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Who is a Migrant? Who is an Immigrant?

These definitions are at the heart of the issue and are increasingly becoming used for political purposing. They are also just very confusing. If you ask US or Canadians what the word migrant means they will almost always say “someone from Mexico who comes here to work in agriculture – like a migrant worker.”  If you ask Europeans what it means they will say “someone who chooses to move here for a better life.”  Political commentary will have you believe migrants are the same things as “economic migrants,” which differs from a refugee.  Even the front page of google defines migrant as “someone who moves to another country to work, as in migrant worker.”

But lets be very clear about this.  These definitions are actually really simple.


A person who moves across an international or state border.

This is regardless of: (1) the person’s legal status; (2) whether the movement is voluntary or involuntary; (3) what the causes for the movement are; or (4) what the length of the stay is.


One who moves out of a country/state


One who moves into a country/state

Forced migration

A migratory movement in which an element of coercion exists, including threats to life and livelihood, whether arising from natural or man-made causes (e.g. movements of refugees and internally displaced persons as well as people displaced by natural or environmental disasters, chemical or nuclear disasters, famine, or development projects).

Pop Quiz #1: Is an immigrant also an emigrant?

Answer: Yes. All migrants emigrate from somewhere and immigrate to somewhere.

Pop Quiz #2: So is a refugee a migrant?  

Answer: Yes. A refugee is a type of forced migrant who has proven they have fled their country due to a well-founded fear of persecution (see previous post) and cannot return to their country of origin.