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Immigration by the numbers: 2023

According to the World Migration Report, there were around 281 million international migrants in 2021—that’s a 27% increase compared to figures from just over a decade ago (2010) when there were 221 million migrants who’d crossed international borders.

For the most part, international migration is an economic decision and has maintained a predictable trend: skilled knowledge workers moving from developing economies such as Nigeria, Mexico, India, the Philippines, and Egypt to high-income, developed countries such as the United States, Germany, France, Italy, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Malaysia.

Of course, there are outliers, such as the sudden outflux of 700,000 Russians in response to the invasion of Ukraine.

But, looking at the bigger picture, whether they’re semi-skilled construction workers relocating to the Middle east from the Indian Subcontinent, Russian developers migrating to Germany, or Nigerian doctors moving to Canada and the United Kingdom, international immigration is a two-way economic bet.

First, you have an army of skilled workers from developing countries moving to Western markets where they can earn better wages and gain a higher standard of living; conversely, developed economies are eager to welcome them to shore up their population growth, curb a worrying trend of labor shortages, and tap into a growing pool of pre-trained professionals.

In response, we’re seeing a trend of businesses hiring workers from across borders and helping to facilitate their move to a new country. This has always happened among a select group of companies, but with the advent of remote work, more companies are beginning to challenge tradition and look beyond their borders for talent by default.

There’s a lot to unpack on the subject of international migration, but the feedback is simple:

  1. Thanks to remote work, forward-thinking businesses now realize it’s easier than ever to hire anyone from around the world & get them to relocate locally, if required
  2. Knowledge workers are migrating from the developing countries to developed economies at a growing pace
  3. Developed, high-income economies are putting policies in place to facilitate the influx of skilled workers, with remote work visas, residency programs, and relaxed travel restrictions, and
  4. If you want to hire the world’s best talent, you need to start looking beyond your neighborhood, and even your borders—you can capitalize on the growing wave of international migration to hire anyone from across the globe, then get them to relocate locally

This article will cover the question of international migration by the numbers, to help us understand where people are moving from and where they’re headed, and how you can tap into that wave of human capital.

What countries are people moving to?

Although there are dozens of reasons why people immigrate, it’s mostly to access better economic opportunities, escape conflict, or improve their social welfare. Most of the world’s immigrant traffic is headed for higher-income nations that offer better working opportunities, education, and social safety nets.

United States & Canada

The United States has remained the world’s No. 1 migrant destination since 1970. Since then, the number of foreign-born people residing in the country has quadrupled, from less than 12 million in 1970 to nearly 51 million in 2019.

Similarly, Canada has taken a positive stance towards immigration and more than 23% of the population (8.3 million people) are immigrants who have been granted permanent residency.

Western Europe - i.e., Germany, France, Italy

According to the European Commision, there are more than 37.7 million foreigners based within the European Union and EFTA nations, as of 2023. That’s roughly 8% of the region’s population, with immigrants making up an increasing chunk of the population in Germany (13.7 million), France (6.5 million), and Italy (6.26 million).

The Middle East

As the region seeks to wean itself off oil and build a service-based economy, the Middle East has been more intentional about immigration. Between 2005 and 2015, the number of migrants living in the region doubled from 25 million to around 54 million. The bulk of these were economic migrants employed in construction, mining, energy, domestic services, and service occupations.

What countries are people moving from?

Except for a few outliers (post-Brexit United Kingdom, American retirees and expats moving overseas, etc.) most of the world’s migrants move from developing economies to higher-income nations where they can find better-paying jobs, a high standard of living, and relative social safety.


Asia is easily the world’s most populous continent, with 59.76% of the world’s people. Similarly, the continent is also the source of an outsized volume of the world’s migrants. More than 40% of international immigrants hail from Asia—20% of which come from just six nations —India, China, Bangladesh, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Afghanistan.


Currently, 11+ million Indians are located outside their country, mainly in the United States and across the Middle East. Migrants who end up in the United States, Europe, or Canada usually work in STEM, start a business, or build a career in management-related fields & have an exceptional track record in education, business, and government.

According to a 2021 survey by the United States Census Bureau, Indian-American households earn the most, with a median household income reported $141,906 annually, or more than double the figure ($70,784) for the average American household.


As of 2020, there were about 12 million Mexicans in diaspora, with at least 10.8 million living in the United States, with smaller communities in Canada, Spain, Germany, and Guatemala.

The majority of Mexicans who cross the border to the United States are often in dire financial straits and usually take up jobs as service professionals (20%), blue collar laborers (21%), and agricultural labor.

Sub-saharan Africa - i.e., Nigeria, Algeria, Morocco.

Due to a range of reasons, Africa’s skilled workers are looking to relocate, now more than ever. 

In 2022 alone, Nigeria’s Immigration Service (NIS) issued a total of 1,899,683 passports to emigrants and hopefuls who are eager to leave the country soon.Nigerian emigrants target the United States, Canada, Western Europe, and most especially, the United Kingdom, thanks to the country’s history within the British Commonwealth.

Other countries such as Algeria, Morocco, Egypt, and Somalia have equally large numbers of citizens based in their Mediterranean neighbors, Italy, France, Portugal, Spain, and Turkey.

What is fueling these movements?

To understand how you can leverage the world’s changing immigration patterns to attract the best talent to your company, you need to understand why people leave their homes and lives behind to move across borders.

Financial reasons

For the most part, international immigration is first and foremost a financial move. For instance, a software developer based in Mumbai, India makes roughly ₹600k annually ($7,256) while the same role in San Francisco, California would net more than $116,363 per year.

That’s a multiple of 1,600% simply by virtue of location. So, it’s understandable that skilled workers would want to relocate to where they can get paid more and build wealth faster, using the skills they already have.


We’re seeing an increasing number of digital nomads and remote workers who love the globetrotting life. Whether they’re in an apartment in Chiang Mai’s Old City, on a beach in Bali, or holed up in a chalet on the Swiss Alps, remote work means knowledge workers can work for the world’s best companies, from anywhere, and without sacrificing their dream lifestyle.


According to Migration Data Portal, there were 6.3 million international students studying outside their home countries in 2020. For students hailing from wealthier nations, international programs are a way to gain experience, get immersed into a new culture, learn a language, or see the world.

Students from developing countries see such opportunities as an avenue to start a career and eventually work in their host countries after they're done with their studies.

A Growing Percentage of the World’s Population Is Willing to Move For Work

A survey by consulting firm Robert Half shows that 62% of workers are open to moving for a job.

Additionally, labor shortages in developed nations are combining with high numbers of skilled workers and high unemployment rates in developing countries to create the perfect mix for immigration. 

The way to leverage this opportunity is to look beyond your borders, hire the best talent, and help them immigrate to wherever you need their services the most. Localyze helps HR teams manage the visa process and reduce manual work, allowing you to more easily find the best employees for your needs, regardless of nationality. 

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