Special Report

Countries Where the Most People Are Immigrants

The Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor is decorated with Emma Lazarus’s famous 1833 sonnet “The New Colossus,” which reads in part: “Give me your tired, your poor / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

Despite the occasional flare-up of anti-immigrant nationalism throughout U.S. history, the country has long been a harbor for immigrants seeking opportunities in what then President-elect John F. Kennedy described in 1961 as “the city upon a hill.” (Here are the most famous foreigners who became U.S. citizens.)

But the U.S. is not the only beacon for immigrants. Based on data from 2020, the U.S. ranks 39th among countries with the largest foreign-born populations. About 15.3% of the U.S. population, or about 50.6 million, are foreign born. (Here are the states where the most people are immigrants.)

To determine the countries with the largest foreign-born populations, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed data on international migrant stock from the United Nations. Countries were ranked based on the foreign-born migrant population as a percentage of their total population in 2020. Data on the size of the refugee population, a subset of the foreign-born population, is also from the U.N. All data is for 2020.

Nineteen countries also have larger shares of refugees as a percentage of their foreign-born populations than the U.S., albeit not always under great conditions. For example, 82% of Lebanon’s foreign-born population are refugees, mostly living in camps populated by Syrians who have fled conflict in recent years. 

Five European countries have among the largest share of refugees as a percentage of their foreign-born populations, between 9% and 14%. By comparison, the United States’ share of refugees as a percentage of foreign-born is just 2.35%. Canada has higher shares of both foreign-born and refugee populations compared to its southern neighbor.

Fifteen European Union member states are among the 50 countries with the largest foreign-born populations with between 12.9% in Greece and Croatia to nearly 48% in Luxembourg, the tiny landlocked country bordering Belgium, Germany, and France. As a wealthy common market with shared open borders, it makes sense that so many EU countries would have such large shares of foreign-born residents.

Six of the top 10 countries with the highest share of foreign-born populations are small population-wise, including Luxembourg and Bahrain, or they are European microstates like Liechtenstein, bordering Austria and Switzerland. Singapore, the wealthy Southeast Asia city-state, comes in at No. 10, with a foreign-born population accounting for 43% of the country. The other states among this top 10 are all in the Gulf region, a popular destination for foreign laborers and professionals.

Despite its relatively low ranking, the United States is indisputably a major draw for immigrants. With a population of 331 million, the U.S. is the most populous country to rank on the list. No other country with a population above 84 million makes this list.

Here are the largest foreign-born populations.

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