Fewer people dream of moving abroad permanently, new poll reveals

by Ray Clancy on April 2, 2014

People’s desire globally to migrate permanently to other countries has cooled to 13%, but populations are still growing in Europe, the Middle East and North America, a new poll shows.

The latest Potential Net Migration Index (PNMI) from Gallup shows populations would still grow in these areas if everyone who wanted to move actually moved to where they wanted. At the same time, populations in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia would still shrink.

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Declining potential net migration scores reflect cooling worldwide desire to migrate in the aftermath of global economic downturn

The figures are calculated from the estimated number of adults who say they would like to move permanently out of a country if the opportunity arose, subtracted from the estimated number who say they would like to move into it, as a proportion of the total adult population. The poll involved 154 countries surveyed between 2010 and 2012 and are based on about 520,000 interviews.

While Europe’s current PNMI score is in the plus category, the story is not the same across the continent. Western Europe’s PNMI score is positive at +38% and relatively the same as the +42% measured between 2007 and 2009. But PNMI scores have declined in Southern Europe, particularly in countries hard hit in the Eurozone crisis.

Southern Europe’s overall PNMI score is half what it was between 2007 and 2009, with large declines in Spain, Italy, Portugal, and Greece. Greece slipped into negative territory from +11% to -8%. Elsewhere in Europe, PNMI scores did not change and continue be as negative as they were in previous years. Populations would still potentially shrink in Eastern and Southeast Europe, European countries in the Commonwealth of Independent States, and the Caucasus.

PNMI positive scores in two of the most desired destinations in the world, the United States and Canada, largely drive the +13% PNMI scores in the Americas. But even in those two countries, PNMI scores have declined, dropping to +120% from +160% in Canada and +45% in the US from +60%.

At the same time, scores are less negative in many countries in Latin America, meaning these countries could potentially have less population loss from net migration. Although PNMI scores remain negative in several migrant sending countries in Central America, scores are less negative in places such as El Salvador and Nicaragua. Scores remain negative and flat in Mexico.

With several exceptions, PNMI scores in many countries surveyed in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region are unchanged from previous years. Notably, Syria’s PNMI score has increased to -27% from -17%, no doubt because of the increase in the percentage wanting to leave the war torn country if they could and fewer adults desiring to relocate there amid a civil war.

Scores have also changed in two countries that have received many refugees from Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. Jordan’s -2% is not as negative as the -17% in previous years, while Lebanon’s current score, -4%, is more negative than its previous score of +15%. Scores have also improved in the nearby Palestinian Territories.

Asia, which had a positive PNMI score in previous years, could see a net decline as a result of migration if people moved where they wanted. This decrease is largely driven by a decline in desire among potential migrants to relocate to countries in developed Asia and in Australia and New Zealand. Scores in Singapore, Australia, and New Zealand are still positive and high, but they have declined from previous years.

PNMI scores across developing Asia continue to be as negative as they have been in previous years. Scores were negative and flat in two of the world’s most populous countries, China and India, with scores of -6% and -4%, respectively.

A spokesman said that while Gallup’s findings reflect people’s wishes rather than their intentions, they still provide useful information about how populations could potentially change not only in sheer numbers, but also in their human capital.

‘Declining potential net migration scores in many countries, even those that are highly desired destination countries, largely reflect cooling worldwide desire to migrate in the aftermath of global economic downturn. As economic conditions improve, the idea of migrating and some of these destinations may become more attractive again,’ he explained.

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