The EU's Global Approach to Migration and Mobility - European Union Committee Contents

Chapter 2: Migration patterns and trends in europe

12.  This chapter sets the context for the report with an overview of migration patterns and trends. As the GAMM addresses a range of migration flows, including legal migration (for work, study or family purposes), irregular migration, and asylum, data on key patterns and trends in these flows are presented. The chapter also relates immigration to European demographic trends, including population size and ageing.

Migration flows and stocks

13.  There are approximately 214 million international migrants worldwide. Since the 1990s, the EU has emerged as a major destination region. It is now home to approximately 23 per cent of the world's international migrants, making it second only to North America as a destination region. Figure 1 shows the number of international migrants by destination region in 2010. In 2010, 9.5 per cent of the EU's population was born abroad.[8]


Number of international migrants by destination region, 2010 (millions)

Source: International Organisation for Migration, World Migration Report 2010, Geneva: IOM

14.  Prior to the economic crisis, immigration to the EU Member States was running at between three and four million people per year. In 2008, when the crisis hit, 3.8 million people migrated to and between the 27 Member States, while 2.3 million emigrated, resulting in net migration of 1.5 million people. Approximately 55 per cent of these migrants originated from outside the EU, while 44 per cent moved from one EU country to another. In 2009, immigration fell to approximately 3 million and emigration fell to 1.9 million, resulting in net migration of 1.1 million. Preliminary data for 2011 suggests that immigration is increasing once again.[9]

15.  By 2011, there were 33.3 million foreign citizens living in EU Member States, of whom 20.5 million were third country nationals (i.e. nationals of non-EU countries). The number of foreign-born (which includes those who have naturalised or are dual nationals) was 48.9 million or 9.7 per cent of the total population. Of these, 32.4 million were born outside the EU and 16.5 million were born in another EU Member State. Most foreigners (over 75 per cent of the total) live in one of five Member States: Germany, Spain, the United Kingdom, Italy and France.[10]

16.  Nationals of Romania and Turkey are the most numerous foreigners living in EU Member States, both exceeding 2.3 million, followed by Moroccans at approximately 1.9 million, then Polish nationals at 1.6 million. While source-country diversity has increased overall, there are nevertheless distinct 'migration corridors' linking particular sending and receiving countries and resulting in concentration of flows of some overseas nationals to a few countries. For example, almost two-thirds of Moroccans who migrated to Europe in 2008 went to Spain. In the same year, the United Kingdom was the destination of the majority of Indian nationals that migrated to the EU. Similar patterns can be seen when looking at migrant stocks, which reflect longer-term migration patterns as well as more recent flows. For example, 78 per cent of Romanian migrants live in Italy or Spain; 75 per cent of Turkish migrants live in Germany; 88 per cent of Moroccan migrants live in Spain, France or Italy; and almost all Albanian migrants live in either Greece or Italy. These migration corridors reflect a number of factors, including geographical proximity, colonial histories, past migration patterns, and language and cultural affinities.

17.  The composition of legal migration flows in terms of the types of migration (e.g. work, study, family, humanitarian reasons) also varies between Member States. Free movement migration (i.e. movement of EU nationals from one Member State to another) accounts for a significant proportion of migration in all EU Member States. Family migration is the second most important category in many EU states, while work-related migration of non-EU nationals accounts for 30 per cent or more immigrants to Italy (40 per cent), the United Kingdom (33 per cent), and Spain (30 per cent). In contrast, work-related migration of non-EU nationals constitutes less than 9 per cent of inflows to Germany. Across the EU, humanitarian migration (asylum-seekers and refugees) exceeds 10 per cent of total inflows only in Finland (17 per cent) and Sweden (19 per cent).[11]

18.  Many of our witnesses referred to the changing direction of global migration flows, including Peter Sutherland[12] who referred to changes in Ireland over the last ten years[13] and Professor Geddes, from the University of Sheffield, who referred to Turkey in this context.[14] Professor Keith, the director of the Centre on Migration Policy and Society (COMPAS), told us that "countries that were once source countries of migration become destination countries of migration. The patterns, flows and dynamics of migration change fairly significantly over quite short periods of time".[15] Professor Boswell, from the University of Edinburgh, referred to migration flows partly being caused and influenced by push factors, such as economic deprivation and lack of employment opportunities in source countries, and partly by pull factors such as job possibilities in destination countries and existing migration networks.[16]

The impact of the global economic crisis on migration

19.  While the economic crisis has certainly affected migration flows, the overall effects are both less dramatic and more mixed than might be expected. Migration flows to the EU peaked in 2007, but the overall decline since then has not been especially marked. In some countries immigration has dropped dramatically, while in others it has remained stable or even increased.

