International migration

  • More international immigrants than emigrants for years in a row

    For the Flemish Region, there were just over 80,000 immigrations from abroad and almost 52,000 emigrations to other countries in the course of 2019. This resulted in a positive international migration balance of approximately 28,500 units, which contributed to the growth of the (legal) population of the Flemish Region.

    International migration from and to the Flemish Region has shown a positive balance for many years. In the 1990s, this balance was rather limited (around +5,000). Since 2001, the balance has risen sharply. In 2010, there was an adjustment in the counting methods, which resulted in a high positive balance for international migration for that year (+34,396). Afterwards, the balance shrank to rise again from 2014 onwards.

    In recent years, there has been an increase in both international immigrations and emigrations. This indicates an increased international mobility.


  • Official strikings-off account for 4 out of 10 international emigrations

    International immigration can be broken down into three groups: 

    International immigration in the strict sense accounted for the lion's share of international immigration to the Flemish Region (85%) in 2019. Re-registrations (9%) and transfers (6%) accounted for the rest in more or less equal parts.

    International emigration also has three components: 

    Emigrations in the strict sense represented 6 out of 10 cases within the overall context of international emigration (61%). Nearly 4 out of 10 cases were official strikings-off (39%), while transfers to a waiting register were rather limited (0.1%).

  • Most international immigrants are EU citizens

    International immigrants can be broken down by nationality into Belgians, EU citizens (excluding Belgians) and non-EU citizens. EU citizens (excluding Belgians) make up half of the group who immigrate from abroad to the Flemish Region, followed by non-EU citizens and Belgians.

    Belgians are, in relative terms, more prominent in international emigration (32% compared to 14% in immigration), while non-EU citizens are much less so (19% compared to 35% in immigration).

    For years the international migration balance has been negative for Belgians (in 2019: 10,228 arrivals - 16,433 departures = -5,505). The balance is positive for the other nationality groups (in 2019: +15,575 for EU citizens; +18,441 for non-EU citizens).


  • Romanians, Dutch and Bulgarians at the forefront of foreign immigration

    In 2019, Belgians are at the forefront of international immigration to the Flemish Region, followed by citizens of Romania, the Netherlands and Bulgaria. The top 10 additionally includes 3 non-European nationalities (Morocco, Afghanistan and India).

    Men have a  predominance (>55%) among immigrated Belgians, as well as among immigrated nationals of Romania, Bulgaria, Poland, Italy and Portugal. Only Moroccans (53%) and Afghans (52%) have a slight predominance of women.


  • Overall positive balances for international migration in the Flemish municipalities

    In most Flemish municipalities, the international migration balance of the period 2017-2019 was positive. For 17 out of 300 municipalities the balance was negative.  

    Near the border with the Netherlands in the provinces of Antwerp and Limburg there are several municipalities with distinctly positive balances. This is also the case in parts of southern West Flanders. The 5 municipalities with the highest positive balances are: Baarle-Hertog, Langemark-Poelkapelle, Leuven, Herstappe and Arendonk.

    There are notably negative balances for a number of municipalities in the eastern Flemish periphery around Brussels: Tervuren, Overijse, Hoeilaart, Wezembeek-Oppem, Kraainem and Linkebeek.


  • High international migration intensity in Leuven

    Among the Flemish central cities, Leuven not only has a high positive balance for international migration but also a high migration intensity. This reflects the sum of all  immigrations and emigrations, expressed per 1,000 inhabitants. Leuven has an average migration intensity of 91 units per 1,000 inhabitants per year in the period 2017-2019.

    Migration intensity is also large in Antwerp and Ghent (around 40 units per 1,000 inhabitants), just as it is for Turnhout (34). Lower values are noted for the other central cities (around 20). 

    Outside the Flemish central cities,  high migration intensities are observed for municipalities bordering the Netherlands (Baarle-Hertog, Hoogstraten and Ravels) and for municipalities in the Flemish periphery around Brussels (Kraainem, Tervuren and Wezembeek-Oppem).

    In all Flemish central cities, the International migration balance in the period 2017-2019 was positive. The relative contribution of this component to population growth was strongest in Turnhout, Roeselare and Leuven.


  • International immigration of non-EU citizens close to the European average

    The immigration in 2018 of non-EU citizens in relation to the population was close to the European average for both the Flemish Region (4.1 per 1,000 inhabitants) as for Belgium (4.9 per 1,000 inhabitants). In Belgium, the Brussels-Capital Region is a hub for international migration and has a particularly high immigration rate.

    Typical for the Flemish Region (57%) and for Belgium (53%) is that the majority of foreigners who immigrated from abroad in 2018 have the citizenship of another EU member state. This is also the case in Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Croatia, Denmark and Slovakia.


Statistics Flanders: Population movement 
Statbel: Population 
Eurostat: Database 


Official striking-off: persons who no longer actually reside in the municipality in which they are registered and who are not registered in another municipality can be struck off the population register (in accordance with the legal procedure provided for this purpose). 

Re-registration: the person is re-registered in a legal population register; this is only registered as such if the previous official striking-off was carried out in a previous calendar year.  

Central cities: As part of its urban policy, the Government of Flanders designated 13 'central cities'. These are Aalst, Antwerp, Bruges, Genk, Ghent, Hasselt, Kortrijk, Leuven, Mechelen, Ostend, Roeselare, Sint-Niklaas and Turnhout. 

International migration balance: the balance of international immigration and international emigration (to and from countries abroad - outside Belgium). 

Waiting register: asylum seekers are first registered in a waiting register. Once they are recognised as refugees, after allocation of a subsidiary protection status or after obtaining a residence permit for another reason, they are transferred to a regular population register. 

Average population: the arithmetical average of the population as measured at the beginning and the end of the calendar year. 

Usually resident population: The population with their usual residence in the country as published by the European Statistical Office Eurostat. Persons registered in the waiting register for asylum seekers are partly included (depending on the length of stay according to the European definition). 

Legally resident population: The population registered in the National Register as published by the Belgian Statistical Office Statbel. These are residents with a right of permanent residence or establishment in Belgium or with a right of temporary residence (>3 months) in the country. Persons registered in the waiting register for asylum seekers are not included. 

Publication date

5 November 2020

Next update

July 2021

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