Skip to main content

Supporting policy with scientific evidence

We mobilise people and resources to create, curate, make sense of and use knowledge to inform policymaking across Europe.

Page | Last updated: 26 Jun 2023

Increasing significance of migration

The societal and political significance of migration has increased. Migration dynamics have become more complex in an interconnected world.

timeline and images smallmigration
(© Photo by John Robert Marasigan on Unsplash)


A Megatrend is a long-term driving force that is observable now and will continue to have a global impact in years to come

In 2020, an estimated 281 million people were living outside their country of birth, i.e. 3.6 % of total world population. This number – defined as the global stock of international migrants – is almost twice as high as it was in 1990. This reflects that the global population has increased and that the share of people who migrate remains a small minority of the overall population, although it is increasing slightly - up from 2.8% in 1990. The global stock of international migrants includes not only migrants who move voluntarily, but also 34 million people displaced across borders, such as refugees and asylum-seekers (waiting to be recognised as refugees).

The significance of migration as a global phenomenon has grown. This is not just in demographic terms, but also as a social and political issue that is discussed (in particular) in Europe, but also globally - as seen in the 2018 UN Global Compacts on Migration and Refugees (a global cooperation framework headed by the UN). More recently, the war in Ukraine has provoked the largest and fastest displacement of people in post-war Europe, with over 6 million people displaced in the EU, by June 2023.

This Megatrend is part of the Megatrends Hub



The driving forces of the Megatrend change over time. This timeline indicates more established and newer trends that are influencing the future direction of the Megatrend

Migration Megatrend timeline diagram

They indicate a direction of change in values and needs which is driven by forces and manifests itself already in various ways within certain groups in society. 

Diverse drivers of migration

Globally, the number of international migrants is rising, largely in line with population growth. In relative terms, international migration has remained stable, fluctuating around levels of 3% since 1960, although in an upward trend since 2000. The most important reasons for international migration are connections to existing ethnic and diaspora networks (i.e. other migrants from the same origin country or region), differences in income and economic opportunities between countries, migrants’ aspirations, as well as varying levels of social and human security. Conflict is a significant source of displacement both within and across borders. The Russian war in Ukraine is generating the largest and fastest movement of people in Europe since the World War 2. The many factors driving migration will remain relevant in the future, and so will migration.

EU’s attractiveness and labour needs

Migration from outside the EU can be expected to continue for the foreseeable future. However, there are numerous possible scenarios in terms of migrants’ skills, number and composition on arrival to the EU. While forced displacement, refugee flows and family reunification are likely to feature prominently, there might be new challenges in terms of the EU’s attractiveness for highly skilled workers and policies guiding labour migration.

Militarisation of borders and instrumentalisation of migration

The EU's external borders have been subject to increasing pressure from migration. This has led to a progressive transformation of the type of resources used to manage those borders and for the instrumentalisation of migrants to destabilise, or to create leverage in international relations, and as a source of  disinformation.

Continuing complexity of migration governance

Migration governance encompasses different types of migration, such as labour migration, irregular migration, refugees or migrants arriving through family reunification. Governing mixed migration remains a global challenge, and approaches differ between countries. Common approaches (solidarity) and comprehensive partnerships on migration between countries remain difficult to achieve.


Previously Covered Trends

These are trends that were spotted in the past, and might have grown or faded away in time.

Future Snapshots

A future snapshot shows a plausible image of what might happen in the future in relation to this Megatrend. It is a creation built using knowledge and imagination. These snapshots presented here are excerpts of inspiring future-oriented reports written by other colleagues and organisations.

Slow growth and fragmentation

“Governance is fragmented with countries pursuing their own interests and exclusive policies to the point of abandoning some hard-won global agreements. Global economic divergence and stagnation in parts of the world heighten pressures on welfare systems in advanced economies and unemployment is high. Pressures linked to social inequalities are on the rise leading to unrest globally, especially in countries with youth bulges. Lack of coordination leads to significant loss of life due to famines and pandemics. There are more conflicts and extremism around the world driving large-scale forced migrations. Cyber-terrorism grows prominent in heavily tech-dependent countries. Increase in anti-immigration sentiments influences the political stance in sending and receiving countries.”

Other sketched scenarios are: Crisis with collaboration, Inclusive Growth, Shocks inequality and control

The Future of Migration in the European Union: Future scenarios and tools to stimulate forward looking discussions.  JRC (2018)


Climate migrants: Ethiopia                                                             

“Internal climate migrants are rapidly becoming the human face of climate change. According to the World Bank, without urgent global and national climate action, Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America could see more than 140 million people move within their countries’ borders by 2050.
The scale of climate migration is projected to increase in all scenarios by 2050, set against a backdrop of rapid population growth. Ethiopia’s population is projected to grow 60–85 percent by 2050, from about 100 million in 2016 to 159 million (in SSP2) or 184 million (in SSP4). This growth is driven mainly by a youth bulge that will drive continued population growth for several decades.”

Other case studies: Bangladesh, Mexico

Groundswell: Preparing for internal climate migration. The World Bank (2018)


Further Reading

Want to explore more? Some interesting readings below:

● Atlas of Migration 2020 - JRC

● Dynamic Data Hub - Knowledge Centre on Migration and Demography

● Towards 2035: Making migration and integration policies future ready – OECD

● The future of migration to Europe – IOM and the Netherlands Interdisciplinary Demographic Institute

● Operational data Portal, Ukraine, UNHCR



This Megatrends hub is a repository of foresight related information. It highlights long-term driving forces and its underlying shorter-term trends. This repository can help you understand the changing society in a broad and more systemic way. 

Disclaimer: this repository is by no means comprehensive and apart from established scientific knowledge contains also issues which are subject to scientific debate and where research is ongoing or only starting to give the reader some insights and ways to further explore the topics in more depth.