20.  Member States that were hardest hit by the crisis and which have only experienced inflows in recent years have been most affected. Spain has seen a substantial fall in immigration since 2007 (especially from Morocco and South America) as well as an increase in emigration (largely of EU nationals). However, Spain still recorded positive net migration in 2008 and 2009. Ireland was one of the few countries to record negative net migration in 2009 as a result of significant falls in immigration as well as increases in emigration. In contrast, in the United Kingdom and Germany, countries with longer histories of immigration, flows have remained fairly stable with small annual increases or decreases. Figure 2 shows immigration trends between 2005 and 2010 in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom. Preliminary data show that in 2011 immigration started to rise again in most OECD countries, bringing to an end a three-year decline.[17]


Inflows of permanent immigrants into selected EU countries

Source: OECD, International Migration Outlook 2012, Paris: OECD, 29

21.  While migrant unemployment has increased faster than native unemployment in some countries, many migrant workers who lost their jobs have chosen not to return home because the economic situation is often as bad or worse in their country of origin. In Spain, for example, unemployment among immigrants reached 30 per cent in 2010, compared to 18 per cent among native-born Spaniards. Yet a Spanish government programme to encourage non-EU migrants to return to their country of origin by offering a lump-sum payment based on social security contributions made while working in Spain received only 11,660 out of the expected 87,000 applications. In economies less severely affected by the crisis the effects on the migrant stock have been modest or even negligible. In Germany, the total foreign population actually increased by 58,800 (1 per cent) in 2010, the first rise in five years.[18]

22.  Our witnesses had mixed views about the effect of the global economic crisis on migration trends. Professor Skeldon, from the University of Sussex, stated that the economic crisis had only caused a short-term shock to the long-term decline in irregular migration since 2007, without disrupting the overall trend. Peter Sutherland and Tobias Billström did not think that the crisis had made any impact on the whole.[19]

Irregular migrants

23.  The number of irregular migrants living in the EU is, by definition, difficult to estimate. Irregular migrants are a 'hard-to-reach' population, and for obvious reasons are often reluctant to engage with government officials. Thus there is a lack of reliable quantitative data on irregular migration, including source countries.[20] Perhaps the best attempt to date to calculate the number of irregular migrants across Europe is the Clandestino project, which produced aggregate country estimates for 2002, 2005 and 2008. It estimated a decline in the stock of irregular resident populations. In 2002, an estimated 3.1 to 5.3 million irregular foreign residents lived in the EU. In the same region of the EU15, the estimate for 2008 was between 1.8 and 3.3 million irregular foreign residents. The estimate for the 27 Member States in 2008 was only slightly higher: 1.9 to 3.8 million, as most of the irregular resident population is estimated to live in the old Member States. The decrease is partly explained by the accession of the A8 countries in 2004, which effectively regularised the situation of migrants from those countries who were previously living irregularly in the EU15, as well as dedicated regularisation programmes in some countries. There is substantial variation in the size of the irregular migrant population across Member States. The United Kingdom is estimated to have the largest irregular migrant population, followed by Italy, Germany, France and Spain.[21] Figure 3 shows the estimates of the irregular migrant population in the EU between 2002 and 2008.


Estimates of the irregular migrant population in the EU
Year Absolute population of irregular migrants (millions) As percentage of population As percentage of foreign population
Min Max Min Max Min Max
20023.1 5.30.8 1.414 25
20052.2 4.80.58 1.238 18
20081.8 3.30.46 0.837 12
20081.9 3.80.39 0.777 13

Source: Clandestino Project, Undocumented Migration: Counting the Uncountable. Data and Trends Across Europe, 2009

24.  The economic crisis appears to have further reduced the number of irregular migrants in Europe. Since 2009, Frontex, the EU's External Border Agency, has collected quarterly data on the number of irregular migrants detected by national authorities in the EU Member States. The number of persons detected fell each quarter between Q2 2009 and Q1 2011, then increased up to Q4 2011, before dropping back again to Q2 2012.[22] By contrast, detections of unauthorised crossings at the EU's external borders have not consistently declined, although the most recent data for Q2 2012 showed that detections were lower than in any other second quarter since Frontex reporting began. Nevertheless, the Greek-Turkish border was the most important place for detections of unauthorised crossings, with two thirds of all detections being reported by Greece. Detections at the external border follow a relatively steady seasonal cycle, with detections peaking each year in Qs 2-3 and then bottoming out in Qs 4-1.

