Economic Research Forum (ERF)

Has international migration reduced internal migration in Egypt?

716
Urbanisation is key for economic development, yet Egypt has been lagging behind most other North African countries in this respect in recent decades. This column reports that the country’s lack of urbanisation is partly explained by very low internal migration rates, which in turn seem to have been dampened by high rates of international migration by Egyptians.

In a nutshell

Egypt’s total population has doubled in the last 30 years – yet the share of the population living in urban areas has not changed.

Approximately 60% of Egypt’s population still live in rural areas; internal migration rates are very low relative to the global average.

International migration prospects are likely to have dampened internal migration in Egypt.

Egypt has experienced substantial population growth over the last few decades. The country’s population has doubled in 30 years and reached 100 million in 2019 (UNDP, 2019).

Yet the rate of urbanisation has hardly changed in Egypt over the past 50 years. Since 1970, the share of the population that is urban has remained around 43% (UNDP, 2018). Moreover, urbanisation in the rest of North Africa has substantially surpassed that in Egypt.

In 1950, Egypt was among the leading countries in North Africa in terms of urbanisation. In 2018, Egypt had the lowest urbanisation rate among other neighbouring North African countries, including Algeria, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia (David et al, 2019). The urbanisation rate in Egypt stands at 43%, while the rate in the other North African countries is close to or higher than 70%.

We explore the extent to which internal migration has been responsible for the slow urbanisation in Egypt. Furthermore, given the importance of international migration, we investigate the relationship between international migration and internal migration.

In David et al (2019), we examine the evolution of internal migration rates in Egypt by decade of migration, focusing on various types of mobility: mobility between regions, governorates, cities or towns (qism/markaz) and villages (shyakha). We show that internal migration rates have been very low in Egypt, and we also find suggestive evidence that internal migration rates have been declining over time, since the 1980s.

For example, the regional migration rate went down from 2.6% in the 1980s to 1.7% in 2010s. Similarly, the internal migration rate between governorates decreased in the 2010s to reach 1.5% relative to 3% in the 1980s (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Internal migration rates (percentage) by decade of migration, mobility between regions and governorates

Notes. This figure features internal migration rates by decades of migration. This figure features mobility between regions (left panel) and mobility between governorates (right panel).

Moreover, we find that rural-urban migration has remained very low and that similarly, it has witnessed a decline over time. Migration rates from urban to rural areas have been almost equal to rural to urban migration rates over the past few decades. Taking into account urban to rural migration explains the very low and stable urbanisation rate in Egypt.

While internal migration has been very low, Egypt has been experiencing a steady flow of temporary international emigration, predominantly to other Arab countries and particularly to the Gulf States. We find that in 2018, almost 2% of individuals between 15 and 59 years old were international migrants and 7% were return migrants.

Furthermore, when we consider the rates of international and return migration experiences at the household level, we find that in 2018, 11% of Egyptian households either have or had an international migrant. We also find that these rates were even higher in 2012, which is likely to be a reflection of the impact of more restrictive immigration policies in destination countries.

Given the low rate of internal migration relative to international migration in the broad picture of mobility in Egypt, we explore the relationship between internal and international migration. More specifically, we examine whether international and internal migration substitute or complement each other.

Indeed, we find that in both 2012 and 2018, less than 1% of individuals aged between 15 and 59 years old were both internal and return migrants. These figures suggest that most individuals who engage in either internal or international migration do so solely without engaging in both types of mobility. It is also worth noting that we find that in 2018, the share of individuals who migrated overseas and returned is higher than the share of individuals who moved internally.

Urbanisation is key for economic development. While most North African countries have made major advances in this respect in recent decades, Egypt is still lagging behind and urbanisation rates have been stagnant since 1970. We find evidence that the lack of urbanisation in Egypt is partly explained by very low internal migration rates and that international migration prospects are likely to have dampened internal migration in Egypt.

Further reading

David, Anda, Nelly El-Mallakh and Jackline Wahba (2019) ‘Internal versus International Migration: Together or Far Apart’, ERF Working Paper (forthcoming).

UNDP, United Nations (2019) World Population Prospects: The 2019 Revision, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division.

UNDP, United Nations (2018) World Urbanization Prospects: The 2018 Revision, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division.

 

Most read

Arab countries are caught in an inequality trap

Conventional wisdom, based mainly on surveyed household income distribution statistics, suggests that inequality is generally low in Arab countries. At the same time, little attention has been devoted to social inequalities, whether in terms of outcomes or opportunities. This column introduces a forthcoming report, which offers a different narrative: based on the largest research project on the subject to date and covering 12 Arab countries, the authors argue that the region is caught in an inequality trap.

How Egyptian households cope with shocks: new evidence

Managing risks and reducing vulnerability to economic, social, environmental and health shocks enhances the wellbeing of households and encourages investment in human capital. This column explores the nature of shocks experienced by Egyptian households as well as the coping mechanisms that they use. It also examines the relationship between such risks and job formality and health status.

An appeal for Sudan’s future

Sudan today is on a knife-edge: it can evolve toward peace and democracy – or spiral into instability and violence. As this Project Syndicate column argues, vital and timely international assistance can make the difference between success and failure for the new government.

Egypt’s labour market: facts and prospects

An ERF policy conference on the Egyptian labour market in late October 2019 focused on gender and economic vulnerability. This column summarises the key takeaways from the event.

Reinforcing the re-emergence of the “missing middle” in Egypt

The more rapid growth of employment in small and medium-sized businesses compared with both micro enterprises and large firms in the Egyptian private sector presages the re-emergence of the ‘missing middle’. This column explains why this is a positive phenomenon that needs to be promoted and reinforced.

Political settlement scenarios for Arab conflicts

Millions of refugees from the Arab conflicts want to return to their countries, rebuild their homes and get their lives back – but what kind of political settlements might support that prospect? This column explores types of political settlements, what happened in the past after conflicts in Algeria and Lebanon, and scenarios for future political settlement in Syria.

Repatriation: scenarios for conflict resolution and reconstruction

What are the prospects for conflict resolution in Syria and other war-torn Arab countries, for reconstruction of their broken economies and societies, and for repatriation of the many refugees that have fled for their lives? This column discusses the notion of inclusive political settlements as a precondition for safe refugee repatriation and reconstruction plans for devastated communities.

Tackling multidimensional poverty in MENA

What does most recent multidimensional poverty assessment of the Middle East and North Africa reveal about health, education, living standards and social security in the region. This column outlines the evidence and potential policy responses.

Rethinking inequality in Arab countries: the latest research evidence

In an effort to explain and find policy responses to the Arab Spring, there has been considerable focus on inequality. This column summarises the findings of a major research project on the issue.

Distrust fuels protests in the Middle East and North Africa

Street protests are enveloping many countries in the Middle East and North Africa – and the fundamental cause is a growing sense of individual uncertainty and distrust of governments. This column argues that governments in the region must restore confidence in their abilities to lead change. More open markets can help to unleash the full potential of individuals in MENA countries – but to do so requires open governments.