Unauthorized immigrants are defined as people living in a country without citizenship and without residency permits which includes asylum-seekers with a pending decision.

Half of Europe’s undocumented migrants live in Germany and UK — New report

A new study by the US based Pew Research Center has found that as many as 4.8 million migrants were living undocumented across the EU in 2017. More than half of those are estimated to be living in the UK and Germany. However, even though news of undocumented migrants tends to dominate headlines and election campaigns, the analysis found that even if estimates are correct, those migrants without papers account for less than 1% of Europe’s total population. Benjamin Bathke reports

At least 3.9 million “immigrants without permission” – and possibly as many as 4.8 million – lived in Europe in 2017. According to a study published Wednesday by the Pew Research Center, half of them lived in Germany and the United Kingdom.

Pew, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, said the number of unauthorized migrants grew starting in 2014, when about 3 to 3.7 million resided in Europe, and peaked in 2015/16 during the high point of arrivals when some 1.3 million, mostly from war-torn countries such as Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, made their way to Europe.


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“The surge of asylum seekers contributed to a higher number of unauthorized immigrants in many European countries,” said senior researcher Phillip Connor. “But unauthorized immigrants also include those who overstayed a visa or entered Europe illegally, many of whom migrated years ago.”

We’ve summarized the most important findings of the study.

Who’s counted as an “unauthorized immigrant”?

  • Pew defines unauthorized immigrants as “people living in a country without citizenship and without residency permits,” which includes asylum seekers with a pending decision
  • They are neither citizens of any EU nor European Free Trade Association (EFTA) country (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland)
  • Most unauthorized immigrants entered an EU-EFTA country without authorization, overstayed a visa, failed to leave after being ordered to do so or have had their deportation temporarily stalled.

How did things change from 2015 to 2017?

  • In 2016, an estimated 4.1 to 5.3 million unauthorized migrants lived in Europe
  • That year, central European countries closed the Balkan route that many migrants used to get to northern Europe
  • Also in 2016, the EU-Turkey deal was signed, designed to keep millions of migrants in Turkey from coming to Europe
  • By 2017 numbers were starting to decrease. At that point unauthorized migrants accounted for less than 1% of the continent’s total population of more than 500 million people.

Where do Europe’s unauthorized migrants live?

  • Together, Germany, the UK, Italy and France were home to 70% of all unauthorized migrants in Europe in 2017
  • About half of Europe’s unauthorized migrants are thought to be living in Germany and the UK
  • Between 1 to 1.2 million unauthorized migrants were estimated to be living in Germany in 2017, a large number of them asylum seekers who arrived in 2015/16
  • Roughly the same number – 800,000 to 1.2 million – lived in the UK, while 500,000 to 700,000 were in Italy and 300,000 to 400,000 in France

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Who makes up Germany’s irregular migrant population?

  • 32% of those with no papers in 2017 came from non-EU countries in geographical Europe. (Mostly former eastern bloc countries)
  • People from the Middle East and north Africa were in second place with 30%
  • 22% of irregular migrants in Germany hailed from the Asia-Pacific region (inicluding Afghanistan and Pakistan)
  • Sub-Saharan African countries accounted for 12%
  • 3% came from North-, Central and South America

Which methodology did the center use?

  • The findings are based on the latest available data from 32 European countries: all 28 EU member states as well as EFTA countries Norway, Switzerland, Iceland and Liechtenstein
  • Most of the estimates are based on data from Eurostat, Europe’s statistics agency

© InfoMigrant/ With material from AP, dpa

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