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Migration and migrant population statistics

From Statistics Explained

Data from March 2013. Most recent data: Further Eurostat information, Main tables and Database. Planned article update: March 2014.
Table 1: Immigration, 2009–11 - Source: Eurostat (migr_imm1ctz) and (migr_imm5prv)
Figure 1: Immigrants, 2011 (1)
(per 1 000 inhabitants) - Source: Eurostat (migr_imm1ctz) and (migr_pop1ctz)
Figure 2: Share of immigrants by citizenship group, EU-27, 2011
(%) - Source: Eurostat (migr_imm1ctz)
Figure 3: Share of return migrants, 2011 (1)
(% of all immigrants) - Source: Eurostat (migr_imm1ctz)
Table 2: Non-national population by group of citizenship and foreign-born population by country of birth, 1 January 2012 - Source: Eurostat (migr_pop1ctz) and (migr_pop5ctz)
Figure 4: Share of non-nationals in the resident population, 1 January 2012
(%) - Source: Eurostat (migr_pop1ctz)
Figure 5: Citizens of non-member countries resident in the EU-27 by continent of origin, 1 January 2012 (1)
(%) - Source: Eurostat (migr_pop1ctz)
Figure 6: Citizens of non-member countries by level of human development index
(HDI), EU-27, 1 January 2012 (1)
(%) - Source: Eurostat (migr_pop1ctz)
Figure 7: Main countries of origin of non-nationals, EU-27, 1 January 2012 (1)
(million) - Source: Eurostat (migr_pop1ctz)
Figure 8: Age structure of the national and non-national populations, EU, 2011 (1)
(%) - Source: Eurostat (migr_pop2ctz)
Figure 9: Number of persons having acquired the citizenship of an EU Member State, EU-27, 2001–11
(1 000) - Source: Eurostat (migr_acq)
Table 3: Number of persons having acquired the citizenship of the reporting country, 2001–11
(1 000) - Source: Eurostat (migr_acq)
Figure 10: Naturalisation rate, 2011 (1)
(per 100 non-national residents) - Source: Eurostat (migr_acq) and (migr_pop1ctz)

This article presents European Union (EU) statistics on international migration, population stocks of national and foreign (non-national) citizens and the acquisition of citizenship. Migration is influenced by a combination of economic, political and social factors: either in a migrant’s country of origin (push factors) or in the country of destination (pull factors). Historically, the relative economic prosperity and political stability of the EU are thought to have exerted a considerable pull effect on immigrants.

In destination countries, international migration may be used as a tool to solve specific labour market shortages. However, migration alone will almost certainly not reverse the ongoing trend of population ageing experienced in many parts of the EU.

Main statistical findings

Migration flows

Immigration to the EU-27 was 1.7 million in 2011

During 2011 there were an estimated 1.7 million immigrants to the EU from countries outside the EU-27. In addition, 1.3 million people previously residing in an EU-27 Member State migrated to another Member State.

Thus, about 3.2 million people immigrated to one of the EU-27 Member States, while at least 2.3 million emigrants were reported to have left an EU-27 Member State. It should be noted that these figures do not represent the migration flows to/from the EU as a whole, since they also include flows between different EU Member States.

The United Kingdom reported the largest number of immigrants (566 044) in 2011, followed by Germany (489 422), Spain (457 649) and Italy (385 793); these four Member States together accounted for 60.3 % of all immigrants to EU-27 Member States.

Spain reported the highest number of emigrants in 2011 (507 742), followed by the United Kingdom (350 703), Germany (249 045) and France (213 367). A total of 16 of the EU-27 Member States reported more immigration than emigration in 2011, but in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Ireland, Greece, Spain, Poland, Romania and the three Baltic Member States emigrants outnumbered immigrants.

Relative to the size of the resident population, Luxembourg recorded the highest number of immigrants in 2011 (39 immigrants per 1 000 persons), followed by Cyprus (27) and Malta (13). The highest rates of emigration in 2011 were reported for Ireland (19 emigrants per 1 000 persons) and Lithuania (18 emigrants per 1 000 persons).

Citizens of non-member countries can be categorised according to the level of development of their country of citizenship, based on the human development index (HDI) calculated by the United Nations. By this analysis, the largest share (52.4 %) of all immigrants to the EU were citizens from medium HDI countries and just over one third (34.6 %) were from high HDI (but not EU) countries. Low HDI countries (6.3 %), EFTA countries (3.6 %) and candidate countries (3.1 %) accounted for relatively low shares of total immigration to the EU-27 in 2011.

