Top 10 cities with the highest share of foreigners in population

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The story of the first human migrations dates way, way back: it is believed that the very first one happened approximately 2 million years ago with the early expansions out of Africa by Homo Erectus. And migrations haven’t stopped since then.

Fast-forwarding to 21st century in Europe, the EU has granted all its citizens a freedom of movement within all the member states since 2004. From that time, the term immigrant in the EU has been used only to refer to non-EU citizens. In other words, EU citizens relocating to another EU country are not defined as immigrants anymore.

In general, migrations happen because of social, economic, political and environmental factors.

According to the 2018 Pew Research Center survey of 18 countries that host half of the world’s migrants (Canada, Australia, UK, Sweden, Japan, USA, Germany, Mexico, Spain, France, Netherlands, South Africa, Israel, Poland, Russia, Italy, Greece and Hungary), the majority of people there say that immigrants are additional strength to their countries, rather than burden (the overall median percentage is 58% i favour of strength).

However, although immigrants contribute to the labour market shortages, they do not affect the demographic phenomenon of population ageing, which is very widespread across EU, even though the immigrants into EU member states are much younger than the total population already residing in their country of destination. The median age of EU population for 2019 was 43.9 years, while it was 29.2 years for immigrants.

According to Eurostat, there were approximately 2.7 million immigrants to the EU from non-EU countries in 2019. Furthermore, there were 1.2 million people who emigrated from EU to a country outside the EU in the same year. 1.4 million people previously residing in one EU member state migrated to another one (2019).

On a national level, the largest number of immigrants for 2019 was reported in Germany (a total of approximately 886,300 people). Germany is followed by Spain (750,500), France (385,600) and Italy (332,800). It is interesting that all the three countries reported the highest number of emigrants for the same year as well: Germany (576,3000), France (299,100) and Spain (296,200).

In absolute terms, the largest numbers of non-nationals living in the EU member states on January 1st, 2020 were found in Germany (10.4 million people), Spain (5.2 million people), France (5.1 million people) and Italy (5.0 million people), says Eurostat. This also means that non-nationals in the four mentioned countries collectively represented 71 % of the total number of non-nationals living in all of the EU member states.

In 2019, Eurostat conducted a survey throughout the EU to explore which cities have the highest share of foreigners in population. When taking into account large cities (500,000+ inhabitants), the top 5 classification is widely dominated by just one country: as many as four out of five EU cities with most foreigners are located in Germany.

As of 2014, approximately 16,3 million people with an immigrant background were living in Germany. In simple words, every fifth person in Germany is an immigrant.

Overall, Germany is a top pick because of a wide range of jobs and great salaries, but also relatively low crime rates, clean environment, excellent public transport and many cultural and leisure attractions.

The German city which has most immigrants is Frankfurt. With 100,600 EU foreigners and 120,000 non-EU foreigners, Frankfurt has a share of 29% foreigners in its population (1,215.289 people) for 2019. It is continental Europe’s largest financial center and has a population of approximately 2.5 million in the city and surrounding urban area. The city is in great demand of software developers, programmers, architects, IT consultants, nurses, teachers, etc.

Munich ranked third with 26% share of foreigners in its population of 1,471.508 people. Besides a great demand of workers in construction and hospitality, Munich is home to headquarters of many worldwide known companies, such as Allianz, BMW and Siemens and their need for international talent keeps on growing.

The fourth place is reserved for Stuttgart, with a share of 25% of foreigners in 2019. Germany’s sixth largest city is home to Mercedes-Benz, Daimler and Robert Bosch headquarters, to name just a few. Full of greenery and with a very strong economy, the unemployment rate in the city is just a few per cent.

Another German city which made the top 5 EU cities with high share of foreigners in population (23%) is Nuremberg. A safe and secure city with great educational institutions and political stability, Nuremberg also offers affordable cost of living (in comparison with other German cities on this list).

The number one city with the highest share of foreigners in the EU is Brussels. The administrative centre of the European Union and the city considered as de facto capital city of EU, Brussels hosts a great number of principal EU Institutions in its European Quarter. European Parliament, European Commission, European Council and other ones employ tens of thousands of people from all across the Union. The share of foreigners in Brussels’ population in 2019 was 35%, with a total of 277,731 EU foreigners and 150,829 non-EU foreigners. Brussels is also home to a great number of political media as well as more than 10,000 registered lobbyists.

Furthermore, multinationals like General Electric, IBM, Toyota, Microsoft, Pfizer have set up regional/European offices in Brussels and are always in demand of workforce.

The other five cities which made the Top 10 list are Riga (22%), Antwerp (21%), Dusseldorf (20%), Barcelona (20%) and Cologne (19%).



Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, human mobility has been greatly disrupted over the past couple of years, due to the closing of national borders. According to UN, the preliminary estimates suggest that the pandemic may have slowed the growth in the stock of international migrants by around two million by mid-2020, 27% less than the growth expected since mid-2019.

Unfortunately, because of the Russian aggression on Ukraine which started on February 24, 2022, Europe is now witnessing the fastest-growing refugee crisis in Europe since WWII. (photo credit: pch. vector/Freepik)