Overall figures of immigrants in European society

On 1 January 2019, there were

  • circle image 2 people with European flag

    446.8 million inhabitants living in the EU


  • inhibitants image icon 20.9 million were non-EU citizens (4.7% of EU's total population)
  • inhibitants image icon 34.2 million people were born outside the EU* (7.7% of all EU inhabitants)

*This does not include those born in another Member State

The share of foreign-born population in the EU is lower than in most developed countries.

Foreign-born residents per country

Source: Eurostat, OECD, UNDESA, data from 2018 or 2019
Note: non-EU born in case of the EU (i.e. those born in another Member State are not included); if intra-EU mobile persons were included, the share would be 11.9%

Reasons for coming to Europe

All valid residence permits at the end of 2019 by reason

Source: Eurostat

The most important reason to come to the EU for people with a valid residence permit at the end of 2019 was family reasons.

Employment of immigrants

In 2019, 8.8 million non-EU citizens were employed in the EU labour market, out of 191.5 million persons aged from 20 to 64, corresponding to 4.6% of the total.

The average employment rate in the working-age population is higher for EU citizens (73.8%), than for non-EU citizens (60%) in 2019.

Fact to consider: Many non-EU citizens are "essential workers".

Over-represented sectors

In 2019, non-EU citizens were over-represented in some specific economic sectors such as:

Sector Overall employment of non-EU citizens Overall employment of EU citizens
Accommodation and food services activities 13.2% 4.4%  
Administrative and support activities 7.5 % 4.0 %
Domestic work 7.5 % 0.8 %

Over-representation by occupation

In terms of occupations, non-EU citizens were over-represented among:

Sector Overall employment of non-EU citizens Overall employment of EU citizens
Cleaners and helpers 13.3 %

3.2 %

Personal service workers 9.5 % 4.7 %
Personal care workers 5.3 % 2.9 %
Building workers 6.5 % 3.8 %
Labourers in mining, construction, manufacturing and transport 6.1 % 2.6 %
Food preparation assistants 3.0 % 0.6 %
Agricultural and fishery labourers 2.5 % 0.7 %

Under-represented sectors

Non-EU citizens were under-represented in other economic sectors, including:

Sector Overall employment of non-EU citizens Overall employment of EU citizens
Public administration and defence, compulsory social security 1.0% 7.1%
Education 3.2% 7.5%

Under-representation by occupation 

On the other hand, non-EU citizens were under-represented among:

Sector Overall employment of non-EU citizens Overall employment of EU citizens
Teaching professionals 1.7 % 5.0 %
Business and administration associate professionals 2.0 % 7.0 %
Market-oriented skilled agricultural workers 1.3 % 3.2 %

Source: Eurostat

Refugees in Europe

Based on data from UNHCR in 2019, all around the world there were:

  • 26 million refugees and
  • 45.7 million internally displaced persons.

Fact to consider: 10% of all the world’s refugees and only a fraction of internally displaced persons were living in the EU in 2019.

The share of refugees in the EU is 0.6% compared to its total population.

Number of refugees compared to total population

Several countries around the world host a large refugee population:

Source: UNHCR
Note: The graph shows the ten countries hosting the most refugees and the EU

Fact to consider: The majority of refugees from Africa and Asia do not come to Europe, but rather move to neighbouring countries.

Migration to and from the EU

Migration numbers in 2018

  • 2.2 million
    personsimmigrated to the EU

  • 0.9 million personsemigrated from the EU

  • Total net immigration to the EU: 1.3 million persons

Fact to consider: Without migration, the European population would have shrunk by half a million, given that 4.2 million children were born and 4.7 million people died in the EU.

In 2019, 3 million first residence permits were issued in the EU for the following reasons:

Source: Eurostat

Top 10 nationalities of first residence permits (2019)

Source: Eurostat

Seeking asylum in Europe

First time asylum applicants by continent of origin (2019)

Source: Eurostat

Top 15 nationalities of first time asylum applicants (2019)

Source: Eurostat

In 2019, asylum seekers came from nearly 150 countries

699,000 applications, including 631,000 first time applications, were lodged in the EU, an increase of 12% in comparison to 2018.

