Blog Post

EU immigration to the US: where is it coming from, and is brain drain real?

In today’s world of ever-increasing mobility, who is leaving Europe? In this piece, we examine the immigrants leaving the EU for the US. How many and how skilled are these immigrants? Is there evidence of brain drain?

By: and Date: September 16, 2015 Topic: Global Economics & Governance

In the period between 1998 and 2013, an average of 61 649 EU nationals received lawful permanent resident status in the US each year. Lawful permanent residency, also referred to as “a green card”, gives immigrants basically the same rights as US citizens (with the exception of the right to vote) for life. Most importantly, a green card allows immigrants to work for any US company or set up their own company in the US.

The European Union’s share in worldwide immigration to the US is quite small. In 2013, 54 356 EU nationals received green card status in the US. This represents only 0.01% of the total EU population in 2013 and 5.5% of all green cards issued by the US in that year. These numbers have been somewhat higher in the past (see figure 1).

FIGURE 1

GChoi_Rveugelers_16-09-15-1

Source: Bruegel calculations based on the Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, US Department of Homeland Security

The following figures show where these EU immigrants to the US come from. We have divided the EU into four regions.

  • East: Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia
  • North: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Sweden
  • South: Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Malta, Portugal, and Spain
  • West: Ireland and the United Kingdom.

Figure 2 compares the regions’ shares in EU-US immigration to their shares in total EU population (we consider the averages of the period between 2010 and 2013). We see that most of EU immigration to the US comes from Eastern Europe. Note that the share of the East in immigration is substantially higher than its share in population. This shows that their contribution to immigration is disproportionally high compared to those of the other regions. The North displays the opposite phenomenon; it is responsible for only a small portion of EU-US immigration considering its large share in EU population. The same applies for Southern European countries. Now consider Western Europe. The United Kingdom and Ireland are overrepresented in EU to US immigration; their share in immigration is twice as high as their share in population.

FIGURE 2

GChoi_Rveugelers_16-09-15-2

Source: Bruegel calculations based on the Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, US Department of Homeland Security

When we examine trends over time (1998-2013), we see a gradual decline, especially since 2006, in the absolute number of immigrants from Eastern Europe. This is reflected in a decline in the East’s share in total EU immigration to the US. Figure 3 below shows the regions’ shares in total EU-US immigration and how those shares have changed since 1998.

FIGURE 3

GChoi_Rveugelers_16-09-15-3

Source: Bruegel calculations based on the Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, US Department of Homeland Security

The following graph (Figure 4) looks at individual EU countries. The countries with the greatest overrepresentation in green card numbers (given their relatively small shares in population) are Bulgaria, Ireland, and Lithuania, with shares in immigration three times higher than their shares in population. Estonia, Latvia, Poland, and Romania also have immigration rates higher than what their population size would predict. But the most striking example is the United Kingdom, whose share in immigration is almost twice as high as its share in population, despite its large share in total EU population. The low immigration to population ratio in the South holds for all South European countries and is especially noticeable in Spain and Italy.

FIGURE 4

GChoi_Rveugelers_16-09-15-4

Source: Bruegel calculations based on the Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, US Department of Homeland Security

Employment-based immigration from the EU to the US

A US green card can be obtained through various means. Most immigrants receive green cards through family members who are US citizens or permanent lawful residents (about 65%). A smaller portion (16% of all green cards issued by the US in 2013) of immigrants receive green cards through their US employers, and this process is known as employment-based immigration. Although small in number, this category of immigrants typically includes exceptionally skilled individuals.

It is important to consider that US employment-based immigration requires US employers to petition on the immigrant employee’s behalf (pay the necessary fees, file the extensive paperwork, and deal with the US immigration system and Department of Labour). This entails that the immigrant employee must be a valuable asset to the employer.

The US reserves about 140 000 green cards each year for employment-based immigration. Preference is given to highly skilled immigrants. Green cards are also reserved, albeit in smaller numbers, for immigrants who establish companies large enough (and with enough funds). These immigrants are able to petition for themselves.

