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Key findings
  • Almost half (45%) of Malawians say they have considered emigration, including 28% who say they have thought about it “a lot.” Respondents with secondary (58%) or post-secondary (61%) educational qualifications are most likely to say they have considered moving abroad.
  • Among these “potential emigrants,” about one in 12 (8%) say they are making concrete preparations to leave, such as getting a visa. This represents about 4% of the adult population
  • Two-thirds (65%) of potential emigrants say they would probably move to South Africa. Only one in five (20%) say they would leave the continent. But among Malawians with post-secondary educational qualifications, half would head for Europe (25%) or North America (25%).
  • The main motivations for Malawians to consider emigration are to escape poverty or economic hardship (51%) or to find work (40%)

Between 2000 and 2017, the number of international migrants from Africa grew by 67%, including many professionals opting for greener pastures in developed countries (Pathera, 2014; Wulfhorst, 2018; Pew Research Center, 2018; Chloe, 2007). In Malawi, the resulting strain on the health-care system has received particular attention, as the country loses more nurses than it trains and faces serious staffing shortages in the health sector (Masanjala, 2018).

A young population, high population growth rate, high unemployment, and comparatively low salaries for professionals may make emigration a particularly attractive option for many Malawians (United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, 2018; International Organization for Migration, 2014).

In this dispatch, we use Afrobarometer survey data to explore how ordinary Malawians feel about emigration. Almost half of respondents say they have considered emigration, including about one in 25 Malawian adults who say they are taking concrete steps to leave the country. Citizens with post-secondary educational qualifications are particularly likely to consider moving abroad. Most would head for South Africa, although the best-educated are more likely to consider North America and Europe, and most cite escaping poverty or finding work as their reasons.

Sadhiska Bhoojedhur

Sadhiska Bhoojedhur is a senior data analyst for Island Living, Mauritius.

Thomas Isbell

Thomas Isbell is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Institute of Democracy, Citizenship and Public Policy in Africa, University of Cape Town.