Human migration and mobility may well be age-old phenomena touching almost every society around the world. However, they have changed over time in important ways. Examining these shifts in scale, direction, demography and frequency can help us understand how migration is evolving, and can inform effective policies, programmes and operational responses on the ground.
The current United Nations global estimate is that there were around 281 million international migrants in the world in 2020, which equates to 3.6 per cent of the global population. This is a small minority of the world’s population, meaning that staying within one’s country of birth remains, overwhelmingly, the norm. The great majority of people do not migrate across borders; much larger numbers migrate within countries, although we have seen this slow over the past two years as COVID-19 related immobility has gripped communities everywhere.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also highlighted the interconnections between migration and mobility, with COVID-19 travel restrictions resulting in hundreds of millions of people being unable to travel for months on end, and leaving many thousands of migrants stranded and in need of assistance.
Migration is a complex issue. As such, it is one that can be exacerbated by misinformation and politicization to alarming degrees. The central aim of the flagship World Migration Report is to set out in clear and accurate terms the changes occurring in migration and mobility globally so that readers can better situate their own work. As the United Nations migration agency, IOM has an obligation to demystify the complexity and diversity of human mobility. The report also acknowledges IOM’s continuing obligation to uphold fundamental rights and its mission to support those migrants who are most in need. This is particularly relevant in the areas in which IOM works to provide humanitarian assistance to people who have been displaced, including by weather events, conflict and persecution, or to those who have become stranded during crises, such as COVID-19.
Likewise, IOM remains committed to supporting Member States as they draw upon various forms of data, research and analysis during policy formulation and review processes. Indeed, this is reflected in IOM’s Constitution where the need for migration research is highlighted as an integral part of the Organization’s functions. The World Migration Report is a flagship component of this important area of work.
That said, we also know that the key features of migration vary across different locations, and that specific audiences (such as policy officials, practitioners, media, researchers, teachers and students) have varying information and analytical needs when using this report to inform their work. So, in addition to the presentation of key global and regional migration data and trends as well as salient thematic issues, this World Migration Report is supplemented by a range of digital tools ensuring that the report does not remain on the “virtual shelf”.
I am proud to report that the World Migration Report editorial team won recognition in two categories of the International Annual Report Design Awards 2021, in both the online and pdf categories, for the 2020 edition of the report. Spurred on by this success, IOM has expanded the array of report materials for a digital age. The new online interactive platform allows users to explore and interact with key data in a highly visual and engaging way. This is supplemented by the online educators’ toolkit to support teachers around the world as they seek to provide balanced, accurate and interesting learning materials on the fundamentals of migration and migrants for teenagers and young adults.
The rise and rise of disinformation about migration has meant that the World Migration Report has become a key source for fact-checkers around the world, helping to refute false news on migration in a wide variety of places. To assist fact-checkers, we have developed a simple toolkit to help bust key myths on migration. We are also working with partners on the development of a digital policy officials’ toolkit to assist them in utilizing its contents in a wide range of policy-related settings.
We are cognizant that many, including Member States’ officials, need outputs and materials in their own official language(s). Language translation is a meaningful, practical and cost-effective way of supporting development and technical capacity-building for those working in migration around the world. We are pleased that donors agree: the 2020 edition of the World Migration Report was available for the first time in all six United Nations languages (Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish), with key chapters also translated into German, Portuguese, Swahili and Turkish. Our aim, with the support of donors from all sectors, is to increase our linguistic reach even further for this current edition.
Extending the utility and reach of our flagship report is a particularly gratifying aspect of the evolution of the Organization’s role and contribution to migration discourse globally. On this, our 70th anniversary, it is important to reflect upon the ongoing need for IOM’s strong operational capabilities to support humanitarian response and leverage migration programmatic expertise. However, what some readers may not realize is that IOM has been one of the longest standing supporters and producers of migration research and analysis, establishing the first scientific journal on international migration in 1961, and commencing the World Migration Report more than two decades ago.
In this era of heightened interest in and activity towards migration and migrants, we hope this 2022 edition of the World Migration Report and its related tools become key resources for you. We hope they help you to navigate this high-profile and dynamic topic during periods of uncertainty, and that the report prompts reflection during quieter moments. But most importantly, we hope that you learn something new from the report that can inform your own work, be it in studies, research and analysis, policymaking, communication or migration practice.
António Vitorino- Director General
Report Overview: Technological, Geopolitical and Environmental Transformations Shaping our Migration and Mobility Futures
The last two years, since the release of the World Migration Report 2020 on 28 November 2019 – around three weeks before COVID-19 was initially detected – have been unlike anything we could have imagined. It has not been business as usual. We therefore cannot make the standard, but nevertheless truthful observations about the tremendous benefits that migration brings to the world, about best practices for safe and well-managed migration, and about how crises combined with misinformation can risk diverting our attention and lead to migration being used as a political weapon.2 While these observations remain valid, the most severe pandemic in over a century has laid bare some other “home truths”. Innovation, ingenuity, skill, compassion, resilience and hope have been witnessed time and again in responding to this global health crisis. Yet there is a sense that some of the core values underpinning a well-functioning system of global governance3 were at times reduced to rhetoric or fodder for political “announceables”. Values such as equality, sustainability, cooperation, collaboration, tolerance and inclusion were, at times, set aside by political and industry leaders under pressure to respond to the pandemic in a hyper- competitive international arena. Unsurprisingly, some of those reflecting on COVID-19 impacts have called for the return to a holistic understanding of the world and the place that humans occupy in it.4
It is within this context that this World Migration Report focuses on developments in migration over the last two- year period, with an emphasis on providing analysis that takes into account historical and contemporary factors – historical in recognition that migration and displacement occur within broader long-term social, security, political and economic contexts; contemporary in recognition that we are still in many ways grappling with a significant global upheaval caused by a severe pandemic that has tested even the most resilient systems, countries, communities and people. While acknowledging that we will continue to experience the systemic effects of COVID-19 for many years to come, this World Migration Report 2022 offers an initial exploration of current data and other evidence to answer the key question, “How has COVID-19 altered migration and mobility for people around the world?” Yet it also answers many other questions beyond a COVID-19 focus, including on important topics such as the links between peace and migration, on disinformation on migration, on countering human trafficking in migration pathways and on climate change impacts.
What has happened in migration?
A great deal has happened in migration in the last two years since the release of the last World Migration Report in late 2019. The COVID-19 global pandemic arrived at a time of heightened uncertainty brought about by fundamental changes in technology, adding tremendous complexity and anxiety to a world that was already experiencing significant transformations.5
COVID-19 has radically altered mobility around the world, and while there were initial expectations and hope that the pandemic would be limited to 2020, virus strains, waves of infection and vaccination programming issues have seen the pandemic continue through 2021. COVID-19 has become a truly seismic global event, testing the resilience of countries, communities, systems and sectors. By the end of the first year of the pandemic, 116.2 million cases of COVID-19 had been recorded globally, while 2.58 million people had died.6 In mobility terms, 108,000 international COVID-19-related travel restrictions had been imposed globally.7 Air passenger numbers dropped by 60 per cent in 2020 (1.8 billion) compared with 2019 (4.5 billion), evidence of the massive decline in mobility globally.8 Chapter 5 of this report provides analysis of COVID-19 impacts on migration, mobility and migrants during the first year of the pandemic.
The last two years also saw major migration and displacement events; events that have caused great hardship and trauma, as well as loss of life. Foremost have been the displacements of millions of people due to conflict (such as within and from the Syrian Arab Republic, Yemen, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan), or severe economic and political instability (such as that faced by millions of Venezuelans and Afghans). There have also been large-scale displacements triggered by climate- and weather-related disasters in many parts of the world in 2020 and 2021, including in China, the Philippines, Bangladesh, India, the United States of America and Haiti.9
We have also seen the scale of international migration increase, although at a reduced rate due to COVID-19. The number of international migrants was estimated to be almost 281 million globally in 2020, with nearly two thirds being labour migrants.10 This figure remains a very small percentage of the world’s population (at 3.6%), meaning that the vast majority of people globally (96.4%) were estimated to be residing in the country in which they were born. However, the estimated number and proportion of international migrants for 2020 was lower, by around 2 million, than they otherwise would have been, due to COVID-19.11 It is likely that the longer international mobility restrictions remain in place in many parts of the world, the weaker the growth will be in the number of international migrants in future years.
Long-term data on international migration have taught us that migration is not uniform across the world, but is shaped by economic, geographic, demographic and other factors, resulting in distinct migration patterns, such as migration “corridors” being developed over many years (see Chapter 2 of this report for details). The largest corridors tend to be from developing countries to larger economies, such as those of the United States, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Germany; large corridors can also reflect protracted conflict and related displacement, such as from the Syrian Arab Republic to Turkey (the second largest corridor in the world). While many long-term corridors are likely to continue to feature in the immediate future, COVID-19 has shed light on the intensification of digitalization and the potential for greater automation of work around the world that is likely to affect key labour migration corridors (see discussion below).
The unprecedented pace of change during recent years in geopolitical, environmental and technological spheres has led some analysts and commentators to coin or use phrases such as the “age of accelerations”,12 the “fourth industrial revolution”13 and the “age of change”.14 More recently, COVID-19 has amplified the sense of uncertainty brought about during momentous change, while also physically grounding much of the world for extended periods of time. The pandemic has required resilience, while also offering the opportunity to reflect on our collective futures.
Similar to other international phenomena, migration has historically been affected by seismic geopolitical events, such as the two world wars, the Cold War, and large terrorist attacks (such as 9/11), which can mark “turning points” in migration governance, as well as in broader discourse and sentiment.15 The COVID-19 pandemic is the latest seismic geopolitical event, stemming from a global health emergency and, while by no means over, it has already had profound impacts on migration and mobility globally. Existing knowledge, evidence and analyses allow us to place new information on COVID-19 within a frame of reference as new data come to light. Rather than looking only at the here and now, we need to be understanding change in terms of longer-term migration patterns and processes. The significance and implications of COVID-19 can only be sufficiently understood and articulated when contextualized and rooted in current knowledge of migration.16
It is also important to place migration and mobility within broader systemic change processes that act to determine, shape and impede responses by governments (at different levels) and non-State actors (e.g. civil society, industry, citizens). Key technological, geopolitical and environmental transformations are particularly relevant and help us to understand better the strategic issues shaping the context in which people migrate, States formulate and implement policy, and a wide range of State and non-State actors collaborate and cooperate on migration and mobility research, policy and practice.
Technological advances since 2005 resulting in the so-called “fourth industrial revolution” are profoundly changing how social, political and economic systems operate globally.17 We have been witnessing the rising power of “big tech”, the increasing production capability for self-publishing of misinformation and disinformation, the race by businesses to “digitalize or perish”, the massive increase in data being produced (mainly through user-generated interactions) resulting in increasing “datafication” of human interactions, and the rapid development and roll-out of artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities within business and governments sectors.18
Digital technology is becoming increasingly crucial throughout migration. People are able to gather information and advice in real time during migration journeys, an issue that has raised interest and, at times, concern. The use of apps to share information and connect geographically dispersed groups has raised valid questions concerning the extent to which digital technology has been used to support irregular migration, as well as to enable migrants to avoid abusive and exploitative migrant smugglers and human traffickers.19 Migrants have also developed applications to support better integration in receiving countries, while maintaining social links and financial support to their families and societies back home, including through the increasing prevalence of “mobile money” apps.20 More recently, we have seen migrants develop online chatbots using machine-learning technologies to provide psychological support, as well as to help navigate complex migration policy and visa processing requirements, although digital capture in various migration systems of an increasing amount of personal information is raising concerns about privacy and other human rights issues (see Chapter 11 of this report).