A growing share of applicants come from visa-free countries (27% of first time applicants in 2019) who enter the EU legally, mostly from:

  • Venezuela (7.1% of all first time applications)
  • Colombia (5.0%)
  • Georgia (3.2%)
  • Albania (2.7%)
  • asylum application icon

    Most first time applications were lodged in:

    • Germany (142,450)
    • France (138,290)
    • Spain (115,175)
    • Greece (74,910)
    • Italy (35,005)

    asylum application icon

    Relative to the population, in 2019, the highest number of first time asylum applications was lodged in:

    • Cyprus (1,449 per 100,000 inhabitants)
    • Malta (813)
    • Greece (698)

First time asylum applications per 100,000 inhabitants in 2019:

Source: Eurostat

In 2019, 207,000 people seeking asylum were under 18 years old – 7% of them (14,000) were unaccompanied children. Most of unaccompanied children came from Afghanistan, Syria and Pakistan.

Recognition of refugees

In 2019, EU countries took 541,000 first instance asylum decisions. 38% of these decisions were positive:

  • 109,000 persons received refugee status,
  • 52,000 were granted subsidiary protection status and
  • 45,000 received humanitarian status.

A further 297,000 final decisions were made following an appeal, including:

  • 33,000 decisions granting refugee status,
  • 30,000 granting subsidiary protection status and
  • 28,000 granting humanitarian status.

Overall, EU countries granted some sort of protection to almost 300,000 people in 2019. The largest groups were from:

  • Syria (27% of all people granted protection)
  • Afghanistan (14%)
  • Venezuela (13%)

Effectiveness of the asylum system

  • Improvements in processing time
    At the end of 2019, 929,000 asylum applications were pending, slightly less than the previous year (941,000), suggesting an improvement in processing time.
  • Varying process times across Member States
    The ratio of pending cases and applications varies widely across Member States, reflecting the differences in processing time. Nearly 60% of asylum seekers received a first decision within 6 months (based on preliminary data from 18 Member States).

Number of pending applications compared to total number of applications in a given month

Source: Eurostat

  • Varying recognition rates across EU countries
    The EU’s asylum system remains undermined due to significant differences in recognition rates across EU countries. For example, in 2019 the recognition rate of Afghan citizens at first instance ranged from 2% in Hungary to 93% in Italy. This range is even wider than it was in 2018.
  • Dublin rules in practice
    In 2019, Member States reported 142,900 outgoing requests under the Dublin rules sent to other Member States to take responsibility for examining an application for international protection. Out of 131,300 decisions on such requests, 85,700 (65%) were accepted and 24,100 outgoing transfers were executed, corresponding to 28% of accepted requests.
  • 2020: A decrease in asylum applications
    In the first ten months of 2020, 390,000 asylum applications (including 349,000 first time applications) were lodged in the EU, 33% less than in the same period of 2019. The decrease helped EU countries to reduce the backlog. At the end of October, the number of pending cases was 786,000, 15% less than at the end of 2019.
  • Positive decision rate at 43%
    The number of first-instance decisions was 386,000 in the first nine months of 2020, 2% less than in the same period of the previous year. 43% of these decisions were positive, with 81,000 decisions granting refugee status, 34,000 granting subsidiary protection status and 50,000 granting humanitarian status.


In 2019, around 21,200 people in need of international protection were resettled from non-EU countries to EU Member States, 12% more than in 2018.

The highest number of departures was recorded in Turkey. Syrian was by far the main nationality, accounting for 60% of people resettled.

Under joint EU resettlement schemes, more than 75,000 persons found protection in the EU since 2015. Member States receive support from the EU budget for these resettlements.

