Migration data relevant for the COVID-19 pandemic

Last updated on 10 March 2021

Migrants – particularly in lower paid jobs – may be both more affected by and vulnerable to the spread of COVID-19 in countries already impacted and those countries where the pandemic is spreading, but migrants also play an important role in the response to COVID-19 by working in critical sectors. As of 1 March 2021, emigrants from the 20 countries with the highest number of COVID-19 cases accounted for 31 per cent of the total international migrant stock and they had sent an estimated 37 per cent of all remittances globally to their countries of origin in 2019 (GMDAC analysis based on UN DESA, 2020World Bank 2020aWHO, 2021)1. Immigrants accounted for at least 3.7 per cent of the population in 14 of the 20 countries with the highest number of COVID-19 cases, and this share is more than 7 per cent in 9 of these countries (GMDAC analysis based on UN DESA, 2020WHO, 2021). Compared to the global share of international migrants making up 3.6 per cent of the total population, international migrants are overrepresented in these countries. 

Increasing border restrictions also have an impact on the mobility of migrants and the role of humanitarian organizations. Between 11 March 2020, when the WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic, and 22 February 2021, nearly 105,000 movement restrictions were implemented around the world (IOM, 2021a). At the same time, 189 countries, territories or areas have issued 795 exceptions to these restrictions, thus enabling mobility (ibid.). Estimates with an assumption of zero-growth in the number of migrants between 1 March and 1 July 2020 suggest a decrease of nearly 2 million international migrants globally compared to the initially expected estimate between mid-2019 and mid-2020 (UN DESA, 2020). Migration flows to OECD countries – measured by new permits issued – are estimated to have fallen by 46 per cent in the first half of 2020 and 2020 is expected to be a historical low for migration to OECD countries (OECD, 2020a). Such a drop in migration inflows can also have demographic effects on countries dependent on migration for population growth. For example, estimates for 2020 suggest that the population of Germany did not grow for the first time in the last decade due to a decline in immigration (German Federal Statistics Office, 2021). In Australia, net migration for 2020/2021 is expected to be negative for the first time since 1945 and this will lead to the lowest population growth in a century (Australian Centre for Population, 2020).

This page discusses data on migrants that can inform how they are potentially both affected by the impact of COVID-19 and are part of the response to the pandemic. As information related to the COVID-19 pandemic is constantly evolving, figures and other data will be updated on a regular basis. For information by country, please see here and below the map for key indicators on migration and demography. For key trends by region on the impact of COVID-19, please see our regional data overviews.

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