For thousands of years, humans have migrated in search of a better life. Reasons for emigration vary: many are attracted by the employment opportunities and highly developed health care and education systems found in affluent countries. Others wish to join friends and family who have already relocated abroad, or are enticed by the cultural freedom of the host nation. A large amount of migrants are forced to flee their homes in an effort to escape social, religious or political intolerance, natural disasters, war or poverty.
Migration is not a purely personal issue: it can have a huge effect on the economic development of both the country of origin and the host country. Remittances (money sent from foreign workers back to their homeland) constitute some of the largest financial inflows to developing countries, and can boost economic growth and GDP. Immigration is capable of placing a strain on the economy of the host nation, or spurring its economy by providing much-needed labour.
There are over 232 million international migrants in the world. In recent years, the number of migrants has grown rapidly: between 1990 and 2013, the figures rose by 50%. The trend looks set to continue, with powerful, wealthy nations like Russia, Germany, Canada and the United States attracting more and more people in pursuit of superior job opportunities. These are traditional destination countries, but there are also traditional origin countries for the migrants they receive. This is a result of several factors, including geographical location and linguistic and cultural links between nations. The following is a list of countries with the highest numbers of natives moving overseas per year, many of which have a long history of emigration. Data here is compiled from the World Bank’s Migration and Remittances Factbook.
5. Ukraine – 6.6 million
Including the region of Crimea (now annexed by Russia) Ukraine is the largest country entirely within Europe, and home to around 44.6 million people. Its population has been steadily decreasing since the 1990s, due to significant levels of emigration as well as a high death rate and low birth rate. Large numbers of Ukrainians move abroad every year in search of better living conditions and employment opportunities, or in order to escape the political instability in the country. Most migrants relocate to Russia, living along the border, and Canada, which has over 1.2 million residents of Ukrainian descent. Others decide to settle mainly in the United States, Kazakhstan, Australia, Brazil and Argentina.
4. China – 8.3 million
China is the second-largest and most populous country in the world, with a population of over 1.35 billion. Throughout China’s history, strict laws have attempted to control emigration, but these have been somewhat relaxed in recent years. Currently, large numbers of students opt to leave the country to attend foreign universities and research institutions, while businesspeople depart in search of better entrepreneurial opportunities. Millions of others migrate to escape the strictures of their homeland’s communist regime, the severe overpopulation, and the government’s one-child policy. It is estimated that there are over 50 million overseas Chinese in the world today, most of whom are living in Southeast Asia. However, with the country’s economy developing at a rapid pace, many Chinese migrants are now choosing to return home.
3. Russia – 11.1 million
Russia is the largest country in the world and has a population of 143 million. Particularly following the collapse of the USSR in 1991, flocks of people have been moving to and from the nation every year; as well as having the third-highest amount of emigrants scattered overseas, Russia is home to the second-highest number of immigrants in the world after the United States. Today, most Russian migrants reside in former Soviet States such as Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Belarus and Latvia. More than three million migrants have started new lives in the USA, while almost one million Jewish Russians have fled to Israel to escape persecution. Other previous and current reasons for emigration from Russia include political tensions, government oppression, high crime rates, corruption, and other social problems.
2. India – 11. 4 million
India is the second most populous country in the world, home to over 1.2 billion people. Its economy is improving rapidly, but the nation continues to struggle against widespread poverty, corruption, pollution, malnutrition and insufficient public healthcare. In recent years India has witnessed huge amounts of emigration to developed countries. There are around 2 million people of Indian origin living in the United States today, and just under 1 million in Canada. There are also around 1 million in the United Kingdom, many of whom are second or third generation, pointing to decades of emigration initially prompted by the two nations’ colonial links. As many of these migrants are highly skilled and well-educated, with a good standard of English, they are in increasing demand in countries such as Australia and New Zealand. Many Indians find work within the IT industry, while others are employed in such well-respected fields as engineering, medicine and law.
1. Mexico – 11.9 million
Over 11% of Mexico’s native population lives abroad, making it the country with the largest number of emigrants in the world. 97% of those emigrants live in the United States, where they are employed in generally unskilled jobs, particularly in construction, manufacturing, and service industries. Mexicans choose to move to the US to supply labour demand and enjoy a superior quality of life, while escaping the many problems affecting their home country which include violence, crime, drugs, malnutrition, and poor education. As a result of the recent economic crisis, however, there has been a reversal in migratory patterns, and 2012 was the first time in 60 years that more Mexicans actually left America than entered it. As the economic situation in Mexico has improved, there has been a decrease in work opportunities in the US, and a clampdown on illegal immigration has made it less profitable and more dangerous for Hispanics to cross the border. As the American economy is extremely dependent on Mexican labour, other immigrants will have to fill the gap left by returning migrants, or the consequences for the States could be serious.