Illegal border crossings

Overall figures

Illegal EU border crossings by nationality in 2019

Source: Frontex

localistation icon

141,700 illegal border crossings

Decreased by 5% compared to 2018, the lowest in 6 years

This includes:


    boat icon

    106,200 sea crossings in 2019

    Decrease of 7% compared to 2018

  • map icon

    35,500 land borders crossing in 2019

    Similar level to 2018

localistation icon

114,300 illegal border crossings (January-November 2020)

10% less than in the same period of 2019

Geographical distribution



  • Decrease in crossings on the Western Mediterranean (including the Atlantic route from Western Africa to the Canary islands) (-57%, 26,700) and the Central Mediterranean (-40%, 14,000) routes
  • Robust increase of crossings on the Eastern Mediterranean route (+47%, 83,300)
  • Eastern borders route (via the land borders with Belarus, Moldova, Russia and Ukraine): illegal crossings decreased by 38% year-on-year, but the order of magnitude was much smaller than on the three main routes (640)
  • Year-on-year (Jan-Nov data) increase in crossings on the Central Mediterranean route (+154%, 34,100), and the Western Mediterranean route (+46%, 35,800)
  • Decrease in crossings on the Eastern Mediterranean route (-74%, 19,300)
  • 16% decrease of deaths at sea: 1,754 persons were reported dead or missing in 2020 on the three main routes, compared to 2,095 in 2019


Overall figures

  • Returns in 2019 icon

    491,000 number of non-EU citizens ordered to leave the EU

    An 8% increase compared to 2018


    Returns in 2018 icon

    457,000 number of non-EU citizens ordered to leave the EU

Among the main countries of nationality of those ordered to leave the EU were;

  • Ukraine
  • Morocco
  • Albania
  • Afghanistan
  • Algeria

Effectiveness of the return system

In 2019, 142,000 non-EU citizens were returned to a non-EU country. This corresponds to a 29% effective return rate, down from 32% in 2018.

Among the main countries of origin of those returned outside of the EU in 2019 were:

  • Ukraine (19% of all returns)
  • Albania (11%)
  • Morocco (7.2%)

Among the nationalities with at least 5,000 return orders, the return rate was particularly low for those coming from

  • the Democratic Republic of the Congo (2.5%)
  • Syria (2.5%)
  • Mali (2.8%)
  • Guinea (2.8%)
  • Côte d'Ivoire (3.4%)
  • Somalia (4.0%)

Among the 15 Member States reporting this breakdown in 2019, 19% of the returns were assisted returns - persons returned received logistical, financial and/ or other material assistance. 81% were non-assisted returns.

The share of assisted returns was particularly high in:

  • Austria (83%)
  • Hungary (82%)
  • Luxembourg (81%)

Nearly 16,000 non-EU nationals were returned in Frontex-supported return operations in 2019, 15% more than in 2018.

Short stay visas

In 2019, more than 1,800 Member States' consulates processed almost 17 million short stay Schengen visa applications lodged by non-EU citizens.

In total, 15.0 million Schengen visas were issued and 1.7 million were refused, amounting to an EU-wide refusal rate of 9.9%.

Most applications were lodged in:

  • Russia (4.1 million) 
  • China (3.0 million)
  • India (1.1 million).

Most visa applications were processed by

  • France (4.0 million)
  • Germany (2.2 million)
  • Italy (2.1 million)
  • Spain (1.9 million)

59% of all visas were issued for multiple entries. Short stay Schengen visas cover travel throughout the 26 Schengen countries for up to 90 days in any 180-day period.

The Atlas on Migration

The European Commission’s Knowledge Centre on Migration and Demography has issued The Atlas on Migration – an interactive resource of harmonised, up-to-date and validated data on the status of migration and demography in 27 EU Member States and 171 non-EU countries and territories.

Browse through worldwide coverage of data for 198 countries and territories on more than 60 different indicators related to demography, migration, asylum, integration and development here: The Atlas on Migration.

Disclaimer: The above data is based on latest available information, updated on a quarterly basis, last update: 22 January 2021