Global Migration Trends Factsheet

The IOM’s Global Migration Trends Factsheet presents a snapshot of the major migration trends worldwide for the year 2015 based on statistics from a variety of sources.

By considering the state of migration globally in 2015, the following facts stand out:

In 2015, the number of international migrants worldwide – people residing in a country other than their country of birth – was the highest ever recorded, having reached 244 million (from 232 million in 2013). As a share of the world population, however, international migration has remained fairly constant over the past decades, at around 3%. While female migrants constitute only 48% of the international migrant stock worldwide, and 42% in Asia, women make up the majority of international migrants in Europe (52.4%) and North America (51.2%).

South-South migration flows (across developing countries) continued to grow compared to South-North movements (from developing to developed countries): in 2015, 90.2 million international migrants born in developing countries resided in other countries in the Global South, while 85.3 million born in the South resided in countries in the Global North.

Germany became the second most popular destination for international migrants globally (in absolute numbers), following the United States and preceding the Russian Federation, with an estimated 12 million foreign-born residing in the country in 2015 (against 46.6 million in the U.S. and 11.9 million in the Russian Federation). As a proportion of the host country’s population, however, numbers of international migrants continue to be highest in Gulf Cooperation Council countries: the foreign-born population makes up 88.4% of the total population in the United Arab Emirates, 75.7% in Qatar and 73.6% in Kuwait.

Close to 1 in 5 migrants in the world live in the top 20 largest cities, according to IOM’s World Migration Report 2015. International migrants make up over a third of the total population in cities like Sydney, Auckland, Singapore and London, and at least one in fourresidents in Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Paris is foreign-born.

The year 2015 saw the highest levels of forced displacement globally recorded since World War II, with a dramatic increase in the number of refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced people across various regions of the world – from Africa to the Middle East and South Asia. The world hosted 15.1 million refugees by mid-2015. This is a 45% increase compared to three and a half years ago, largely due to continued conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic, now well into its 5th year. Some 8.6 million persons were newly displaced in 2015 alone.

In 2015, Germany also became the largest single recipient of first-time individual asylum claims globally, with almost 442,000applications lodged in the country by the end of the year. The number of asylum claims worldwide almost doubled between the end of 2014 and the first half of 2015, from 558,000 pending applications at the end of 2014 to almost 1 million by the end of June 2015. This figure continued to increase, rising to about 3.2 million pending asylum applications globally by the end of 2015.

By the end of 2015, the EU as a whole received over 1.2 million first-time asylum claims, more than double the number registered in 2014 (563,000), and almost double the levels recorded in 1992 in the then 15 Member States (672,000 applications). The increase in 2015 is largely due to higher numbers of asylum claims from Syrians, Afghans and Iraqis).

Almost 1 in 3 first-time asylum applicants in the EU were minors, an 11% increase compared to 2014 levels; also, almost 1 in 5 of these were judged to be unaccompanied by national authorities – the highest number since 2008 and a three-fold increase on numbers registered in 2014.

Still, the vast majority of refugees continue to be hosted by developing countries, particularly those that are proximate to the refugees’ countries of origin: for instance, the bulk of the Syrian refugee population is hosted by Turkey (2.2 million), Lebanon (1.2 million) and Jordan (almost 630,000), according to figures recorded in December 2015.

Also, most forced displacement globally still occurs within countries’ borders, with an estimated 38 million people internally displaced by conflict and violence at the end of 2014 – from Iraq to South Sudan, from Syria to the Democratic Republic of Congo and Nigeria.

The year 2015 was also the deadliest year for migrants: increased levels of forced displacement globally were tragically accompanied by record-high numbers of people perishing or going missing while trying to cross international borders. Over 5,400 migrants worldwide are estimated to have died or gone missing in 2015. According to IOM’s Missing Migrant project, migrant fatalities during migration to Europe increased by 15% compared to the previous year, reaching at least 3,770.

From 2014 to 2015, a major and sudden shift in routes of irregular migration by sea to Europe occurred – with about 853,000 arriving to Greece compared to almost 154,000 to Italy, as opposed to about 34,400 and 170,100 respectively in 2014.

In 2015, the number of voluntary returns of migrants (e.g. failed asylum-seekers, and other groups) from EU countries was for the first time higher than the number of forced returns (81,681 against 72,473). Moreover, the number of IOM-assisted voluntary returns from EU Member States, Norway and Switzerland in 2015 reached a figure of almost 56,000.

New estimates for the number of migrant workers globally show that the large majority of international migrants in the world are migrant workersMigrants have higher labour force participation than non-migrants, particularly due to higher labour force participation rates for migrant women relative to non-migrant women.

Remittances continue to climb globally while remittance-sending costs remain relatively high. The sum of financial remittances sent by international migrants back to their families in origin countries amounted to an estimated $601 billion in 2015 – over two thirds of which were sent to developing countries. In Tajikistan remittances constituted over 40% of the country’s GDP. However, average remittance transfer costs were still at 7.5% of the amount sent in the third quarter of 2015, higher than the 3% minimum target set in the Sustainable Development Goals to be met by 2030. Remittance transfer costs are particularly high in Sub-Saharan Africa – now standing at 9.5% on average.

Finally, public opinion towards migration globally is more favourable than commonly perceived – with the notable exception of Europe, according to an IOM-Gallup report, “How the World Views Migration”. The report is based on a Gallup poll conducted across over 140 countries between 2012 and 2014.

For more information and figures, see the Global Migration Trends Factsheet 2015: