UN World Youth Report



WYR 2013 Chapter One


International migration has increased steadily over the years, becoming an established feature of the contemporary social and economic landscape for many youth. Young migrants constitute a relatively large proportion of the overall migrant population and have a significant impact on origin, transit and destination countries and communities.

According to the latest United Nations estimates, there are 232 million international migrants worldwide, representing 3.2 per cent of the world’s total population of 7.2 billion. There are 35 million international migrants under the age of 20, up from 31 million in 2000, and another 40 million between the ages of 20 and 29. Together, they account for more than 30 per cent of all migrants. Females account for approximately half of the international youth migrant population.

Young migrants constitute a diverse group. Their social, economic and educational backgrounds, the means/forms of migration, and their motivation for leaving all influence the scope, scale and type of migration.

Some young migrants leave their home communities intending to return at some point, while others plan to relocate permanently. There are studies suggesting that youth migrants are more inclined to undertake temporary migration than permanent migration.

Young people may choose to move within their home countries as internal migrants or beyond their national borders as international migrants. The majority of migrants stay in their own countries as internal migrants. Although data on young internal migrants are limited, estimates place their number at approximately 740 million. Youth intending to migrate outside their national boundaries may first undertake rural-urban migration or urban-urban migration within their country of origin in order to find paid employment or intermediary services to support their plans for international migration.

Young migrants vary in terms of their legal status in transit and destination countries. Some travel as documented migrants, moving through legal channels or staying in other countries with the required paperwork. However, others are undocumented migrants who may lack the necessary legal authorization (such as a valid passport or specific type of visa) to enter, stay or work in a transit or destination country, or have overstayed the allowed time in their country of destination and are thus in an irregular situation.

Figure 1.1: Estimated World Migrant Flows in 2013

Source: United Nations, Trends in International Migrant Stock: The 2013 Revision

(United Nations database, POP/DB/MIG/Stock/Rev.2013).

[1] United Nations, Trends in International Migrant Stock: The 2013 Revision (United Nations database, POP/DB/MIG/Stock/Rev.2013). The data presented here refer to the international migrant stock, defined as a mid-year estimate of the number of people living in a country or area other than the one in which they were born or, in the absence of such data, the number of people of foreign citizenship.

Types of Migration

Youth migration may be forced or voluntary. Young people subjected to forced migration may be influenced by natural or man-made circumstances. Human trafficking, which is trade in human beings, typically involves various forms of coercion, most often with the aim of forced labor. In other cases people leave their communities in response to threats to their lives and livelihoods; an example would be internal displacement occurring as a result of conflict or natural disasters. Other examples include those fleeing their country of origin to escape persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or because they are a member of a persecuted 'social group' or because they are fleeing a war; in these cases the migrants are entitled to international protection as refugees. In contrast, voluntary migrants are not influenced by immediate external push factors or coercive pressure. Those who move of their own volition in order to improve their livelihoods include student migrants, young migrants joining their partners abroad and young labour migrants. However, due to the complexity and interlinkages of the different factors leading to migration, it is often quite difficult to differentiate between forced and voluntary migration. Young people may also engage in circular migration. Traditionally, such migration has been limited to seasonal work activities in the agricultural sector, such as grain and wine harvesting and fruit and vegetable picking. More recently, an increasing number of international students have been crossing borders to intern and gain professional and international exposure during long school recess periods. Similarly, many multinational corporations and transnational partnerships participate in cross-border employee placement and exchange activities that may range from several months to several years. Recognizing the diversity of youth migrants is important for understanding the motives behind migration, the conditions under which different categories of youth migrants move, and the impact of migration on the human development of young men and women, as well as their country of origin and destination. It is also essential for designing specific interventions that address their unique vulnerabilities.

Box 1.1 Definitions

International migrant
According to the 1998 United Nations Recommendations on Statistics of International Migration, an international migrant is defined as any person who changes his or her country of usual residence. A person’s country of usual residence is that in which the person lives. It refers to the country in which the person has a place to live where he or she normally spends the daily period of rest. Temporary travel abroad for purposes of recreation, holiday, business, medical treatment or religious pilgrimage does not entail a change in the country of usual residence.

A person who moves to a country other than that of his or her usual residence for a period of at least a year (12 months), so that the country of destination effectively becomes his or her new country of usual residence is defined as a long-term migrant. A person who moves to a country other than that of his or her usual residence for a period of at least 3 months but less than a year (12 months) except in cases where the movement to that country is for purposes of recreation, holiday, visits to friends and relatives, business, medical treatment or religious pilgrimage is defined as a short-term migrant. For purposes of international migration statistics, the country of usual residence of short-term migrants is considered to be the country of destination during the period they spend in it.

Internal migrant
A movement of people from one area of a country to another for the purpose or with the effect of establishing a new residence. This migration may be temporary or permanent. Internal migrants move but remain within their country of origin (e.g. rural to urban migration).

Undocumented migrant/migrant in an irregular situation
A foreign citizen who is present on the territory of a State, in violation of the regulations on entry and residence, either after having entered the country illegally or whose residence entitlement (e.g., as a tourist or a visa holder) has expired.

A person who, "owing to a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinions, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country”.

Circular Migration
The fluid movement of people between countries, including temporary or long-term movement linked to the labour needs of countries of origin and destination.

Sources: United Nations (1998); Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, Art. 1A(2), 1951 as modified by the 1967 Protocol); International Organization for Migration (n.d.(a)).




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The UN Focal Point on Youth aims to build awareness of the global situation of young people, as well as promote their rights and aspirations, working toward greater participation of young people in decision-making as a means for achieving peace and development.

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