Background InformationCapital: Rabat
Language: Arabic (official), Berber languages, French
Area: 710,850 km2
Population (2007): 31,224,000
Population density (2007): 44 persons per km2
Population growth (1996-2007): 1.2%
Foreign nationals as percentage of population (2008 est.): 0.3%
Labor force participation rate (2007): 56.1%
Unemployment rate (2007): 9.8%
Religions: Muslim 98.7%, Christian 1.1%, Jewish 0.2%

Historical and Recent Trends in Immigration and Emigration

Pre-colonial migration

Nomadic or semi-nomadic (transhumant) groups traveled large distances with their herds between summer and winter pastures. While some nomadic tribes settled, other sedentary groups became nomadic or settled elsewhere. Following the Arab-Islamic conquests beginning in the seventh century, Arab tribal groups migrated to and settled in present-day Morocco, where they deeply influenced traditional Berber society. At the same time, many Arabs who had settled assimilated into local Berber culture and society.

Monotheistic religion has been another factor in stimulating mobility. Besides the hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca), the numerous marabutic pilgrimages (mussems) prevailing within the entire Maghreb and West African cultural area, mobility related to the religious schooling of pupils and students at medersas and Islamic universities, as well as the peregrination of religious teachers has put people into contact over large distances.

Also, Moroccan Jews have been highly mobile both within Morocco and internationally. Their extended networks enabled them to travel and to settle elsewhere, and Jews played a vital role as intermediaries and merchants in the trans-Saharan trade as well as in establishing contacts and trade relationships between Moroccan sultanates and European countries from the sixteenth century onwards. Following the reconquistamakhzen2Migration in the colonial era
The French colonisation of Algeria in 1830 marked the beginning of a period of economic and political restructuring, which was to create entirely new migration patterns within the Maghreb region. The increasing demand for wage labour on the farms of French colonists and in the northern cities attracted a rising number of seasonal and circular migrants from rural areas in Morocco.34

The Moroccan migration boom
Germany (1963), France (1963), Belgium (1964) and the Netherlands (1969). This was the onset of a spatial diversification of Moroccan migration to Europe, which was previously mainly directed towards France.

Formal recruitment by specialised agencies in the host countries was important only in the initial years of labour migration. Spontaneous settlement, network migration and informal recruitment by companies was far more important numerically than formal recruitment, even in the 1960s and 1970s.567 Between 1948 and 1956, 90,000 Jews emigrated. After the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, most remaining Jews decided to leave the country.

Between 1948 and 2003, a total of 270,188 Moroccan Jews migrated to Israel. In 2003, the Israeli population included 161,000 people born in Morocco, plus 335,000 born in Israel with a Moroccan-born father. Including Israeli-born with a Moroccan-born mother and the third generation, it is estimated that at least 700,000 people of Moroccan ancestry live in Israel. Presently, about 5,000 Jews remain in Morocco.8

Diversification of migration in response to restrictive policies
The Moroccan state, European receiving countries as well as most migrants themselves expected that this migration would only be temporary. Standing in an ancient tradition of circular migration, most migrants themselves intended to return after a certain amount of money had been saved to buy some land, construct a house, or start their own enterprise. The 1973 Oil Crisis heralded a period of economic stagnation and restructuring, resulting in rising unemployment and lower demand for unskilled workers. Consequently, northwest European countries closed their borders to new labor migrants. However, most migrants did not return, but ended up staying in Europe permanently. The Oil Crisis radically changed the political and economic context in which migration took place, both in Europe and in Morocco. Morocco suffered even more than the European countries from the high oil prices and the global economic downturn. In addition, following two failed against King Hassan II in 1971 and 1972, the country also entered into a period of increasing political instability and repression.

This combination of factors explains why many migrants decided to stay on the safe side, that is, in Europe. Paradoxically, the recruitment freeze stimulated permanent settlement instead of the reverse. Large-scale family reunification heralded this shift from circular to more permanent migration. It was mainly through family reunification that the total population of Moroccans in France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany continued to increase. Return migration has been low among Moroccans compared to other immigrant groups in Europe.

