What country has relatively most people getting stuck there against their will? Zimbabwe.

Migration is about as multifaceted and charged topic as they get. In an ideal world, free movement of people sounds great – but it doesn’t take much to realize that if that were suddenly possible, we’d be looking at societal and economic collapses across the board, so let’s just say that’s easier said than done. Having migrated a few times only between “rich” countries, I have limited first-hand understanding of the issues faced by the masses, those who are forced to migrate because of wars, famine and/or, increasingly, climate change-caused phenomena – I fully realize that on a global scale, I am privileged and can only imagine what a refugee’s life is like. I therefore wholeheartedly appreciate any attempts to change the oftentimes disastrously wrong conceptions people have of refugees – attempts like SBS’s reality series Go Back to Where You Came From.

That is, however, not what I wanted to write about. There are a couple of interesting questions relating to migration. First, where would people primarily want to move to? A natural follow-up question to that would then be where do people actually move to, and how much does that list differ from the aspirational list?

Turns out there are statistics for both, and they have one big outlier in them: Zimbabwe. Gallup has interviewed over 400,000 people globally and 14% of the adult population of the world wants to migrate. Only 8% of that, however, is planning on moving in the next 12 months. So where would they want to go?

In absolute terms, United States is the #1 target globally – 24% of the respondents name the United States as their desired future residence. In relative terms, however, the list looks like this – these are the top countries in terms of population increase if all the people who wanted to move there, would:

In other words, the population of Australia would more than double if all the people who wanted to move here did so, and Singapore’s population would more than triple. Both are clearly impossible outcomes (in terms of societal stability and a plethora of other factors) in the near- or even mid-term, so by that account alone I’d say it’s prudent to keep some controls on migration.

The flip side of the coin is the countries that would experience a net population loss if all the people moved out that wanted to move out. This list looks like this, with African countries leading the list:

But where do people actually move to? This list of actual net migration rates for different countries can be seen here. Interestingly, while Zimbabwe is near the top of net losing countries in aspirations, it is actually the #1 country globally in terms of positive net migration with 25 migrants per year per 1,000 population – a population growth rate of 2.5% from immigration alone! None of the other countries in the “negative” list are gaining people through migration. This begs the question of what is happening in Zimbabwe, and I fully acknowledge that I am not very good at staying on top of events in that part of the world. Is it because Zimbabwe is somehow “best of the worst”, a place where people escape to from nearby countries that are even worse off? Or is it something else?

On the positive “desired target countries” list, all of the countries have population growth through migration, though at varying degrees from Kuwait’s relatively slow 0.65 people/year/1,000 population to Australia’s brisk 6 people/year/1,000 population net migration. Interestingly, of the top desired locations, Canada and Australia have the highest relative migration rates, implying that the countries take in (relatively speaking) many of the people who wish to move there. United States, of course, trumps both in absolute numbers.

Are the high migration rates sustainable? Leaving aside the fact that Australia, like all modern economies, is far from sustainable in and of itself, there’s been considerable debate on what the proper level of population growth is in Australia, if any. Some studies put the carrying capacity of the continent at lower levels than the 21M people we already have. However, given that Australia currently produces food for as many as 60 million people, it is in a fairly good position – even if we factor in a 50% reduction due to climate change and other issues, the continent would still be quite self-sufficient in food. Which is more than can be said for many other places – possibly many of the places where people are swarming to Zimbabwe from…

Some links:

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