MYTH: Migrants move from poor countries to wealthy ones

MYTH: Migrants move from poor countries to wealthy ones

The direction of travel undertaken by those that do move is another common area of misunderstanding. The claim that the vast majority of migration is from South to North, poor to rich, is one of the biggest clichés – and the most unfair. The stories that are told would seem to indicate a mass invasion from poor countries to wealthy ones. More international migrants from the South reside in the South than in the North.

Most migrants from poor countries never make it to the United States or Western Europe, instead moving to other developing countries nearby. A little over half of emigrants from Africa settle in other African countries, while 60% of Asian migrants relocate elsewhere in Asia.

Since 2005, South-South migration has grown faster than South-North migration. The South hosts around 84% of the world’s total population and is the origin of around 74% of all international migrants. While the number of South-North migrants (originating in the South, living in the North) has increased by around 9 million every five years since 1990, the number of South-South migrants remained almost unchanged at about 60 million from 1990 to 2005 and then increased rapidly to over 105 million in 2019.

About two fifths of all international migrants have moved from one developing country to another.

In 2019, 39% of all international migrants were born in a country of the less developed regions and were residing in another developing country (“South-South migrants”), while 35% were born in the South but residing in the North (“South-North migrants”). About one in five international migrants were born in the North and residing in the North (“North-North migrants”), while 5% were born in the North but residing in the South (“North-South migrants”).

According to a recent World Bank estimate, about 60% of all global migrants from developing countries reside in other developing countries, and almost 80% of South–South migration takes place between contiguous countries. For example, there have been large movements of workers from Burkina Faso to Côte d’Ivoire, Bangladeshi labourer moving to India or an Indian labourer moving to Kuwait, from Egypt to Jordan, from Haiti to the Dominican Republic, from Indonesia to Malaysia, and from neighbouring countries to Argentina. Many countries are both sources of and destinations for migrants. Canada, for example, is a traditional destination for migrants, but Canada also sends significant numbers of people, particularly the highly skilled, to the United States. Similar phenomena have emerged in Asia. For example, Thailand receives many low-skilled immigrants from Cambodia, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic and Myanmar, and also sends its own workers to other countries, including Israel, the Republic of Korea and Taiwan (China).

When having a closer look at the number of non-EU migrants within the EU, statistics show that in 2011, migrants from countries with a low Human Development Index (HDI) – mainly Sub-Saharan African and South Asian countries – represent only 7.6% of the total number of international migrants. The other 92.4% of migrants came from countries with a medium or high level of development. The majority of non-EU migrants in the EU come from another European country (37.2%). For example, in 2012, nearly one in two migrants who arrived in France was born in another European country, while only three out of ten came from an African country.

A smaller but under-reported number of people are migrating from richer to poorer countries – about 5 million people, or 13.6% of the total number of migrants.

More than 55 million migrants moved between rich countries in 2015, forming 23% of the total.


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