In 2011, the relative share of returning nationals within the total number of immigrants was highest in Lithuania (89.3 % of all immigrants), Portugal (63.6 %), Croatia (55.3 %), Estonia (54.8 %) and Greece (54.5 %). These were the only EU-27 Member States to report that return migration accounted for a share higher than 50 %. By contrast, Luxembourg, Austria, Italy, Cyprus and Spain reported relatively low shares, as return migration in 2011 accounted for less than 10 % of all immigration.

Regarding the gender distribution of immigrants to the EU-27 in 2011, there were slightly more men than women (52.1 % compared with 47.9 %). The country reporting the highest share of male immigrants was Slovakia (62.4 %); by contrast, the highest share of female immigrants was reported in Cyprus (55.2 %).

Foreign and foreign-born population

On 1 January 2012 the foreign population of the EU-27 was 20.7 million while the foreign-born population was 33.0 million

The EU-27 foreign population (people residing in an EU-27 Member State with citizenship of a non-member country) on 1 January 2012 was 20.7 million, representing 4.1 % of the EU-27 population. In addition, there were 13.6 million persons living in an EU-27 Member State on 1 January 2012 with citizenship of another EU-27 Member State.

Due to better data availability, information on citizenship has often been used to study populations with a foreign background. However, since citizenship can change over time, it is also useful to present information by country of birth. There were 33.0 million people born outside of the EU-27 living in an EU-27 Member State on 1 January 2012, while there were 17.2 million persons who had been born in a different EU-27 Member State from their country of residence. Only in Ireland, Hungary, Luxembourg, Slovakia, Cyprus and Malta was the number of persons born in other EU-27 countries higher than the number born outside of the EU-27. People born abroad outnumbered foreign citizens in all EU-27 Member States, except in Latvia, the Czech Republic and Luxembourg.

In absolute terms, the largest numbers of non-nationals living in the EU on 1 January 2012 were found in Germany (7.4 million persons), Spain (5.5 million), Italy (4.8 million), the United Kingdom (4.8 million) and France (3.8 million). Non-nationals in these five Member States collectively represented 77.1 % of the total number of non-nationals living in the EU-27, while the same five Member States had a 62.9 % share of the EU’s population. In relative terms, the EU-27 Member State with the highest share of non-nationals was Luxembourg, as they accounted for 43.8 % of the total population. A high proportion of non-nationals (10 % or more of the resident population) was also observed in Cyprus, Latvia, Estonia, Spain, Austria and Belgium.

In most EU Member States the majority of non-nationals are citizens of non-member countries. The opposite is true only for Luxembourg, Ireland, Slovakia, Belgium, Cyprus, Hungary, the Netherlands and Malta. In the case of Latvia and Estonia, the proportion of citizens from non-member countries is particularly large due to the high number of recognised non-citizens (mainly former Soviet Union citizens, who are permanently resident in these countries but have not acquired any other citizenship).

Looking at the distribution by continent of citizens of non-member countries living in the EU, the largest proportion (38.5 %) were citizens of a European country outside the EU-27. A total of 8.0 million citizens from European countries outside of the EU-27 were residing in the EU at the beginning of 2012; among these more than half were citizens of Turkey, Albania or Ukraine. The next biggest group was from Africa (24.5 %), followed by Asia (22.0 %), the Americas (14.2 %) and Oceania (0.8 %). More than half of the citizens of African countries that were living in the EU were from North Africa, often from Morocco or Algeria. Many Asian citizens living in the EU came from southern or eastern Asia, in particular from India or China. Citizens of Ecuador and the United States made up the largest share of non-nationals from the Americas living in the EU.

Among the citizens from non-member countries living in the EU-27 in 2012, some 44.2 % were citizens of a high HDI country (with Turkey, Albania and Russia accounting for almost half of these), while a slightly higher share (48.3 %) came from medium HDI countries (one fifth of whom were from Morocco, with citizens of China and Ukraine the next largest groups). The remaining 7.6 % were from low HDI countries (30 % of whom had Nigerian or Iraqi citizenship).

The citizenship structure of the population of non-nationals living in the EU varies greatly between Member States. This is influenced by factors such as labour migration, historical links between origin and destination countries, and established networks in destination countries. Romanians (living in another EU Member State) and Turkish citizens made up the biggest groups of non-nationals living in the EU-27 in 2012. There were 2.4 million Romanian citizens living outside of Romania within the EU-27 and 2.3 million Turkish citizens living in the EU-27; each of these two groups of people accounted for 7.0 % of all foreigners living in the EU-27 in 2012. The third largest group was Moroccans (1.9 million people, or 5.6 % of all foreigners). The group of foreigners living in the EU with the most significant increase over the period from 2001 to 2012 was Romanians (living in another EU Member State), their numbers increasing almost eight-fold from 0.3 million in 2001 to 2.4 million by 2012.