While family reunification was largely complete at the end of the 1980s, family formation gained significance as a major source of new migration from Morocco over the 1990s. For many Moroccans, marrying a partner in Europe has become the only option to enter the classic destination countries (France, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany) legally. Significant proportions of the second-generation Moroccan descendants marry partners from the region of origin.9

Besides the increasing reliance on family migration, a second consequence of the implementation of restrictive immigration policies was an increase in undocumented migration to Europe. Especially during high economic growth in the 1990s, undocumented migrants were attracted by the increasing demand for cheap labour in agriculture, construction and the service sector. This went along with a diversification of migration destinations and the rather sudden rise of Spain and Italy as prime destination countries for new Moroccan labour migrants. Themselves former labour exporters, Spain and Italy have emerged as the main destination countries for new Moroccan labour migrants since the mid-1980s.10 Over the last decade, there has also been a notable increase of migration to Canada and the United States. These migrants tend to be highly skilled, and their migration is influenced by the high unemployment among high educated in Morocco.

The Moroccan Emigrant Population

Figure 1 illustrates the remarkably steady increase of the Moroccan population living abroad in defiance of the increasingly restrictive immigration policies of the former recruiting countries in Europe. It also shows a decreasing spatial focus on France. The combined effects of family reunification, family formation, natural increase, undocumented migration and new labour migration to southern Europe and North America explain why the number of Moroccans living in the main European destination countries steadily increased from 300,000 in 1972, on the eve of the recruitment freeze, to at least 2.7 million in 2005. This ninefold increase represents an average annual increase of about 73,000. This does not include irregular migrants and smaller immigrant populations living in the United Kingdom and Scandinavia, which are estimated at a level of at least 100,000 persons.11

Figure 3 shows that 85% of Moroccans living abroad live in European countries. In 2005, France was still home to the largest legally residing population of Moroccan descent (about 1,000,000), followed by Spain (500,000), Italy (350,000), Belgium (350,000), the Netherlands (325,000), and Germany (108,000). Smaller but rapidly growing communities of higher-skilled migrants live in the United States (at least 100,000) and Canada (at least 78,000). An estimated 300,000 Moroccans live in other Maghreb and Middle Eastern countries.

Moroccans are the largest and most dispersed African immigrant population living in Europe, where they alone outnumber all West African migrants living in Europe. Moroccans form the second most sizeable non-EU immigrant population living in Europe after Turks. While the Turkish migration to the EU is stagnating, Morocco has been among the top source countries of immigrants to the EU and is expected to overtake Turkey as the main source of non-EU immigrants in the coming decade.

It should be noted that these data give an inflated image of actual net migration, because they are based on Moroccan consular records, which include all people possessing Moroccan citizenship, including migrants and the second generation holding double citizenship. For instance, around 2003 about 1.5 million Morocco-born migrants were living in France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, the UK and the Netherlands,12 while about 2.3 million Moroccan citizens were living in those countries.

While in the 1960s and early 1970s the large majority of workers migrating to Europe were single or married men, the proportion of women and children among Moroccan emigrant populations has steadily risen with increasing family reunification but also an increased participation of women in labour migration to Europe. In the early 2000s, 45% of all registered Moroccan migrants in France were women. These proportions were 48% Belgium, 42% in Germany and 49% in the Netherlands. In Spain and Italy, 33% and 40% of all registered Moroccan immigrants were women, which probably reflects the more recent nature of Moroccan migration in those countries.13

Immigration and Transit Migration

legally residing in Morocco, and their numbers seem to be increasing.14 Another 28,000 Europeans were officially residing in Morocco in 2005, including an increasing number of French retirement migrants settling in cities such as Marrakech. Because this only reflects the number of official African and European residents, the real number of people living on Morocco soil is likely to be substantially higher and, by all accounts, growing.

Irregular Migration

Until Italy and Spain introduced visa requirements in 1990 and 1991, respectively, Moroccans could enter easily as tourists, after which many of them overstayed and became de facto undocumented migrants. As in northwest Europe, the establishment of visa requirements has led to an increasing reliance on undocumented migration. The long coastlines of Spain and Italy make it relatively easy to enter those countries illegally. There is a persistent demand for unskilled labour in Europe, especially in the relatively large informal sectors of southern European countries and of Italy, in particular.

On several occasions since the late 1980s, Italian and Spanish governments were compelled to grant legal status to almost two hundred thousand undocumented Moroccan migrants, through successive legalisation campaigns.15 Italy and particularly Spain have now taken over the position of France as the primary destinations for new Moroccan labour migrants. Between 1980 and 2004, the combined Moroccan population officially residing in Spain and Italy skyrocketed from about 20,000 to 550,000.

