Main Factors: Migration
On average, more people are leaving Muslim-majority countries than migrating to them. Although the rate of people leaving has declined significantly since 1990-95, Muslim-majority countries are still losing part of their populations to emigration, and that trend is projected to continue over the next 20 years, as the chart below shows.
The migration of people from Muslim-majority countries to more-developed countries is one of the main reasons that both the number and the percentage of Muslims are projected to rise in Europe, North America, New Zealand and Australia. (The regional impacts are discussed in greater detail in the regional sections.)
By 2030-35, Muslim-majority countries as a whole are projected to have average annual losses of 47 people per 100,000 population, down from net losses of 81 people annually in 2010-15. As recently as 1990-95, Muslim-majority countries were losing many more people – an average of 160 a year per 100,000.
More-developed nations in Europe, North America and elsewhere are likely to remain important destinations for immigrants from Muslim-majority countries (as well as from other less-developed countries) in the next 20 years. Annual net migration to more-developed nations is expected to be fairly stable over the next two decades. By 2030-35, more developed countries are projected to have annual average gains of 182 people per 100,000 population, down from 200 per 100,000 in 2010-15.
If economic conditions in developing countries – including Muslim-majority countries – continue to improve, there will be less motivation, or “push” factors, encouraging emigration. Likewise, if economic conditions in more-developed countries worsen, there will be fewer “pull” factors attracting new immigrants, including temporary workers.
Of course, not all people who immigrate to the more-developed world from Muslim-majority countries are Muslims. Studies show that religious minorities – such as Christians living in majority-Muslim countries in the Middle East – sometimes emigrate in larger proportions than religious majorities.10 In addition, there is movement from one Muslim-majority country to another. Many immigrants to the Gulf region, for example, are from other Muslim-majority countries, and a substantial amount of internal migration occurs within the Middle East, as people move in search of employment and to escape conflicts.
In short, there is a net flow of migrants from Muslim-majority countries to countries in more developed regions, such as Europe and North America, but Muslims also are moving in other directions, including into the Gulf states, which now have net inflows of migrants.
10 For example, the 2008 World Refugee Survey, conducted by the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, found that of the approximately 1.3 million refugees from the Iraq War living in Syria, fewer than 75% were Muslim, although Iraq is nearly 99% Muslim. In addition, data from the 2003 New Immigrant Survey indicate that the proportion of Muslim immigrants to the United States from many Muslim-majority countries is lower than the proportion of Muslims in those countries. Immigrants to the U.S. from Iran, for example, were about 50% Muslim, while Iran’s population as a whole is more than 99% Muslim. (return to text)