Women who immigrate to Europe in the 21st century come in search of economic opportunity, to join family members, or to seek asylum. They arrive through legal channels or can be unauthorized; they migrate voluntarily or can be forced to migrate; and some are victims of human trafficking or other forms of exploitation.
This population is as large as it is diverse. There were 14.9 million female immigrants in the 27 countries of the European Union (EU) in 2009, constituting 47.3 percent of the foreign-born population.
The majority (63.2 percent; or 9.4 million) of female migrants in the European Union are not from Europe themselves, and a large part of these third-country nationals are from Africa, Latin America, and Asia.
Among immigrants in Europe, most of those who have arrived in the last 20 or so years are economic migrants, having come voluntarily (or in some cases, been trafficked) to enter the labor market. As many as 3.8 to 6 million are thought to be unauthorized immigrants, half of them female, and there are 700,000 female refugees making new livelihoods for themselves and their families throughout Europe.
In contrast to migrant women who entered European countries in previous immigration flows and were able to integrate into the regulated labor market with relative ease, new female migrants face significant challenges to economic and social integration.
The diverse ways in which these women enter their host countries affects the opportunities they have and how they integrate into the labor markets where they live.
Most female migrants find work for the most part in the gendered labor markets of domestic and care work, the services industry, and commercial sex work. It is no news that migrant women are less well integrated into the labor market and less economically active than migrant men and native-born women, with female migrants from third countries faring worse than women from other EU countries.