Africa’s International Migrants — Countries with Losses, Gains

Migration Policy Institute

Plus, Who’s Moving Within the United States and Which Country Has the Most Helpful Environment for Migrants?

In 2010, the number of international migrants residing in African countries reached nearly 19.3 million, a 21 percent increase from the 16 million migrants recorded in 1990, according to estimates from the UN Population Division. While a small percentage of these international migrants (defined as persons residing outside their country of birth or nationality, including refugees) come from other regions of the world, such as Asia and Europe, the vast majority are people moving to different countries within the African continent itself.

The changes in the stock of international migrants in Africa are based on a number of factors: labor migration fluctuations within the continent; significant refugee movement due to wars, famine, or other internal strife (from Sudan and Somalia for example), which affects neighboring countries; and even data collection improvements in the past few decades.

For a more visual view, check out our new chart that dynamically tracks changes in the size and percentage of this population between 1990 and 2010 in countries and regions within Africa. (Click “Play” to see the changes in motion.) Here are a few quick stats:

Of the five African regions (Northern, Southern, Eastern, Western, and Middle Africa), three have experienced an increase in the international migrant population during the past two decades.

Western Africa: This region, which posted the largest migrant gain, saw a 74 percent increase from 4.8 million in 1990 to 8.4 million in 2010. The countries within Western Africa with the biggest growth in migration were nearly tied in their percent increases: Benin saw a 204 percent hike (from 76,000 to 232,000) while Burkina Faso saw a 203 percent increase (from 345,000 to more than 1 million). Conversely, between 1990 and 2010, Sierra Leone and Senegal experienced a decline of 31 percent and 22 percent, respectively, in the number of international migrants.

Southern Africa: This region has experienced a 50 percent uptick in the size of its international migrant population since 1990. The region’s most populous country, South Africa, gained more than 638,000 migrants in the past two decades; there were nearly 1.9 million international migrants residing in South Africa in 2010. The country with the highest percent increase between 1990 and 2010 was Botswana (a 317 percent increase) and the country with the largest decline was Swaziland (down 43 percent).

Middle Africa: While this region has not seen a steady increase over the years (international migrants were more plentiful in 1995 than in 2010), Middle Africa experienced an 11 percent growth between 1990 and 2010: from 1.5 million to 1.6 million, with the largest country increase occurring in Chad (up 422 percent) and the largest decline in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (down 41 percent).

The remaining two African regions experienced a decline.

Northern Africa: While 2011 data may show a larger decrease in certain countries in this region, due to the tens of thousands who moved during the Arab Spring upheaval, Northern Africa experienced a 12 percent decline in migration from 2.3 million in 1990 to 2 million in 2010 (but an increase from a decade earlier by some 80,000 migrants). Since 1990, the countries with the largest percent declines were Sudan (41 percent) and Morocco (15 percent).

Eastern Africa: This region hosted 5 million migrants in 2010, down from 5.9 million in 1990, a 15 percent decline. Countries that saw the highest declines were Somalia (96 percent, from 633,000 migrants in 1990 to 23,000 in 2010) and Burundi (82 percent), while others’ migrant population increased since 1990 including Rwanda (539 percent) and Kenya (402 percent).

To learn more about changes in international migrant population in Africa between 1990 and 2010, click on the country-level and region-level charts.

Worldwide in 2010, the regions that hosted the largest number of international migrants were Europe (33 percent of the 215.8 million global migrants), Asia (28 percent), and the Americas (27 percent). Learn more about who moved within and between Africa and other world regions with our updated World Migration Map (WMM). The WMM data tool — based on the World Bank’s data — charts the sending and destination regions of migrants to and from Africa, Asia, the Americas, Europe, and Oceania.

Note: Our World Migration Map is based on World Bank data that are more recent than the original UN Population Division estimates, which explains the discrepancy in the total numbers of international migrants residing in Africa overall and its regions between the two data tools.

Geographic Mobility Between 2010 and 2011 by Nativity, US Citizenship Status, and Hispanic Origin
According to the US Census Bureau’s recently released geographic mobility tables, about one in nine people (ages 1 and older) — or 34 million — moved within the United States between 2010 and 2011. In addition to these domestic “movers,” more than 1 million arrived from abroad during the same period of time. However, as the chart below shows, the majority of the US population (regardless of nativity or Hispanic origin) did not change place of residence.

Source: MPI tabulations of the US Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey, 2011. More tables are available here.

Naturalized citizens were less likely to move either domestically or from abroad than either US born or non-US citizens. Hispanic immigrants who were non-US citizens were more likely to move within the same state than the other groups. At the same time, non-Hispanics without US citizenship were more likely to migrate from abroad than other immigrants, lending further evidence to a trend of slower immigration from Latin America that started with the Great Recession.

Check out our new geographic mobility tables that provide more details on who relocated (and who stayed put) as well as reasons people moved between 2010 and 2011.

The movement of migrants from poor to more wealthy countries is challenging for both the immigrants and the host country, but some countries are notably better than others at making the process less difficult.

So, which country is ranked first on how easy they make it for people from poor countries to immigrate, get education or find work, send home money, and even return home with new skills and capital? Is it the United States, Japan, or Austria? Check out the answer here by clicking on the tab “Migration.”

Up for Grabs: The Gains and Prospects of First- and Second-Generation Young Adults
By Jeanne Batalova and Michael Fix
Youth and young adults from immigrant families represent one in four people in the United States between the ages of 16-26 and account for half of the growth of the young adult population between 1995 and 2010. This report profiles the nation’s 11.3 million first- and second-generation young adults, finding substantial generational progress in terms of high school graduation, college enrollment, and ability to earn family-sustaining wages. Second-generation Hispanic women are faring particularly well, with college enrollment rates equal to those of third-generation non-Hispanic white women. However, they are not graduating from college at the same rate or on the same timeline because of family, work, or economic reasons. The report sketches how postsecondary education, workforce development, and language training programs could better meet the needs of this population, which will assume a greater role as the US workforce ages.

Immigrant Integration in a Time of Austerity
By Elizabeth Collett
With immigration at the forefront of many austerity debates, some European governments are choosing to cut integration programming and those that held off may be unable to avoid public funding cuts in the future. At the same time, while some countries are using integration funding as a stopgap measure for more vulnerable migrant populations or even maintaining their integration objectives in the face of severe economic hardship (such as Portugal and Sweden), others are using the austerity measures as part of a changing political philosophy to diminish integration funding altogether (such as in the Netherlands and, to some extent, the United Kingdom).

On behalf of the MPI Data Hub team, thank you for your interest in and support of the Data Hub.

Data Manager and Policy Analyst
Migration Policy Institute

The MPI Data Hub is a project of the Migration Policy Institute (MPI). Find out more about MPI at

Join Our List
If a friend has forwarded this email to you and you would like to continue receiving these updates,
click here.

If you no longer wish to receive these emails, you can unsubscribe.

Comments and suggestions
Drop us a line with your comments and suggestions.

Follow MPI