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Immigration to Europe is a phenomenon that has grown dramatically since the end of World War II. Most European nations today (particularly those of the EU-15) have sizeable immigrant populations, many of non-European origin.

Immigrants fall the categories of migrant/foreign workers (both legal and illegal) and refugees.


Immigrant populations

The countries with the largest immigrant populations are the following ones:

Country Millions Percentage
 Russia 12.0 8.48%
 Germany 10.1 12.31%
 Ukraine 6.8 14.70%
 France 6.4 10.18%
 United Kingdom 5.4 8.98%
 Italy 5.3 8.45%
 Spain 5.0 11.45%

The European countries with the highest proportion or percentage of non-native residents are small nations or microstates. Andorra is the country in Europe with the highest percentage of immigrants, 77% of the country's 82,000 inhabitants. Monaco is the second with the highest percentage of immigrants, they make up 70% of the total population of 32,000; and Luxembourg is the third, immigrants are 37% of the total of 480,000; in Liechtenstein they are 35% of the 34,000 people; and in San Marino they comprise 32% of the country's population of 29,000.

Switzerland has one of the highest percentage of immigrant population in Europe with nearly 23% of its total population (1.5 millions of immigrants). Countries in which immigrants form between 10% and 20% of the population are: Latvia (19%), Estonia (15%), Austria (15%), Ukraine (15%), Croatia (15%), Cyprus (14.3%), Ireland (14%), Moldova (13%), Germany (12%), Sweden (12%), Belarus (12%), Spain (11.4%), France (10%), and the Netherlands (10%).[1]

The European countries with the smallest proportion of immigrants are: Albania (2%), Poland (2%), Bosnia and Herzegovina (1%), and Romania (0.5%).

Denmark (7.1%), Norway (7.4%), Iceland (7.6%), Italy (8.4%), Belgium (6.9%), Russia (8.4%), Greece (8.6%), Portugal (7.2%), Slovenia (8.3%), and the United Kingdom (8.9%) each have a proportion of immigrants between 5% and 10% of the total population. Until the 1970s, Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain were primarily sources of emigration, sending large numbers of emigrants to the Americas, Australia and other European countries (notably France, Switzerland, Germany and Belgium). As living standards in these countries have risen, the trend has reversed and they are now a magnet for immigration (most notably from Albania, Romania, Poland, Morocco, Somalia, Egypt and Ukraine to Italy and Greece, and from Morocco, Romania, Ukraine, Russia and Latin America to Spain and Portugal).


Prehistorical and historical migrations to Europe include the first colonisation of Europe by Homo sapiens (Cro Magnon) in the Upper Paleolithic, migrations in the wake of the Last Glacial Maximum and the Neolithic Revolution, the Bronze Age Indo-European expansion, the Iron Age Celtic expansion, the Barbarian invasions of the early centuries AD (Germanic and Slavic expansions), the Turkic, Magyar and Mongol expansions of the High Middle Ages, the arrival of the Romani people in the Late Middle Ages, and in more recent times the population movements due to World War II.

Migration within Europe

As a result of the Schengen Agreement, there is free travel within Europe. Citizens of European Union member states and their families have the right to live and work anywhere within the EU because of EU citizenship but citizens of non-EU states do not have those rights unless they possess the EU Long Term Residence Permit or are family members of EU citizens. Nevertheless, all holders of valid residence permits of a Schengen State have the unrestricted right to travel within the Schengen area for tourist purposes only, and for up to three months. This is seen by many experts as an encouragement to work illegally within the Schengen zone.

A large proportion of immigrants in western European states have come from former eastern bloc states, especially in Greece, Italy, Spain, Germany, Britain and Portugal. There are frequently specific migration patterns, with geography, language and culture playing a role. For example, there are large numbers of Poles who have moved to the United Kingdom and Ireland, while Romanians have chosen Italy and Spain.[2] In fact, with the earlier of the two recent enlargements of the EU, although most countries restricted free movement by nationals of the acceding countries, the UK did not and received some 700-800,000 Poles and other citizens of the new EU states.

