Immigration is the international movement of people away from the country where they have citizenship (usually their country of birth) in favor of a destination country where they do not have citizenship. Immigrants, often referred to as foreign-born residents, move to a new country for several reasons, including searching for economic prosperity, job opportunities, family reunification, retirement, and better access to resources.
The proportion of immigrants varies considerably from country to country, and for several reasons. Some countries are easy to immigrate to—in fact, some countries will actually encourage immigrants from the United States—while other countries are harder to immigrate to by comparison.
Top 10 Countries with the Highest Number of Foreign-Born Residents (Immigrants) - United Nations 2020:
The United States is home to the highest number of immigrants in the world. An estimated 50.6 million people in the United States—a bit more than 15% of the total population of 331.4 million—were born in a foreign country. The number of immigrants in the U.S. has increased by at least 400% since 1965. The population of immigrants in the United States is incredibly diverse, with nearly every country in the world represented among U.S. immigrants. Mexico is the leading origin country for U.S. immigrants, accounting for more than 11 million, roughly 25%, of all immigrants in the United States. Immigration, of course, played a formative role in making the U.S. the country it is today: except for those whose ancestors arrived as slaves, the majority of citizens of the "Great American Melting Pot" are descended from immigrants—and early European settlers in particular.
Perhaps the most unique entry in the top ten is the United Arab Emirates, whose 8.7 million immigrants make up nearly 89% of the country's total population. This gives the UAE one of the world's highest proportions of immigrant residents in relation to the total national population.
What is the difference between immigrants and emigrants?
The difference between the words "immigration/immigrant" and "emigration/emigrant" can be confusing. Technically speaking, the two terms are opposites, but it can be difficult to tell from their definitions. An immigrant is someone who came to the country where they now live from somewhere else. In contrast, an emigrant is someone who left their home country and moved somewhere else. In other words, the person moving is both an immigrant and an emigrant, depending upon whether the person speaking or writing the word lives in the home country or the destination country.
This nuance is often easier to understand with an example: Imagine a person who was born in South Africa, but now lives permanently in the United States. To their new friends in the U.S., that person is an immigrant, because they immigrated to—or came to—the United States. But to their old friends in South Africa, that same person is an emigrant because they emigrated from—or left—South Africa.
When used in the context of national populations, "immigrants" refers to foreign-born residents who have moved to that country and "emigrants" refers to people who have left that country to live somewhere else.
Top 10 Countries with the Highest Number of Emigrants (Former Residents living Internationally) - United Nations 2020:
- India — 17.9 million
- Mexico — 11.1 million
- Russia — 10.8 million
- China — 10.5 million
- Syria — 8.5 million
- Bangladesh — 7.4 million
- Pakistan — 6.3 million
- Ukraine — 6.1 million
- Philippines — 6.1 million
- Afghanistan — 5.9 million
India has the largest number of natives living abroad with 17.9 million people in total. Emigrant numbers are not always as accurate as immigrant numbers, mostly because most governments are not as concerned about those who leave the country as they are about those who enter and use government-funded services or infrastructure. There are exceptions to this logic, however, as countries such as North Korea and Taliban-controlled Afghanistan take a keen interest in preventing residents from emigrating.