In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic affected drastically all forms of human mobility, including international migration. Around the globe, the closing of national borders and severe disruptions to international travel obliged hundreds of thousands of people to cancel or delay plans of moving abroad. Hundreds of thousands of migrants were stranded, unable to return to their countries, while others were forced to return to their home countries earlier than planned, when job opportunities dried up and schools closed. While it is too soon to understand the full extent of the impact of the pandemic on migration trends, the present Highlights indicate that the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic may have reduced the number of international migrants by around 2 million globally by mid-2020, corresponding to a decrease of around 27 per cent in the growth expected from July 2019 to June 2020.
Prior to the disruptions to migration flows caused by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the number of international migrants had grown robustly over the past two decades. It is estimated that the number of persons living outside of their country of origin reached 281 million in 2020, roughly equal to the size of the entire population of Indonesia, the world’s fourth most populous country. Between 2000 and 2010, the number of international migrants increased by 48 million globally, with another 60 million added between 2010 and 2020. Much of this increase was due to labour or family migration. Humanitarian crises in many parts of the world also contributed, with an increase of 17 million in the number of refugees and asylum seekers between 2000 and 2020. In 2020, the number of persons forcibly displaced across national borders worldwide stood at 34 million, double the number in 2000.