While large numbers of Moroccans have migrated irregularly to Europe over the past decades, regular and irregular migration of migrants from sub-Saharan Africa to and through Morocco has been increasing since the late 1990s. Most irregular migrants enter Morocco from Algeria, at the border east of Oujda, after they have crossed the Sahara overland, usually through Niger. Once in Morocco, they attempt to cross to Europe by sea or try to enter the Spanish cities of Ceuta and Melilla on the northern Moroccan coast by scaling the tall border fences separating these enclaves from Morocco. In September 2005, at least five people died and more than 40 were injured in just such a massive border-crossing attempt in Ceuta. A substantial proportion of migrants failing or not trying to enter Europe prefer to settle in Morocco on a more long-term basis, rather than returning to their more unstable and substantially poorer home countries. Although lacking residency status and, therefore, vulnerable to exploitation, they sometimes manage to find jobs in specific niches in the informal service sector, tourism, petty trade, construction and agriculture.

Although this is a new phenomenon, it is important to counter images of a huge flood of African immigrants threatening to swamp the Maghreb and Europe. The number of sub-Saharan migrants is still relatively limited compared to the sizeable Moroccan emigrant population. Each year, not more than some tens of thousands of sub-Saharan migrants are believed to attempt to migrate to Europe illegally, while the number of sub-Saharan irregular migrants and refugees living in Morocco is currently estimated to be much higher.1617

Immigration and Integration Policy

Since independence, Morocco has generally facilitated the immigration of students and professionals as well as spouses and children of Moroccan citizens. Until the mid-1990s the presence of sub-Saharan migrants in Morocco and Tunisia remained largely limited to relatively small numbers of students, traders, professional workers, athletes and some refugees, mainly from francophone West African countries as well as Gabon and the Democratic Republic of Congo (former Zaire). Morocco has an active policy of inviting a quota of students from befriended African nations to study at Moroccan universities. Several African countries are exempted from visa programmes. Morocco has no active integration policy, and most forms of immigration are officially seen as temporary.

Emigration policy

. The aim of this foundation is to foster and reinforce the links between Moroccan migrants and Morocco through assisting them in various ways, both while in Europe and during their summer holidays in Morocco, and to inform and guide migrants on investment opportunities. These coincided with a more general liberalization of Moroccan society through the 1990s. Increasing civil liberties also meant more freedom among migrants to establish organizations such as Berber, "home town," and aid associations.18

Recently, the Moroccan state has put effort into creating the 19 In November 2006, extensive consultations were initiated in preparation for the creation of the CSCME. The 37 members of the council were formally appointed by King Mohammed VI in 2008.


For Moroccans, surging remittances from family and friends abroad have been a vital tool for poverty alleviation and a potential source of investment capital. Through the development of an efficient banking system, as well as macro-economic stability, Morocco has been relatively successful in directing remittances through official channels. Notwithstanding some slumps, remittances surged from 200 million dirham (US$ 23 million) in 1968 to over 18.5 billion dirham (US$ 2.1 billion) in 1992. After an ominous stagnation throughout the 1990s at levels of around US$ 2.3 billion, remittances surged after 2001 (with a minor slump in 2002), reaching the unprecedented level of US$ 4.2 billion in 2004 and an estimated US$ 5.6 billion in 2006.2021

The increase in remittances is partly linked to the enormous increase in the number of Moroccans returning during the summer holidays, which testifies to the strong social links between emigrants and their families in Morocco. According to a recent survey, three quarters of the international migrants have visited Morocco at least once in the past two years. Moroccan government sources claim that over 2.2 million migrants and 580,000 cars crossed the Strait of Gibraltar between 15 June and 15 September 2003. In 2006, the total number of holiday visits by migrants and their descendants had increased to about three million.2223

Available empirical studies suggest that migration and remittances have considerably improved living conditions, income, education and spurred economic activity through agricultural, real estate and business investment, from which non-migrants indirectly profit. This has led to the rapid growth of migrant boomtowns and has transformed migrant-sending regions such as the Rif, Sous and several southern oases into relatively prosperous areas that now attract internal migrants from other, poorer areas.24

