IOM World Migration Report 2013 How Migrants Rate Their Well-Being


The World Migration Report 2013: Migrant Well-Being and Development, launched this week by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Geneva, presents for the first time a global picture of the well-being of migrants.

Drawing on the findings of a Gallup World Poll, which surveyed more than 25,000 migrants in over 150 countries, the report takes a fresh look at what life is really like for migrants in the world today, whether they migrate to and between rich countries in the North, or to and between poorer countries in the South.

The report investigates how migration leads or does not lead to a better life; how satisfied migrants are with their lives compared to the local population; if they find it more difficult to find jobs or start a business; and if they are more likely to report health problems. Migrants are given a unique opportunity to tell their own stories.

According to the UN Millennium Declaration, improving the well-being of the individual is one of the key aims of development. But development is often measured primarily in terms of economic indicators, such as GNP.

Similarly, migrants’ contribution to development also is usually primarily measured in terms of the money that they send back home, rather than how their life is affected by migration.

The World Migration Report 2013 takes a different approach, focusing on six core dimensions of well-being to present a unique picture of the gains and losses associated with migration and the implications for human development.  

“There is a need to look at migration and development in a more holistic way,” says IOM Director General William Lacy Swing. “Contrary to common belief, migration is not just a South-North phenomenon. In fact, less than half of all migrants worldwide move from developing to developed countries.”

The new figures presented in the report show that adult migrants moving South-North represent only 40% of the global total. About 33% of migrants move between countries in the South, 22% between countries in the North and 5% from the North to the South.

Overall, migration improves well-being especially for those who move to the North. But contrary to what might be expected, it is migrants who move from North to North (between high-income countries), rather than from South to North, who report the greatest gains. Aside from the North-North context, migrants are less likely to feel satisfied with their lives than the native-born population.

People migrating North-South have mixed experiences. While they tend to make their money go further in a relatively cheaper environment, they also tend to have fewer social contacts, and are less likely to have someone they can count on for help.

Those moving from South to North rate their lives as similar to, or slightly worse than, people in their home country with a similar profile.

South–South migration between low- or middle-income countries is largely about survival, bringing few gains and often leaving migrants struggling alongside the native-born.

In fact, migrants in the South often fare the same or worse than if they had not migrated. Many report worse lives, struggle to get adequate housing, and are dissatisfied with their health. A majority also tend to be quite pessimistic about their future.

The report also provides a number of new insights regarding the relationship between migration and development. For example, although about two thirds of international migrants originate in the South, people from countries in the North are more likely to migrate.

In fact, emigrants make up between 3.6% and 5.2% of the North population; while in the South, emigrants represent roughly 3% of the population.

This finding is important because often it is assumed that people migrate because of a lack of development, and that migration will decrease when a country becomes more developed.

The new findings also suggest that only a minority of migrants send remittances. In fact, only 8% of adult migrants in the South, and 27% in the North, report sending “financial help” to family in another country.

Another misconception exposed by the report is the level of unemployment among migrants. The global unemployment rate for migrants is roughly 13 per cent, compared to 8 per cent for native-born.

Over seven million migrants have also been recorded moving from the North to the South. They include, for example, nationals from the United States moving to Mexico and to South Africa, but also Germans to Turkey and Portuguese to Brazil. This appears to be an emerging migration trend, which encourages us to re-think old notions of migration and development, as more people move from developed to less developed countries.

The World Migration Report 2013 finally underlines the critical need to learn about how migrant well-being varies according to location and personal experience. This variation is seen, for example, in the effect of migration on the well-being of different migrant categories, including labour migrants, students, irregular migrants, returned migrants, or migrants stranded due to conflict or environmental disasters.

“There is a particular need for more evidence regarding the well-being of migrants in the South and the factors shaping their living conditions. More data on emerging trends, such as North–South migration, are also needed for a better understanding of the implications for development as the world debates the post-2015 development agenda,” notes Director General Swing.

The full report and press kit can be downloaded from:

For more information, please contact

Gervais Appave
Special Advisor to the Director General
Tel: +41 22 717 9415
Email: [email protected]


Frank Laczko
Head of Research
Tel; +41 22 717 9416
Email: [email protected].


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