How the World Views Migration: IOM - Gallup World Poll

Switzerland - “How the World Views Migration” – a report that IOM will release later this spring – will provide rare insights into public attitudes toward migration around the world. Highlights of the report’s initial findings are being released at the World Economic Forum in Davos this week. 

The findings, based on Gallup interviews with 183,772 adults across more than 140 countries between 2012 and 2014, will show a global population that is generally in favour of raising the number of newcomers arriving each year, or else keeping migration at its present level.

“This study presents for the first time some preliminary information about what people worldwide think about migration,” the authors of the report conclude. “Contrary to the negative perceptions of migration often portrayed in the media in certain regions of the world, our findings suggest that most people around the world do not wish to see a decrease in immigration to their countries.”

An important exception is Europe, said IOM Head of Research Frank Laczko, who notes that Gallup’s research shows a sharp divergence in attitudes between Northern Europe and the continent’s Mediterranean zone.

The majority of adults in nearly all Northern European countries (such as Sweden, Denmark, Finland) would like to see levels of immigration stay the same or increase, the research revealed. The United Kingdom is the sole exception, with the majority of people (69%) supporting decreased immigration.

In contrast, residents in much of the Mediterranean region, which is an entry point to Europe for many migrants, would like to see immigration levels decreased. In fact, adults in Greece are the most likely in the world to want immigration levels decreased, with 84% saying this. This sentiment is shared by 56% in Spain, 67% in Italy, and 76% in Malta. In France, about half of residents (45%) would like to see immigration levels decrease, and the same number would like to see levels stay the same or increase.

“People in Europe are the most negative toward immigration, but even there just barely,” said Dr Laczko. “There is a slim majority (52.1%) saying immigration levels should be decreased. By comparison, the corresponding figure for Northern America is 39.3 %.”

In your view, should immigration in this country be kept at its present level, increased, or decreased?





North America




Present level
























Don’t know/Refused








1 Total group results are weighted by population size.

Adults surveyed in Gallup’s World Poll were asked two questions about immigration: 

  1. In your view, should immigration in this country be kept at its present level, increased, or decreased?
  2. Do you think immigrants mostly take jobs that citizens in this country do not want (e.g., low-paying or not prestigious jobs) or mostly take jobs that citizen in this country want?

IOM and Gallup’s Executive Summary released in Davos focuses on initial findings of the study relating to the first question. To download a map of the findings please go to:

Beyond Europe, residents in Latin America and the Caribbean generally want immigration levels to stay the same or increase, with some exceptions such as Costa Rica and Ecuador.

In the Middle East, people in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries – which have the highest percentage of temporary migrant workers in their populations – are very positive toward immigration. Relatively small percentages want to see immigration levels decrease, and a high percentage want to see levels increase or stay the same. Again, there are differences by country – adults in Kuwait and Bahrain are much more negative towards immigration.

Some other important findings include:

  1. Attitudes toward migration vary according to experience of migration.
    • In countries with the highest percentages of migrants in their population, people are more likely to have an opinion about migration, but not necessarily a negative one. In the GCC states, where migrants can account in some countries for more than half of the population, as noted above, people are more likely to be in favour of immigration.
    • In the top 10 migration destination countries, opinions are divided. Nearly half of adults (46.8%) believe that immigration levels should increase or stay the same, and about as many (47.5%) believe that it should decrease.
    • Adults in countries with recent large increases in immigration are less likely to want to see immigration levels decrease. People in these countries are more likely to be leaning toward increasing levels.
    • Adults in the top 10 origin countries are less likely to have an opinion about immigration to their countries (30.3%), but at the same time, 30% want to see a decrease.
  2. People’s economic perceptions may be the strongest predictor of their attitudes about immigration.
    • People’s attitudes toward immigration are related to their perceptions of their country’s economic conditions. Adults who believe economic conditions in their country are “fair” or “poor” are almost twice as likely to say immigration levels should decrease, as those who say conditions are “excellent” or “good.” Similarly, those who say conditions are getting worse, are nearly twice as likely to favour decreased immigration as those who say conditions are getting better (48.0% vs. 25.3%).
    • In nearly all global regions, people who see conditions as “excellent or good” are more likely to have a positive outlook on migration than those who see it as “fair or poor.” These gaps are quite large in several countries, including major economies such as France (46% vs. 29%), Spain (56% vs. 29%), Canada (41% vs. 21%) and Japan (17% vs. 10%).
    • The exception to this is Africa, where attitudes toward migration are not much different among the “fair/poor” and “excellent/good” groups. In addition to Africa, in a few countries around the world there is no or very little difference in attitudes to immigration based on the state of the economy. These include South Korea, Bangladesh, Uzbekistan, Philippines, Jordan, Israel, Iraq, Malta, Belgium and Venezuela.
  3. There are people in every region and every country who are more open to immigration in their countries, and who have the potential to operate as “change leaders.”
    • Business owners in Western Europe, Northern Africa, Southern Africa, Eastern Asia, and Australia/New Zealand are more positive about immigration levels than non business owners. This includes G20 members such as China and South Africa. Further, this holds true regardless of the size of the business.
    • Young people (those younger than age 44) are more aware of immigration and are more likely to favour increasing immigration levels. About one in four younger people (24%) favour increasing immigration levels, compared with 17% of those who are aged 65 and older.
    • This “youth effect” exists in most receiving regions and countries. The big exception is Russia. Young Russians are as negative about immigration levels in their country as older Russians are.
    • Educated people – adults with a college degree - are more likely than those with less education to want to see immigration kept at its present level or increased. They are also more likely to have an opinion on the matter.
    • Economic conditions and prospects in a country are strong predictors of opinions on immigration levels, the study’s authors conclude. Compared with others in the workforce, those who are not working, but actively looking for work and able to begin work, are considerably more likely to want immigration decreased (40.5% of the unemployed vs. 33.4% of those not unemployed).

“Understanding the profile of people who are for or against immigration, as well as the factors that influence their opinions, is essential in shaping more positive attitudes to immigration around the world,” said Dr Neli Esipova, Director of Research on Global Migration for Gallup’s World Poll.

“Negative public perceptions of migration restrict the ability of policy-makers to manage migration effectively,” said Dr Laczko. “There is a risk that migration policies in such countries will be increasingly shaped by fears and misconceptions rather than evidence. If we are to combat the worrying rise in discrimination against migrants and the general public’s fears about migration, we need to continue to monitor on a regular basis public perceptions of migration.” 

To read the Executive Summary of "How the World Views Migration", please go to:

For more information, please contact

Frank Laczko

IOM HQ in Geneva

Tel.: + 41 22 717 9416



Neli Esipova

Gallup World Poll in the USA

Tel.: + 1 609 924-9600