Urban Migration in Context

Mass migration is a key feature of today’s interconnected world. Cities are at the forefront of the challenges of global migration, but are also well-placed to deliver solutions that benefit existing and new residents.

The number of international migrants worldwide continues to grow rapidly

The number of international migrants — persons living in a country other than where they were born — continues to grow at an unprecedented rate. In the last 15 years, migrants have become an increasingly large share of the world`s population. This is true for all major regions, though Asia and Europe are seeing the greatest growth, with North America closely following.

The number of international migrants reached 244 million in 2015, an increase of 71 million, or 41%, from 2000. The share of migrants in the global population reached 3.3% in 2015, up from 2.8% in 2000.

Migrants move to cities

Once migrants arrive in their destination countries, they tend to remain in cities, where they have become significant drivers of population growth and urbanization. In cities, migrants are more likely to find support by joining existing networks — familiar communities that speak the same language and can connect newcomers with services and job opportunities.

In 2015, two out of three international migrants lived in Europe or Asia. North America hosts the third largest number of international migrants, followed by Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Oceania. Between 2000 and 2015, Asia added more international migrants than any other region — a total of 26 million additional migrants (Source: United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs).
92% of immigrants in the United States live in urban areas, as do 95% in the United Kingdom and Canada, and 99% in Australia.

Migrants contribute to economic growth in both their countries of origin and their countries of destination

Migrants make economic contributions to their host and origin countries. However, language barriers, unfamiliarity with the local job market, discrimination, and policy barriers often limit migrants’ access to formal employment, forcing them to engage in unregulated work, and constraining economic development in their places of origin and destination.

Major global cities have large international communities. In the United States, immigrants make up 31% of the population in New York City and nearly 40% in Miami. In Australia, immigrants represent 38% of the population in Melbourne and 42% in Sydney (Source: McKinsey Global Institute).
Migrants contributed 9.4% of global GDP — or $6.7 trillion — between 2000 and 2014, $3 trillion more than they would have produced in their countries of origin. Better integration outcomes could increase the economic contribution of migrants by up to $1 trillion annually.

Migrants contribute to population and economic growth in cities

Migrants make clear economic contributions to their host countries, refuting common misconceptions that they detract from the financial health of their new homes. In advanced, ageing economies, newcomers are fundamental to keeping aggregate demand high and the workforce stable. They also benefit the economies of their countries of origin by sending money through remittances, earning exponentially more than they would have otherwise (World Bank Group (WB), Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Migrants around the world have helped fuel population and economic growth in the cities they have moved to. In the United States, for example, migrants have helped breathe new life into the cities of the “Rust Belt,” the country’s economically-challenged former industrial heartland. Other American cities, like New York and Chicago, have developed successful programs to attract migrants in order to help revive their economies after losing hundreds of thousands of their residents in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Similar strategies have been adopted in Europe, where declining birth rates are leading to an aging workforce and cities are attracting young migrants.

Research on urbanization has found that expanding populations have been the primary driver of rapid GDP growth in major cities and migrants account for a significant portion of this trend.
Source: MPR News

Most migrants move voluntarily, but forced displacement has spike in recent years

A large majority of the world’s migrants move across borders by choice, often to pursue economic opportunities. The flows of forcibly displaced people are smaller than voluntary flows, but are unexpected and result in large waves of migration within short periods of time.

Forced displacement is at an all-time high, with more than 60 million people worldwide fleeing their homes

In 2015, the total number of forcibly displaced people (Refugees, Asylum Seekers, and Internally Displaced Persons) in the world was estimated at 65.3 million, representing about 26% of all international migrants (Source: Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees).

In what is considered the highest level of forced displacement in recent history, one in every 113 people is now either an asylum-seeker, internally displaced person (IDP) or a refugee escaping conflict, violence, or human rights violations.

In 2015, 65.3 million people were forcibly displaced in the world, compared to 40 million at the time of World War II.
Most forced migrants are internally displaced persons (IDPs) — people that have been uprooted from their homes but, unlike refugees or asylum seekers, are living within the borders of their origin countries (Source: Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees).

Displaced populations stay in host countries longer than they used to

Authorities often assume that displaced populations are only temporary and will return home in the near future. In fact, people are staying in host countries longer than they once did. This is partially because fewer conflicts are now resolved within three to ten years. The longer displaced people stay away from their origin countries, the more challenging it is to go back. After years away, immigrants are likely to have lost their income, family connections, and properties.

The average duration of displacement grew from nine years in the 1980s to 20 years by the mid-2000s. Less than one in 40 conflicts is now resolved within three years, and more than 80% last for more than 10 years.
Almost two-thirds of all forcibly displaced people have been displaced for at least three years, otherwise known as “protracted displacement”. Half of all displaced people have been displaced for over ten years (Source: Overseas Development Institute).

Increasingly, displacement is driven by natural hazards, not conflict

In 2015, extreme weather events displaced 19.2 million people . While conflicts may abate or end, the ravages of climate change ensure this pattern will continue, and very likely grow more significant.

The Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees does not cover environmental migrants, whose numbers are expected to rise to 200 million people by 2050.

Displacement is increasingly an urban phenomenon, with settled camps becoming the exception

The majority of refugees and internally displaced populations move to cities. Unlike camps, urban areas allow refugees to live in anonymity and find support from existing networks of fellow immigrants. But cities also pose distinct dangers. Refugees, asylum seekers, and internally displaced persons may have to compete with native urban residents for limited services and low-paying jobs, and are vulnerable to exploitation, arrest, violence, and discrimination.

The global humanitarian architecture is still adjusting to this new pattern. Traditional frameworks for managing displaced populations still operate under the assumption that the forcibly displaced settle in camps and primarily need short-term humanitarian assistance. In fact, most now stay in cities, where humanitarian organizations are developing new operating models to better deliver aid in urban contexts.

The lack of support to displaced populations in urban areas often creates chronic vulnerabilities.
Over 60% of the world’s 21.3 million refugees and 80% of the 40.8 million IDPs live in urban environments (Source: Office of the United National High Commissioner for Refugees).

Large-scale involuntary migration will increase in the years ahead

Despite the growing impact of mass displacement, current approaches are usually short-term and focus on humanitarian assistance, rather than sustainable solutions for the increasingly urban character of migrant settlement.

Large-scale involuntary migration and displacement caused by conflict, natural disasters, or economic reasons, is the first most likely, and the fourth most impactful, current risk for humanity.
Top five global risks of highest concern for the next 18 months and 10 years, according to the World Economic Forum’s multi-stakeholder communities of leaders from different sectors (Source: World Economic Forum).

The ongoing trend of urbanization sets the stage for increased migration

Over the past three decades, cities have grown at an unprecedented rate, adding an average of 65 million people a year. As urban areas expand, rural migrants are attracted by growing networks, greater economic opportunities, and better services. But, as rapidly urbanizing cities cannot keep pace with their expansion, and lag in developing the infrastructure and services needed to support their growth, recent arrivals now have greater incentives (and resources) to move to countries with a better quality of life.

Between 1.5 and 3 million people are moving to cities every week, making cities much more diverse and vibrant places in which to live.
The planet has gone through a process of rapid urbanization over the past six decades. In 1950, more than two-thirds (70%) of people worldwide lived in rural settlements and less than one-third (30%) in urban settlements. In 2014, 54% of the world’s population was urban. The urban population is expected to continue to grow, so that by 2050, the world will be one-third rural (34%) and two-thirds urban (66%) (Source United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs).