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Which Countries Have The Most Immigrants?

Dear Mona,

What percentage of people worldwide don’t reside in the country where they were born? Has there been an increase in recent decades?

Yuval, 35, Germany (born in Israel)

Dear Yuval,

In 2013, the last time the United Nations published data on international migration, 3.2 percent of the world’s population lived in a country other than the one in which they were born. It might surprise you just how little that figure has changed in recent decades — in 1960, it was 2.6 percent of the globe. (The percentage began to rise in the 1990s.)

That answers your question, Yuval, but it gets more interesting when you look at specific countries. The numbers vary widely.

MONALet’s start off with the United States, which is often described as a nation of immigrants. These days, it doesn’t look particularly special when compared with 231 other places that the U.N. includes in its data. (The U.N. is using an expansive definition of place. Its list includes recognized countries, territories that are under the jurisdiction of other countries, and some areas with disputed jurisdictions.) In the U.S., 14.3 percent of the population was born outside of the country, which puts America in 68th place, not even close to the four countries or areas in the data set where over 70 percent of the population was born abroad (the Holy See, United Arab Emirates, American Samoa and Qatar).

In fact, 100 percent of the residents of the Holy See — the seat of the Roman Catholic Church, centered in Vatican City — are immigrants. But that’s a unique case. Most of the countries that could be called “immigrant nations” have either been shaped by historical factors that make the statistics misleading (island nations like Sint Maarten, which technically has been part of the Netherlands since colonial rule, though it is in the Caribbean) or by labor demands (Arab countries like Qatar, Kuwait and Bahrain, where workforces are largely made up of immigrants).

At the other extreme are the six countries where it’s estimated that just 0.1 percent of the population was born abroad — China, Cuba, Indonesia, Lesotho, Madagascar and Vietnam.

A full, searchable table of all 232 places on the U.N. list is below.

Hope the numbers help,


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Mona Chalabi is data editor at the Guardian US, and a columnist at New York Magazine. She was previously a lead news writer for FiveThirtyEight.