International migrant stocks
International migrant stocks are estimates of "the total number of international migrants present in a given country at a particular point in time" (UN SD, 2017: 9). United Nations (UN) data on these stocks are based mostly on the country’s population that is born abroad, and (where this information is not available) on holding a foreign citizenship (UN DESA, 2016: 4; UN SD, 2017).
Data on migrant stocks are often reported together with data on migrant flows. Although both terms account for the number of migrants, what they measure is different. Migrant flows data account for the number of migrants entering or leaving during a specified time period (usually one calendar year) (UN SD, 2017).
Key trends (2000 - 2019)
An international migrant is defined as “any person who changes his or her country of usual residence” (UN DESA, 1998). Stocks are defined as “the total number of international migrants present in a given country at a particular point in time” (UN SD, 2017: 9).Back to top
Data sources & measurement
Various sources collect and disseminate migrant stock data at the national and international levels.
National statistical offices collect data on migrant stocks through censuses, population registries or administrative sources. The UN Statistics Division (UNSD) is mandated to collect official migration statistics, including on migrant stocks, from countries through the Demographic Yearbook data collection system. The Statistical Office of the European Union (Eurostat) has a similar task for EU Member States. Some governments also report stock data to other international organizations such as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). UN DESA provides global estimates of international migrant stocks based on national statistics on country of birth, and where data on the foreign-born were not collected in national censuses, based on country of citizenship (UN DESA, 2016: 4; UN SD, 2017). These global data are also disaggregated by sex and age.
The World Development Indicators database by the World Bank also contains datasets on total international migrant stock and international migrant stock as a percentage of the total population among other global development datasets, which are retrieved from officially recognized international data sources. Sex- and age- disaggregated data on international migrant stock are derived from population censuses, population registers and nationally representative surveys. The datasets contain data on the number of people born in a country other than that in which they reside. When this information is not available, data on people, who are citizens of a country other than the country in which they reside, are used as estimates. Data on international migrant stock are available for every five years since 1960 with the latest update in 2015.
To improve statistics, the UN produced recommendations in 1998 to define an international migrant as "any person who changes his or her country of usual residence" (UN DESA, 1998), distinguishing between "short-term migrants" – those who change their country of usual residence for at least three months but less than a year – and "long-term migrants" – those who do so for at least one year. However, not all countries have adopted such a definition. Some countries may use different criteria to identify international migrants for statistical purposes, such as a different minimum duration of stay in the country.Back to top
Data strengths & limitations
Estimates of migrant stock are available for 232 UN countries/areas and comprise the most geographically comprehensive information on international migration. There are significant regional variations in data availability – 21 per cent of Central and Southern Asian countries and 14 per cent in Sub-Saharan Africa do not have recent data on international migrant stocks, whereas in regions such as Latin America and the Caribbean as well as Northern America the data on international migrant stocks is fully available (UN DESA, 2019).
The comparison of national statistics on international migration is difficult at a global level. Countries use different concepts and definitions – some simply using country of birth or nationality to define a migrant. The timing of census data also varies from country to country. Many countries conduct new censuses only every 10 years or so, which means the data can be outdated. UN DESA use interpolation and extrapolation methodologies to estimate stocks for countries where no recent censuses have been conducted. For those countries with only one data point available since 1990 UN DESA use the increase in migrant stocks in the region, or area or country with a similar profile to impute/estimate stocks in a certain year (UN DESA, 2019). There are also several reasons why the number of migrants may be under reported in population censuses. For example, new residents with uncertain legal status are less likely to be included in the censuses (see UN SD, 2017; GMG, 2017).
|United Nations Department for Economic and Social Affairs Statistical Division (UN SD)|
|2017||Handbook on Measuring International Migration through Population Censuses. Background document. Statistical Commission, Forty-eighth session 7-10 March 2017, Item 4(a) of the provisional agenda, Demographic Statistics. UN, New York.|
|1998||Recommendations on Statistics of International Migration, Revision 1, Statistical Papers, Series M, No.58, Rev.1. Sales No. E.98.XVII.14.|
|Bilsborrow, R., G. Hugo, A. Oberai, and H. Zlotnik|
|1997||International migration statistics: guidelines for improving data collection systems,International Labour Office, Geneva.|
|Global Migration Group (GMG)|
|2017||Handbook for Improving the Production and Use of Migration Data for Development. KNOMAD, World Bank, Washington, D.C..|
|United Nations Department for Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA)|
International Migrant Stock: The 2019 Revision.(United Nations database, POP/DB/MIG/Stock/Rev.2019). UNDESA, New York.
|2017||International Migration Report 2017: Highlights. UNDESA, New York.|
|Center for Global Development|
|2009||Migrants Count: Five Steps Toward Better Migration Data. Report of the Commission on International Migration Data for Development Research and Policy, Michael Clemens, Project Director, pp. 28.|
|Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)|
|2016||Stocks of foreign-born population in OECD countries. OECD, Paris.|