25.  The four main 'pathways' to irregular migration in Europe are: (1) visa overstay, (2) rejected or non-returnable asylum-seekers, (3) administrative changes in residency or work permit applications leading to loss or withdrawal of status, and (4) clandestine entry.[23] While the popular perception of irregular migration focuses on clandestine entry, this is the least frequently used pathway, accounting for probably less than a quarter of irregular residents (see Chapter 4). Most irregular migrants enter with authorisation—for example, on short-stay visas for tourism, family visits or business, or as students—and then overstay or otherwise breach the terms of their visa, for example by working without authorisation. Visa overstay is almost certainly the most significant route to irregularity, followed by non-return of rejected asylum-seekers, and administrative changes.

Asylum applications and refugees

26.  The number of asylum applications in the EU plus Norway and Switzerland fell dramatically between 2002 and 2006, from 459,274 to 209,400 applications. Since 2006, the number of applications has increased again, reaching 270,480 in 2009, dropping back slightly to 263,990 in 2010, and increasing to 306,264 in 2011. The trends are depicted in Figure 4, which shows asylum applications for the EU plus Norway and Switzerland from 1999 to 2011, as well as national trends for France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. The downward trend until 2006 was due largely to a reduction in asylum-generating conflicts as well as asylum policy tightening. The recent increases are largely due to new refugee-producing situations.[24]


Asylum applications in the EU and selected Member States, 1999-2011

Source: UNHCR

27.  While Europe receives a large proportion of the world's asylum-seekers, it hosts a much smaller proportion of the world's refugees. By the end of 2011 there were 15.2 refugees worldwide, 10.4 million under United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees' (UNHCR) mandate, and 4.8 million refugees registered with UNRWA. The vast majority of refugees were resident in regions of origin, often in countries bordering those from which they had fled.[25] In absolute terms, the top three refugee hosting countries were Pakistan (1.7 million), Iran (887,000), and Syria (755,400). Germany was fourth, the only EU Member State in the top ten, hosting 571,700 refugees. Relative to GDP, the top three hosting countries were Pakistan (605 refugees per $1 GDP per capita), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (399), and Kenya (321). Overall, developing countries host four-fifths of the world's refugees. Europe hosts a total of 1.6 million refugees (approximately 15 per cent of the total under UHNCR's mandate). Figure 5 shows the major refugee hosting countries at the end of 2011.


Major refugee hosting countries, end 2011

Source: UNHCR (2012) A Year of Crises: UNHCR Global Trends 2011, Geneva: United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 14

28.  Alongside repatriation and local integration, resettlement[26] is one of the UNHCR's 'durable solutions' for refugees, but only a small proportion (under 1 per cent) of refugees are resettled. In 2011, 26 countries worldwide accepted a total of about 80,000 refugees for resettlement. The main countries of resettlement were the United States of America (51,500), Canada (12,900), Australia (9,200), Sweden (1,900), and Norway (1,300). Across Europe as a whole about 5,000 refugees were resettled in 2011. The adoption of the Joint EU Resettlement Scheme in March 2012 may lead to an increased number of refugees being resettled in Europe.[27]

29.  Despite the EU's goal to create a Common European Asylum System (CEAS) by the end of 2012 there are substantial disparities in refugee recognition rates between Member States. For example, in 2011 the Total Recognition Rate (TRR)—which includes full refugee status as well as complementary forms of protection such as temporary humanitarian status—for asylum-seekers from Afghanistan ranged from 11 per cent in Greece to 73 per cent in Sweden. Globally, the TRR for all asylum claims was 38 per cent.

Migration and demographic trends

30.  In the context of sub-replacement fertility rates across the EU, migration is an important factor influencing the size and age-structure of European populations. For developed countries, the replacement fertility rate is approximately 2.1 children per woman. The EU's fertility rate is well short of this level. It reached an historical low of 1.45 in 2002 before increasing to around 1.6 today.[28]

31.  The aggregate figure for the EU masks significant variation between European countries. Some Member States, including populous countries such as Germany, Italy, Poland, and Spain, have fertility rates well below replacement level (in 2009, approximately 1.4 for the countries mentioned). Others, including France, Sweden and the UK, have higher levels (just under 2 for these countries). The only Member State with a replacement fertility rate is Ireland, where the rate is 2.07.[29] Therefore, for the overwhelming majority of European countries the natural rate of population growth (which excludes migration inflow and outflows) is negative.

