Who are Immigrants, Refugees, and Asylum Seekers?

With World Refugee Day approaching, it is important to know the difference between immigrants, asylum seekers, and refugees and use the correct terminology. Each term has its own meaning and misconceptions behind it. By learning the difference between the terms, you understand more about each population and the challenges they faced and continue to face.


An immigrant is someone who comes to a new country to live permanently, most likely to improve their lives. They could be finding work, receiving a higher quality education, or coming to live with family. Immigrants do not come to the new country because of a threat or persecution, unlike the next two populations.

Asylum Seeker

Asylum seekers are people who claim to be refugees, but their claim has not been evaluated or determined. Similar to refugees, asylum seekers must apply by stating that returning to their country would lead to persecution based on factors such as race, religion, nationality, or political beliefs, for example. A way to distinguish between asylum seekers and refugees is that not all asylum seekers are refugees.


Refugees are people who are fleeing dangerous conflicts or persecution. These situations are so serious that people are willing to risk their lives crossing borders into neighboring countries to escape violence. Refugees are recognized and protected under international law, and receive assistance from aid organizations. Each country will have its own laws and policies concerning refugees, but the United Nations 1951 Convention is universal.

“An Overview of U.S. Refugee Law and Policy.” American Immigration Council, 1 Apr. 2020, www.americanimmigrationcouncil.org/research/overview-us-refugee-law-and-policy.

“Refugees, Asylum Seekers & Migrants: A Crucial Difference.” Habitat for Humanity GB, 24 Aug. 2018, www.habitatforhumanity.org.uk/blog/2016/09/refugees-asylum-seekers-mi


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