Author : Jasper Tjaden
When most people hear the word “migration” or “migrants”, they probably think of people crammed on small boats, fleeing to Greece or Italy. I doubt the word “migrant” conjures up images of Cristiano Ronaldo, Kate Winslet or Albert Einstein. That’s not what people mean when they talk about migrants. But it should be.
The most successful football player in the world, an actor in the second most successful film of all time, and one of the smartest people in history are technically all migrants. I’m not cherrypicking here either. My own research shows that 55% of international footballers, almost half of the best actor and best actress Oscar nominees since 2000, and about one third of Nobel prize nominees since 1901 were migrants.
The UN migration agency defines a migrant as “any person who is moving or has moved across an international border or within a state away from his/her habitual place of residence, regardless of legal status; reason/cause for the movement; or length of the stay in the destination country”. The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs counts as “international migrants” people who are living in a country outside of the place where they were born or the country where they hold a passport. The UN recommends that anyone staying in another country for longer than three months can be considered an international migrant.
Ronaldo, Winslet and Einstein would definitely make the cut. Ronaldo is a Portuguese citizen who has been employed in England and Spain for most of his career; Winslet, who is British, has been working in the US and living there for long stretches throughout her career; German Nobel prize winner Einstein worked at Princeton University for more than 20 years and acquired US citizenship in 1940.
The UN estimates that there are approximately 258 million international migrants in the world – that’s 3.4% of the world’s population. But it’s a lot more common in football, acting and academia than on average around the world. People do not often associate migration with the rich and famous, but the data tells a different story.
My analysis based on Fifa 2017 statistics reveals that 55% of all active players who played for a national team in 2017 played for a club outside of the country where they hold citizenship. More than 90% of players for the national teams of Colombia, Belgium, Ireland, Sweden and Switzerland played for a club abroad; 87% of the Argentinian national team and 83% of the Brazilian national team earned their money outside of their country of citizenship. The average is lower for the larger European teams: 48% of Spanish national players, 39% of French and German, and 13% of Italians were de facto migrants. Out of the 100 best-rated players in 2017, 72 were migrants. These stats do not even include players who were born in a different country to the one they were raised in, and later acquired citizenship.
Browsing through data on all Academy Award nominees for best actor and best actress since the year 2000 shows that, on average, 41% of those beautiful and talented people are or were migrants. Either they were born abroad and moved to Hollywood or they have at least worked in the US for an extended period of time. Either makes them a migrant. There are more female migrants in Hollywood than males: 45% of female nominees were born outside the US or hold a non-US passport compared with 33% of male ones. Most of them may well be British, Australian or Canadian, but just because the majority of “foreign” actors speak English as their mother tongue does not make them any less of a migrant.
Based on analysis of all Nobel laureates since 1901, it turns out that 29% of all those nominated for a Nobel prize in their respective discipline were migrants. “Migrant” in this case means that they were nominated for their work at an institution that was based outside of their country of birth (regardless of border changes). The percentage varies over time between 0%, for example, in 1922, 1965 and 1976, and 75% in 1957 and 1971. There does not seem to be a clear upward or downward trend over time, which suggests the brainiest people have been international since the Swedish and the Norwegians started handing out the prizes.
Yet, despite migrants being over-represented among some of the most successful, privileged people in the world, hostility towards migration remains. Ipsos Mori found that, in many western countries, people overestimate the number of migrants who live in their country by a large margin. This suggests that we may also have a twisted idea of who is actually a migrant, and what they bring to the table. Perceptions matter. They can affect general attitudes towards migration policy and shift elections.
Maybe a lot of what’s wrong with the way we think about migration is reflected in the question of why we would not think of successful, rich, smart and beautiful people as migrants. The 258 million international migrants that the UN estimates are worldwide are a diverse bunch: footballers, actors, Nobel laureates, but no less importantly they’re nurses, farmers, mechanics, cooks, entrepreneurs and spouses – and they all deserve to be valued.