Trends in migration

Permanent immigrant inflows are presented by category of entry which is a key determinant of immigrant results on the labour market. They cover regulated movements of foreigners as well as free movement migration.


Permanent immigrant inflows cover regulated movements of foreigners considered to be settling in the country from the perspective of the destination country. In countries such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States, this consists of immigrants who receive the right of “permanent” residence. In other countries, it generally refers to immigrants who are granted a residence permit which is indefinitely renewable, although the renewability is sometimes subject to conditions, such as the holding of a job. Excluded are international students, trainees, persons on exchange programmes, seasonal or contract workers, service providers, installers, artists entering the country to perform or persons engaging in sporting events, etc. Permits for persons in this latter group may be renewable as well, but not indefinitely.

Migrants are defined as “free movement” when they have some kind of basic rights, usually accorded through international agreements, to enter and leave a country that result in few restrictions being placed on their movements or durations of stay, such as citizens of EU countries within the EU. Their movements are not always formally recorded and sometimes have to be estimated.


This standardisation according to the concept of “permanent immigrant inflows” represents a considerable improvement compared with compilations of national statistics, whose coverage can vary by a factor of one to three. However, the extent to which changes in status are identified and the coverage of “permanent” free movement may vary somewhat across countries. Overall, the standardisation is applied to 23 OECD countries.

The year of reference for these statistics is often the year when the permit was granted rather than the year of entry. Some persons admitted on a temporary basis are sometimes allowed to change to a permanent status. They are counted in the year the change of status occurred. For example, asylum seekers are not considered migrants but are candidates for humanitarian migrant status. Only those who are recognised as refugees – or who obtain another permanent-type residence title – will be included in the permanent immigrant inflows statistics, in the year they are granted refugee or another permanent-type status. As a consequence, the unprecedented inflows of asylum seekers observed in the EU in 2015 (1.3 million requests filed) will appear in the permanent immigrant inflows in the subsequent years only, and only a part of these will figure there.


Total permanent immigration increased by about 1.6% overall in OECD countries in 2013 relative to 2012, with the migration picture being a mixed one at the country level. More than half of OECD countries showed increases, with Germany, Korea and Denmark being among the countries which progressed the most. Permanent migration flows diminished markedly in 2013 in Spain, Italy and the United States.

Migration to European countries continues to be characterised by free circulation within the European Economic Area (EEA). In Austria, Switzerland, Germany and Norway, it represents 78%, 78%, 76% and 63%, respectively, of permanent international migration.

Family reunification accounted for over one third of all permanent migration to OECD countries in 2013 (minus 1% compared to 2012) and free movement for 30% (up 4% compared to 2012).


Further information

Analytical publications

Statistical publications

Methodological publications


Table. Permanent inflows by category of entry

Permanent inflows by category of entry
Percentage of total permanent inflows, 2013