Many of these have since returned to Poland, after the serious economic crisis in the UK. Nevertheless, free movement of EU nationals is now an important aspect of migration within the EU, since there are now 27 member states, and has resulted in serious political tensions between Italy and Romania, since Italy has expressed the intention of restricting free movement of EU nationals (contrary to Treaty obligations and the clear jurisprudence of the European Court of Justice).

Another migration trend has been that of Northern Europeans moving toward Southern Europe. Citizens from the European Union make up a growing proportion of immigrants in Spain, coming chiefly from the United Kingdom and Germany. British authorities estimate that the population of UK citizens living in Spain is much larger than Spanish official figures suggest, establishing them at about 1,000,000, about 800,000 being permanent residents. According to the Financial Times, Spain is the most favoured destination for Western Europeans considering to move from their own country and seek jobs elsewhere in the EU.[3][4][5][6][7][8][9]

Immigration from outside of Europe

Eurostat data[10] reveal that some EU member states are currently receiving large-scale immigration. The EU in 2005 had an overall net gain from international migration of 1.8 million people, which accounted for almost 85% of Europe's total population growth that year.[11] In 2004, a total of 140,033 people immigrated to France. Of them, 90,250 were from Africa and 13,710 from elsewhere in Europe.[12] In 2005, the total number of immigrants fell slightly, to 135,890.[13]

In May 2009 the European Commission adopted the 'EU Blue Card'. This permit will make it easy for skilled third-country workers to live and work in any of the participating EU member states. Legislation is now in place on a European level, gradually member states will start accepting applicants to this program. Pre-registration starts in January 2010.[14]


In recent years, immigration has accounted for more than half of Norway's population growth. In 2006, Statistics Norway's (SSB) counted a record 45,800 immigrants arriving in Norway, an increase of 30% from 2005.[15] At the beginning of 2007, there were 415,300 people in Norway with an immigrant background (i.e. immigrants, or born of immigrant parents), comprising 8.3 per cent of the total population.[16]

United Kingdom

In 2004 the number of people who became naturalised British citizens rose to a record 140,795 - a 12% increase from the previous year, and a dramatic increase since 2000. Most new citizens came from Asia (40%) or Africa (32%); the largest three countries of origin were Pakistan, India and Somalia.[17] In 2005, an estimated 565,000 migrants arrived to live in the United Kingdom for at least a year, primarily from Asia and Africa,[18] while 380,000 people emigrated from the country for a year or more, chiefly to Australia, Spain and France.[19]


The total immigrant population of the country now exceeds 5 million— about 8 percent of the population. Since the expansion of the European Union, the most recent wave of migration has been from surrounding European nations, particularly Eastern Europe, and increasingly Asia, replacing North Africa as the major immigration area. Some 900,000 Romanians are officially registered as living in Italy, replacing Albanians and Moroccans as the largest ethnic minority group, but independent estimates put the actual number of Romanians at double that figure or perhaps even more. Others immigrants from Central-Eastern Europe are Ukrainians (200,000), Polish (100,000), Moldovans (90,000), Macedonians (81,000), Serbs (75,000), Bulgarians (54,000) East German people (41,000), Bosnians (40,000), Russians (39,600), Croatians (25,000), Slovakians (9,000), Hungarians (8,600). ( [37] As of 2009, the foreign born population origin of Italy was subdivided as follows: Europe (53.5%), Africa (22.3%), Asia (15.8%), the Americas (8.1%) and Oceania (0.06%). The distribution of foreign born population is largely uneven in Italy: 87.3% of immigrants live in the northern and central parts of the country (the most economically developed areas), while only 12.8% live in the southern half of the peninsula.


Since 2000, Spain has absorbed around four million immigrants, adding 10% to its population. The total immigrant population of the country now exceeds 4.5 million. According to residence permit data for 2005, about 500,000 were Moroccan, another 500,000 were Ecuadorian, 260,000 were Colombian, and more than 200,000 were Romanian. A 2005 regularisation programme increased the legal immigrant population by 700,000 people that year.[20][21][22][23][24]


Portugal, long a country of emigration,[25] has now become a country of net immigration, from both its former colonies and other sources. By the end of 2003, legal immigrants represented about 4% of the population, and the largest communities were from Cape Verde, Brazil, Angola, Guinea-Bissau, the United Kingdom, Spain and Ukraine.[26]


In France, the National Front opposes immigration. Major media, political parties, and a large share of the public believe that anti-immigrant sentiment has increased since the country's riots of 2005. In Germany, a major anti mass immigration political organization is the National Democratic Party. Criticism in the United Kingdom is frequently targeted at the many South Asians, particularly Pakistanis and Indians, who have moved there in recent decades. Current concerns also involve Africans, East Asians, Middle Easterners, and others who have become part of the country's estimated 4.3 million foreign-born residents[27].

