Immigration: the new Godwin’s Law
This map shows the estimated net immigration (inflows minus outflows) by origin and destination country between 2010 and 2015.
Blue circles = positive net migration (more inflows). Red circles = negative net migration (more outflows). Each yellow dot represents 1,000 people.
Hover over a circle to see that country’s total net migration between 2010 and 2015. Click a circle (or tap the circle twice on mobile) to view only the migration flows in and out of that country.
Country-to-country net migration (2010-2015)
The data for this map comes from the U.N. Population Division, more information on how it was calculated at the bottom of the post.
Immigration: the new Godwin’s Law
If you’re not familiar with Godwin’s law, it is an old internet adage that states, “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazism or Hitler approaches 1.”
Lately, I’ve found a similar principle applies to immigration. No matter what topic is being discussed online, if the conversation goes on for long enough, someone will inevitably tie it back to immigration.
Immigration has always been an important and frequently debated issue. And for many current events, the connection with immigration is clear, for example: terrorism / ISIS, the Brexit, Donald Trump and this year’s presidential race, the refugee crisis. But at some point in the last year or two, I started noticing immigration being mentioned in connection with all sorts of topics I would never have expected.
To see what I mean, here are some of the topics I’ve posted about where immigration came up in a discussion, either in the comment section of the post or on social media:
- Your World Map Is Hiding Something(a post about map projections)
- Prisoners in the Free World(the prison industrial complex)
- Support for ISIS in the Muslim World – Perceptions vs Reality(Muslim support for ISIS)
- Half the World’s Population Lives in Just 1% of the Land(the distribution of the world’s population)
- Two Centuries of U.S. Immigration(no surprise here)
- Presidential Elections Used to Be More Colorful(the state-by-state outcomes of past U.S. presidential elections)
- The History of U.S. Government Spending, Revenue, and Debt(the history of U.S. government finance)
Why is immigration suddenly the cause/result/solution of everything? (Not meant rhetorically. If you have a good answer, I’d love to know.)
Who is migrating from where to where?
For a topic that comes up as often as immigration, I’ve found the debate to be really lacking in factual information. Hopefully, this map is helpful is clearing up at least the simple, basic statistics: how many migrants are there? Where are they coming from? And where are they going?
Please keep in mind, these numbers are only estimates. You can find the full details of how they were calculated at the bottom of the post.
That said, here are a few of the pieces I found interesting.
Between 2010 and 2015, the net migration from Syria to Sweden was more than Syria’s net migration to the rest of Europe and the Americas combined.
Many Middle Eastern countries have been criticized for allegedly accepting few Syrian refugees. In Qatar and the UAE, the net migration appears to actually be negative. Though of the Middle Eastern countries that are accepting Syrian refugees, the numbers they are dealing with are orders of magnitude higher than in the West.
The United Kingdom / Brexit
In the Brexit debate, the loudest arguments in favor of leaving the EU have been about immigration. What strikes me as interesting is how small a portion of the UK’s net immigration is actually coming from Europe.
Australia, another country where immigration has become a highly charged political issue, jumps out as an interesting case.
By these estimates, Australia’s net immigration is negative with every country in the world, except for a small positive immigration balance with Sudan. Australia is the only country in the world to have significant positive net immigration with the US.
Last month, I posted a map visualizing 200 years of US immigration (inflows only). I would have liked to do the same with US emigration, which may be the more interesting direction since it is not nearly as well known. Unfortunately, the US does not keep good emigration records and the best data I’ve managed to find goes back only a few decades. So, I don’t foresee being able to make a historical US emigration map.
Still, I think it’s pretty interesting to see what US net immigration flows look like in the present.
As mentioned above, according to these estimates, the US has significant positive net immigration with only one other country, Australia. The country with which the US has the largest negative net immigration is, perhaps unsurprisingly, Mexico. Though the amount by which Mexico leads is down substantially compared to a decade ago. Illegal immigration, in particular, has fallen off sharply, as demonstrated by this time series of border apprehensions from Pew Research.
When US immigration is viewed by region, the area that really stands out is Asia, which now accounts for just as much US immigration as North + South America (Mexico included).
Immigration between the US and Mexico is particularly complex since it involves both legal and illegal immigration as well as temporary laborers, deportations, and a large number of people living in immigration detention facilities. For that reason, America’s true net migration with Mexico is uncertain, and may actually be much lower than what’s shown here. If you believe Pew’s estimates, net migration with Mexico is now actually negative: more people are migrating from the US to Mexico than vice versa.
Wherever you stand politically on immigration, you have to admit, it’s pretty strange how rarely basic stats like these enter the debate. For all the discussion in the US about border fences and immigration limits, the simple question of “how many immigrants are there?” hardly ever even comes up.
Public opinion about immigration was likely a deciding factor in Britain’s decision to exit the EU. And it may very well determine who becomes the next US president. Yet the majority of Brits and the majority of Americans misestimate the size of their country’s immigrant population by a multiple.