2. Number of Ghanaian emigrants and their socio-demographic characteristics

According to United Nations estimates, approximately 1 million Ghanaian emigrants lived abroad in 2020, 3.2% of Ghana’s population. This diaspora is distributed almost equally between OECD countries – mainly in North America and Europe (close to 52% of the Ghanaian emigrant population) – and sub-Saharan Africa (48%) (Figure 2.1). In Africa, the Ghanaian diaspora is primarily concentrated in the ECOWAS area, which hosts 46% of all Ghanaian emigrants worldwide.

According to UN estimates, Nigeria is the leading destination country, accounting for 24% of all Ghanaian emigrants (approximately 238 000 emigrants). In sub-Saharan Africa, Nigeria is followed by Ghana’s neighbouring countries: Côte d’Ivoire (112 000 emigrants), Togo (47 000), and Burkina Faso (33 000) together account for 19% of the Ghanaian diaspora. Outside of the ECOWAS area, South Africa is also a significant African destination for Ghanaian and continental emigrants, more generally. Outside Africa, the United States is the second leading destination country (201 000 emigrants), followed by the United Kingdom (131 000), Italy (55 000), Germany (33 000) and Canada (25 000).

The Ghanaian diaspora makes important contributions to the economic development of their country of origin. In 2020, Ghana received approximately USD 4.3 billion in remittances, which amounts to 6% of its GDP, compared to an ECOWAS average of 7% (Figure 2.2). Between 2010 and 2020, these transfers increased by 32-fold, peaking in 2015 when Ghanaians abroad remitted approximately USD 5 billion. According to officials of the Bank of Ghana, the sharp increase reflects improved statistics by the Bank of Ghana, as well as a rise in both financial transfers and the use of formal channels (Koyi Teye, Badasu and Yeboah, 2017[2]).

According to the most recent estimates, about 490 000 people born in Ghana lived in OECD countries in 2020 (Figure 2.3). Ghana is the second-largest ECOWAS origin country of emigrants living in the OECD area after Nigeria (with approximately 940 000). In 2020, Ghana represented 8% of the ECOWAS population but accounted for 16% of all emigrants from ECOWAS countries living in the OECD area. The relative preponderance of its emigrant population can be explained by its economic weight within the bloc (the third-highest GDP per capita of the group) and by a history of extra continental migration that dates back to the 1980s. Economic development in developing countries boosts international migration as more people have the financial resources needed to migrate, and consolidated migrant networks contribute to facilitating emigration (OECD, 2016[3]).

Between 2000 and 2020, the number of emigrants from Ghana living in OECD countries registered a 3-fold increase. In absolute terms, such growth (+325 000 persons) ranks second only to Nigeria (+682 000 persons). However, in percentage terms, Ghana ranks among the lower half of the ECOWAS countries (Guinea, Togo, Burkina Faso, Gambia, Côte d’Ivoire, Nigeria, Liberia and Niger), which is primarily explained by a strong base effect for these countries.

Despite the increased diversification in destination countries for Ghanaian emigrants over the past 20 years, the leading destination countries in the OECD area have, overall, remained the same. Between 2000 and 2020, the United States, the United Kingdom, Italy, Germany and Canada have constantly ranked as the main host countries (Figure 2.4).

Over time, however, the Ghanaian migrant population has grown more rapidly in certain countries than in others. The United States and the United Kingdom hosted a similar population of Ghanaian migrants at the beginning of the century (62 000 and 53 000, respectively) with a difference of less than 9 000. In 2020, the difference between them had enlarged to approximately 82 000. Since 2000, the Ghanaian diaspora has increased the most in the United States in absolute terms, growing by three-fold (+131 000) to reach almost 200 000 in 2020. The second-largest absolute increase, observed in the United Kingdom, is significantly lower (+58 000).

In percentage terms, Italy has registered the largest growth, although starting at a much lower base due to the relative recency of Ghanaian immigration. From less than 20 000 Ghanaian migrants in 2000, the population grew 3.3 times by 2020 to reach 55 000. In Germany, the fourth destination country, with approximately 37 000 Ghanaian migrants in 2020, the lack of data provides an incomplete picture of the diaspora’s evolution. However, between 2010 and 2020, this population increased 1.5 times. In Canada, between 2000 and 2015, the population of Ghanaian migrants grew 1.6-fold.

