control of the country’s vast mineral resources, led to the deaths of an estimated 4 million people from war-related diseases and starvation. The level of violence and internal displacements led UNHCR to describe eastern Congo as the “world’s worst humanitarian crisis” in March 2005.

UNHCR estimated 1.1 million people were displaced inside the DRC, while a further 400,000 fled abroad. In July 2007 a DRC Minister said the war had forced 6 million people from their homes. Despite a peace treaty and the holding of elections in 2006, conflict continues in the eastern DRC, with UNHCR estimating the conflict between the DRC army, Rwandan Hutu rebels and local militia forced 160,000 from their homes in 2007, bringing the total number of displaced in North Kivu to 650,000 by July. In December 2007 escalating conflict forced thousands more civilians to flee.

Thailand experiences large flows of international migration. Official figures estimate some 150,000 Thais - mainly male and low-skilled - migrate annually as contract labour, remitting USD1.5 billion annually. Both figures underestimate the phenomenon due to unofficial migration.

Thailand is the target of unauthorized labour migration from nearby states, mainly Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia. In 2004 Thailand registered 1,280,000 previously unauthorised workers from these countries. One survey of these migrants found 12% had been trafficked, while over 5% reported being forced into prostitution.

Refugees in Thailand mainly come from its neighbouring nations, primarily Cambodia, Laos, and Burma but also from China and Vietnam. After the Vietnam war Thailand had to bear the vast majority of the refugee burden and was left with a significant refugee problem. Burmese refugees rose sharply during the 1980s and 1990s as a result of a crackdown on democracy supporters, as well as offensives against ethnic minorities. Over 135,000 refugees are living in border camps, with many more living in the Thai community.

Displacement in Thailand is also largely caused by development projects such as the construction of dams and gas pipelines.

Towards the end of the 20th century, some 33 million ethnic Chinese were estimated to live outside China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. Large though this number is, it is only 2.5 percent of the total population of China, presently over 1.3 billion.

China’s integration into the world economy after the 1979 reforms has been accompanied by increased international population movements, including longer-term and more permanent settlement. The overseas Chinese population has risen markedly in recent decades, with the settler societies of North America and Australasia now the preferred choice over traditional destinations in Southeast Asia. Large numbers are also moving into Japan and the Russian Far East. Europe has recently emerged as a significant destination with estimates of the number of Chinese in Europe around the year 2000 varying from 200,000 to over a million.

As well as these new movements, short-term contract migration of unskilled workers continues with some 460,000 workers from China overseas on labour contracts in 2001 while, since 1980, Chinese workers served in about 180 countries on contracts worth about USD120 billion, mainly in Eastern Asia, but also in the Middle East.

Since the 1970s, the Philippines has supplied skilled and low-skilled workers to the world's more developed regions. Some 8.1 million Filipinos — nearly 10% of the country's population —work and/or live elsewhere. In December 2004, Filipinos were found in close to 200 countries. This includes some 3.2 million permanent settlers (mostly in the US), about 3.6 million temporary labour migrants, with Saudi Arabia hosting close to a million, and an estimated 1.3 million migrants in an unauthorised situation (mainly in the US and Malaysia). Remittances from overseas workers have become an important pillar of the Philippine economy.

Women are as prominent as men in labour migration. Since 1992, female migrants outnumbered men among newly hired land-based workers legally deployed every year. The majority do domestic and entertainment work; others do factory, sales, nursing and social care work. Women dominate temporary labour migration to Hong Kong, Kuwait, Singapore, Italy, United Arab Emirates, Japan, and Taiwan, with over 90% of labour migrants in Hong Kong being women.

For more than two decades, successive wars in Afghanistan have created one of the world’s largest refugee crises. In the late 1980s when the country was occupied by Soviet troops, over 6 million Afghan refugees fled the country, mainly settling in Pakistan and Iran. Taliban victories in the 1990s led to further movement of refugees to escape fighting or ethnic persecution.

The establishment of a new government in Kabul led to large numbers of Afghans returning home. Despite this, some 3.4 million Afghans were still refugees at the end of 2002, including 1.5 million refugees living outside UNHCR-administered refugee camps. Conflict-induced displacement continues to this day.

A comparatively small number of Afghans, some 238,000, sought asylum between 1994 and 2005 in industrialized countries. Following the defeat of the Taliban, asylum applications in industrialized countries fell 80%, dropping from 54,000 in 2001 to 8,000 in 2004. By 2005, the largest number of recognized Afghan refugees outside the region, were in Germany (47,000), the Netherlands (26,000), the UK (24,000) and Canada (15,000).

In Meet The Immigrants, Sardar leaves Kurdistan for a new life in Bristol. Watch Sardar settle in to his new life.