Switzerland has a history of anti-immigration right-wing populism which dates to the early 1970s and the campaigns of James Schwarzenbach. Since the 1990s, the topic has been dominated by the populist Swiss People's Party, led by Christoph Blocher, and associated far right groups like the AUNS.

By country

Immigrant populations

Approximate populations of non-European origin in Europe (approx. 20 - 30+ million, or 3 - 4% (depending on the definition of non-European origin), out of a total population of approx. 831 million):

  • Turks (also considered European; see Turks in Europe): 5 million, mostly in Germany, France, the UK, the Netherlands, Austria and Belgium
  • Armenians (also considered European): 1.5 million
  • North Africans (Arabs and Berbers): approximately 5 million, mostly in France, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Spain
  • Black Africans (including Afro-Caribbeans and others by descent): approximately 5 million, mostly in France, Italy, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Germany [28]
  • South Asians: approx. 4 million, mostly in the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands and Italy.
    • Pakistanis: 1,000,000, in the United Kingdom; in Norway, 60,000.
    • Tamils: 250,000
  • Latin Americans: 2.2 million, with the largest groups in Spain, Italy and Portugal.[29]
  • Kurds: 1.5 million, mostly in Germany
  • Middle East (Arabs):approximately 2.5 million mostly in Germany, France, Italy, and United Kingdom
  • Chinese: 1 million, mostly in France, Italy, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands
  • Filipinos: 500,000, mostly in the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain and Germany
  • Vietnamese: 420,000, mostly in France and Germany
  • Horn Africans: approx. 200,000 Somalis,[30] in the UK, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark.
  • Assyrians: 300,000?, mostly in Sweden and Germany
  • Japanese: 100,000, mostly in the United Kingdom

See also


  1. ^ UN statistics as of 2005, see list of countries by immigrant population.
  2. ^ BBC Europe diary: Romanian emigration
  3. ^ BBC article: Brits Abroad
  4. ^ BBC article: Btits Abroad Country by Country
  5. ^ Guardian article: Spain attracts record levels of immigrants seeking jobs and sun
  6. ^ Bye Bye Blighty article: British Immigrants Swamping Spanish Villages?
  7. ^ Guardian article: An Englishman's home is his casa as thousands go south
  8. ^ BCC article: 5.5m Britons 'opt to live abroad'
  9. ^ BBC article: More Britons consider move abroad
  10. ^ Eurostat News Release on Immigration in EU
  11. ^ Europe: Population and Migration in 2005
  12. ^ Inflow of third-country nationals by country of nationality
  13. ^ Immigration and the 2007 French Presidential Elections
  14. ^ EU Blue Card
  15. ^ Immigration to Norway increasing
  16. ^ Immigrant population
  17. ^ BBC Thousands in UK citizenship queue
  18. ^ 1,500 immigrants arrive in Britain daily, report says
  19. ^ Indians largest group among new immigrants to UK
  20. ^ Instituto Nacional de Estadística: Avance del Padrón Municipal a 1 de enero de 2006. Datos provisionales
  21. ^ Immigration Shift: Many Latin Americans Choosing Spain Over U.S.
  22. ^ Spain: Immigrants Welcome
  23. ^ Immigrants Fuel Europe's Civilization Clash
  24. ^ Spanish youth clash with immigrant gangs
  25. ^ Portugal - Emigration
  26. ^ Charis Dunn-Chan, Portugal sees integration progress, BBC
  27. ^
  28. ^ France's blacks stand up to be counted
  29. ^ Latin American Immigration to Southern Europe
  30. ^ Youths bring violence from a war-torn land


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