Since the beginning of time, the search for better life opportunities has been the inherent objective of every migratory project. At the dawn of mankind, it was its own transhumant nature, famines and climatic inclemencies, and later also war conflicts, that led millions of people to move around the planet. Centuries later, economic and political motives became just another leg of the migratory movement table.

Today, however, factors related to the globalized society in which we live are the main drivers of mass migration. We would include here the increase in inequality resulting from the brutal division of wealth and the persistence of huge differences between the quality of life in some countries and others -due to wars or oppressive political regimes-; the effects of climate change on human life, especially in the poorest countries; the globalization of labor supply and demand; or the worldwide competition for talent.On the occasion of World Migrants Day, which is celebrated on December 18, we will proceed here to review this phenomenon. We will analyze its present, its causes and its past, trying to reach as precise a conclusion as possible about its impact on present and future migration laws.

International migration on the rise

Estimates published by the United Nations in December 2017 spoke of some 258 million people, 3.4% of the world's population, living in a country other than their country of origin. This was an increase of 49% compared to 2003. A clear sign that international migration was a rising dynamic.


Number of third-country nationals (TCNs) and their share of the total population as of January 1, 2021, EU Member States and Norway. Administrative boundaries: © EuroGeographics © UN–FAO © Turkstat Cartography: Eurostat – IMAGE, 05/2022. Fuente: Eurostat (migr_pop1ctz)

According to the Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), as of July 1, 2020, the number of international migrants worldwide was estimated to be nearly 281 million. International migrants represent approximately 3.5% of the world's population, up from 2.8% in 2000 and 2.3% in 1980.

Female migrants constitute 48% of international migrants. Nearly three out of four international migrants were between 20 and 64 years old, and 41 million were under 20 years old (Source:


Top 3 countries whose citizens received a first residence permit in European Union (EU) and Norway. Source: Number of permits and % of total permits. Eurostat (migr_resfirst)

Por continentes, Asia acoge al mayor número de población migrante internacional, con casi un 31% de estos ciudadanos. En segunda posición aparecería Europa, con un 31% de las recepciones; América del Norte con un 21%; África, con un 9%, América Latina y el Caribe (5%); y Oceanía, con el 3%. Esto, pese a todo, no reflejaría la realidad de los desplazados o inmigrantes internos, apartado en el que África ganaría muchísimo peso frente al resto de continentes.

Forced displacement is one of the main reasons for the

Although many people migrate voluntarily, there is a large subset of people who move due to compelling circumstances. According to the estimate provided by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there were some 35.3 million people in the world classified as refugees at the end of 2022. Of the total number, 5.9 million people were classified as Palestinian refugees under the jurisdiction of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), while another 5.4 million individuals were categorized as asylum seekers.

The main reasons for forced displacement would be wars or situations of political unrest. Here we see how three countries in constant warlike or pseudo-warlike conflict in recent years - Syria, Afghanistan, Ukraine, Palestine and South Sudan - occupy the top four places for displaced persons.

Top 3 nationalities of first-time asylum seekers in EU and Norway. Source: number and % of total first-time applications. Eurostat (migr_asyappctza)

Of course, political motives are not the only ones that motivate migration. We could include factors such as economics, globalized world trade, social and cultural ties, demographics, security, geography, proximity and one that is gaining weight over the years: those affected by climate change.

Comparison with the past

All this panorama shows an irrefutable truth: the migratory phenomenon is currently experiencing an upward trend compared to the last 30 years. This rise, however, must be put into perspective. Compared to other periods in history, the situation is not as alarming as some would like to see it.

For example, during the first great migration at the beginning of the 19th century, some 60 million Europeans emigrated to the American continent. No lesser was the second great wave of the 20th century, which began after World War II, with millions of refugees and an upsurge in migratory flows from the most diverse points. And the world, in spite of everything, survived.

Evolution of migration in Sweden: in red, immigrants received, in blue, emigrants issued. 1851-2007. Source: Wikipedia.


Thus, by analyzing the present, the future direction and the past of migratory movements, several conclusions seem to be drawn. On the one hand, that it is a volatile phenomenon. One in which, analyzed from a historical perspective, it shows moments of boom and bust. And today we are experiencing an upward dynamic. However, the phenomenon of climate change may intensify it, as well as wars and economic and geopolitical uncertainties.

This historical perspective helps us not to sound the alarm immediately. However, our globalized societies would do well to keep an eye on certain factors - geopolitical, warlike and, above all, climatic - that could cause this dynamic to escalate to unsustainable limits. What is clear is that much work lies ahead.

Get an expert evaluation!

If you need help with your visa or residence permit (non-lucrative, investment, work or study) in Spain, then book a 60-minute online consulting and get useful tips to achieve success.

Book your consultation now