Of the Ghanaian population residing abroad, approximately 13 800 are refugees (Box 2.3). Refugees are, theoretically, estimated as part of the foreign-born population in their respective host countries, but in practice, this depends on data sources and host country practices.

International students comprise another specific category of Ghanaian emigrants. In 2019, more than 9 000 students from Ghana were enrolled in a tertiary-level institution abroad, representing roughly 2% of all tertiary-level enrollments in Ghana. Nine in ten were studying in an OECD country (Figure 2.6). The total number of international students from Ghana increased by 21% in six years, from about 7 800 in 2013 to 9 400 in 2019. Among the 15 ECOWAS countries, Ghana is the fourth-largest origin country of international students in the OECD area, after Nigeria, Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire.

Across OECD countries, the United States hosted the largest number of students from Ghana in 2019, accounting for 37% of the total. Two other English-speaking countries, the United Kingdom and Canada, are also significant destinations for Ghanaian students (1 800 and 1 000, respectively). However, while the number of Ghanaian students slightly decreased in the United Kingdom between 2013 and 2019 (-8%), it almost doubled in Canada during the same period (+87%). Among the top five destinations for Ghanaian international students, Germany registered the largest percentage increase in recent years: from approximately 300 in 2013, it hosted 1 000 students in 2019, a 3-fold increase.

National data sources make it possible to study the location of Ghanaian emigrants in the three main destination countries and map their regional distribution. In the United States, Ghanaian migrants have settled across the country, but New York accounts for the largest concentration, hosting one in five Ghanaian migrants, followed by the states of Virginia and New Jersey. This geographic concentration is not exclusive to Ghanaian migrants, as most African migrants, more generally, reside in these three states (United States Census Bureau, 2019[5]). As compared to the foreign and native-born population of the United States, the Ghanaian diaspora is overrepresented in the Northeast region (home to the states of New York and New Jersey), which hosts 40% of the total (Figure 2.7).

In the second-largest country of destination, the United Kingdom, Ghanaian emigrants are mostly located in London (67% of the total), where they are overrepresented compared to the foreign-born (40%) and other migrants from West Africa (61%). Job opportunities in the local economy, in the informal sector, in particular, have been an important pull factor for Ghanaian migrants, coupled with strong social networks that have developed around certain boroughs (Southwark, Lambeth, Newham, Hackney, Haringey, Lewisham, Croydon and Brent) (Vasta, 2010[6]). The second-largest regional concentration is located in South East England, which hosts 10% of Ghanaian migrants, followed by East England, accounting for 7% of the total (Figure 2.8).

In Italy, most Ghanaian migrants live in the northern regions (Figure 2.9). Legislative measures that offered a pathway to legalisation and better employment opportunities drove Ghanaian migrants to northern Italy, even when they first settled in the southern regions. Emilia Romagna hosts the largest concentration of Ghanaian migrants (23% of the total) due to a combination of job opportunities in highly specialised small and medium-sized enterprises of the industrial and manufacturing sectors and a favourable legislative environment (Marabello, 2018[7]). For instance, only Emilia Romagna and Tuscany have modified their regional statuses to allow migrants to participate in local administrative elections.

In 2015/16, 47% of Ghanaian migrants living in OECD countries were women. The Ghanaian diaspora shows a very similar composition to the average emigrant population from ECOWAS countries (46% of which is composed of women). Its share of women is only slightly inferior to the foreign-born population’s (51%). Ghana’s is the sixth most feminised diaspora among ECOWAS countries after Cabo Verde, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Côte d’Ivoire and Nigeria (Figure 2.10).

