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A revealing map of who wants to move to the U.S.

Click to enlarge. (Max Fisher/Washington Post)

Gallup released some new data this week on migration, for which they asked people from 154 countries if they would like to migrate, and if so where to. The United States was by far the most popular destination; Gallup estimates that 138 million people would like to relocate there. The United Kingdom was the second-most popular, with 42 million potential migrants, followed by Canada, France and Saudi Arabia.

Those numbers are so high that I wondered how many people in particular countries want to move to the United States. Gallup actually posted some of those numbers on its Web site and when I asked for more, kindly sent them over. I've mapped out the data above.

It turns out that there are 44 countries where, according to Gallup's data, more than 5 percent of the adult population say say they would like to move to the United States. Five percent! That's a remarkably large share. In 15 of those countries, the proportion of the population that wants to move to the United States is above 10 percent. And there are three countries where more than a quarter of the adult population would like to move here: Liberia, Sierra Leone and the Dominican Republic.

First, a note about the map: It labels all countries where more than 5 percent of adults want to move to the United States; in the darker countries, an even larger share of the population wants to migrate. But you might notice that the key does not increase by a fixed amount, but rather by incrementally larger amounts. I did this because the data are not distributed evenly but tend to cluster toward the bottom; mapping it out this way makes it easier to see the variation. Just keep in mind that the difference between a yellow country and an orange country, for example, is not mathematically the same as the difference between and an orange and a red country. Okay, back to the results.

The data do not, as you might expect, always correlate with wealth. In other words, while it looks as though people in poorer countries are, in general, more likely to want to move to the United States, this doesn't explain the data entirely. GDP per capita is quite low in South Asia and the Middle East, but few countries in those regions broke about 5 percent.

Rather, it appears that people in Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa tend have an especially strong desire to the move to the United States, which also tends to have a high favorability rating in those regions. Latin America, of course, has a strong historical and cultural connection to the U.S., a fellow product of New World colonialism. As for sub-Saharan Africa, I have heard it said by scholars of the region that many Africans are well aware of, and tend to admire, the relative prosperity of African Americans.

The country with the very highest number of adults who want to move to the United States is Liberia, where a staggering 37.3 percent say they would like to migrate here. That's astonishing: Imagine if more than one third of an entire country picked up and relocated. Part of this may be due to Liberia's strong historical connection to the United States; the country was established by freed American slaves in the early 19th century, celebrates Thanksgiving, flies a one-star version of the American flag and has depended on U.S. assistance since its two successive civil wars in the 1980s and 1990s. Liberia's high rating may also help explain second-ranked Sierra Leone, just next door.

There are a handful of other countries with close historical ties to the United States on this list, which may help explain their inclusion. Though Southeast Asia is largely gray, one of only two outliers is the Philippines, which was of course a U.S. colony during the early 20th century. Armenia might be explained by the large Armenian population here.

The only two developed, wealthy economies on this list have very close cultural connections to America: Israel and the United Kingdom. About 6 percent of British and Israeli adults say they would like to migrate to the United States. And both countries, of course, build their foreign policies around a reliance on American friendship while also trying to avoid becoming a pawn of the United States or, according to a phrase sometimes used in British politics, "the 51st state." In 2011, the Israeli government sponsored a series of ads aimed at Israelis who had moved to the United States, urging them to remember their Israeli roots and to move home if possible.

There are two absences on this map that I found surprising: India and China. There are very large Indian-American and Chinese-American populations here, of course, and a steady stream of arrivals from both countries. It's possible that the size of the countries made polling more difficult. It's also possible that those immigrants tend to come from certain regional or demographic groups within China and India, meaning that the rest of those countries are less interested in migrating. Still, even if only 1 percent of India and China wish to become American, that's still 25 million people.

Finally, consider what would happen if all 138 million of the adults who want to move to the United States were suddenly able to follow through on that. (The cost of uprooting one's family and making the trip, of course, might be even more limiting than American immigration laws.) The U.S. population would grow to 453 million, and it would be a potentially much more African and Latin community. And more British, too. Sounds like an interesting mix.



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Max Fisher · March 22, 2013

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