FIGURE 5

GChoi_Rveugelers_16-09-15-5

Source: CRS Summary of §§203(a), 203(b), and 204 of INA; 8 U.S.C. §1153

The EU is much better represented in employment-based immigration to the US than in total immigration. This means that the immigrants coming into the US from Europe are more skilled than immigrants coming into the US from other world regions. In 2013, 18 171 EU immigrants obtained green cards through employment. One in every three EU nationals obtaining green cards obtained them through employment, and 11% all employment-based green cards issued by the US were given to EU nationals. The EU’s share in US employment-based immigration is twice as high as its share in total US immigration.

Figure 5 shows the shares in employment-based immigration for the four regions in the EU and how the shares have changed over time.

FIGURE 6

GChoi_Rveugelers_16-09-15-6

Source: Bruegel calculations based on the Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, US Department of Homeland Security

Comparing figures 3 and 5 shows that Eastern Europe is underrepresented in employment-based immigration considering its share in total immigration. Southern European countries, on the other hand, have similar shares in employment-related and total immigration. Northern countries have a larger share in employment-related immigration than in total immigration (which reflects the higher skill level of immigrants from Northern Europe). Western Europe, however, has the highest ratio of share in employment-based immigration to total immigration thanks to the UK (Ireland’s share in employment-based immigration is comparable to its share in total immigration).

The United Kingdom is by far the most important source for employment-based immigration from the EU to the US. Almost 6 000 UK nationals obtained green cards through employment in 2013, which was about one-third of all employment-related green cards issued to EU nationals that year and 45% of all green cards issued to UK nationals.

In comparison, about 2 100 employment-based green cards went to French nationals in 2013, which represented about 11% of all EU employment-related green cards and 47% of all green cards issued to French nationals that year. For Germany, this number was about 1 900 (only one-third of all green cards received by Germans). Italy and Spain each sent about 1 000 employment-related immigrants that year, which was about 35% and 39%, respectively, of the total number of immigrants they sent to the US.

In Eastern Europe, Poland and Romania contributed the largest numbers of employment-related immigrants (1 100 and 900, respectively, in 2013). These numbers were 17% and 23% of total green cards issued to their citizens. Note that the immigration coming from these countries was less employment-heavy in comparison to other EU countries.

In summary, the emigration of EU citizens to the US is not characterized by overcrowded flights and waiting times. It is, rather, a small and steady flow. Nevertheless, this small flow possesses exceptional skill and education levels. Behind the deceivingly low numbers is a huge potential for wealth creation that is permanently migrating to the US. The effects of this migration can be significant for many countries, especially the UK and France. Therefore, it is important that we know more about why these exceptionally talented Europeans move to the US, what contributions they make to the US economy, and, above all, what contributions the EU could have enjoyed if they had stayed.


Republishing and referencing

Bruegel considers itself a public good and takes no institutional standpoint. Anyone is free to republish and/or quote this post without prior consent. Please provide a full reference, clearly stating Bruegel and the relevant author as the source, and include a prominent hyperlink to the original post.

View comments
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Blog Post

The challenge of fostering financial inclusion of refugees

Creation of a European identification for refugees and a pan-European registry would encourage better financial inclusion, along with clear guidelines about financial regulation and public-private partnerships

By: Zsolt Darvas Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: December 13, 2017
Read about event More on this topic

Past Event

Past Event

Better policies for people on the move

This event will discuss the impact and integration of migrants as well as national and European immigration policy challenges

Speakers: Manu Bhardwaj, Elizabeth Collett, Zsolt Darvas, Eva Degler, Maria Demertzis, Arjen Leerkes, Rainer Münz, Matthias Oel, Alessandra Venturini and Guntram B. Wolff Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Location: Bruegel, Rue de la Charité 33, 1210 Brussels Date: December 13, 2017
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Blog Post

Support for intra-EU mobility of people is on the rise

Europeans’ enthusiasm for immigration from other EU countries is steadily increasing –two-thirds of the EU population, on average, now support it.

