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Back in 1900, international migrants, people living in a country other than the one they were born in, accounted for approximately 3% of the world’s population.  According to recent OECD data, as of 2014, 13% of the total U.S. population was born outside the United States. Within the U.S. labor force itself, the share of immigration is slightly larger, reaching 16%. This includes both very high-skilled workers and lower-skilled labourers. In the UK, too, 13% of the population is foreign-born. In the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, foreign resident population is 84% and 74%,respectively.
As it is obvious, beyond their contribution to the workforce of their new countries of residence, migrant workers also contribute significantly to their original home economies, usually through international money transfers. These workers regularly divert portions of their earnings to family back home. According to World Bank data, remittances to developing countries totaled $435 billion in 2014.
EU population and labour movement data indicated that about 10% of the European Union’s residents were born in a country, including EU member states, other than the one where they live now. Media headlines in Europe each day feature stories of mounting refugee populations from the wars in Syria and Libya, as well as the tragic deaths of hundreds of people perishing on boats in the Mediterranean. While these problems are real and warrant immediate policy attention, a key part of the challenge is the prevailing public perception of immigration.
In France, for example, 10% of the population is foreign-born. However, according to opinion polls, people incorrectly believe that the share is more like 28%. In the UK, the gap between reality and perception is a bit smaller, with an actual 13% share of foreigners among the country’s population compared to an imagined share of 24%. Spain’s case is very similar to France’s: The foreign-born population’s share is 12%, but people believe it is 24%, double what it actually is. In the U.S., the public believes 32% of its population is foreign-born, 19 percentage points greater than the actual share.
Recent migration study revealed that global migrants make up 3% of the world’s population and remained stable for 55 years now, essentially after the disruptions of the world wars had settled back down. This means their proportion is essentially unchanged from where it was back in 1900, even though it has never been easier to move between countries. However, given the significant growth in the overall world population, the absolute number of migrants is approximately 215 million now, which is greater than the entire population of Brazil, the world’s fifth-most populous nation, while it was 50 million back then.
Much of migration today is related to huge gaps in earning potential for workers with the same qualifications in advanced economies and developing economies. For example, nurses make seven times more in Australia than in the Philippines. And accountants earn six times more in the United Kingdom than in Sri Lanka even when measured in terms of purchasing power parity.
Japan is an outlier among advanced economies, which are usually magnets for migration. Just 1% of the country’s population is foreign-born, making it one of the few wealthy nations with a migrant share lower than the global average of 3%.
Other regions close to Japan’s level are Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa. Both are emigration source regions and have average migrant populations of 1.4% and 1.8%, respectively, from outside their regions, although internal migration is higher. Among OECD countries, 11% of their overall population consists of migrants, a share significantly above these regions and the global average of 3%.
However, 40% of all migrants living in OECD countries today actually came from a different OECD country. Examples include citizens of one EU member state moving to another EU state or Canadians moving to the United States.)After internal OECD immigration, a further 26% of migrants come to the OECD from Latin America, 24% from Asia and 10% from Africa.
Four powerful forces are contributing to the urgency of addressing the international migration issue on the national, regional and international agenda. The first force is demography. Generally speaking, receiving countries in the North are facing a “birth-rate crisis.” With more deaths than births due to low fertility levels, many receiving countries are experiencing rapid population aging and facing outright population decline. In contrast, the populations of sending countries, especially in Asia and Africa, continue to grow rapidly, with most of their populations concentrated in the younger ages.
Economics is the second major force. With aging and shrinking populations, many developed nations are confronting serious labor shortages, financial pressures on government-sponsored pensions and difficulties providing health care for the elderly. In addition, countries in the Persian Gulf are recruiting large numbers of temporary migrant workers for their expanding economies, fueled largely by their vast oil wealth. At the same time, millions of men and women in poor developing countries, especially the youth, face poverty and hardships securing employment. And as a result, many are seeking opportunities by migrating, legally or illegally, to wealthier countries, especially in Europe and North America.
The third major force is culture, a broad set of issues including ethnicity, language, religion, customs and tradition. In contrast to the past, the composition of the immigrants in many instances differs greatly from that of the receiving country. In Europe following World War II, for example, many immigrants came from the relatively poorer countries of southern Europe. Many of the  immigrants  today, however, are not only less educated and lower skilled than the native populations, but are ethnically and culturally different, raising concerns about integration, assimilation and cultural integrity.
The fourth crucial force is national security. The events of 9-11 in the United States, the bombings in the United Kingdom, Spain, Indonesia and elsewhere, as well as several high profile violent crimes committed by immigrants have heightened security and safety concerns relating to international migrants.
Given the current economic downturn and growing anti-immigrant sentiments among both developed and developing countries, it seems certain that the issue of how best to manage international migration will become even more contentious, divisive and challenging for governments and international organisations in the years ahead.