The typical excuse for arriving late for an appointment is heavy traffic or a vehicle breakdown. For UK politician Nigel Farage, chief of the far-right UK Independence Party, it is because the nation’s “population (which) is going through the roof, chiefly because of open-door immigration."

He is not alone. Far-right parties in the West are blaming immigrants for most of their nation’s ills at a time when economic growth is yet to pick up following the Great Recession.

The constant refrain of political factions such as the National Front in France and Tea Party in the US is that the massive inflow of immigrants into their nations is causing fiscal strain and taking away jobs meant for the indigenous population.

However, the data below show that such fears are overblown, and immigration is being used as a scapegoat for much deeper problems inherent to these regions. The proportion of immigrants as a share of population has remained largely steady and has even reduced in some western countries whose economic position is perilous. Also, immigrants in most countries aren’t acting as an economic burden at all.

Despite unprecedented globalization between 1990 and 2013, migrant population has grown by a negligible 0.3 percentage point to 3.2% of the globe’s population. The increase is 78 million in absolute numbers. An overwhelming 97% of people still live in their country of birth despite more open borders and freer movement of humans in the past half century. This means that migration between countries has not materialized as a much expected outcome of globalization. The real movement of humans is marked by intra-country migration to urban areas. That has meant that the number of urban dwellers has skyrocketed by 1.5 billion people to account for 53% of the world’s population in 2013 up from 43% in 1990.

Between 1990 and 2013, the percentage of migrants residing in developed countries only rose 3.6 percentage points compared with 0.3 percentage point for the whole world. Migrants constitute 10.8% of the total population of these countries.

However, the slump in economic fortunes of the West after the 2008 crisis had a big impact on migration, with nearly 800,000 fewer people a year moving to a developed country on an average after 2010 than in the previous 10 years. Countries such as Portugal, Ireland and Spain, the hardest hit by the financial crisis in Europe, have each seen a net outflow of people between 2010 and 2012. On the opposite end of the immigration debate, a slump in the number of migrants—especially the highly skilled ones—to advanced economies has set alarm bells ringing in many of these countries.

To oppose the entry of immigrants, right-wing politicians in developed countries have claimed that they live off government doles and are a burden on the economy. However, data between 2007 and 2009, for the net fiscal impact of immigrant households in OECD nations, shows that immigrants are hardly a burden on their host nation’s economy. In some countries, such as Italy and Switzerland, they even make noticeable positive contribution to the economy. The exception is Germany where Turkish immigrants have been blamed for putting fiscal strain, which shows up in the numbers. The caveat here is that these numbers are typically calculated for legal immigrants. However, it can be argued that even illegal immigrants pay some kind of taxes, such as sales tax or value-added tax when they consume goods and services.

Indians, Bangladeshis, Pakistanis and Chinese are the top seekers of foreign citizenship. But even among these nationalities, fewer people now want to migrate abroad. These countries sent 20% fewer migrants between 2008 and 2012 compared with the previous four years. Some of this might be owing to stricter immigration norms, but as noted above, the economic environment is also to blame. The movement from developing nations to advanced nations is slowly being replaced by migration among developing countries.

In 2013, 82.3 million international migrants who were born in the southern hemisphere—which is made up almost entirely of developing countries—resided in another country in the same hemisphere. That is a little more than the number of international migrants born in the southern hemisphere who were living in the northern hemisphere, which houses mostly developed countries.

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