Overall figures of immigrants in European society

On 1 January 2020, there were

  • circle image 2 people with European flag

    447.3 million inhabitants living in the EU


  • inhibitants image icon 23 million were non-EU citizens (5.1% of EU's total population)
  • inhibitants image icon Nearly 37 million people were born outside the EU* (8.3% 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 high-income countries.

Foreign-born residents per country

Source: Eurostat, OECD, UNDESA, data from 2020
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 12.2%

Reasons to stay in Europe

All valid residence permits at the end of 2020 by reason

Source: Eurostat; without Denmark, Germany, Greece, Portugal and Sweden; “other” includes permits issued for the reason of residence only, permits issued to victims of trafficking of human beings and unaccompanied minors, as well as permits issued for all other reasons for which residence permits may be issued and which are not covered by the other categories

Among the non-EU citizens residing in the EU with a valid residence permit at the end of 2020, most were holding permits issued for family or work reasons.

Employment of immigrants

In 2020, 8.6 million non-EU citizens were employed in the EU labour market, out of 189.1 million persons aged from 20 to 64, corresponding to 4.6% of the total.

The employment rate in the EU in the working-age population is higher for EU citizens (73.3%), than for non-EU citizens (57.6%) in 2020.

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

Over-represented sectors

In 2020, 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 service activities 11.4% 3.8%  
Administrative and support activities 7.1% 3.7%
Domestic work 6.5% 0.7%
Construction 8.6% 6.4%

Over-representation by occupation

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

Occupational group Overall employment of non-EU citizens Overall employment of EU citizens
Cleaners and helpers 11.9%


Personal service workers 9.0% 4.2%
Personal care workers 5.1% 2.9%
Building workers 5.8% 3.6%
Labourers in mining, construction, manufacturing and transport 5.6% 2.4%
Food preparation assistants 2.7% 0.5%
Agricultural and fishery labourers 2.6% 0.6%

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 1.2% 7.5%
Education 3.7% 7.6%
Human health and social work activities 7.6% 10.9%
Financial and insurance activities 1.1% 2.8%

Under-representation by occupation

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

Occupational group Overall employment of non-EU citizens Overall employment of EU citizens
Teaching professionals 2.5% 5.6%
Business and administration associate professionals 2.5% 6.8%
General and keyboard clerks 1.4% 4.0%
Science and engineering associate professionals 2.0% 4.1%
Business and administration professionals 2.1% 4.2%
Market-oriented skilled agricultural workers 1.3% 3.1%

Source: Eurostat

Refugees in Europe

Based on data from UNHCR, at the end of 2020, all around the world there were:

  • 26.4 million refugees and
  • 48.0 million internally displaced persons (due to conflict).

Fact to consider: 10% of all the world’s refugees and only a fraction of internally displaced persons were living in the EU at the end of 2020.

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 2019

  • 2.7 million
    personsimmigrated to the EU

  • 1.2 million personsemigrated from the EU

  • Total net immigration to the EU: 1.5 million persons

Fact to consider: Without migration, the European population would have shrunk by half a million in 2019, given that 4.2 million children were born and 4.7 million people died in the EU. In 2020, according to provisional data, EU population shrunk by about 300 thousand people (from 447.3 million on 1 January 2020 to 447.0 million on 1 January 2021), due to a combination of less births, more deaths and less net migration.

In 2020, about 1.9 million first residence permits were issued in the EU, compared to nearly 3.0 million in 2019. The decrease was driven by the travel restrictions introduced to curb the spread of the Covid-19 virus. The pandemic had a particularly strong negative impact on work-related permits and, as a result, their share decreased from 41% in 2019 to to 29% in 2020. In 2020, first permits were issued for the following reasons:

Source: Eurostat; without Greece, Croatia and Sweden; “other” includes permits issued for the reason of residence only, permits issued to victims of trafficking of human beings and unaccompanied minors, as well as permits issued for all other reasons for which residence permits may be issued and which are not covered by the other categories

Top 10 nationalities of first residence permits issued in the EU Member States in 2020

Source: Eurostat; without Greece, Croatia and Sweden

Seeking asylum in Europe

First time asylum applicants by continent of origin (2020)

Source: Eurostat

Top 15 nationalities of first time asylum applicants (2020)

Source: Eurostat

In 2020, asylum seekers came from nearly 150 countries

472,000 applications, including 417,000 first time applications, were lodged in the EU, a decrease of 32% in comparison to 2019.