Although certain studies point to an increasing feminisation of the Ghanaian emigrant population – with women moving independently as skilled workers, entrepreneurs and traders – the gender composition of the Ghanaian diaspora in OECD countries has remained practically stable for 15 years. Between 2000/01 and 2015/16, the share of women only increased by 1 percentage point. However, there is evidence that Ghanaian women dominate short distance emigration to neighbouring countries (Anarfi, 2017[8]; UNDESA, 2020[9]). Ghana implemented structural adjustment policies in the 1980s, which increased unemployment and underemployment, incentivising women to emigrate as an alternative livelihood strategy. At the same time, economic opportunities in West Africa and the end of the apartheid in South Africa in the early 1990s propelled female migration within the continent (Wong, 2006[10]). In more recent years, women have increasingly engaged in international migration through specific sectors of occupation. The phenomenon is evident among women who emigrate as nurses and health care professionals to the United Kingdom and as domestic workers to countries in the Middle East (IOM, 2019[11]).

The distribution of women in the Ghanaian diaspora varies significantly by country of destination (Figure 2.12). Women represent 55% of the Ghanaian diaspora in the United Kingdom, the only leading destination country where women outnumber men. However, the phenomenon is not limited to the Ghanaian diaspora as women also represent the majority of the African diaspora in the United Kingdom (OECD/AFD, 2019[12]). In Italy, by contrast, Ghanaian women only account for 37% of the total emigrant population. Evidence suggests that it was not until the mid-1990s that married women and children began migrating to Italy (Marabello, 2018[7]). In the United States, Germany and Canada, the gender ratio is more balanced (47% of women in the United States and 49% in the latter two countries).

The Ghanaian diaspora living in OECD countries is primarily of working age: 80% of its emigrants were between 25 and 64 years old in 2015/16, similar to that of ECOWAS emigrants, 77% of which belong to the same age group (Figure 2.11). The predominance of working-age individuals in the Ghanaian diaspora is more significant than among the foreign-born and native populations of OECD countries (+11% and +29%, respectively). This positive self-selection among Ghanaian individuals of working age also means that the share of Ghanaian emigrants younger than 15 and above 64 is disproportionately low.

The population younger than 15 accounts for 5% of the Ghanaian diaspora in OECD countries, a similar share than among the foreign-born population (6%) but significantly lower than among the native-born (19%). Similarly, individuals older than 64 represent 6% of the Ghanaian diaspora, compared to 17 and 15% of native and foreign-born populations, respectively.

Moreover, the age distribution of the Ghanaian emigrant population highly contrasts with the population of Ghana and, again, points to positive self-selection among those in conditions to work: only four out of ten Ghanaians are of working age, compared to eight out of ten emigrants. Similarly, 38% of the Ghanaian population is less than 15 years old, compared to 5% of the population that migrates to an OECD country.

However, the age distribution of the Ghanaian diaspora varies significantly by country of destination (Figure 2.12). The Ghanaian migrant population in the United Kingdom is older than in the rest of the main destination countries: the share of individuals over 64 years of age is 8%, compared to 6% in the United States and Canada and 3% in Germany. In Italy, due to the low number of observations captured in Labour Force Surveys, data suggest that the population of Ghanaian migrants older than 64 is virtually non-existent. Aside from the methodological limitations of survey samples, it must be noted that substantial emigration to the Anglophone countries preceded emigration to Southern Europe, and Italy in particular. Further, surveys among Ghanaian migrants in Italy suggest that most plan to return before pension age and invest in Ghana to support such plans (Akwasi, 2016[13])

Italy and Germany host the largest proportions of Ghanaian migrants of working age (85% of the total migrant population in both countries). Conversely, the United States hosts the largest proportion of children: the share of people less than 15 years old is 8% compared to 3% in the United Kingdom, reflecting the preponderance of permanent family emigration to the United States.

Two countries stand out from the point of view of gender and age distribution: on the one hand, in Italy, 58% of men are of working age, compared to 31% of women, the most significant gender disparity observed in the main destination countries. Conversely, in the United Kingdom, we observe a larger proportion of women of working age (46%) than men (33%).

Emigrants who arrived in their destination country within the past five years can be considered recent emigrants. Compared to other diasporas in OECD countries, Ghanaian immigration is more recent: 22% of Ghanaian migrants arrived in the OECD area five years ago or less, compared to 16% of the foreign-born (Figure 2.13). Conversely, 60% of Ghanaian migrants are settled migrants (having arrived in the country more than 10 years ago), compared to 70% of the foreign-born. The settlement patterns of Ghanaian migrants in OECD countries are similar to those of ECOWAS migrants but point to relative recency compared to the overall immigration to OECD countries.