An analysis of the age structure of the population shows that, for the EU-27 as a whole, the foreign population was younger than the national population. The distribution by age of foreigners shows, compared with nationals, a greater proportion of relatively young working age adults. In 2012, the median age of the national population in the EU-27 was 41.9 years, while the median age of foreigners living in the EU was 34.7 years.

Acquisition of citizenship

Acquisition of citizenship was down by 3.5 % in 2011

The number of people acquiring the citizenship of an EU-27 Member State in 2011 was 782 200, corresponding to a 3.5 % decrease with respect to 2010. In 2010, more people had acquired the citizenship of an EU Member State than in any other year during the period from 2001 to 2011, and this was the first time that the total number rose above 0.8 million.

The United Kingdom had the highest number of persons acquiring citizenship in 2011, at 177 600 (or 22.7 % of the EU-27 total). The next highest levels of acquisition of citizenship were in Spain (114 599), France (114 584) and Germany (109 594); none of the remaining Member States granted citizenship to more than 100 000 people in 2011.

In absolute terms, the highest decreases were observed in France (28 691 less persons were granted French citizenship compared with 2010), followed by the United Kingdom (17 277), Italy (9 785) and Spain (9 122). The highest decreases in relative terms were recorded for Latvia (32.6 % less persons acquired citizenship in 2011) and Bulgaria (31.2 %).

One indicator commonly used to measure the effect of national policies on citizenship is the ‘naturalisation rate’, defined as the ratio between the total number of citizenships granted and the stock of foreign residents in a country at the beginning of the year. The EU-27 Member State with the highest naturalisation rate in 2011 was Hungary (9.8 acquisitions per 100 foreign residents), followed at some distance by Poland (6.7), and then by Sweden, Malta and Portugal (with rates between 5.8 and 5.2 acquisitions per 100 foreign residents).

About 86.7 % of those who acquired citizenship of an EU-27 Member State in 2011 were previously citizens of a non-member country. Thus, about 678 000 citizens of non-member countries residing in an EU-27 Member State acquired EU citizenship in 2011, corresponding to a 8.2 % decrease with respect to 2010. These new EU-27 citizens were mainly from Africa (26.2 % of the total number of citizenships acquired), Asia (22.6 %), Europe (outside of the EU-27, 18.9 %) and North and South America (16.9 %). Citizens of EU-27 Member States who acquired citizenship of another EU-27 Member State amounted to 82 000 persons, thus accounting for 10.5 % of the total. In absolute terms, the main groups of EU-27 citizens acquiring citizenship of another EU-27 Member State were Romanians becoming citizens of Hungary (15 658 persons) or Italy (3 921 persons), Poles becoming citizens of Germany (4 344 persons) and Portuguese becoming citizens of France (3 805 persons).

In Luxembourg and Hungary the majority of new citizenships granted were to citizens of another EU Member State. In the case of Luxembourg, Portuguese citizens accounted for the largest share, while in the case of Hungary those acquiring citizenship were almost exclusively Romanians.

As in previous years, the largest groups of new citizens in the EU Member States in 2011 were citizens of Morocco (64 200, corresponding to 8.2 % of all citizenships granted) and Turkey (48 800, or 6.2 %). Compared with 2010, the number of Moroccan citizens acquiring citizenship of an EU Member State decreased by 4.4 %, while the corresponding share for Turkish citizens fell by 2.0 %. The largest share of Moroccans acquired their new citizenship in France (32.6 %), Spain (22.4 %) or Italy (16.7 %), while the highest proportion of Turkish citizens acquired their new citizenship in Germany (57.5 %) or France (12.9 %).

Data sources and availability

Eurostat produces statistics on a range of issues related to international migration flows, non-national (foreigner) population stocks and the acquisition of citizenship. Data are collected on an annual basis and are supplied to Eurostat by the national statistical authorities of the EU Member States.

Since 2008 the collection of data has been based on Regulation 862/2007. This defines a core set of statistics on international migration flows, population stocks of foreigners, the acquisition of citizenship, residence permits, asylum and measures against illegal entry and stay. Although EU Member States may continue to use any appropriate data according to national availability and practice, the statistics collected under the Regulation must be based on common definitions and concepts. Most EU Member States base their statistics on administrative data sources such as population registers, registers of foreigners, registers of residence or work permits. Some countries use sample surveys or estimation methods to produce migration statistics. The data on the acquisition of citizenship are normally produced from administrative systems. The implementation of the Regulation is expected to result in increased availability and comparability of migration and citizenship statistics.

