Christians make up half of the world’s migrants

March 9, 2012

Christians comprise half of the world's 214 million migrants—those
who have moved from their country of birth and are now living
permanently in a different country—a new study released March 8 has

The study by the Pew Research Center's Forum on
Religion & Public Life concluded that 106 million Christians
constitute 49 percent of the world's migrants. At nearly 60 million,
Muslims are the second-largest group of those living permanently outside
their nation of origin—some 27 percent of migrants, according to the

However, the report found that in terms of percentages by
religious groups, Jews have the highest percentage level of migration.
Twenty-five percent of Jews live in different countries from where they
were born. By contrast, 5 percent of Christians and 4 percent of Muslims
have migrated across international borders.

Less than 3 percent
of other groups have migrated and are generally underrepresented among
those migrating. As an example, Hindus constitute 10 to 15 percent of
the world's population but  make up only about 5 percent of
international migrants, the study said.

The report, "Faith on the
Move: The Religious Affiliation of International Migrants," defines an
international migrant as someone living for more than a year in a
country other than the one in which that person was born.

Other key findings:

  • In the 27 countries of the European Union, Christian immigrants, some
    26 million, outnumber Muslim immigrants, nearly 13 million, the study
    said. But the numbers of the two groups are closer "when migration
    within the European Union is excluded," according to the report.
  • The United States is the world's leading destination for Christian
    migrants. Of the 43 million foreign-born people living in the U.S. as of
    2010, nearly three-quarters, some 32 million, are Christian.
  • The U.S. is the primary destination for Buddhists. About 1.7 million
    foreign-born Buddhists live here, many of them from Vietnam. America is
    also the top spot for immigrants with no religion, about 4.4 million
    people, many of whom come from China.
  • Predominantly Roman
    Catholic Mexico is the largest single country of origin for migrants who
    identify as Christian, with most of those now living in the United

"In fact," the report said, "the U.S. has received
about as many migrants [of all religions] from Mexico alone (more than
12 million, including both legal immigrants and unauthorized ones) as
any other nation has received from all sources combined."

No other
major religious group approached the 25 percent migration rate of the
Jews, said Phillip Connor, the senior researcher on the study. On
average, he said, only 3 percent of the world's population migrates.
What may be surprising to people is that overwhelmingly "people do stay
put," Connor said.

"The world Jewish community is consolidating,"
said Jonathan Sarna, a professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis
University who did not work on the study. "Jews are abandoning Third
World countries where historically they had been persecuted and moving
to large and generally free First World countries."

Sarna said
that of the vast majority of the 13.3 million Jews worldwide, 43 percent
live in Israel and 39 percent live in the United States. A major driver
of Jewish migration is the establishment of Israel in 1948 and
continued migration there. Sarna also noted the exodus of hundreds of
thousands of Jews from the former Soviet Union decades ago.

positive spin on Jewish migratory trends is that Jews, so often
persecuted in their homelands, are safer in their new countries. But
"what we're losing is one of the great themes of Jewish history," said
Sarna, referring to the collapse of Jewish communities in the Middle
East, North Africa and other lands where they had lived for millennia.