The development of human civilisation clearly demonstrates that we're a migratory species, with some of the most powerful nations on earth having been built around empires, adventurers and immigrants. Indeed, the most powerful man in America today, U.S. president Barack Obama, is proud to claim roots in countries as far flung as Ireland and Kenya. Today, there are about 232 million international immigrants in the world, and that number is increasing every year.
Reasons for emigration vary hugely. Some migrants are compelled to leave their homeland due to war, famine, poverty or a lack of sexual, political or personal freedom. Others are drawn to better education systems and welfare programmes offered by more affluent countries, as well as to employment and entrepreneurial opportunities. Many are attracted by the freedom and cultural richness of their destination and some are simply joining friends and family who have already relocated.
Approximately half of all the world's migrants reside in just ten countries; of course, many of these nations are among the most populous in the world. The majority of these nations boast developed, high income economies with enticing employment prospects. The demographics are also relevant; four of these countries are predominantly English-speaking societies and five of them are located in Europe, indicating the prevalence of immigration in Western countries.
Not all of these nations, however, have governmental policies which facilitate or support immigration. According to a United Nations’ world migration report from October 2013, four of the countries on this list actively aim to decrease levels of immigration. Policies vary depending on the status of the migrants, however, with most countries aiming to bring in more highly-skilled workers. Some countries favour certain nationalities over others, or target specific groups for deportation. Historical and cultural factors can affect how an ethnic group is received in their host country, and sometimes immigrants find it difficult to integrate into the community. Despite the political and social challenges, though, these ten countries remain the most popular destinations for migrants the world over.
10 Spain – 6.5 million immigrants
Spain is the second-largest country in the European Union and has a population of 46.7 million, a huge 12% of whom are foreign-born. This continental European nation has attracted large numbers of immigrants in recent years, for various reasons. Its geographical location and easily breached borders have enabled African migrants to illegally enter the country by sea, and its cultural and linguistic links with Latin America make it an obvious choice for Hispanic people moving to Europe. Due to its warm weather and picturesque beaches it's a popular retirement and foreign-study destination, too.
9 Australia – 6.5 million immigrants
Australia has a population of 23.4 million, around a quarter of whom have been born outside the continent. It was the only developed nation to escape largely unscathed from the recession caused by the recent global economic downturn. This, of course, made it a more attractive prospect for immigrants. Australian governmental policy welcomes highly skilled immigrants but has been criticised for its ageism and the mandatory detention of illegal arrivals.
8 Canada – 7.3 million immigrants
Canada is the second-largest country in the world and has a population of about 35 million; over a fifth of this total population comprises international migrants. Canada boasts an impressive education system, a high quality of life, and the eighth highest income per capita globally. The Canadian government upholds liberal immigration policies, encouraging migration to the country for the purpose of family reunification. In recent years, however, many have voiced concern over the unsuccessful integration of new residents, leading to stricter screening processes emphasising language fluency and job skills.
7 France – 7.4 million immigrants
France is the largest country in the European Union and has a population of approximately 65 million. It ranks very highly internationally in terms of education, healthcare and standard of living and has been a prime destination for immigrants since the early 20th century. The country currently accepts around 200,000 legal migrants per year, as well as large numbers of asylum seekers. As a member of the EU, France allows the free movement of other EU nationals to the country. However, the government maintains a generally conservative attitude towards immigration, and has attracted criticism for its controversial decision to expel Romani people from its borders.
6 United Kingdom – 7.8 million immigrants
The United Kingdom has a population of almost 64 million, 12.4% of them immigrants. It has the sixth-largest economy in the world, and is known for its generally high quality of life. The levels of migration to the country are increasing every year, leading to the implementation of anti-immigration government policies. Prime Minister David Cameron has commented that the influx of immigrants has placed a strain on British public services, in the nation already suffering from the global economic downturn. A points-based system has been introduced to assess immigrants, and a cap has been placed on the number of foreigners allowed to move to the UK each year.
Of course, as another EU member state, all immigrants from member countries are free to live and work in the UK. However, in 2013 the current government proposed a referendum on the United Kingdom's membership of the EU pending the re-election of the Conservative party in 2015. If the referendum happens and the British people vote to leave the EU, it will make UK the first ever nation to do so.
5 United Arab Emirates – 7.8 million immigrants
The United Arab Emirates has a higher proportion of immigrants than any country in the world (excluding the Vatican City). A staggering 83.7% of its residents hail from abroad, the majority flocking from Asian nations. The oil-rich UAE attracts large numbers of foreign workers, though it is has been criticised for its poor conditions – many labourers toil for hours on end without a break, often in extreme heat, and racism is known to be a common problem.
4 Saudi Arabia – 9.1 million immigrants
Saudi Arabia has a population of 29.1 million, almost a third of whom are immigrants. The number of international residents has risen sharply in recent years - between 2010 and 2013 it increased by 24.3%. The country’s government has taken steps to stop the influx of migrants, capping the amount of foreign workers at 20%, building a barrier between Saudi Arabia and Yemen, and deporting thousands of Ethiopians. It has also introduced strict policies regarding the granting of citizenship, and developed new tactics to prevent illegal aliens from finding work.
3 Germany – 9.8 million immigrants
Germany has 80.5 million residents, making it the most populous country in the European Union. It has the fourth-largest economy in the world in terms of GDP, excellent health care and education systems and highly developed infrastructure, all of which make it an attractive destination for immigrants. With one of the lowest birth rates in the world and an ageing population, Germany needs migrants to keep the economy afloat, and are actively recruiting highly educated and skilled labourers from overseas.
2 Russia – 11.0 million immigrants
Russia is the largest country in the world and has a population of 143 million. It has one of the biggest global economies in terms of GDP. Due to a decrease in population in the mid-1990s, the Russian government made it easier to immigrate to the country and launched a program to attract migrants from former Soviet Republics. The country still seeks to increase its population, and is trying to promote the integration of ethnic groups into Russian society.
1 United States of America – 45.8 million immigrants
The United States has long been seen as the “land of opportunity”, the home of the American Dream. With the largest national economy in the world, well-developed infrastructure and high educational and social mobility, it is not hard to see its appeal. It hosts almost 20% of the world’s migrants, and boasts a huge mix of races, cultures and traditions. Despite government policies clamping down on illegal immigration, it still accepts far more international migrants than anywhere in the world, and the trend looks set to continue.