I have been working on this for quite a while, but I decided to post it today because if I hear one more radio commentator, well-intentioned or not, conflating migrants in the Mediterranean (who are not vetted before their arrival in a potential host country) with Convention refugees in North America (who are very, very vetted), I just might smash my radio.
Any experts in immigration or refugee law, human rights law or lexicography are more than welcome to correct me on this. Leave your correction, name and country in the comments.
IMMIGRANT- Person who leaves his or her home country by choice, with documentation, with the intention of settling in a specific other country.
MIGRANT- Person who leaves his or her home country to settle in another country, but may not have a specific country in mind. Some are potential refugees (see below), others leave by choice. They just want to get out, and where they settle in the long term is of secondary importance to them. Their travels may involve long overland journeys between several countries, and in most of these countries they’re just passing through. Groups of MIGRANTS usually contain both ECONOMIC MIGRANTS and ASYLUM SEEKERS.
REFUGEE- Person who flees his or her home country as a result of war or as a result of a “well- founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.” (Geneva Convention, 1951).
There are two types of refugees: CONVENTION REFUGEES and ASYLUM SEEKERS.
A CONVENTION REFUGEE is a person fleeing either war or organized persecution based on the Geneva criteria, who settles temporarily in a camp, usually bordering his or her home country. The person’s claim is evaluated by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. Depending on a variety of factors (including the possibility of resolution of the conflict in a reasonable time frame, the political stability of the temporary host country, the presence of family members of the refugee overseas, the potential economic contribution of the refugee, language skills etc. etc. etc.) refugees either stay in the camp for the duration of hostilities, are resettled in the surrounding area with the possibility to work and become citizens of the host country, or are resettled to third countries, often but not always wealthier Western nations. A relatively small percentage (less than 10%) of refugees are resettled in third countries. In this case, supplementary verifications are carried out by the government of the third country to make sure the refugee is not a security threat, evaluate his or her language skills and adaptability, etc. etc. On arrival in the third country, the refugees are granted permanent residency with the right to seek employment and the right to become voting citizens after a certain number of years.
An ASYLUM SEEKER (also called REFUGEE CLAIMANT) is a person fleeing either war or organized persecution based on the Geneva criteria, who arrives in a third country unannounced, with or without legal documentation, contacts local law enforcement and declares himself or herself an asylum seeker. All modern states have legal structures to deal with asylum seekers, although the efficiency of these structures varies. An asylum seeker is NOT an illegal immigrant and seeking asylum is NOT a criminal offense, as the right to seek asylum is guaranteed by many international law instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Geneva Conventions, which also recognize that an asylum seeker may be forced to commit administrative offenses in pursuit of this legitimate right. After making an asylum request, the asylum seeker must stay in the host country for several years while his or her asylum claim is adjudicated. National laws vary on whether the asylum seeker is allowed to work or access other government services during this time. If the claim is successful, the person becomes a RECOGNIZED REFUGEE (the term ASYLEE is also used) and has the right to live, work, study and begin the citizenship process in the host country. If the claim is unsuccessful, there are usually two or three layers of appeal. If these appeals are unsuccessful, the failed asylum seeker receives a deportation order. The person then either returns to his or her home country, is forcibly expelled, or drops off the map and remains in the country illegally, becoming a long-term CLANDESTIN. The word REFUGEE is often used to describe asylum seekers who are fleeing conflict (i.e. “Syrian refugees”) but it’s a misnomer when used to describe someone who hasn’t yet received status. If the Geneva Conventions had been in force in 1620, the Pilgrims would have been asylum seekers.
ECONOMIC MIGRANT- Migrant who is fleeing extreme poverty and/or seeking improved professional opportunities abroad, who does not have a job offer and who often arrives without documentation. Economic migrants range from illiterate people to people with advanced university degrees and/or specific technical training. “Economic migrant” is often used as a pejorative term to describe failed asylum seekers or immigration opportunists, but it’s worth noting that a good day’s work for a good day’s pay is not guaranteed in all countries, especially those devastated by conflict, economic crisis or disease, and the term “economic migrant” could describe anyone who leaves his or her home country hoping for something more than hand-to-mouth survival. However, despite a movement within migrants’ rights circles to add extreme poverty to the list of Geneva criteria, this pretext isn’t usually accepted by host countries, except perhaps in the event of a severe labour shortage. Most Europeans who arrived in North America during the 19th and early 20th century were economic migrants, although many were MIGRANT WORKERS (see below). ASYLUM SEEKERS whose cases are adjudicated and who are found to be economic migrants usually risk deportation. However, in the purely technical sense of the word, “expatriate” (see below) is just a particularly posh term for an economic migrant with a sharp suit and a job offer.
CLANDESTIN/SANS-PAPIERS/UNDOCUMENTED MIGRANT- A migrant who has entered a country without documentation or with documentation that has expired. He or she may be a failed asylum seeker, someone who lost patience with the asylum process or someone who never filed an asylum claim. He or she usually works in the underground economy for an indeterminate period of time, with minimal or no rights to public services. He or she is usually subject to expulsion if denounced and arrested. If current immigration laws had been in force in 1608, Jacques Cartier and his men would have been undocumented migrants and faced deportation.
“ILLEGAL” IMMIGRANT- Often used as a pejorative term for in-process or failed ASYLUM SEEKERS, MIGRANT WORKERS or CLANDESTINS. Technically, the only “illegal” immigrants are those who have received a specific deportation order and not respected it. It bears repeating that AN ASYLUM SEEKER IS NOT AN ILLEGAL IMMIGRANT, as asylum seekers are acting within their rights.
DISPLACED PERSON- A person who, because of war or persecution, has been forced to move to another area of his or her home country, or to an immediate border region from which he/she makes regular trips home. Displaced people almost always intend to return home.
EXPATRIATE- A person who moves from one country to another, with documentation, to take a job or to follow a family member who has taken a job, with the intent of living there for the medium to long term, not necessarily of seeking citizenship. Some commentators have criticized media outlets for referring to migrant workers from first-world countries as “expatriates” and migrant workers from second- or third-world countries as “economic migrants” or “migrant workers.”
MIGRANT WORKER- A person who moves from one country to another, usually with documentation, to take a temporary job, usually with the intent of sending money home. In many cases job offers are received before the migrants leave home. Migrant workers usually intend to return to their home countries, although some may decide to undertake residency procedures, which can be more or less complicated depending on the circumstances of entry, the host country, the credentials and skills of the applicant, etc.
DIASPORA- When significant numbers of people from a given home country settle in a given host country (either as refugees, economic migrants or expatriates who prolong their stay) , they tend to clump together in the same area or areas, and create institutions designed to preserve their language, culture, faith, etc. and help each other participate in the culture of their new country. A modern, pejorative term for this is “ghettoization,” but the less politicized term is “creation of diaspora communities.” If you live in North America and you have access to food, films or cultural events from a variety of different countries, if your community has a “Chinatown” or a “Little Italy,” if you can point out a Syrian bakery, a Russian Orthodox church or a Spanish-language newspaper, you can thank a diaspora community
SECOND-GENERATION- Members of a diaspora community who are born in the host country are called “second-generation [nationality],” “diaspora [nationality],” “overseas [nationality]” and are usually, although not always, bilingual or multilingual. In many cases they hold dual citizenship. They face a balancing act trying to remain part of the diaspora community while being very much part of the host country (which, for them, is the home country).