32.  Yet the EU population has still grown over the last decade: the total population increased by 4 per cent from 484.6 million in 2002 to 503.7 million in 2012. Immigration has been the main driver of EU population growth for several years. Most countries would already be experiencing a declining population without net inward migration. In some countries where natural growth is negative, immigration has counterbalanced an otherwise declining population. But in others, notably Germany, population has still declined despite net immigration.

33.  A recent Eurostat modelling of future demographic trends, EUROPOP 2008, projected that the EU27 population will increase from 495 million in 2008 to 521 million in 2035, and then decline gradually to 506 million in 2060.[30] From 2015 onwards, deaths will outnumber births, hence population increase due to natural growth will cease. For two decades from 2015 to 2035, positive net migration will be the only population growth factor. However, from 2035 positive net migration will no longer offset negative natural change and the total population of the EU is projected to fall back to 506 million (just a little more than the population of the EU today).

34.  Between 2008 and 2060, the population is projected to increase in 13 countries and decrease in 14. The countries that see the strongest population growth are Cyprus (+66 per cent), Ireland (+53 per cent), Luxembourg (+52 per cent), the United Kingdom (+25 per cent), and Sweden (+18 per cent). The countries with the largest declines are Bulgaria (-28 per cent), Latvia (-26 per cent), Lithuania (-24 per cent), Romania (-21 per cent), Poland (-18 per cent). Germany's population is projected to decrease by 14 per cent over the next fifty years. By 2060, the Member States with the largest populations will be the United Kingdom (77 million), France (72 million), Germany (71 million), Italy (59 million), and Spain (52 million).

35.  Over the next 50 years, the share of persons with a foreign background will increase in the EU population.[31] Most of the Mediterranean and Central-Northern European countries will see their share of foreign-born persons rise to over a third of the total population, though Eastern European countries will hardly change compared to today. One exception in the first group of countries is France, where due to relatively high fertility and low migration, the share of foreign-born persons is projected to rise by only 4-7 per cent. In short, increasing population diversity is almost certain, though its speed and extent varies between countries. The renewal of the labour force is 'undoubtedly expected' to come from migration. The cohort of nationals aged 15-39 will decrease from 140 million in 2008 to 50-60 million in 2061. The equivalent foreign population will more than double over the same period, but this will not fully offset the loss of nationals.

36.  In addition to size, migration also impacts on the age structure of populations. One of the biggest challenges facing European societies in the coming decades will be population ageing. Low fertility rates combined with increased life expectancy mean that the median age of the population is projected to reach 47.9 years by 2060 compared to a median age of 40.6 in 2009. The proportion of the population aged 65 years and older will rise from 17 per cent in 2008 to 30 per cent in 2060, and those aged 80 and over will rise from 4.5 per cent to 12 per cent in the same period.

37.  Ageing will occur in all Member States. By 2060, the share of the population aged 65 years and over ranges from 23.5 per cent to 36 per cent. The countries with the smallest proportion of over 65s will be Luxembourg (23.5 per cent), the United Kingdom (25 per cent), and Denmark (25 per cent). The countries with the largest proportion will be Poland (36 per cent), Slovakia (36 per cent), and Romania (35 per cent). From 2014, the working age population (20-64) will start to shrink. The number of people aged 60 or above is already rising by more than two million every year, which is approximately twice the rate observed until about three years ago.

38.  Population ageing has many implications for European countries. As populations age the number of persons of working age relative to the number who are above working age shifts, with important fiscal implications. The old age dependency ratio of the EU (the population aged 65 years and older divided by the working age population) is projected to increase from 25 per cent in 2008 to 53 per cent in 2060. In other words, while there are four persons of working age to every person aged 65 and over today, by 2060 there would be only two persons of working age to every person aged 65 and over. Figure 6 shows projected changes in the old age dependency ratio by country. It should be noted that if the statutory retirement age increases in these countries, as it almost certainly will and in the United Kingdom already is, then this will help to offset projected increases in the dependency ratio. In addition, increases in productivity may also ameliorate the effects of ageing populations on European economies.


