Sunday, November 08, 2009

If people around the world could move, who would leave for where?

A recent Gallup poll that reported very large numbers of people--700 million, actually--right now would like to migrate between countries has gotten quite a lot of attention from the press. What, exactly, did the pollsters find?

From its surveys in 135 countries between 2007 and 2009, Gallup finds residents of sub-Saharan African countries are most likely to express a desire to move abroad permanently. Thirty-eight percent of the adult population in the region -- or an estimated 165 million -- say they would like to do this if the opportunity arises. Residents in Asian countries are the least likely to say they would like to move -- with 10% of the adult population, or roughly 250 million, expressing a desire to migrate permanently.

The United States is the top desired destination country for the 700 million adults who would like to relocate permanently to another country. Nearly one-quarter (24%) of these respondents, which translates to more than 165 million adults worldwide, name the United States as their desired future residence. With an additional estimated 45 million saying they would like to move to Canada, Northern America is one of the two most desired regions.

The rest of the top desired destination countries (those where an estimated 25 million or more adults would like to go) are predominantly European. Forty-five million adults who would like to move name the United Kingdom or France as their desired destination, while 35 million would like to go to Spain and 25 million would like to relocate to Germany. Thirty million name Saudi Arabia and 25 million name Australia.

Roughly 210 million adults around the world would like to move to a country in the European Union, which is similar to the estimated number who would like to move to Northern America. However, about half of the estimated 80 million adults who live in the EU and would like to move permanently to another country would like to move to another country within the EU -- the highest desired intra-regional migration rate in the world.

Most of the world's international immigrants, according to the 2009 United Nations' Human Development Report, move from one developing country to another developing country or between developed countries. Gallup's data would suggest then that the countries people desire to migrate to permanently do not necessarily reflect reality -- especially in regard to developing countries. Eighty percent of those in developing countries who would like to move permanently to another country would like to move to a developed country, while 13% of respondents in developed countries would like to move to a developing country.

What countries would see the biggest changes?

"Across the countries surveyed, Singapore posts the highest positive PNMI of all countries and areas, with a net migration index value of +260%. This means that Singapore's adult population would increase from an estimated 3.6 million to as high as 13 million. The Democratic of the Congo (Kinshasa) posts the highest negative PNMI, with a net migration index value of -60%, which means its adult population would decrease from an estimated 32 million to as low as 13 million."

More, if you go to this detailed table, you'll see the estimated spectacular changes, with the French, German, Canadian and British populations reaching more than 90 million (if from very different bases), the Chinese, Indian, and Russian populations each shrinking by 5%, Ecuador, Ukraine, Romania and Taiwan (!) by 20%, and countries in Central America, North and West Africa, and a variety of African failed states with Haiti facing population shrinkages by more than a third and often more than half.

There's problems with this poll, of course. Are the questions and the results truly comparable between countries, are the respondents motivated by enduring or ephemeral factors, are the pollsters correct in assuming that there would not be as much migration between rich and poor countries as the results claim? Still, as questionable as this poll may be, it does provide interesting insight into what people say they would like to do, and how they perceive their home countries and destination countries? Britain, France and Spain seem to be more attractive than Germany or Italy, there at least seems to be the possibility of greatly intensified internal migration in the European Union, the low percentages of potential emigrants in Russia and most of Eurasia correspond to absolutely large numbers, and so on. These perceptions may yet approach reality, at least.


john said...

Randy, do you know much (quantitatively) about migration between Puerto Rico and the U.S. mainland? Strikes me as a great case test case of your question (I'm sure French overseas departements are too)... though there's the interesting dynamic that in both cases, political association with the richer polity (surely) improves the economy and administration of the peripheral territory, thus increasing the incentive not to migrate... I assume if the U.S. (say) simply gave Salvadorans (say) free rights to settle there, the percentantage who moved would be extremely high.

Randy McDonald said...

The conventional wisdom that as many people of Puerto Rican descent live in the continental United States as in Puerto Rico itself, while I know from a previous post on the French Antilles that as many people of French Antillean descent live in metropolitan France as in either Guadeloupe and Martinique. Particularly with the French case, perhaps not so much in the Puerto Rican, government subsidies distort the economy to the detriment of local industries.

There's a big contrast in the Central American figures between stable and relatively well-off Costa Rica and Panama and the much poorer countries from Guatemala south to Nicaragua. If free travel existed, I'm certainly that a very large number of Central Americans would go north and join their conationals. They'd go to Costa Rica, too, which is home to hundreds of thousands of Nicaraguan migrants.