Other connections between migration and technology are also emerging in migration debates. As artificial intelligence technologies are progressively taken up in key sectors, their broader consequences for migrant worker demand and domestic labour markets are areas of intense focus for policymakers and businesses in both origin and receiving countries.21 Recent discussions have also turned to blockchain technology and its consequences for migration, especially for international remittances, but also for digital identities and global mobility.22 Social media technology is also increasingly impacting the politics of migration, with a surge of far-right activism on social media platforms seeking to influence public debates and ultimately political decisions (see Chapter 8 of this report).
Profound technological change was deepening before COVID-19, but has significantly intensified during the pandemic, meaning that deep digitalization of an already digitalizing world will be one of the most significant long-term effects of COVID-19. Shaping migration and mobility systems to reduce the impacts of inequality in a world that is suffering multiple “digital divides”23 will be particularly important in ensuring implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and other multilateral agreements.
Increased competition between States is resulting in heightened geopolitical tension and risking the erosion of multilateral cooperation. Economic, political and military power has radically shifted in the last two decades, with power now more evenly distributed in the international system.24 As a result, there is rising geopolitical competition, especially among global powers, often played out via proxies. The environment of intensifying competition between key States – and involving a larger number of States – is undermining international cooperation through multilateral mechanisms, such as those of the United Nations.25 We are living in a period in which the core values underpinning global governance are being challenged. The values of equity, accountability, impartiality, fairness, justice and probity are being actively undermined, as some political leaders disregard common interest in preference for personal interest – even if it corrodes laws, processes and institutions that have, overall, sought to advance whole nations and peoples, without excluding or expelling some because of their inherent characteristics or beliefs.26 Ongoing and systematic corrosion, as we have witnessed throughout history, can extend to attacks on human rights and ultimately on groups of people within societies.27
In rebalancing the geopolitical debate and arguing for the profound benefits of the multilateral system, many States and the United Nations have actively progressed a number of key initiatives to deliver improved conditions for communities globally, most especially for those most in need. Despite the challenges of a geopolitically charged competition, some progress has been made towards achieving the SDGs,28 as well as on the specific issues of migration and displacement via the two Global Compacts for migration and on refugees.29 On the eve of the 2022 International Migration Review Forum – the primary intergovernmental platform on the implementation of the Global Compact for Migration, including as it relates to the SDGs – preparations are well under way, with a series of regional review processes having already been finalized across 2020 and 2021.30 A rallying cry has also been made recently by the United Nations Secretary-General in his 2021 report Our Common Agenda on bolstering support for multilateralism in an increasingly complex, competitive and uncertain world.31 Our Common Agenda outlines the United Nations’ actions that are designed to strengthen and accelerate multilateral agreements (including the SDGs) and make a tangible, positive difference in people’s lives around the world.
The intensification of ecologically negative human activity is resulting in overconsumption and overproduction linked to unsustainable economic growth, resource depletion and biodiversity collapse, as well as ongoing climate change. Broadly grouped under the heading of “human supremacy”, there is growing recognition of the extremely negative consequences of human activities that are not preserving the planet’s ecological systems. In several key areas, analysts report that the world is at or nearing “breaking point”, including on climate change, biodiversity collapse and mass extinction of thousands of species,32 while pollution is at record levels, altering ecosystems globally.33
COVID-19 has dampened human activity in key spheres (e.g. transportation/travel, construction, hospitality) enabling a mini environmental recovery,34 as well as a space to reflect on the ability of humans to achieve extraordinary things during times of crisis. However, there is a strong sense that this is merely a pause and that human activity will rebound once the pandemic is over, wiping out the pandemic-related benefits.35 The implications for migration and displacement are significant, as people increasingly turn to internal and international migration as a means of adaptation to environmental impacts (see Chapter 9 of the World Migration Report 2020), or face displacement from their homes and communities due to slow-onset impacts of climate change (see Chapter 9 of this report) or experience displacement as a result of acute disaster events (see Chapters 2 and 3 of this report).
Read full report here.