Previously statistics on migration flows, foreigner population stocks and the acquisition of citizenship were sent to Eurostat on a voluntary basis, as part of a joint migration data collection organised by Eurostat in cooperation with a series of international organisations, for example the United Nations Statistical Division (UNSD), the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and the International Labour Organisation (ILO). The recent changes in methodology, definitions and data sources used to produce migration and citizenship statistics may result, for some EU Member States, in a lack of comparability over time for their respective series.

Emigration is particularly difficult to measure; it is harder to count people leaving a country than those arriving. An analysis comparing 2008 immigration and emigration data from the EU Member States (mirror statistics) confirmed that this was true in many countries. As a result, this article focuses mainly on immigration data.


Migration policies within the EU are increasingly concerned with attracting a particular migrant profile, often in an attempt to alleviate specific skills shortages. Selection can be carried out on the basis of language proficiency, work experience, education and age. Alternatively, employers can make the selection so that migrants already have a job upon their arrival.

Besides policies to encourage labour recruitment, immigration policy is often focused on two areas: preventing unauthorised migration and the illegal employment of migrants who are not permitted to work, and promoting the integration of immigrants into society. Significant resources have been mobilised to fight people smuggling and trafficking networks in the EU.

Some of the most important legal texts adopted in the area of immigration include:

Within the European Commission, the Directorate-General for Home Affairs is responsible for immigration policy. In 2005, the European Commission relaunched the debate on the need for a common set of rules for the admission of economic migrants with a Green paper on an EU approach to managing economic migration (COM(2004) 811 final) which led to the adoption of a policy plan on legal migration (COM(2005) 669 final) at the end of 2005. In July 2006, the European Commission adopted a Communication on policy priorities in the fight against illegal immigration of third-country nationals (COM(2006) 402 final), which aims to strike a balance between security and an individuals’ basic rights during all stages of the illegal immigration process. In September 2007, the European Commission presented its third annual report on migration and integration (COM(2007) 512 final). A European Commission Communication adopted in October 2008 emphasised the importance of strengthening the global approach to migration: increasing coordination, coherence and synergies (COM(2008) 611 final) as an aspect of external and development policy. The Stockholm programme, adopted by EU heads of state and government in December 2009, set a framework and series of principles for the ongoing development of European policies on justice and home affairs for the period 2010 to 2014; migration-related issues are a central part of this programme. In order to bring about the changes agreed upon, the European Commission enacted an action plan implementing the Stockholm programme – delivering an area of freedom, security and justice for Europe’s citizens (COM(2010) 171 final) in 2010. The plan foresees a number of priority areas, providing measures for:

  • evaluating justice, freedom and security policies and mechanisms;
  • training legal and security professionals as well as judicial and law enforcement authorities;
  • public awareness-raising activities;
  • dialogue with civil society;
  • new financial programmes.

See also

Further Eurostat information


Main tables

International Migration and Asylum (t_migr)
Acquisition of citizenship
Immigration (tps00176)
Emigration (tps00177)
Population by citizenship - Foreigners (tps00157)
Population by country of birth - Foreign-born (tps00178)


International Migration and Asylum (migr)
International migration flows (migr_flow)
Immigration (migr_immi)
Immigration by sex, age group and citizenship (migr_imm1ctz)
Immigration by sex, age and broad group of citizenship (migr_imm2ctz)
Immigration by sex, age group and country of birth (migr_imm3ctb)
Immigration by sex, age and broad group of country of birth (migr_imm4ctb)
Immigration by sex, age group and country of previous residence (migr_imm5prv)
Immigration by sex, citizenship and broad group of country of birth (migr_imm6ctz)
Immigration by sex, country of birth and broad group of citizenship (migr_imm7ctb)
Emigration (migr_emi)
Emigration by sex and age (migr_emi2)
Emigration by sex, age group and citizenship (migr_emi1ctz)
Emigration by sex, age group and country of birth (migr_emi4ctb)
Emigration by sex, age group and country of next usual residence (migr_emi3nxt)
Population by citizenship and by country of birth (migr_stock)
Population by sex, age group and citizenship (migr_pop1ctz)
Population by sex, age and broad group of citizenship (migr_pop2ctz)
Population by sex, age group and country of birth (migr_pop3ctb)
Population by sex, age and broad group of country of birth (migr_pop4ctb)
Population by sex, citizenship and broad group of country of birth (migr_pop5ctz)
Population by sex, country of birth and broad group of citizenship (migr_pop6ctb)
Acquisition and loss of citizenship (migr_acqn)
Acquisition of citizenship by sex, age group and former citizenship (migr_acq)
Loss of citizenship by sex and new citizenship (migr_lct)

Dedicated section

Methodology / Metadata

Source data for tables and figures (MS Excel)

External links