Three million people a year migrate from developing countries to industrialized nations, a population research group said today as it announced its annual findings. Almost half of these migrants - 1.4 million people - moved to Europe, though the continent was still facing unprecedented population losses from low birth rates.
The United Kingdom, with a total population of 60.4 million, was fifth in the list of population gainers, with a net migration of +223,145.
The United States, where immigration policy is being hotly debated, attracts 1 million immigrants a year, more than any other country. Recent U.S. census data shows that approximately 400,000 illegal immigrants have entered the country every year this century.
The biggest sources of immigrants are China, India and Mexico, according to the report by the Population Reference Bureau, a Washington research group. One of the group's researchers, Carl Haub, said the motivation of migrants was "always the hope of a better life".
He said, for some, it was the chance to escape poverty, whether they planned to raise families in their new countries or send money home. For others, it was the opportunity to flee political or civil unrest.
"The average Indian family earns the equivalent of $2,200 [£1,160] a year," Mr. Haub said. "If they migrate to Europe and have no skills, they can be a cab driver. If they have computer skills, they can earn $50,000 a year, an amount unimaginable back home."
The Bureau compiles its annual World Population Data Sheet using information from local governments, the United Nations and international aid organizations.
Immigration is a major political issue in the UK and the government has introduced various reforms to toughen the system facing would-be migrants and asylum seekers.
The U.S. is currently debating what to do about an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants, most of whom are from Mexico and other Latin American countries.
The Senate, backed by President George Bush, has passed a bill that could lead to citizenship for many of them. The House of Representatives has passed a bill that would make them criminals.
Europe and industrialized countries in Asia have been less receptive to large waves of immigrants.
By 2050, the UN estimates that Europe, home to about 730 million people, will shrink by 75 million. The UN expects Japan, with 128 million people, to lose 16 million and South Korea, with about 48 million people, to lose more than 3 million.
The U.S. is projected to grow from nearly 300 million people to about 420 million.
Some researchers believe that aging, shrinking populations in Europe and Asia will lead to economic crises because there will not be enough workers and consumers to fuel economic growth and support retirees.
"Quite a few countries in Europe and Asia are working very hard to increase their birth rates," Mr. Haub said. "But an increase in the birth rate is not going to make a lot of difference.
"Migration is really going to be necessary if you are ever going to maintain a normal population level in Europe." Hans-Peter Kohler, a University of Pennsylvania associate professor of sociology, said he doubted immigration to Europe and parts of Asia would increase enough to stabilize those populations, saying cultural and political opposition will be too great: "The magnitude [of population losses] is just going to be too large."
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