A growing share of applicants come from visa-free countries (28% of first time applicants in 2020) who enter the EU legally, mostly from:

  • Venezuela (7.3% of all first time applications)
  • Colombia (7.0%)
  • Georgia (1.6%)
  • Peru (1.5%)
  • Honduras (1.4%)
  • asylum application icon

    Most first time applications were lodged in:

    • Germany (102,500)
    • Spain (86,400)
    • France (81,700)
    • Greece (37,900)
    • Italy (21,200)

    asylum application icon

    Relative to the population, in 2020, the highest number of first time asylum applications was lodged in:

    • Cyprus (841 per 100,000 inhabitants)
    • Malta (468)
    • Greece (354)


First time asylum applications per 100,000 inhabitants in 2020:

Source: Eurostat

In 2020, 141,000 people seeking asylum were under 18 years old – nearly 10% of them (13,500) were unaccompanied children. Most of unaccompanied children came from Afghanistan, Syria and Pakistan.

In the first half of 2021, 248,000 asylum applications (from which 200,000 first time applications) were lodged in the EU, 12% more than in the same period of 2020 but 26% below pre-Covid levels (same period of 2019).

Recognition of refugees

In 2020, EU countries took 521,000 first instance asylum decisions. 41% of these decisions were positive:

  • 106,000 persons received refugee status,
  • 50,000 were granted subsidiary protection status and
  • 55,000 received humanitarian status.

A further 233,000 final decisions were made following an appeal, including:

  • 22,000 decisions granting refugee status,
  • 22,000 granting subsidiary protection status and
  • 25,000 granting humanitarian status.  

Overall, EU countries granted protection to around 280,000 people in 2020. The largest groups were from:

  • Syria (27% of all people granted protection)
  • Venezuela (17%)
  • Afghanistan (15%)

In the first half of 2021, the recognition rate decreased, 35% of the 269,000 first instance asylum decisions made in this period were positive, including:

  • 48,000 decisions granting refugee status,
  • 31,000 granting subsidiary protection status and
  • 15,000 granting humanitarian status.

Effectiveness of the asylum system

  • Reduced backlog
    With the significant fall in the number of applications, Member States managed to decrease the backlog: at the end of 2020, 766,000 asylum applications were pending, 18% less than one year earlier (929,000). In 2021, the backlog continued to decrease, dropping to 704,000 by the end of June, the lowest level since mid-2015.
  • Varying processing times across Member States
    The ratio of pending cases and applications varies widely across Member States, reflecting the differences in processing time. According to EASO data, close to two thirds of the cases pending at first instance had been pending for more than six months.

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 2020 the recognition rate of Afghan citizens at first instance ranged from 1% in Bulgaria to 93% in Italy.
  • Dublin rules in practice
    In 2020, Member States reported 94,500 outgoing requests under the Dublin rules sent to other Member States and other countries participating in the Dublin system  to take responsibility for examining an application for international protection. Out of 85,000 decisions on such requests, 49,900 (59%) were accepted and 12,200 outgoing transfers were executed, corresponding to 24% of accepted requests.


In 2020, around 8,700 people in need of international protection were resettled from non-EU countries to EU Member States, 59% less than in 2019.

The highest number of departures was recorded in Turkey. Syrian was by far the main nationality, accounting for 53% of people resettled.

Under joint EU resettlement schemes, more than 81,000 persons found protection in the EU since 2015. Member States receive support from the EU budget for these resettlements.