Old age dependency ratio of EU Member States in 2008 and 2060

Source: Eurostat (2008) 'Population Projections 2008-2060', STAT/08/119

39.  In 2010, the median age of EU nationals was 41.5 years, compared to a median age of 34.4 years for foreigners. German nationals have the highest median age, 45 years, compared to a median age of 37.1 for foreigners living in Germany. The largest positive difference between the median age of nationals and foreigners is in Italy, where the figures are 44.3 and 32.5 respectively. Figure 7 shows the median age of population by group of citizenship and country of birth for the EU in 2010.


Median age of population by group of citizenship and country of birth, EU 27, 2010

Source: Vasileva, K. (2011) '6.5% of the EU population are foreigners and 9.4% are born abroad', Eurostat Statistics in Focus, 34/2011

40.  Figure 8 shows the distribution of population of EU and non-EU nationals. As can be seen, foreigners, both EU and non-EU, are disproportionately of young working age (20-39) compared to EU nationals. Non-EU nationals also have the lowest proportion of over 60 year olds.


Age distribution of nationals, EU and non-EU foreigners, EU27, 2010 (%)

Source: Vasileva, K. (2011) '6.5% of the EU population are foreigners and 9.4% are born abroad', Eurostat Statistics in Focus, 34/2011

8   IOM, World Migration Report 2010, Geneva: IOM Back

9   OECD (2012) International Migration Outlook 2012, Paris: OECD Back

10   Vasileva, K. (2012) 'Nearly two-thirds of the foreigners living in EU Member States are citizens of countries outside the EU-27', Eurostat Statistics in Focus 31/2012 Back

11   OECD (2012) International Migration Outlook 2012, Paris: OECD Back

12   Peter Sutherland a former Attorney General for Ireland, EU Competition Commissioner, and also helped to establish the World Trade Organisation when he served as the Director General of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. He is currently the chairman of Goldman Sachs International. Back

13   Q 9, Q 27, Q 32 Back

14   Q 224 Back

15   Q 179 Back

16   Q 225 Back

17   OECD (2012) International Migration Outlook 2012, Paris: OECD Back

18   IOM (2011) World Migration Report, Geneva: IOM Back

19   Q 26, Q 47 Back

20   However, Frontex does hold data by country and routes regarding the detection of attempted unauthorised border crossings. However, two important caveats apply to this data: firstly, irregular entry constitutes only a fraction of the total irregular population and secondly, by definition, the data only records individuals that have been detected rather than those who cross undetected. The latest Frontex Risk Analysis shows that in Q2 2012 the top five national groups detected crossing the EU external border without authorisation were from Afghanistan (4,529 or 20 per cent of total detections at all borders), Bangladesh (2,435 or 11 per cent), Syria (2,024 or 8.8 per cent, a significant leap of +639 percent on Q2 2011), Algeria (2,000 or 8.7 per cent), and Albania (1,797 or 7.8 per cent). The main national groups refused entry at Border Crossing Points (BCPs) were from the Ukraine (3,994 or 14 per cent of the total refused entry), Albania (3,737 or 13 per cent), Russia (2,335 or 8.3 per cent), Georgia (1,692 or 6.0 percent), and Serbia (1,326 or 4.7 per cent). See: Frontex, FRAN Quarterly Issue 2, April-June 2012 Back

21   Clandestino (2009) Final Report: Undocumented Migration: Counting the Uncountable. Data and Trends Across Europe: 

22   Frontex (2012) FRAN Quarterly Issue 2, April-June 2012, Warsaw: Frontex Risk Analysis Unit, 11-12 Back

23   Düvell, Franck (2009) Pathways into Irregularity: The Social Construction of Irregularity, Comparative Policy Brief, Clandestino Project Back

24   UNHCR (2012) A Year of Crises: UNHCR Global Trends 2011, Geneva: United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Back

25   UNHCR (2012) A Year of Crises: UNHCR Global Trends 2011, Geneva: United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Back

26   The movement of individuals or groups from one location to another, usually with the intention of permanency. Back

27   This is discussed in Chapter 5. Back

28   European Commission (2011) Demography Report 2010: Older, More Numerous and Diverse Europeans, Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union, 28 Back

29   ibid. Back

30   Eurostat (2008) Population Projections 2008-2060, STAT/08/119:  

31   Lanzieri, G. (2011) Few, Older and Multicultural? Projections of the EU Population by Foreign/National Background (2011 Edition), Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union Back

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