The History Of Iranian Emigration After 1977    


In 1977-1978 an estimated 100,000 Iranians were studying abroad. In the 1970s many opponents of the authoritarian regime of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi evaded arrest (or worse) by taking refuge in foreign countries, including those of Western Europe. After the Revolution, many stayed abroad and had their families join them. This first wave of emigrants also included people who were closely associated with the Shah's regime and people belonging to religious minorities fearing prosecution.

During the second phase, which began just after the Revolution, it was mostly leftists and liberals who fled the country. After the beginning of the war with Iraq in 1980 many young men fled the country in order to avoid the military service. During this period many highly educated professionals fled, contributing to the brain-drain.

The third phase started around 1995 and has continued to the present; it includes two groups, the highly educated, most of whom chose to settle and work in Europe and North America, and a new group of labour migrants and economic refugees, who often travelled to South-East Asia and to the Arab states of the Persian Gulf. The net migration rate was estimated at -3.28 migrants/1,000 population in 2008, and -0.13 in 2011.

The main causes of emigration are the economic crisis and the violations of human rights. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), in 2005 there were 111,684 refugees, asylum seekers, internally displaced persons (IDPs), and other persons of concern inside and outside of Iran. Germany and the United States hosted the largest populations of Iranian refugees, 39,904 and 20,541, respectively.

Although migration numbers fluctuate, brain drain has remained a major problem. In January 2006, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) claimed that Iran ranks highest in brain drain among 91 developing and developed countries. An estimated 150,000 to 180,000 highly educated people are leaving the country each year. According to the World Bank’s World Development Indicators (WDI), Iranian workers’ annual remittances and compensation of employees transferred back to Iran increased from USD 536 million in 2000 to USD 1.2 billion in 2003.

Estimates of the size of the Iranian diaspora vary between four and five million. Most Iranians outside of Iran live in North America, Europe, the Persian Gulf states, Turkey, Australia, and the Middle East. Significant communities in India and Pakistan claim Iranian ancestry. Most of the Iranians in the United States are concentrated in California.



(last updated September 2013)

Statistical Data On Iranian Refugees 1 and asylum seekers2

At the end of 2012, based on data received or estimated by United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the number of Iranian refugees was 75,613 of which 12,177 were assisted by the UNHCR mostly in Iraq (8,229). According to the same source at the end of this year there were 45.2 million forcibly displaced people worldwide, including 10.5 million refugees who fall under UNHCR’s mandate, some 4.9 million Palestinian refugees under the responsibility of the U. N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), and 28.8 million people displaced within their country as a result of armed conflict.

During 2012, 24,139 applications (first instance, appeal, etc) for asylum or refugee status were submitted by Iranians to Governments or UNHCR offices. During the same year, applications submitted by all nationalities in 164 countries amounted to 893,700. By nationality, the highest number of new asylum claims in 2012 was filed by individuals from D.R. Congo (52,400), Afghanistan (48,900), Syria (31,800), Eritrea (29,700), Pakistan (28,500), and Somalia (28,300).

In 2012, the six destination countries that received the largest numbers of new applications from Iranians were Germany (4,348), Turkey (3,589), the United Kingdom (3,154), Australia (1,839), Sweden (1,529), and Austria (761). /Nine countries receiving most of the new asylum applications from all nationalities were United States (70,400), Germany (64,500),South Africa (61,500), France (55,100), Sweden (43,900), UK (27,500), Switzerland (25,900), Australia (25,300), and Canada (20,200).





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