Migration and Remittance Flows in Europe and Central Asia: Recent Trends and Outlook, 2013-2016

October 2, 2013


  • Remittance flows to Europe and Central Asia are projected to have increased by 10.8 percent, reaching USD 42.6 billion in 2013.
  • An estimated 16.4 million migrants currently live in the ECA region, most of whom are in Ukraine (5.1 million), Kazakhstan (3.5 million) and Turkey (1.9 million).
  • The financial crisis has led to modest, but noticeable, outward migration from Europe, mostly because some migrants are returning to their home countries.


Remittances to the developing countries of the Europe and Central Asia (ECA) region are estimated to grow by 10.8 percent and to reach USD 42.6 billion in 2013. Remittances are expected to increase by 10.3 percent in 2014, benefitting from an economic recovery in the EU countries and continued strong economic growth in Russia, the destination for a large number of migrants from Central Asia.

With $9.3 billion, Ukraine remains the largest recipient of remittances in the region in 2013, followed by Tajikistan with $4.1 billion, and Romania with $3.6 billion. While remittances for Ukraine represent 4.8 percent of its GDP, the share is much larger for Tajikistan (48 percent of GDP), Kyrgyz Republic (31 percent of GDP) and Moldova (24.5 percent of GDP).

Tajikistan is more dependent than any other country in the world on what is sent home by migrant workers. It is estimated that half of working-age Tajik males are abroad, mostly in Russia. Kyrgyzstan’s economic dependence on remittances is also strong.

While these two countries need jobs, Russia needs cheap labor. Economic growth driven by revenues from oil exports and a declining domestic labor force have attracted millions of labor migrants. Russia’s Federal Migration Service estimates that out of 11.3 million foreigners entering Russia in 2013, three million work illegally. In spite of the fact that visa-free agreements exist between Russia and former Soviet republics, many Central Asian migrants live in jeopardy with police periodically staging publicized raids. Police reportedly detained more than 3,000 illegal immigrants in Moscow in August 2013. Arrests of illegal immigrants will continue, but will not greatly reduce their numbers in Russia. Like other countries, Russia has both a large number of illegal immigrants and popular disquiet about immigration, both legal and illegal.

Remittance costs slowly decrease, but still vary substantially across the region

In general, the trend for lower costs with transactions to ECA countries continues in the third quarter of 2013. However, the costs of remittances vary substantially from corridor to corridor in the ECA region. While costs (fees and exchange rate margins) in 3Q 2013 for sending USD 200 from Germany to Bosnia-Herzegovina were 13.5 % of the total amount, a migrant in Russia had to pay only 1.8 percent for sending this amount to Azerbaijan. With remittances costs at 2 percent of total remittances, the corridors from Russia to Central Asian countries are among the lowest worldwide.

Migration increases modestly

According to the latest estimates by UNDESA, the number of international migrants in developing countries of the ECA region increased by 2.1 percent from 2010 to 2013, reaching 16.4 million. This growth is lower than the increase in migrants world-wide (4.9 percent). The share of international migrants in comparison to the total population of ECA decreased from 7.5 percent in 1990 to 6.1 percent in 2013. More than 52 percent of all international migrants in developing countries in ECA live in only two countries: Ukraine (5.1 million) and Kazakhstan (3.5 million). They are followed by Turkey (1.9 million), Uzbekistan (1.3 million), and Belarus (1.1 million). There are 13.9 million international migrants currently in these countries, and represent 6.6 percent of the total population. The Russian Federation provides home to most of these migrants (11.9 million, or 79.3 percent of the total), followed by Croatia (0.8 million), and Poland (0.7 million).

Looking at the entire ECA region (including developing and high-income countries), the number of international migrants in 2013 reaches 30.4 million, and remains nearly unchanged in comparison with 2010. It represents, however, a decrease of 7.7 percent compared with 1990. From 2010 to 2013, the largest increases in international migrants were seen in Romania (+ 4.8 %), Turkey (+2.8 %), and Hungary (+2.7%), while the highest negative migrant flows were registered in Lithuania (-12.5 %), Latvia (-6.4 %), and Bosnia and Herzegovina (-4.3%).

North-South migration

The financial crisis has led to modest but noticeable outward migration from Europe, mostly because some migrants are returning to their home countries. Depending on the definition used, between 7 and 13 million migrants from the North were living in the South in 2010, representing 3 to 6 per cent of all international migrants. Some examples: in 2008 and 2009, over 107,000 migrants from Europe (mostly from Spain, Germany, Netherlands and Italy) migrated to Latin America or Caribbean countries (especially Argentina and Brazil). The number of emigrants from Spain to Africa increased from 6,000 in 2009 to more than 83,000 in 2011.

Between 2008 and 2010, migrants from Ireland to Nigeria increased by 162 percent, and to South Africa by 173 percent. The majority of these North-South emigrants are foreign-born, and are often returning to their home countries because they cannot find jobs. However, North-South migration also has other causes. For example, there are more international assignments in emerging markets, more students from the North prefer education outside of traditional destination countries (e.g. China, Malaysia, and South Africa), and more retired people from the North are opting to live in the South.

More reading: Migration and Development Brief 2013 (PDF)