However, the developmental potential of migration has not been fully realized due to several investment constraints such as uncertainty concerning property rights, corruption, bureaucracy, market failure and an overall lack of faith in the Moroccan state. Migration and remittances may enable people to retreat from, as much as to invest in, local economic activities, depending on the specific investment environment. Positive development impacts of remittances are more prevalent in relatively central, relatively prosperous regions and towns where most migrants allocate their investments or return to, whereas more marginal rural areas might be confronted with de-investment or even depopulation. Paradoxically, therefore, a certain level of development in migrant-sending regions seems to be a prerequisite for return and investment rather than a consequence of migration.


Moroccan citizenship law is based on jus sanguis, or descent. In principle, Moroccan citizenship is automatically acquired by birth from at least one Moroccan parent. With the introduction of a new family law in the early 2000s, Moroccan women25

In 2006, right-wing Members of Parliament (MPs) publicly questioned the national loyalty of Khadija Arib, a Dutch Labour Party MP who is also one of the two Dutch-Moroccan members of the migration working-group of the CCDH. They argued that membership of this working-group, which advises the Moroccan King, is incompatible with her membership in the Dutch parliament because of conflicting loyalties and that she therefore had to choose. In Belgium, Fatiha Saidi, an MP for the Socialist Party declined an invitation to become member of the CCDH migration working-group because she did not want to work for institutions belonging to two different states.

While revealing a growing gap between official policies and the de facto transnational nature of the life and activities of many migrants, such examples also indicate the potentially conflicting sovereignty claims made by the Moroccan and European states.

Refuge and Asylum

An unknown proportion of sub-Saharan migrants in Morocco have escaped persecution or life-threatening circumstances. According to a recent empirical study, the percentage of migrants in Morocco that would require humanitarian protection varies from 10-20% under the strict application of the 1951 refugee Convention definition, to 70-80% under more generous humanitarian measures.26 It is sometimes difficult to make a sharp distinction between political and economic migrants, because individual motivations are often complex, mixed and may change over time. Some migrants who set out with primarily economic motivations may become less voluntary migrants along the way when exploited by employers, arbitrarily imprisoned, maltreated, and stripped of their remaining assets by North African police or border guards.

However, the Moroccan state tends to consider virtually all sub-Saharan immigrants in Morocco as "economic migrants" on their way to Europe. This means asylum-seekers are commonly rejected at the border or deported as "illegal economic immigrants" even though Morocco is party to the 1951 Geneva Convention and has a formal system for adjudicating asylum applications, which is, however, barely functional. Until recently, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) kept a low profile in Morocco and protection was not thought to be available among refugees and asylum seekers.27

Under the influence of increasing immigration, UNHCR has recently been seeking to expand its operations in Morocco. However, state authorities often do not cooperate, continue to deport asylum seekers, and generally refuse to grant residency and other rights to refugees recognized by UNHCR. Human rights organisations have therefore argued that European states such as Spain and Italy risk seriously compromising the principle of non-refoulement by swiftly deporting African migrants and asylum-seekers to Morocco (and Libya) where their protection is not guaranteed.2829

However, in 2007 the Moroccan government signed an with UNHCR giving them full-fledged representation in Morocco.30 This might signify a gradual improvement of the situation of asylum-seekers and refugees in Morocco. By the end of 2007, 786 refugees recognised by UNHCR were living in Morocco and 671 asylum seekers had their cases pending with UNHCR. However, even refugees recognised as such are generally not granted residency status by the Moroccan authorities. Therefore, they also lack rights to employment, education, and health care.

Future Challenges



  1. See de Haas (2005).
  2. See de Haas (2003) as well as Lightfoot and Miller (1996).
  3. See Bidwell (1973).
  4. See Collyer (2004) and Shadid (1979).
  5. See Muus (1995).
  6. See Kenbib (1999).
  7. See de Haas (2007b).
  8. See Lievens (1999) and Reniers (2001).
  9. See Huntoon (1998).
  10. See Fargues (2005).
  11. See de Haas (2007d).
  12. See Fargues (2005).
  13. See Fargues (2005) and Berriane (2007).
  14. See Sandell (2006).
  15. See Alioua (2005).
  16. See Belguendouz (2005).
  17. See de Haas (2007a).
  18. See Belguendouz (2006).
  19. Source: World Development Indicators database (World Bank).
  20. See de Haas and Plug (2006).
  21. See de Haas (2007a).
  22. See Berriane (1996) and Teto (2001).
  23. See de Haas (2007c).
  24. See Belguendouz (2006).
  25. See Collier (2006). It should be mentioned that his sample was not designed to be representative and is likely to be biased towards refugees and asylum-seekers
  26. See Lindstrom (2002).
  27. See de Haas (2007d).
  28. Lutterbeck (2006).
  29. See de Haas (2007d).