Differences in the distribution of the length of stay of Ghanaian emigrants by destination country make it possible to identify the different migration dynamics at work in OECD countries (Figure 2.14). Among the main destination countries, Canada and the United Kingdom are the host countries with the highest average length of stay: 78 and 68% of Ghanaian migrants, respectively, stayed for more than ten years. In contrast, a third of the Ghanaian migrants in Germany stayed in the country for five years or less. Similarly, more than half (55%) of Ghanaian migrants stayed in Italy for no more than ten years. These trends point to longer-term settlement prospects in the Anglophone countries and more temporary emigration to Italy and Germany.

In 2015/16, more than a third (35%) of Ghanaian migrants aged 15 years and older and living in OECD countries had a tertiary education (Figure 2.15). The share of highly educated migrants from Ghana is almost on par with the ECOWAS average (37%) and slightly higher than the foreign-born average (33%).

While the share of low educated migrants from Ghana has remained practically unchanged between 2000 and 2015, the share of medium and highly educated emigrants has evolved in contrary directions, albeit at low rates: in 2015/16, 37% of emigrants had medium educational attainment, a 3% decrease since 2000. Conversely, the share of emigrants with high educational attainment grew by 2% during the same period.

Ghanaian emigrants to OECD countries also hold significantly higher educational credentials than the average Ghanaian population, reflecting a strong positive selection of migrants from developing countries to the OECD area. Further, the share of the Ghanaian population with high educational attainment remained practically stable between 2000 and 2015, increasing only 1 percentage point during this period. Conversely, among the emigrant population, the share of highly educated increased by 2 percentage points, which suggests a widening gap between the origin and emigrant population. Regarding the ECOWAS population, Ghana ranks in the middle in educational attainment: six countries have higher shares of highly educated emigrants, and eight rank below (Figure 2.16).

Overall, in 2015/16, 35% of Ghanaian migrants aged 15 and older living in OECD countries had tertiary education. There is, however, heterogeneity across destination countries (Figure 2.17). In the top OECD destination country, the United States, almost half of the Ghanaian migrants (45%) have a high level of education. While the United States does not host the largest share of tertiary-educated migrants from Ghana (surpassed by Canada, with 66%), it does present the lowest share of low educated. To a lesser extent, Ghanaian migrants in the United Kingdom – the country with the second largest diaspora – also have high levels of education: the share of tertiary-educated among them is 41%, but the share of low educated is higher than in the United States, at 26%. These two profiles contrast with the third and fourth most important destination countries: in Italy and Germany, most Ghanaian migrants (69 and 51%, respectively) are low educated and only a minority have a tertiary education (4 and 9%, respectively). These differences confirm that highly educated Ghanaians tend to migrate to English-speaking destinations to be able to practice their professions, with a higher representation of lower-educated migrants in countries such as Germany, Italy and the Netherlands (Schans, 2013[14])

In 2015/16, Ghanaian emigrant women to OECD countries had, on average, a lower educational level than their male counterparts, but the gap between them has narrowed significantly since 2000 (Figure 2.18). While the educational attainment of Ghanaian emigrant women improved overall, it decreased for men between 2000 and 2015. For instance, in 2015/16 one-third of women had tertiary education, 7 percentage points higher than in 2000. Conversely, the share of men with a tertiary education decreased by 1 percentage point in the same period. Further, while the share of low-educated women decreased by 5 percentage points during the same period, it increased by 4 percentage points among men.

Access to the host-country nationality is an important element of integration policy, as it provides immigrants with the full range of rights and duties that host-country nationals enjoy (OECD, 2010[16]). Ghana recognised dual citizenship in the mid-1990s, though implementation did not materialise until 2002, with the passing of the Dual Citizenship Act (Whitaker, 2011[17]). In 1995, approximately 200 Ghanaian migrants acquired the citizenship of their OECD host country. By 2005, that number had increased by 45% to almost 10 000. Overall, the number of Ghanaian emigrants that acquired the citizenship of an OECD country increased significantly since 1995: the numbers saw a 68-fold increase by 2019, the latest data available.

