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Gallup: United States Remains the Most Desired Country Among Would-Be Immigrants

By Lee Cleveland - May 14, 2023

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The COVID-19 pandemic severely disrupted people’s mobility worldwide, but it didn’t stop them from wanting to move. In fact, Gallup surveys show that in the second year of the pandemic, people’s desire to migrate reached its highest point in a decade.

In 2021, 16% of adults worldwide — which projects to almost 900 million people — said they would like to leave their own country permanently if they could. And in 13 countries, about half or more of the adult population would like to move to another country if they had the chance. These countries represent nearly every region of the world — except for Northern America and the EU. Many of these countries have consistently shown up on this list year after year.

Gallup’s latest update on adults’ desire to move to another country is its first global estimate available since 2018. The 2021 figures are based on interviews with nearly 127,000 adults in 122 countries.

U.S. Still Top Desired Destination, but Less Attractive Today
The list of countries where potential migrants say they would like to move — if they could — has generally been the same since Gallup started tracking these data in 2007, with the U.S. topping the list of the most desired destinations every year.

This was true in 2021 as well. Just under one in five potential migrants (18%) — or about 160 million adults worldwide — named the U.S. as their desired future residence. However, this figure is down from where it was in all years leading up to 2017. And the reasons behind this shift are multifaceted and linked to various factors, including changes in immigration policies and the global perception of the country.

Although potential migrants cooled toward the U.S., and actual migration levels to the country slumped, they warmed to its neighbor to the north. In 2021, Canada achieved its highest level of immigration in its history. And Gallup survey figures show that 8% of potential migrants — or about 74 million people worldwide — would like to relocate to Canada.

Historically, the United States has been known for its economic opportunities, cultural diversity, and democratic values, attracting immigrants from all over the world. However, the political climate and policy changes implemented in recent years have had a significant impact on the country’s image and desirability.

The implementation of stricter immigration policies, such as travel bans and the termination of certain programs like the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), has created uncertainty and deterred potential immigrants. These measures have been viewed by some as restrictive and unwelcoming, affecting the perception of the United States as an inclusive and immigrant-friendly nation.

In addition, increasing anti-immigrant rhetoric and incidents of discrimination have contributed to a decline in the country’s attractiveness. Immigrants, particularly those from marginalized communities, may feel less safe and welcomed in the current environment.

The global perception of the United States has also been influenced by other factors, such as geopolitical shifts and the rise of other countries as emerging destinations.

Countries like Canada, Australia, and certain European nations have implemented more favorable immigration policies and have actively promoted themselves as immigrant-friendly destinations. This has provided alternative options for individuals seeking new opportunities abroad.

Further, countries such as Canada are banking on people’s increased desire to come to their country. Canada’s government announced plans late last year to take in nearly 1.5 million more migrants by 2025 to offset its aging population and ease labor shortages.

While the United States remains a significant destination for immigrants, the decline in its attractiveness suggests the importance of addressing these concerns and reevaluating immigration policies to regain its appeal. It is essential to strike a balance between national security and maintaining an inclusive and welcoming environment that values the contributions of immigrants. This approach can help restore the United States’ reputation as a desirable destination for those seeking a better life and opportunities.

Also, Note…
It’s important to note that Gallup typically finds that the percentage of those who have plans to move is much lower than the percentage who would like to move. The desire to migrate is not the same as the intent to move. Not everyone who wants to move can move, or ever will.

In the coming months, Gallup will be updating these metrics from their global surveys in 2022.