Immigration is often tied in the popular imagination to poverty—“the wretched refuse of your teeming shore,” as poet Emma Lazarus wrote in 1883 to honor the Statue of Liberty. Data, however, show this notion to be a caricature. In this plot of the 50 largest migration flows, few of the poorest people leave home, and when they do they usually go to middle-income nations. Research suggests that is because they do not have the resources or education to survive in the richest countries. “Just like climbing a ladder, you have to take steps to get from the bottom to the top,” says Nikola Sander, who, with one of her colleagues at the Vienna Institute of Demography in Austria, found the trends using United Nations data. The largest migrations are from middle-income countries (2,000–20,000 segments of circle) to high-income countries—with a few exceptions (noted on graphic).

For an interactive graphic of human migration flows between world regions, see