Snapshot of immigrants in European society

Overall figures

On 1 January 2019,

  • circle image 2 people with European flag

    446.8 million inhabitants were living in the EU


  • This total included

    inhibitants image icon 20.9 million non-EU citizens (4.7% of all EU inhabitants)
  • From a different perspective, this total also included

    inhibitants image icon 34.2 million persons 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.

Percentage of foreign born residence per country.

Reasons for coming to Europe

Most residence permits were issued for family reasons

All valid residence permits at the end of 2018 by reason

Employment of immigrants

In 2019, on average 191.5 million persons aged 20-64 were employed in the EU labour market; 8.8 million of them (4.6%) were non-EU citizens.

In the EU, the average employment rate in the working-age population is higher for EU citizens (73.8% in 2019) than for non-EU citizens (60.0%).

Many non-EU citizens are 'essential workers'.

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 %


Non-EU citizens were underrepresented 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 %


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 %



 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 agriculatural workers 1.3 % 3.2 %


Refugees in Europe

At the end of 2019, there were 26.0 million refugees and 45.7 million internally displaced persons worldwide (UNHCR figures).

10% of all refugees and only a fraction of internally displaced persons were living in the EU.

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

Several countries around the world  host a large refugee population: 

Number of refugees compared to total population

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

Statistics on recent developments

Migration to and from the EU

In 2018,

  • 2.2 million
    personsimmigrated to the EU

  • 0.9 million personsemigrated from the EU

  • bringing net immigration to the EU to a total of
    1.3 million persons

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. 

2.7 million first residents permits were issued in 2018 in the EU for:

The top 10 nationalities of first residence permits issued in 2019

Seeking asylum in Europe

People seeking asylum


First time asylum applications in the EU in 2019 by continent of origin

Top 15 nationalities of first time asylum applications in the EU in 2019

Asylum seekers came from nearly 150 countries in 2019. 699,000 applications, including 631,000 first time applications, were lodged in the EU, up by 12% from 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 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 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:

In 2019, 207,000 people applying for international protection were under 18 years old – and 7% of them (14,000) were unaccompanied. Afghan was the main citizenship of unaccompanied children and teenagers applying for asylum, followed by Syrian and Pakistani.

Recognition of refugees

In 2019, Member States 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
  • 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, Member States granted some sort of protection to almost 300,000 asylum seekers in 2019. The largest group of beneficiaries were

  • Syrians (27% of all beneficiaries),
  • Afghans (14% of all beneficiaries) 
  • Venezuelans (13% of all beneficiaries)

Effectiveness of the asylum system

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.

The ratio of pending cases and applications varies widely across Member States, reflecting the differences in processing time.

Number of pending applications compared to total number of applications lodged in the given month

Nearly 60% of asylum applications are processed at first instance within 6 months (estimate based on preliminary data from 18 Member States).

Significant differences across Member States remain in recognition rates, undermining the coherence of the EU’s asylum system. 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.

In 2019, Member States reported 142,500 outgoing requests under the Dublin rules sent to other Member States to take responsibility for examining an application for international protection. Out of 131,000 decisions on such requests, 85,400 (65%) were accepted and 23,700 outgoing transfers were executed, corresponding to 28% of accepted requests.


In 2019, around 21,200 persons were resettled from non-EU countries to EU Member States, 12% more than in 2018. 73% of them were received by three Member States: France, Sweden and Germany. Syrian was by far the main nationality, accounting for  60% of people resettled.

Under joint EU resettlement schemes, more than 70,000 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

illegal border crossing down by 5% icon

141,700 illegal border crossings

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

This includes:


    Illegal sea crossings down by 7% icon

    106,200 sea crossings in 2019

    Decrease of 7% compared to 2018.

  • illegal land crossings icon

    35,500 land borders crossing in 2019

    Similar level to 2018. 

illegal border crossings down in 2020 icon

51,600 illegal border crossings (January-July 2020)

7% less than in the same period of 2019.

Geographical distribution



The number of crossings significantly decreased on the Western Mediterranean (-57%, 26,700) and the Central Mediterranean (-40%, 14,000) routes in 2019 but this was offset by a robust increase on the Eastern Mediterranean route (+47%, 83,300).

Illegal border crossings on the Eastern borders route (via the land borders with Belarus, Moldova, Russia and Ukraine) decreased by 38% year-on-year but the order of magnitude was much smaller than on the three main routes (640).

As regards deaths at sea, 1,885 persons were reported dead or missing in 2019 on the three main routes, compared to 2,299 in 2018 (a decrease of 18%).

In January-July 2020, there was a year-on-year increase in crossings on the Central Mediterranean route (+205%, 15,700), offset by decreases on the Eastern Mediterranean route (-54%, 13,400) and the Western Mediterranean route (-29%, 9,800).


Overall figures

  • Returns in 2019 icon

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

    Increased by 8% 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 third 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, meaning the 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.