Economic Growth

Immigration might be out of favour but 'outmigration' is even more unpopular

Bavarian Police Officer controls passports at a temporarily checkpoint on the motorway between the Austrian and German border in Kirchdorf am Inn, Germany July 18, 2018.  REUTERS/Michaela Rehle - RC1B33DC2600

An officer checks a passport between the Austrian and German border. Image: REUTERS/Michaela Rehle

Phillip Connor
Research Associate, PEW Research Center
Jens Manuel Krogstad
Writer and Editor, Pew Research Center
Our Impact
What's the World Economic Forum doing to accelerate action on Economic Growth?
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:


As the number of international migrants reaches new highs, people around the world show little appetite for more migration – both into and out of their countries, according to a Pew Research Center survey of 27 nations conducted in the spring of 2018.

Across the countries surveyed, a median of 45% say fewer or no immigrants should be allowed to move to their country, while 36% say they want about the same number of immigrants. Just 14% say their countries should allow more immigrants. (Those who said no immigrants should be allowed volunteered this response.)

Image: Pew Research Center

In Europe, majorities in Greece (82%), Hungary (72%), Italy (71%) and Germany (58%) say fewer immigrants or no immigrants at all should be allowed to move to their countries. Each of these countries served as some of the most popular transit or destination countries during Europe’s recent surge in asylum seekers. (In several countries, most disapprove of how the European Union has handled the refugee issue.)

People in other countries around the world hold views similar to those in Europe. Large majorities in Israel (73%), Russia (67%), South Africa (65%) and Argentina (61%) say their countries should let in fewer immigrants. In every country surveyed, less than a third say their nation should allow more immigrants to enter.

Worldwide, a record 258 million people lived outside their country of birth in 2017, up from 153 million in 1990. Their share of the global population is also up, reaching 3.4% in 2017, compared with 2.9% in 1990.

In recent years, a surge in migration has focused public attention on issues related to this, leading to the rise of political parties that question national immigration policies in some destination countries. More than 2 million migrants have sought asylum in Europe since 2015. In the Americas, thousands of Central American families and children have sought to enter the United States. (Recently, immigration has declined as an issue of public concern in parts of Western Europe, even as it has remained a top issue in U.S.)

Together, the 27 countries surveyed by the Center have more than half of the world’s international migrants. The U.S., with 44.5 million immigrants in 2017, has the largest foreign-born population in the world, followed by Saudi Arabia (12.2 million), Germany (12.2 million) and Russia (11.7 million).

Meanwhile, among the countries surveyed, immigrants make up the largest shares of national populations in Australia (29%), Israel (24%), Canada (22%) and Sweden (18%). About 14% of the U.S. population is foreign born, a share comparable to that of Germany (15%), the UK (13%) and Spain (13%).

Outmigration also widely seen as a problem

Image: Pew Research Center

At the same time, people in many countries worry about people leaving their home for jobs in other countries. Among surveyed nations, Greece and Spain – two countries that have seen significant numbers of people move abroad in recent years – have the highest shares of people who say this is a very or moderately big problem (89% and 88%, respectively).

About eight-in-ten (79%) say this in Mexico, which has one of the world’s largest numbers of people living outside of their country, at 13 million, according to the United Nations. (The country’s mass migration to the U.S. has slowed over the past decade or so.) In India, the nation with the largest international migrant population (16.6 million), 64% say people leaving for jobs elsewhere is a big problem.

In many countries that are home to large foreign-born populations (whether by total number or by share), few say people leaving their country for jobs elsewhere is a big problem. In the U.S., for example, 38% say outmigration for jobs is a big problem. In Sweden, 18% say the same.

Have you read?

In many countries, more people today say outmigration is a very big or moderately big problem than in 2002, when the Center began asking this question. In Russia, Japan, South Korea, Kenya, Poland and Italy, the share saying this has climbed about 15 percentage points or more during this time. (Fifteen countries have survey data from both 2002 and 2018.)

In fact, since 2002, the only surveyed countries where worries over emigration due to jobs abroad have declined significantly are Germany and Canada. The share who say outmigration is a big problem in Germany fell by almost half (from 64% in 2002 to 33% in 2018), while the share in Canada declined from 55% to 37%.

On Dec. 10, representatives of most countries worldwide are expected to gather in Morocco to sign the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, a non-legally binding agreement intended to manage migration for both origin and destination countries. However, the compact’s effect on future migration remains unknown, in part because several nations have said they will not adopt it. This list includes the U.S., Australia, Hungary and Poland.

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.

Related topics:
Economic GrowthGeo-Economics and PoliticsGeographies in Depth
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.

Why we must act now to revive women’s leadership prospects in an AI-driven workplace

Sue Duke

June 12, 2024

About Us



Partners & Members

  • Join Us

Language Editions

Privacy Policy & Terms of Service

© 2024 World Economic Forum