Expert Commentary

Migration patterns: Are more people immigrating?

2014 study from the University of Oxford that examines global migration patterns during the second half of the 20th century with a focus on trends related to the direction, intensity and distance of international migration.

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Record numbers of migrants have flooded Europe in 2015 as hundreds of thousands of people seek refuge from war, poverty, political persecution and instability in their home countries. It is a crisis situation that is forcing European countries to consider immigration reforms to accommodate the “human tsunami” of people fleeing Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Nearly 340,000 migrants entered Europe between January and July 2015 – up from 123,500 during the same time period in 2014, according to Frontex, the European Union’s external border force. Government officials in Germany predict that the number of asylum-seekers and refugees to their country will quadruple in 2015 to 800,000.

While the mass arrival of refugees has begun to stoke fears and xenophobic resentment in Europe, similar situations have played out around the world at different times in history. For centuries, people have been forced to leave their countries to avoid violence and oppression or have left willingly in search of better education, jobs, healthcare and living conditions. In recent decades, as countries have grown more interconnected — socially, economically and culturally – moving from nation to nation has become easier. Meanwhile, improved access to media such as the Internet and satellite TV has helped raise awareness about where opportunities exist.

Mathias Czaika and Hein de Haas, researchers at the University of Oxford, have examined patterns in global migration. In a study they published in the International Migration Review in 2014, “The Globalization of Migration: Has the World Become More Migratory?,” they sought to understand the volume and diversity of international migration during the second half of the 20th century. They used information collected from the World Bank’s Global Bilateral Migration Database to identify trends in areas such as the distance of migration and which countries were losing and gaining the most people.

Key findings include:

  • From 1960 to 2010, the number of countries that took in more immigrants than they lost through emigration decreased from 102 to 78. The number of countries that were net-exporters of people increased from 124 to 148. This finding debunks the common assumption that migration has become more diverse both in terms of the origin and destination of migrants.
  • European countries increasingly have become magnets for immigrants as opposed to producers of emigrants. “While for centuries, Europeans have been moving outward through conquering, colonizing, occupying, fleeing, and settling in lands elsewhere on the globe, these patterns reversed in the second half of the twentieth century,” the authors stated.
  • The United States has become the “world prime destination” with approximately 35 million migrants in 2000 – an estimated 21% of all migrants. In 1960, 12% of all migrants moved to the U.S.
  • Argentina and Brazil experienced high levels of immigration in 1960 but have “moved significantly down the list since then.”
  • In 1960, there were high rates of emigration from Italy, the United Kingdom, Spain and Greece. In 2000, Mexico, India, Indonesia, Egypt, Vietnam and the Philippines were among the countries with the highest rates of emigration.
  • In countries such as Afghanistan, Angola, Somalia, Sudan and the former Yugoslavia, increases in emigration were related primarily to the movements of refugees.
  • The total number of migrants increased from 93 million to 167 million people between 1960 and 2000. That growth was outpaced by the overall global population, which grew from almost 3 billion people to more than 6 billion over the same time period.

The authors’ findings challenge the notion that improvements in communication and transportation have intensified migration. Technological progress has “made the world more mobile, it has not necessarily made the world more migratory,” Czaika and de Haas stated. They also noted the importance of considering economic and demographic changes when analyzing migration patterns. “While international migration has not accelerated on a global level, main shifts in global migration have been directional and are linked to major geopolitical and economic shifts, the concomitant rise of new migration hubs in Europe, the Gulf, and Asia, development-driven emigration hikes in origin countries, and the lifting of emigration restrictions in former Communist and developing countries,” they stated.

Related research: A 2015 report from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that, as of late 2014, 19.5 million people had been driven from their homes by armed conflict, persecution, natural disasters or other causes. Two January 2014 reports from Harvard University focus on refugees displaced from their homes by conflict in Syria. A 2014 study in International Migration Review, “Undocumented Migration to the United States and the Wages of Mexican Immigrants,” looks at immigrant wages from 1990 to 2009 and the factors that influenced changes in wages.


Keywords: migration flow, immigration, emigration, globalization, border patrol, refugees, host country, Syria

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