About the author:
Hein de Haas is a Senior Research Officer at the International Migration Institute of the University of Oxford ( His research focuses on the reciprocal linkages between migration and broader development processes, in particular from the perspective of migrant-sending countries. He has conducted extensive fieldwork in Turkey, Egypt, Tunisia and, particularly, Morocco.



    • Berriane, J. (2007): . Centre for Migration Studies and International Migration Institute Accra, 18-21 September.
    • Bidwell, R. (1973): Morocco under Colonial Rule: French Administration of Tribal Areas 1912-1956. Cass, London.
    • Collyer, M. (2006): States of Insecurity: Consequences of Saharan Transit Migration Centre on Migration, Policy and Society. University of Oxford, Oxford.
    • Collyer, M. (2004): The Development Impact of Temporary International Labour Migration on Southern Mediterranean Sending Countries: Contrasting Examples of Morocco and Egypt. Sussex Centre for Migration Research, Brighton.
    • de Haas, H. (2007b): "Morocco's Migration Experience: A Transitional Perspective." International Migration 45 (4): 39-70.
    • de Haas, H. (2007c): The Impact of International Migration on Social and Economic Development in Moroccan Sending Regions: A Review of the Empirical Literature. IMI Working Paper 3. International Migration Institute, University of Oxford.
    • de Haas, H. (2007d): The Myth of Invasion: Irregular Migration from West Africa to the Maghreb and the European Union. International Migration Institute, University of Oxford.
    • de Haas, H. (2005): . Global Migration Perspectives Research Papers Series No 28. Global Commission on International Migration. Geneva.
    • de Haas, H. (2003): Migration and Development in Southern Morocco: The Disparate Socio-Economic Impacts of out-Migration on the Todgha Oasis Valley. Radboud University, Unpublished PhD Thesis. Nijmegen.
    • de Haas, H. and Plug, R. (2006): "Cherishing the Goose with the Golden Eggs: Trends in Migrant Remittances from Europe to Morocco 1970-2004." International Migration Review 40 (3): 603-634.
    • Fargues, P. (ed.) (2005): Mediterranean Migration - 2005 Report. CARIM Consortium, European University Institute, Florence.
    • Huntoon, L. (1998): "Immigration to Spain: Implications for a Unified European Union Immigration Policy." International Migration Review 32 (2): 423-450.
    • Lievens, J. (1999): "Family-Forming Migration from Turkey and Morocco to Belgium: The Demand for Marriage Partners from the Countries of Origin." International Migration Review 33 (3): 717-744.
    • Lightfoot, D. R. and Miller, J.A. (1996): "Sijilmassa: The Rise and Fall of a Walled Oasis in Medieval Morocco." Annals of the Association of American Geographers 86(1): 78-101.
    • Lindstrom, C. (2002): Report on the Situation of Refugees in Morocco: Findings of an Exploratory Study. FMRS / American University of Cairo, Cairo.
    • Reniers, G. (2001): "The Post-Migration Survival of Traditional Marriage Patterns: Consanguineous Marriages among Turks and Moroccans in Belgium." Journal of Comparative Family Studies 32 (1): 21-35.
    • Sandell R. (2006): Spain's Immigration Experience: Lessons to be Learned from Looking at the Statistics. Real Institute, Elcano.
    • Shadid, W.A. (1979): Moroccan Workers in the Netherlands. University of Leiden, Leiden.

Internet Sources

    • Euro-Mediterranean Consortium for Applied Research on International Migration (CARIM):
    • MIREM Project on Return Migration to the Maghreb, The European University Institute:
    • Moroccan Ministry of Finances and Privatization, Foreign Exchange Office
      (Data on remittances):
Migration Research Group
Netzwerk Migration in Europa e.V.