Irregular border crossings

Overall figures

Irregular EU border crossings by nationality in 2020

Source: Frontex

localisation 125,100 irregular border crossings
Decreased by 12% compared to 2019, the lowest in 7 years

This includes:


    crossing boat

    86,300 sea crossings in 2020

    Decrease of 19% compared to 2019

  • crossing map

    38,800 land border crossings in 2020

    Increase of 9% compared to 2019


85,700 illegal border crossings (January-July 2021)

66% more than in the same period of 2020

Geographical distribution



  • Increase in crossings on the Western Mediterranean (including the Atlantic route from Western Africa to the Canary islands) (+51%, 40,300) and the Central Mediterranean (+155%, 35,700) routes
  • Decrease of crossings on the Eastern Mediterranean route (-76%, 20,300)
  • Eastern borders route (via the land borders with Belarus, Moldova, Russia and Ukraine): irregular crossings decreased by 4% year-on-year, but the order of magnitude was much smaller than on the three main routes (615)
  • 8% increase of deaths at sea: 2,268 persons were reported dead or missing in 2020 on the three main routes, compared to 2,095 in 2019
  • Year-on-year (January-July data) increase in crossings on the Central Mediterranean route (+102%, 31,800), the Western Mediterranean route (+66%, 16,200) and the Eastern borders route (+1744%, 4,200)
  • Decrease in crossings on the Eastern Mediterranean route (-28%, 9,700)
  • 100% increase of deaths at sea: 1 904 persons were reported dead or missing in January-August 2021 on the three main routes, compared to 954 in the same period of 2020


Overall figures


    396,000 non-EU citizens ordered to leave the EU

    A 19% decrease compared to 2019



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


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

  • Algeria (8.6% of the total)
  • Morocco (8.5%)
  • Albania (5.8%)
  • Ukraine (5.4%)
  • Pakistan (4.8%)

Effectiveness of the return system

In 2020, 70,200 non-EU citizens were returned to a non-EU country. This corresponds to 18% of all return decisions issued during the year, down from 29% in 2019. The travel restriction introduced in the wake of the pandemic and the limited availability of flights made it difficult to carry out returns in 2020.

Among the main countries of origin of those returned outside of the EU in 2020 were:

  • Albania (13.9% of all returns)
  • Georgia (8.2%)
  • Ukraine (7.9%)

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

  • Côte d'Ivoire (2.0%)
  • Mali (2.1%)
  • Guinea (2.5%)
  • Senegal (3.2%)
  • Algeria (4.8%)

Among the 17 Member States reporting this breakdown in 2020, 25% of the returns were assisted returns - persons returned received logistical, financial and/ or other material assistance. 75% were non-assisted returns.

The share of assisted returns was particularly high in:

  • Hungary (90%)
  • Luxembourg (66%)
  • Austria (62%)

The return rate remained low in 2021: in the 21 Member States reporting complete data, 12,400 effective returns were executed in the first quarter of the year, corresponding to 17% of the return orders issued in this period (71,600).

Short stay visas

In 2020, more than 1,700 Member States' consulates received 2.9 million short stay visa applications lodged by non-EU citizens, 83% less than in 2019.

In total, 2.5 million short stay visas were issued and 0.4 million were refused, amounting to an EU-wide refusal rate of 13.6% (up from 9.9% in 2019).

Most applications were lodged in:

  • Russia (654,000) 
  • Turkey (229,000)
  • China (209,000)
  • Morocco (180,000)
  • India (168,000).

Most visa applications were processed by

  • France (658,000)
  • Germany (412,000)
  • Spain (340,000)
  • Italy (294,000)
  • Czechia (177,000)

62% of all visas were issued for multiple entries. Short stay 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.

European statistics on migration and asylum

Up-to-date European statistics on

and related information is available on Eurostat's website.

Eurostat collects data from the National Statistics Authorities of the EU Member States and EFTA countries based on statistical regulations adopted by the European Parliament and the Council. Data and related metadata are quality assured in line with the European Statistics Code of Practice, and updated at regular intervals depending on the data collection. Statistical findings are published in Statistics Explained articles and other publications.    

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