80+ Immigration Terms ›› Vocabulary Related to Migration, Refugees, and Crossing Borders

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phrases about life

Human mobility is a fundamental human right. We are all immigrants, and it is important to understand and distinguish the vocabulary for Migration, and to feel confident being able to discuss it in our personal or professional lives, especially now that it is a popular topic everywhere we go.

Here is a list of basic vocabulary pertaining to Immigration, Temporary Residency, Refugees, Multi-culturalism, and the Journeys and Scenarios of refugees and immigrants.

Immigration: movement to another country

  • Immigration laws can make it easy or difficult for immigrants to move.

Immigrant: a person who moves to a country they were not born in

  • I am an immigrant, because I moved from Argentina to the U.S.

Immigrate: to move to another country

  • People sometimes immigrate to new countries for a new job.

Immigration Laws: laws connected with immigrants and immigration

  • The immigration laws are more flexible in some countries.

Influx of immigrants: a large group/population of immigrants entering into a country

  • There has been an influx of immigrants entering Europe in recent years.

Illegal Immigrant: an immigrant person without permission to reside in a country

  • The police identified a man as an illegal immigrant.

First generation immigrant: an immigrant or the child of an immigrant

  • My daughter is a first-generation immigrant, since I am not originally from here.

Immigrant Community/Population: a group of immigrants who have been in a country for a short or long time

  • San Francisco, California has a large and vibrant immigrant community.

Migrant: a person who leaves their home country to reside in another

  • Migrants come from all over the world.

Economic Migrant: a person who leaves their home for better economic opportunities

  • The man is an economic migrant, searching for better work.

Flood of Migrants: a large group of immigrants entering a new country

  • The media reports a flood of migrants entering the E.U.

Chain Migration: the process of immigrants finding a new home, and other immigrants following

  • Generation of migrants following their ancestors to a new country has created a chain migration.

Voluntary Migration: a person who chooses to reside in a new country

  • I arrived to the U.S. as a voluntary migrant because I chose to come.

Forced migration: person who is pressured to leave their home for negative reasons

  • The family doesn’t want to leave their home, but are facing forced migration.

International Migration: immigrants moving across international borders

  • As long as borders exist, international migration will exist.

Interregional Migration: immigrants moving within their own country’s borders

  • The Western half of the country has a stable economy, so there has been an influx of interregional migration.

Migration: movement

  • Migration is a common human habit.

Migrant Labor: workers who move often for job opportunities

  • Workers arrive for migrant labor in agricultural fields, but will move when the seasons change.

Emigration: moving from a country

  • People emigrate from Central America to other countries with more job opportunities.

Permanent Resident: a person who is given permanent residence in a new country

  • I have lived here for over 3 years now, because I have permanent residency.

Temporary Resident: a person who is given residence in a new country for a certain time period only



  • I will only be in Portugal for 4 months, because I have temporary residency.

Undocumented: a person who does not have documented permission to live/stay in a country

  • The man cannot stay in Thailand permanently, because he is undocumented.

Illegal immigrant: a person who is staying in a country illegally, without the government’s permission

  • There is a big controversy in news media about illegal immigration.

Repatriation: a refugee or group of refugees returning to their home country

  • The government is aiding refugees in repatriation so they may rejoin with their families.

Resettlement: the process of a refugee permanently residing in a new country

  • The non-profit organization helps refugees with resettlement so they can become familiar with their new home and find work

Colonization: the process of a country or group of people settling into a new country to gain control

  • The British Empire has a long history of colonization.

Counter-Urbanization: people leaving cities to find a new home

  • The province is experiencing job losses in cities, so there has been counter-urbanization.

Urbanization: people moving to cities to find a new home

  • Cities tend to offer more jobs and work for people, so there is usually urbanization in most countries.

Mobility: to move

  • Humans are free to be mobile, but are restricted by laws.

Push Factor: the reasons an immigrant is forced to leave their home

  • The push factors for the recent influx of immigrants are many, including war, persecution, and economic issues.

Refugee: a person who is forced to leave their country for safety

  • I arrived to the U.S. as a refugee because I was escaping violence in my home country.

Refugee Status: to be legally recognized as a refugee

  • By law, I am allowed to stay here permanently because I have a refugee status and cannot return home due to danger.

Refugee Crisis: a large number of refugees in need of finding a new home

  • The news media reports the influx of immigrants as a refugee crisis, because it affects the whole world.

Refugee Claimant: a person who has made a claim for refugee protection

  • I began my process of immigrating here, as a refugee claimant.

Resettled Refugee: a refugee who has settled in a new place

  • Resettled refugees sometimes struggle to become familiar with a new place.

Refugee Camp: a safe shelter that helps and offers temporary aid to refugees or internally displaced people

  • Non-profit organization give money to aid refugee camps in different parts of the world.

Political Refugee: a refugee escaping from an oppressive government

  • I arrived as a political refugee, escaping a military dictatorship.

Economic Refugee: a refugee entering a new country for economic opportunities, or escaping economic injustice

  • My parents moved as economic refugees, desperate for new opportunities.

Refugee Flow: the expansion of refugees

  • The refugee flow has increased in recent years.

UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees): an international organization that helps support refugees

  • The UNHCR helps to decide how money and materials can be sued to help refugees.

Internally Displaced Person: someone who leaves their home to escape danger or fear (like a refugee), but stays in their home country and does not cross an international border

  • As gang violence grows in parts of the country, so does the number of internally displaced people.

Asylum: a safe place; the right to be recognized as a refugee and receive legal protection

  • The country granted me asylum to enter as a refugee.

An Asylum-Seeker: a person wanting to enter a safer foreign country to escape fear or persecution in their home country

  • Asylum-seekers are growing in number as the war continues.

Stateless person: a person who is not a citizen of any country

  • Currently, the person is seeking citizenship at the country he is in now, because he is a stateless person.

Biculturalism: being of two different cultures

  • As I am Mexican and Argentinian, I am bicultural.

Multiculturalism: being of three or more different cultures.

  • As I am Mexican and Argentinian, but living in the U.S and exposed to that culture, I am multicultural.

Bilingualism: to speak two languages

  • My daughter is bilingual; she speaks English and French fluently.

Multilingualism: to speak three or more languages

  • It’s important to my parents, for me to learn German, English, and Spanish to be multilingual.

Humanitarian: to help general populations, people, and human rights

  • My friend is a humanitarian; he works with Medecins Sans Frontieres.

Aid: to help or support people or a cause

  • Red Cross entered the country to give aid to the people.

Infrastructure: the basic architecture of a system, organization, or civilization

  • The infrastructure of the city was damaged and has suffered from the tsunami.

Displaced: forced to move

  • Thousands of people have been displaced in recent years due to war and violence in their home countries.

Chaos: the state of being disorganized and uncontrollable

  • The after events of the football game was absolute chaos.

Flee: to escape quickly

  • People are prepared to flee their homes if the hurricane reaches shore.

Crisis: an emergency

  • People call the police for help when there is a crisis.

Shelter: protection

  • In case of a natural disaster, seek shelter.

Desperation: to be in extreme distress from hopelessness

  • There was desperation in the soccer player’s last moves as he approached the goal.

Danger: the possibility of physical or emotional harm

  • Humans are afraid of the dangers in the ocean, because so much is undiscovered.

Crowds: large groups of people

Great crowds accumulated to see the prince and princess’ new baby son.




Fear: the extreme emotion of being scared

  • I have a fear of airplanes, because I hate heights.

Journey: a trip, to travel

  • A journey can be positive or negative, but you always learn from it.

Loss: to lose someone or something; the emotion of losing something

  •  I mourned for months after the loss of my mother.

Mayhem: violent or damaging chaos

  • The riot was uncontrollable, and created mayhem in the city.

Stress: to have or feel intense pressure

  • The young woman was under a lot of stress from her new corporate job.

Terror: intense fear

  • The scary film created terror in the audience.

Uncertainty: the feeling of not knowing or understanding information

  • The uncertainty of the future scares me most.

Genocide: deliberately killing a group of people, based on ethnicity, beliefs, or nationality

  • Rwanda has recuperated from the genocide in 1994, but makes an effort to never forget the memory of those lost.

Anguish: extreme emotional or physical pain

  • The anguish I felt when my best friend died is still indescribable.

Freedom: the power or right to choose for yourself

  • America fought for its freedom from the British Empire in the 1700s.

Deterioration: the process of conditions getting worse

  • The house experiences deterioration because no one takes care of it.

Human rights: the basic universal rights people have to live happy, healthy, free lives

  • To be treated as an equal is a basic human right.

Crossing: to go across a line, boundary, or intersection

  • We cross physical and emotional lines every day, when we enter new territories and ideas.

Border: a line, wall, or covering that encloses something

  • The border between Mexico and Texas is distinct from the Rio Grande.

Barrier: similar to a border; a line, wall, or covering that encloses something

  • The zoo keepers create a strong barrier to keep the animals in their designated areas.

Local: a person or thing that is from a particular area

  • I only eat local vegetables, because they were grown in my community.

Identification: the objects or documents able to prove a person’s identity

  • I showed my identification to the airport officers when I traveled to Asia.

Smuggling: moving items or people illegally or secretly

  • Smuggling is an issue many governments try to stop, because they want to know what’s coming across their borders.

Trafficker: a person who deals, trades, or moves things or people illegally

  • The trafficker was paranoid that the police were following him.

Transportation: to move something or someone

  • I take public transportation to work every day, using the metro.

Coyote: a person who smuggles people through Latin America

  • People often contact coyotes for help when they are desperate to flee their homes.

Detained: holding or keeping someone in official custody

  • The teenager was detained in a juvenile detention center for three days.

Sanitation: the state of being clean and to avoid health issues

  • It is important for a hospital to maintain pristine sanitation for health reasons.

Medical Aid: to give medical assistance or help to people or a cause

  • Medecins Sans Frontieres offers free medical aid to areas in need.

Deportation: to transport someone to their home country

  • Immigrants sometimes face deportation if they do not have the required documentation for residency.

Brain drain: the emigration of intellectual and educated people from a country

  • The country suffered from brain drain when all of their doctors started moving away to other countries.

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