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Number of Potential Migrants Worldwide Tops 700 Million

Number of Potential Migrants Worldwide Tops 700 Million
by Neli Esipova, Julie Ray and Anita Pugliese

Story Highlights

  • U.S. still No. 1 desired destination
  • Germany more attractive to potential migrants
  • United Kingdom less so

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- After cooling off in the wake of the Great Recession, worldwide, people's desire to migrate permanently to another country showed signs of rebounding between 2013 and 2016. Gallup found 14% of the world's adults -- which translates to nearly 710 million people -- saying they would like to move to another country if they had the opportunity. This is up from 13% -- or about 630 million adults -- between 2010 and 2012.

Global Desire to Migrate Rebounds in Some Areas
Percentage of those who live in these regions who desire to migrate
Desire to migrate, 2010-2012 Desire to migrate, 2013-2016 Change
% % pct. pts.
Sub-Saharan Africa 30 31 +1
Europe (outside European Union) 21 27 +6*
Latin America and Caribbean 18 23 +5*
Middle East and North Africa 19 22 +3*
European Union 20 21 +1*
Commonwealth of Independent States 15 14 -1
Australia/New Zealand/Oceania 9 10 +1
Northern America 10 10 0
South Asia 8 8 0
East Asia 8 7 -1
Southeast Asia 7 7 0
Global 13 14 +1*
Latest estimate based on World Poll surveys in 156 countries and areas between 2013 and 2016; * = Significant change
Gallup World Poll

Gallup's latest findings on adults' desire to move to other countries are based on a rolling average of interviews with 586,806 adults in 156 countries between 2013 and 2016. The 156 countries represent 98% of the world's adult population. The analysis period overlaps the years of the European migrant crisis that began in 2015. The previous findings were based on a rolling average of interviews with 521,182 adults in 154 countries between 2010 and 2012.

While still not back at the 16% Gallup measured worldwide between 2007 and 2009, the desire to migrate has increased in a number of regions as global economic conditions have continued to slowly recover and as conflict, famine and disaster have driven people from their homes in some parts of the world. Desire increased the most in non-European Union countries in Europe, in Latin America and the Caribbean, and in the Middle East and North Africa.

Yet in other places, desire has not changed much at all. In all regions of Asia, for example, the percentage of adults who would like to move to another country permanently remained flat. The 10% of adults in Northern America -- the U.S. and Canada together -- who would like to migrate also was unchanged. And in sub-Saharan Africa, where residents remain the most likely worldwide to express the desire to migrate permanently, desire hovered near 30%.

In 31 countries and areas throughout the world, at least three in 10 adults say they would like to move permanently to another country if they could. These countries and areas are found in every region except Asia, Oceania and Northern America. In many of these populations, desire to migrate has increased significantly, likely pushed higher for a host of reasons -- for example, the civil war in Syria, chronic high unemployment rates in Albania and Italy, and the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone.

Highest Desire to Migrate
Percentage of the total adult population that wants to migrate
Desire to migrate, 2010-2012 Desire to migrate, 2013-2016
% %
Sierra Leone 51 62*
Haiti 53 56
Albania 36 56*
Liberia 53 54
Congo (Kinshasa) 37 50*
Dominican Republic 49 50
Honduras 41 48*
Armenia 40 47*
Syria 32 46*
El Salvador 34 46*
Ghana 40 45
Nigeria 41 43
Jamaica 43 40
Congo (Brazzaville) 38 39
Togo 41 39
Sudan 29 37
Guinea 33 36
Bosnia and Herzegovina 20 36*
Puerto Rico N/A 35
Moldova 32 35
Senegal 31 34
Gabon 30 34
Macedonia 35 34
Kosovo 29 34
Uganda 37 33
Italy 21 32*
Cyprus 25 32*
Guatemala 30 31
Ivory Coast N/A 30
Lesotho 25 30
Peru 32 30
* Significant change
Gallup World Poll

U.S. Still Top Desired Destination for Potential Migrants

The U.S. continues to be the most desired destination country for potential migrants, as it has since Gallup started tracking these patterns a decade ago. One in five potential migrants (21%) -- or about 147 million adults worldwide -- name the U.S. as their desired future residence. Germany, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Australia and Saudi Arabia appeal to at least 25 million adults each. These same countries have been top desired destinations for the past 10 years. In fact, roughly 20 countries attract more than two-thirds of all potential migrants worldwide.

Top Desired Destinations Worldwide
Among those who say they would like to move
% Potential migrants naming this country Estimated number of adults (in millions)
United States 21 147
Germany 6 39*
Canada 5 36
United Kingdom 5 35*
France 5 32
Australia 4 30
Saudi Arabia 3 25*
Spain 3 20
Italy 2 15
Switzerland 2 13
Japan 2 12
United Arab Emirates 2 12*
Singapore 1 10
South Africa 1 8
Sweden 1 8
Russia 1 7
New Zealand 1 7
China 1 7
Netherlands 1 6
Brazil 1 6
Turkey 1 5*
South Korea 1 5
* = Significant change
Gallup World Poll, 2013-2016

While the number of potential migrants who say they would like to move to the U.S. hasn't changed significantly from previous years, the number who say the same about Germany has risen from 28 million to 39 million in the most recent analysis period. This increase coincides with the height of Europe's migrant crisis between 2015 and 2016 -- during which Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel promised there would be "no limit" to the number of refugees her country would accept.

The United Kingdom, on the other hand, lost some of its appeal as a desired destination, as immigration became one of the driving forces behind the country's eventual "Brexit" in mid-2016. Approximately 35 million potential migrants named the United Kingdom as a desired destination between 2013 and 2016, down from about 43 million between 2010 and 2012.

Bottom Line

After tailing off shortly after the Great Recession, the desire to migrate inched back upward in a number of regions, likely reflecting an improving economic climate that can make the idea of leaving one's own country less risky to entertain. But it also could reflect the increasing unrest in some parts of the world, where war, famine, disaster and disease are making it impossible for people to stay.

In the most recent analysis period, the U.S. remained the top desired destination for potential migrants, as it has for the past decade that Gallup has been measuring these attitudes. It is possible that the U.S. will lose some of its allure under the new Trump presidential administration, which aims to make it tougher for migrants to come to the United States and for existing migrants to stay. It is evident from the changes in the numbers of potential migrants who would like to move to Germany and the United Kingdom that a government's stance and policy toward immigration can contribute to the country's being more attractive or less attractive to potential migrants.

Dato Tsabutashvili contributed to this article.

Survey Methods

Results are based on aggregated telephone and face-to-face interviews with 586,806 adults, aged 15 and older, in 156 countries from 2013 to 2016. The 156 countries surveyed represent 98% of the world's adult population. One can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error for the entire sample, accounting for weighting and sample design, is less than ±1 percentage point.

Previous periods have been recalculated based on updated data and population estimates.

For complete methodology and specific survey dates, please review Gallup's Country Data Set details.

Learn more about how the Gallup World Poll works.

Gallup


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