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More than 750 million people around the world would migrate if they could

Thursday January 3, 2019
Johnny Wood

Have you ever considered moving permanently to a new country? If the answer is yes, you’re far from alone. A new poll reveals that 15% of the global population – over 750 million people – would migrate if they could.

While conflict, famine and natural disasters have driven many people from their homelands, there are also many other reasons for seeking a new life elsewhere, including economic opportunity.

A recent Gallup World Poll survey reveals that the desire to migrate has increased in developed regions like North America and non-EU member states in Europe.

Who’s on the move?

In North America, the number of people favouring a move has risen dramatically in the last few years from 10 to 14% since the 2013-2016 period. Despite a strengthening jobs market, 16% of those surveyed in the US in 2017 told Gallup they wanted to live abroad, the highest increase recorded by the poll.

In the European Union – where citizens have the right to freedom of movement – the desire to migrate has remained unchanged since 2012 at 21%, while attitudes to moving in non-EU European states have stabilized recently following a rise at the start of the decade.

Image: Gallup

People in refugee hotspots continue to hope for a better future in another country. The poll shows the number wanting to move rising in Latin America and the Caribbean, the Middle East and North Africa, and sub-Saharan Africa, where ongoing armed conflicts, for example in Sudan, Syria and Yemen, are fueling the desire to migrate.

In poor countries from Haiti to Albania well over half of the citizens expressed a wish to move. The poll showed that 71% of the Sierra Leone population wanted to leave.

Where do migrants want to live?

The US remains the leading choice for would-be migrants and this has been the case since Gallup’s polls began over a decade ago. Despite the Trump administration toughening immigration rules, one in five migrants chose the US as their favoured destination in 2017.

Image: Gallup

Across the border, Canada is in second place – the top choice of 47 million potential migrants. Germany, in third, was the preferred destination for 42 million.

Interest in the UK has dropped in recent years, with uncertainty related to the 2016 Brexit vote a potential factor.

According to UN figures, high-income countries attract the majority of international migrants, a trend accounting for 64% of the global total in 2017.

Almost two-thirds (60%) of all international migrants opt for Europe and Asia.

Although the refugee crisis continues to dominate headlines, refugees and asylum seekers account for only 10% of global migrants. An estimated 84% of these people find refuge in low or middle-income countries.

Of course, not all those expressing a desire to move will actually become a migration statistic. And while migration adds to a population’s diversity and makes an important contribution to economic growth, not all host countries welcome new arrivals with open arms.


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