U.N. migration report 2020: 18 million Indians living outside their homeland; women now comprise nearly half of all international migrants

Published : January 20, 2021 18:57 IST

At the departure terminal of Bangalore International Airport, a file picture. Photo: THE HINDU ARCHIVES

The disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic may have reduced the number of international migrants by around two million globally by mid-2020, leading to a likely decline of 14 per cent in remittance flows to low- and middle-income countries by 2021, a report published last week by the Population Division of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA) has said.

The report titled ‘International Migration 2020 Highlights’ marks out several interesting global migration trends that are of interest in India, the ‘largest transnational community in the world’ with 18 million of its citizens living outside their homeland in 2020, above Russian Federation and Mexico (11 million each), China (10 million) and the Syrian Arab Republic (eight million). (In 2019 India received USD 83 billion in remittances from its diaspora.)

The report indicates that as world population is ageing rapidly, there is an increasing ‘gender-specific demand’ for migrant workers, especially for care-related work in many high-income countries.

Women now comprise slightly less than half of all international migrants and, increasingly, they migrate on their own for study or work, unlike earlier when they used to do so as dependants of spouses or other family members. In 2020, 48 per cent of all international migrants worldwide were women or girls.

The number of female migrants has grown more rapidly than that of male migrants in both Europe and North America in the past decades. The report said this could be a trend associated with several factors, including sex differentials in survivorship and migration policies. Population ageing and changes in labour force participation and in labour preferences of native-born women also help to explain the higher share of female migrants in Europe and North America.

The report found that migrant women from lower-income countries were increasingly taking up care-related work, which was previously done by native-born women, often without pay. In turn, older women in low-income countries were playing a more important role serving as caregivers to children “left behind” by female migrant workers.

At the same time, there is rapidly increasing masculinisation of migration in high- and middle-income countries in West Asia and Northern Africa, and to a lesser extent in sub-Saharan Africa. The demand for male workers outpaced the demand for female workers in several oil-producing countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council, and countries that relied primarily on temporary labour migration contracts. Overall, the impact of this is so pronounced that “it is driving the trend of declining share of female migrants at the global level,” the report said.

Europe has most migrants

Europe had the largest number of international migrants in 2020: 87 million. Northern America hosted the second largest number of migrants, nearly 59 million; followed by Northern Africa and West Asia, with nearly 50 million. In all other regions, the number were much smaller. The report predicts that if the current trends continue, West Asia and Northern Africa are likely to overtake Northern America as the region with the second largest number of migrants in the world (after Europe) within the next decades.

According to the report, the number of people living outside their country of origin was 281 million in 2020, which is less than four per cent of the world’s total population. This proportion, has been increasing steadily over the past two decades. Of the 10 countries with the highest shares of migrants in total population among countries hosting one million or more migrants in 2020, six were in the region of Northern Africa and West Asia.

Between 2000 and 2020, the size of the migrant population abroad grew for nearly all countries and areas of the world. India experienced the largest gain during that period (nearly 10 million), followed by the Syria, Venezuela, China and the Philippines.

Globally, the median age of all international migrants in 2020 was 39.1 years. The median age of migrants was higher in the high-income countries than in middle-income or low-income countries. Northern America (44.3 years), Europe (43.4 years) and Oceania (41.9 years) had the highest median ages among the eight regions considered. In these regions, the median age of female migrants was higher than that of males. By contrast, international migrants living in sub-Saharan Africa had the lowest median age (31.0 years), followed by Latin America and the Caribbean (31.2 years) and Northern Africa and West Asia (34.2 years). In both sub-Saharan Africa and Northern Africa and West Asia, male migrants had a higher median age than female migrants.

Working-age migrants

The report indicates that international migrants of working age also contribute to easing some of the pressure on public pension systems in countries experiencing population ageing. In Europe and Northern America, international migrants contributed to reducing old-age dependency ratio (or the ratio of persons aged 65 years or above per 100 persons aged 20 to 64 years. In general, the higher this ratio, the more dependent persons each potential worker needs to support.). In regions with more youthful populations, such as sub-Saharan Africa and Central and Southern Asia, the presence of international migrants tends to have little impact on dependency ratios. In high-income countries, nearly 19 per cent of the working-age population were international migrants in 2020. In middle- and low-income countries that proportion was considerably smaller. In terms of regions, Oceania had the highest share of international migrants in its working-age population in 2020 (27 per cent), followed by Northern America (nearly 21 per cent).

U.S. still largest destination

The United States of America remained the largest destination of international migrants with 51 million migrants in 2020, equal to 18 per cent of the world’s total. Germany hosted the second largest number of migrants worldwide (around 16 million), followed by Saudi Arabia (13 million), the Russian Federation (12 million) and the United Kingdom (9 million). And, Central and Southern Asia had the largest share (78 per cent) of its diaspora residing outside the region.

The Indian diaspora is distributed across a number of major countries, with the UAE (3.5 million), the U.S. (2.7 million) and Saudi Arabia (2.5 million) hosting the largest numbers of migrants from India. Other countries with large numbers of migrants from India include Australia, Canada, Kuwait, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar and the U.K.