In Meet The Immigrants, Sardar leaves Kurdistan for a new life in Bristol. Watch Sardar settle in to his new life.

Catalin leaves Romania for a new life in Plymouth. Watch as he shares his experiences in his new home.

Catalin leaves Romania for a new life in Plymouth. Watch as he shares his experiences in his new home.

As a child, Rehema fled the Democratic Republic Of Congo to find peace in Bradford. Watch Rehema discuss how he adapted to the change in lifestyle.

References for countries featured in this interactive map

Click the plus button to read the references

These are the sources of information quoted on the map:


Teresa Poppelwell, Afghanistan, Forced Migration Online


Thomas Liebig, The Labour market integration of immigrants in Australia, OECD social, employment and migration working paper number 49, OECD, 2007


Sustainable Amazonia SUSAM Project
Ernesto Friedrich Amaral and Wilson Fusco, Shaping Brazil: The Role of International Migration, Migration information source, 2005


Ronald Skeldon, China: from exceptional case to global participant, Migration information source, 2004


The State of the World's Refugees 2006, Chapter 7 Internally displaced persons: Box 7.4 Internal displacement in Colombia, UNHCR 2006
Sean Loughna, Colombia, Forced Migration Research Guide, 2002

Democratic Republic of Congo

International Crisis Group, Conflict history: DR Congo, 2006
Six million displaced by Congo war, Reuters, 2007
UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, Displaced people still on the move despite peace conference, 2008 UNFPA factsheet [word format], Migration by Region: Africa, 2006
UNHCR DR Congo Information Bulletin [pdf format]
Forced Migration Online, 2006


Meena Janardhan, Welcome Mat Shrinking for Asian Workers, IPSNews


Thomas Liebig , The Labour market integration of immigrants in Germany, OECD social, employment and migration working paper no 47, OECD, 2007


Ravi Srivastava and S.K.Sasikumar, An overview of migration in India: its impacts and key issues, Department for International Development; available at, 2003


Shirin Hakimzadeh, Iran: A Vast Diaspora Abroad and Millions of Refugees at Home. Migration information source, 2006


Nicola Yeates, Broadening the scope of global care chain analysis: nurse migration in the Irish context, Feminist Review, issue 77: 79-95, 2004
International Organization for Migration, Managing migration in Ireland: a social and economic analysis [pdf format], Dublin: National Economic and Social Council, 2006


Manuel Ángel Castillo Mexico: Caught Between the United States and Central America, Migration Information source, 2006
MPI Staff, updated by Kevin Jernegan, A New Century: Immigration and the US, Migration Information source, 2005


Nicola Yeates, Transnationalism, Social Reproduction and Social Policy: International Migration of Care Workers, in Caroline Moser and Anis Dani (editoprs) Assets, Livelihoods and Social Policy, The World Bank New Frontiers of Social Policy series, March 2008


With its workers over here, Poland turns east to get the country rebuilt, The Guardian, 25/6/07
Krzysztof Krajewski-Siuda and Piotr Romaniuk, Health Worker Emigration from Poland, Journal of Public Health Policy, 28, 290–292, 2007
Krystyna Iglicka, EU Membership Highlights Poland's Migration Challenges, 2005
Center for International Relations, Warsaw


International Organisation for Migration, Romania, facts and figures
Sebastien Labaroui, Romania ‘More’out’ than ‘in’ at the crossroads between Europe and the Balkans, Volume IV, European Commission project "Sharing experience: migration trends in selected applicant countries and lessons learned from the ‘new countries of immigration’ in the EU and Austria", IO, 2003
Focus Migration: Romania
Romanian migration raises concerns over labour shortage, Euromonitor, 2007


Erin Patrick Darfur: Beyond the Brink of Disaster, Migration Information source, 2004
Peter Verney Country guide: Sudan, Forced Migration Online, 2006

South Africa

Jonathan Crush South Africa: New Nation, New Migration Policy?, Migration Information Source, 2003


Jerrold W Huguet and Sureeporn Punpuing, International migration in Thailand [pdf format], IOM, 2005
Michael Hynd, Research Guide: Thailand, Forced Migration Online, 2002

The Philippines

Maruja MB Asis, The Philippines' Culture of Migration, Migration Information Source, 2006


Jean-Christophe Dumont and Georges Lemaitre, Counting Immigrants and Expatriates in OECD countries: a new perspective, OECD
Robert Winder, Bloody Foreigners: the story of immigration to Britain, Abacus, 2005
Office for National Statistics, Population Trends no 130, 2007


MPI Staff, updated by Kevin Jernegan, A New Century: Immigration and the US. Migration Information Source, 2005

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