The United Nations on Levels and Trends of International Migration and Related Policies


Issues of international migration are drawing increasing attention not only from governments and their national constituencies but also from international organizations, notably from various components of the United Nations system. Better understanding of the causes of the flows of international migration and their relationship with development and answers to policy questions arising therefrom are, however, hampered by scarcity of up-to-date and reliable quantitative information concerning international migration.

As a step toward remedying this gap, in March 2003 the Population Division of the United Nations issued a report, presumably the first of a series, titled International Migration Report 2002. A review essay by David Coleman discussing this publication appears in the book review section of the present issue of PDR.

The bulk of this 323-page document presents statistical profiles for more than 200 countries and territories and also for various regional aggregates. These summaries provide data or estimates (when available or feasible) on population, migrant stock, refugees, and remittances by migrant workers for 1990 and 2000, and on average annual net migration flows for 1990–95 and 1995–2000. These profiles also offer characterization of government views on policies relating to levels of immigration and emigration.

According to the report, the total number of international migrants—those residing in a country other than where they were born—was 175 million in 2000, or about 3 percent of the world population. In absolute terms, this global number is about twice as large as it was in 1970, and exceeds the 1990 estimate by some 21 million.

The introductory chapters of the report discuss problems in measuring international migration and summarize major trends in international migration policies since the mid-1970s. An additional chapter reproduces a recent report of the Secretary-General to the United Nations General Assembly on international migration.

Reproduced below is much of the “Overview” section of the report (pp. 1–5). In addition to its published form (New York: United Nations, 2002, ST/ESA/SER.A/220), the full report is accessible on the Internet: