Global Cooperation

Beyond the headlines: quantifying the economic contributions of migrants

Temporary foreign workers stand in front of job posting board during their lunch break at the Highline Mushrooms farm, Canada's largest mushroom grower, in Leamington, Ontario, Canada, April 14, 2016.

New research will change the way you understand migration Image: REUTERS/Mark Blinch

Hikmet Ersek
Special Advisor to the Board of Directors, The Western Union Company
Our Impact
What's the World Economic Forum doing to accelerate action on Global Cooperation?
The Big Picture
Explore and monitor how Migration is affecting economies, industries and global issues
A hand holding a looking glass by a lake
Crowdsource Innovation
Get involved with our crowdsourced digital platform to deliver impact at scale
Stay up to date:

New Growth Models

This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting

In today’s society, we are defined by our ability to reach every corner of the world in an instant. We can share ideas and move between geographies, cultures and continents like never before. So it’s not surprising people are on the move. In fact, according to figures from the United Nations, there are now 243 million international migrants, representing roughly 3.4% of the global population.

Migration is a major dimension of globalization, but today we live in a time of huge political and economic uncertainty – one where many countries are questioning their national identities and their status within the international community. As such, migration and migrant matters have become some of the most talked-about topics of today’s political and media discourse, with the dominant narratives focusing either on remittance flows by migrants to relatives in their home countries or friction within their host country.

But we could view international migration differently. Looking beyond the headlines, migrants contribute to the economies of countries they move to with the skills they bring, the taxes they pay, the jobs they fill, and their ability to normalize demographics in communities that have high levels of ageing populations.

To address some common myths or misconceptions about migration, we have undertaken a data visualization project with the Economist Intelligence Unit, entitled “What Migrants Bring”. The study does not make a case for or against migration, but instead seeks to understand how migrants impact the countries they settle in.

The research, which examined migrant communities from key countries in Africa, China, India and the Philippines, has revealed some compelling findings, challenging assumptions about migrants’ occupations and careers, their level of education and the overall impact on domestic economies.

Africa’s high-flyers

While a common portrayal suggests migrants occupy low-skilled jobs in developed countries, this is not the whole story. As noted in the recent bestselling book The Triple Package, Nigerians are one of the most successful migrant groups in the US and are over-represented – relative to their share of the national population – in sectors such as law, business and investment banking. For example, a quarter of Nigerian American households earn over $100,000 per annum, compared with 20% of the wider US population. With roughly 15 million African migrants globally, the impact on domestic economies should not be understated. Similarly, African migrants are among the youngest in the world, with just under two-thirds aged between 15 and 54, balancing the increasingly “grey” demographics of OECD countries.

India’s entrepreneurs

Migrants have long been associated with entrepreneurialism. A recent study by National Foundation for American Policy established that migrants founded or co-founded over half of 50 top venture-backed start-ups in the US. Among the 15 million Indian migrants globally, many hold prominent positions in management, technology, science and the arts, bringing with them unique skills and diaspora networks. Within the US community alone, 21% of Indian migrants are in management, business or finance occupations, compared with 11% of all migrants. Meanwhile, 7% of all UK companies were founded by Indians. In the US, 33% of immigrant-founded companies had an Indian founder.

China’s millennial migrants

Millennials form the largest proportion of Chinese migrants in OECD countries, comprising close to 40% of the total migrant population, of which over two-thirds are secondary and tertiary-educated. This new wave of Chinese migrants has bases in both China and the host country, creating a bridge between cultures and supporting trade and investment links. In Europe, many of these highly-educated migrants have established businesses which rely on goods and networks to and from China. Meanwhile, Chinese students represent as many as four times the number of the next highest international cohort, fuelling the knowledge economy in host and native countries.

Philippines’ medical professionals

Migrant communities play an important role in a number of crucial social and healthcare sectors, with a long-standing flow of doctors, physicians and nurses. More than 80% of Filipino nurses in the US have at least a bachelors’ degree and nearly a third of Filipino workers in the UK work in the healthcare service.

Changing the discourse

These insights reflect just some of the facts about migration we need to share. With technology bringing the world closer together, it is crucial we embrace the chance to give the next generation the opportunities to thrive.

As someone who has lived and worked in several countries around the world, I am committed to helping these stories get told and promoting a world where globalism, multi-culturalism and diversity become the norm; an economy where businesses are flexible to change and work collaboratively to learn and innovate between markets; and a society that recognizes the economic and cultural benefits that a diverse population brings.

We live in an era of complex cross-border economics, and in the face of a changing political climate we must remember the assets that migrants bring.

Have you read?
Don't miss any update on this topic

Create a free account and access your personalized content collection with our latest publications and analyses.

Sign up for free

License and Republishing

World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

World Economic Forum logo
Global Agenda

The Agenda Weekly

A weekly update of the most important issues driving the global agenda

Subscribe today

You can unsubscribe at any time using the link in our emails. For more details, review our privacy policy.

Critical minerals are in demand. How do we make sure this trend drives development? 

Kimberley Botwright and Guillaume Dabré

May 24, 2024

About Us



Partners & Members

  • Join Us

Language Editions

Privacy Policy & Terms of Service

© 2024 World Economic Forum