On balance, people around the world are more accepting of refugees fleeing violence and war than they are of immigrants moving to their country, according to a new analysis of public opinion data from 18 nations surveyed by Pew Research Center in spring 2018.
The analysis comes as many countries grapple with a surge in refugees and migration amid the ongoing civil war in Syria and other armed conflicts in the Middle East. There were 258 million people living outside their country of birth in 2017 including roughly 20 million refugees, according to the United Nations.
For these questions, refugees are described as people “fleeing violence and war” while immigrants are described as people “moving to our country.” There is no further specification for what the terms refugee and immigrant mean, and they may be interpreted in different ways by different respondents.
Across the 18 countries surveyed, a median of 71% of adults said they support taking in refugees fleeing violence and war. By contrast, a median of 50% said they support “more” or “about the same” number of immigrants moving to their country, a 21 percentage point difference.
The gap was largest in Greece, where 69% supported taking in refugees, compared with just 17% who supported more or about the same number of immigrants moving to their country. In Germany, people were also much more likely to support taking in refugees (82%) than immigrants (40%).
In Japan, on the other hand, 81% supported more or about the same number of immigrants moving to their country, while a smaller share (66%) supported taking in refugees. Despite reaching its highest-ever foreign national population of 2.7 million in 2018, Japan’s population is shrinking. Only China is expected to lose more people by the year 2100, according to recent UN population projections.
In the United States, public support for accepting refugees and immigrants was roughly equal in the 2018 survey (66% and 68%, respectively). In 2018, the U.S. resettled 23,000 refugees, down from 33,000 the previous year and a recent high of 97,000 in 2016. At the same time, new immigrant arrivals to the U.S. have also fallen.
In a separate Pew Research Center survey conducted in spring 2018, 51% of Americans said the U.S. “has a responsibility to accept refugees into the country,” while 43% said it does not.
Attitudes toward refugees, immigrants are related to views of diversity
Globally, public attitudes toward accepting refugees and immigrants often differ depending on whether respondents see diversity as beneficial for their country (for more on how we measure attitudes toward diversity, see our April 2019 report). Overall, people in 14 of 18 countries surveyed were more likely to favor diversity than oppose it.
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Across most of these countries, people who favor diversity tend to support both immigrants and refugees moving to their country. For example, in Canada, 87% of those who favor diversity were also in favor of immigrants moving to their country, compared with only 26% of those who oppose diversity. Similarly, 87% of Canadians who favor diversity expressed support for taking in refugees, compared with just 40% of those who oppose diversity.
This pattern held true in 15 of the 17 countries surveyed (Japan was excluded from analysis due to insufficient sample size.) However, in South Africa and Mexico, there were almost no differences between those who oppose and favor diversity.
In some countries, there is relatively strong support for taking in refugees even among people who oppose diversity. For example, in both Germany and Spain, 69% of those who oppose diversity nevertheless said they support taking in refugees.
In general, people who oppose diversity are also more likely to see immigrants as a burden on society. For example, in Sweden, 67% of those who oppose diversity said immigrants today are a burden on their country “because they take our jobs and social benefits,” compared with 13% of Swedes who favor diversity. These gaps were also wide in Canada (52-point difference between those who oppose and favor diversity), Australia (50-point difference) and the U.S. (33 points).
In most of the countries surveyed, those who oppose diversity were also more likely to say immigrants want to be distinct from their country’s society. In addition, they were less likely to support encouraging highly skilled people to immigrate and work in their nation.