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New Migrants Struggle to Afford the Basics

New Migrants Struggle to Afford the Basics

Many migrants' financial situations improve with time

by Neli Esipova, Julie Ray and Anita Pugliese

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Regardless of where they come from or where they go, new migrants are more likely to struggle to afford food and shelter than the native-born in the countries they move to. Those who migrated to high-income economies (referred to as "the North") struggle less the longer they stay, but this is not always true for migrants who move to middle- to low-income economies (referred to as "the South").

Struggling to afford food or shelter

These findings, featured in the International Organization for Migration's World Migration Report 2013, are based on Gallup World Poll interviews with nearly 25,000 first-generation migrants and 442,000 native-born residents in 150 countries between 2009 and 2011. The large sample enables Gallup to divide migrants into two categories -- newcomers (who moved to their destination country less than five years ago) and long-timers (who have lived in their current country for at least five years) -- and compare their life experiences with the native-born.

Although migrants who move from one high-income economy to another (North to North) still experience hardship in the first few years of their arrival, their ability to afford food and shelter gets better with time. North-to-North long-timers struggle to afford food (12%) and shelter (7%) about as much as the native-born (11% and 8%, respectively).

Migrants who move from middle- to low-income economies to high-income economies (South to North) do not fare nearly as well, and their situations do not improve as quickly. Newcomers struggle most to meet their basic needs and are at least twice as likely as the native-born to say they did not have enough money at times to buy the food they needed (28% for newcomers and 11% for the native-born) or adequate shelter (19% vs. 8%).

Migrants who move from one middle- to low-income economy to another (South to South), regardless of how long they have been in the country, struggle more than the native-born do to afford the basics. More than one-quarter find it difficult to afford food and shelter. With time, fewer struggle to buy food, but affording shelter remains just as much of a problem for migrants. Migrants moving from North to South have as much trouble affording food and shelter as the native-born, but newcomers are most likely to report problems with food.

Some Migrants' Situations Are Better, Some Worse Than if They Had Stayed Home

Some migrants struggle less to afford food and shelter and some struggle more compared with what their situations would have been if they had stayed in their countries of origin. North-to-North long-timers benefited from the move; they are less likely than their counterparts back home -- their matched stayers -- to report problems with food and shelter. South-to-North long-timers, on the other hand, are statistically as likely to struggle as if they had not left.

Struggles to afford food and shelter migrants vs. those who stayed at home

South-to-South long-timers are significantly worse off in terms of being able to afford adequate housing: 27% of migrants struggled to afford shelter in the previous year, versus 19% of their counterparts back home. This may reflect higher housing costs in destination countries.

Bottom Line

Overall, these results show that new migrants, regardless of where they come from or where they go, are vulnerable. But they also show that migrants' ability to afford the basics improves with time, particularly for those who move to high-income economies. In lower-income economies, buying food becomes less of a problem for migrants the longer they stay, but affordable housing remains a significant obstacle for many.

These two measures, taken together, are a good indicator of the prevalence of poverty among migrants -- a measure that is not captured at the global level in any other existing surveys. These measures provide additional information to policymakers about how financial difficulties affect migrants' day-to-day lives -- at different points on their migration journey -- in a way that a relative income measure alone cannot.

IOM and Gallup will be presenting results from the World Migration Report at events in Brussels, London, and Washington, D.C., in coming weeks. Read the full report.

For complete data sets or custom research from the more than 150 countries Gallup continually surveys, please contact us.

Survey Methods

Results are based on Gallup World Poll data collected across 150 countries and areas in 2009, 2010, and 2011. The typical sample size was 1,000 per country per year. Projection weighting was performed so that each country's data are proportional to the total world population. A total of 466,689 adults were included in the analysis, including 441,901 native-born residents and 24,788 first-generation migrants. Countries were classified as "North" (high-income economies) or "South" (middle- to low-income economies) according to World Bank categories. Migrants surveyed were born in 188 countries (51 of which were in the North and 137 were in the South) and lived in 150 destination countries (40 in the North, 110 in the South).

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

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