Changes of population in the EU countries through migration

Polish-Ukrainian border (Ondřej Žváček, CC BY 2.5)

In 2018, the 28 European Union member states issued a total sum of over 3 million residence permits to non-EU nationals. Poland was the most generous country in terms of the amount of permits, having issued over 600,000.

Taking into account the intra-EU migration, Poland registered the largest population increase through migration out of all EU member states in 2018, topping Germany by nearly 140,000 new arrivals.

In a press release from October 25th, Eurostat provided a detailed information on first residence permits granted by individual member states of the European Union to non-EU nationals.

According to the European Commission, a first residence permit “represents an authorization issued by the competent national authorities allowing a national of a non-member (non-EU) country to stay for at least three months on its territory.”

A total amount of 3.2 million first residence permits were issued by all EU states combined, an increase by 0.4 percent compared to 2017. 

One of out of five first residence permits issued in the EU last year were granted by Poland (635,000). It was followed by Germany (544,000), United Kingdom (451,000) and France (265,000).

First residence permits issued by country in 2018

The reasons for which the EU member states have issued residence permits vary from country to country. Different European countries also seem to favor nationals of different non-EU states.

For example, the leading issuer of residence permits in the EU, Poland, granted more than 50 per cent of all its permits to non-EU nationals for work-related reasons. On the other hand, the second largest issuer, Germany, had been mainly granting residence permits for refugee status and subsidiary protection, protection for humanitarian reasons, as well as for family reasons.

United Kingdom was the top country in the EU for issuing residence permits for education related reasons.

Just like the year before, in 2018, citizens of Ukraine received the highest number of permits in the EU (527,000 beneficiaries, 78 per cent of which granted by Poland). Ukrainians were followed by citizens of China (206,000, mainly in the United Kingdom), India (197,000, again mainly the United Kingdom) and Syria (174,000, more than 70 per cent in Germany).

The data also reveals that citizens of different countries received residence permit for different reasons. For instance, Ukrainian migrants were issued residence permits mainly for employment reasons (65 per cent of all first residence permits issued to Ukrainians in 2018). Citizens of China received residence permits chiefly for education reasons (67 per cent), and those moving to Europe from Morocco were mainly issued permits for family reasons (61 per cent).

Intra-EU migration

Information on the amount of EU-bound migrants from non-EU countries provides an understanding of the overall population increase of European countries through immigration. However, in order to get an overall picture of population increase or decrease in the EU member states in 2018, one has to account for intra-EU migration. Or, in another words, the amount of EU citizens that left or return to their home country in 2018.

Unfortunately, there is no data available on the amount of Europeans who left/return to their country in any given year. That said, this data can be easily derived from a related statistic. Every year, Eurostat publishes updated data on “EU born population of working age who usually resides in another EU country”.  

In order to understand how many Europeans left/returned to their country in 2018, all is needed is simple calculation of the difference between the amount of EU citizens residing in another EU country in 2017 and 2018. And the results reveal an interesting trend. Countries that have been traditionally associated with high-unemployment rates, as well as high emigration rates, such as Spain, Portugal or Latvia, have seen an increase in population in 2018. This means that nationals of those countries have been returning home from other EU states.

Intra-EU in/out bound migration in 2018

The data shows that 8,600 Spaniards, 10,000 Portuguese, and almost 12,000 Latvians returned to their respective home countries last year. But by far the highest amount of returnees saw another country traditionally associated with higher emigration rates – Poland. It registered over 35 000 of its citizens who came back home in 2018.

On the other hand, the list of countries that have registered the highest depopulation rates through intra-EU migration is perhaps less surprising. The country that saw the largest amount of its citizens leave to seek better job opportunities in other EU country was Romania. A staggering 206,300 Romanians left their home country in 2018. It was followed by Italy (72,500), Bulgaria (46,900), and Greece (39,100).

Overall population increase/decrease through migration in 2018

Although the statistic on intra-EU migration is useful to understand population movements across the European Union, it doesn’t provide a complete picture on the overall population increase/decrease of the EU countries through migration. In order to understand which EU countries gained/lost population through migration last year, both of the aforementioned statistics (intra-EU migration and residence permits granted to non-EU nationals) need to be taken into account.

The final picture provides a view of the European countries in terms of in and outflows of population through migration in 2018. The overall picture is perhaps not too surprising. It shows a tremendous difference between the two Europe’s edges, east and west, in terms of their abilities to attract or, at least, retain, work force.

Increase/Decrease in population through migration in 2018 

While last year the western part of the European Union registered significant population increases through migration, some of the newer members of the EU have not improved on their ability to retain their own people.

Once again, Romania is the country that has lost the highest amount of its citizens through migration last year (almost 190,000). The southeastern European country was followed by Bulgaria (-35,000), and Greece (-3,500).

On the other side of the spectrum is, once again, Poland. It registered over 670,000 newcomers last year and was followed by Germany (532,000).

Filip Brokeš is an analyst and a journalist specializing in international relations.

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