By: Zsolt Darvas Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: December 12, 2017
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Blog Post

How the EU has become an immigration area

Natural change of EU28 population (the balance of live births and deaths) has fallen from high positive values in the 1960s to essentially zero recently, while the previous close-to-zero net immigration has turned positive and, since the early 1990s, become a more important source of population growth than natural increase

By: Zsolt Darvas Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: December 6, 2017
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Blog Post

German wages, the Phillips curve and migration in the euro area

This post studies why wages in Germany have not borne strong increases despite a relatively strong labour market. I list four reasons why announcing the death of the Phillips curve – the negative relationship between unemployment and wage growth – is premature in Germany. One of the reasons I report is substantial immigration from the rest of the EU.

By: Guntram B. Wolff Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: November 29, 2017
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Blog Post

Revision of the Posted Workers Directive misses the point

The Commission’s proposed revision of the Posted Workers Directive has been approved by the European Parliament’s Employment Committee, which welcomes the arrival of “equal pay for equal work”. But the revision will have little impact, and was largely unnecessary. Instead we should focus on the fight against bogus self-employment, social security fraud and undeclared work.

By: Zsolt Darvas Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: October 18, 2017
Read about event More on this topic

Past Event

Past Event

EU - CELAC Economic Forum - Channels for a joint future

On 11 October Bruegel together with GIGA and Real Instituto Elcano will organise a conference on relations between the EU and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States.

Speakers: Paola Amadei, Angel Badillo, Paulo Carreño King, Linda Corugedo Steneberg, Gonzalo de Castro, Gonzalo Gutiérrez, Bert Hoffmann, Edita Hrdá, Ramón Jáuregui, Emilio Lamo de Espinosa, Eduardo Levy Yeyati, Gabriel Lopez, Enrique Medina Malo, Maryleana Méndez Jiménez, Luicy Pedroza, Mario Pezzini, Mario Soares, Everton Vargas, Dylan Vernon and Guntram B. Wolff Topic: Global Economics & Governance Location: Bruegel, Rue de la Charité 33, 1210 Brussels Date: October 11, 2017
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Blog Post

EU posted workers: separating fact and fiction

After President Macron’s recent tour of Central and Eastern European countries, EU posted workers are getting a lot of attention. However, a major reform of the system is already underway and we should not confuse posted workers with long-term labour migrants. Posted workers are a small part of the labour force, and their labour market impact is likely to be minor.

By: Uuriintuya Batsaikhan Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: August 31, 2017
Read article Download PDF More by this author

Parliamentary Testimony

European Parliament

Could revising the posted workers directive improve social conditions?

This presentation was delivered in Brussels on 31 January 2017 at a hearing of think-tanks, to advise the European Parliament on the revision of the Posting of Workers Directive.

By: Zsolt Darvas Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance, European Parliament, Testimonies Date: August 29, 2017
Read article More by this author

Blog Post

The Mariel Boatlift Controversy

What's at stake: how does immigration affect the wages of local workers? One way to answer this question is by exploiting a natural experiment. The Mariel boatlift of 1980 constituted an ideal experiment - bringing a sudden and large increase of low-skilled workers in just one city - but results are still hotly debated.

By: Silvia Merler Topic: Global Economics & Governance Date: June 5, 2017
Read article More on this topic

Opinion

How the G20 should change its approach to migration and development in Africa

The G20 is redesigning its Africa strategy. Meanwhile, migration from Africa is an increasingly controversial topic in European politics, even though total flows are stable. Many hope that economic development in Africa will reduce migration pressures. But many African countries are so poor that increased wealth will actually accelerate emigration - by giving people the means to leave. The EU should support economic development in Africa, but Europe also needs to realise that migration from Africa is likely to increase in the coming years.

By: Guntram B. Wolff and Maria Demertzis Topic: Global Economics & Governance Date: May 30, 2017
Read article Download PDF More on this topic

Policy Contribution

Europe’s role in North Africa: development, investment and migration

The authors of this Policy Contribution propose five ways in which EU policymakers can contribute to development in North Africa and build partnerships on trade, investment and migration.

By: Uri Dadush, Maria Demertzis and Guntram B. Wolff Topic: Global Economics & Governance Date: April 8, 2017
Load more posts