Among the leading destination countries – the United States, United Kingdom, Italy, Germany and Canada – the number of Ghanaian migrants that acquired the citizenship of their host country increased by 78%, from less than 7 000 in 2000 to 12 500 in 2019 (Figure 2.21). However, there are important differences across destinations: between 2000 and 2019 the number of Ghanaian migrants that acquired the citizenship of the United States, Italy and Germany increased, but decreased in Canada and the United Kingdom during the same period.

The number of Ghanaian migrants that acquired American citizenship has grown constantly and more than tripled (+238%) between 2000 and 2019 (Figure 2.21). In 2015, the naturalisation rate of 55% among Ghanaian migrants was only 1 percentage point higher than among the foreign-born population (Figure 2.22). Conversely, the number of Ghanaian migrants acquiring British citizenship decreased by 7% between 2000 and 2019. Yet, in 2015, the naturalisation rate among Ghanaian migrants (54%) was higher than among the foreign-born population (39%). The number of Ghanaian migrants that acquired Italian citizenship saw a 7-fold increase since 2006 (the earliest data available). However, the naturalisation rate for Ghanaian migrants in 2015 was still low, at 10%, and significantly below the naturalisation rate for the foreign-born population (27%). The number of Ghanaians who acquired German citizenship increased by 13% but started at a much lower base (approximately 700). Similar to the case of Italy, the naturalisation rate among Ghanaian migrants in Germany is low (25%) and below the rate observed for the foreign-born population (40%).

According to the most recent data available, 48% of Ghanaian emigrants held the citizenship of their OECD host country (Figure 2.24). This figure is only 1 percentage point higher than for ECOWAS emigrants and 3 percentage points lower than the foreign-born population in OECD countries. Among the ECOWAS group, Ghana is the sixth country with the highest rate of naturalisations.

Emigration rates are defined as the ratio between the number of emigrants from a specific country living in OECD countries and the total sum of the resident population of this country and emigrants living in OECD countries. In 2015/16, Ghana had the sixth-highest emigration rate to OECD countries among the ECOWAS countries (Figure 2.24), but significantly lower than Cape Verde, for example, which has one of the highest emigration rates worldwide (26.1%). Ghana also has the sixth-highest emigration rate of women among ECOWAS countries (2.1%).

Across most developing and emerging countries, the emigration rates of the highly educated are almost always higher than the total emigration rates. Highly educated individuals are less financially constrained to engage in cross-country migration, and OECD countries have also adopted policies that tend to be very selective and make it very difficult for low-educated people to immigrate (d’Aiglepierre et al., 2020[18]). In 2015/16, Ghana had an emigration rate to OECD countries of 14% among its highly educated population, the seventh-highest among the 15 ECOWAS countries. The overall emigration rate of highly educated individuals to OECD countries was 16% in the same year (d’Aiglepierre et al., 2020[18]).

This chapter analysed the number of Ghanaian emigrants in main OECD destination countries, and the overall evolution of the emigrant population since 2000. Approximately half of the Ghanaian diaspora resides in the OECD area and is highly concentrated in five countries, of which two are Anglophone countries. While the stocks in OECD countries are mainly composed of men, available census data suggest that women compose most of the stocks in neighbouring countries. The educational level ad age distribution of the Ghanaian emigrant population in the OECD area shows positive self-selection among the tertiary-educated and those of working age.


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[8] Anarfi, J. (2017), A Historical Perspective of Migration from and to Ghana, University of Ghana.

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[7] Marabello, S. (2018), “West African Migrations to Italy: An Anthropological Analysis of Ghanaian and Senegalese Politics of Mobility in Emilia Romagna”, Revue européenne des migrations internationales, Vol. 34/1, pp. 127-149, https://doi.org/10.4000/remi.10193.

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[12] OECD/AFD (2019), “Are the characteristics and scope of African migration outside of the continent changing?”, Migration Data Brief No. 5, OECD, Paris, https://www.oecd.org/migration/mig/Migration-data-brief-5-EN.pdf.

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[5] United States Census Bureau (2019), American Community Survey 1-Year-Estimates-Public Use MIcrodata Sample.

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