What slang words or phrases do British/American English speakers use for (poor) immigrants?

  • In US English the terms have traditionally been specific to individual national/ethnic groups -- spic, mick, wop, chink, gook, etc. Granted, the terms were often carried over to people who were neither poor nor immigrants, but this is the nature of such prejudices.
    – Hot Licks
    Jan 2, 2015 at 3:15

7 Answers 7


One of the ones I could think up of was offensive, so I wouldn't list it.


There is also "Pomegranate", which is rhyming slang with "Immigrant". This term is shortened to "pommy" and used by Australians to refer to Britons.

"Wetback" is a derogatory term for Mexican illegal "immigrants", not humorous and shouldn't be used.

  • Do you have any kind of reference for the Immigrant -> Pomegranate -> pommy/pom etymology? I always thought pom was a reference to potatoes. May 26, 2011 at 10:22
  • Nevermind, I did my own research: en.wiktionary.org/wiki/pommy You are quite correct. May 26, 2011 at 10:24
  • It's heard quite commonly around here.
    – Thursagen
    May 26, 2011 at 10:35
  • Britishers is used commonly? Or Pommy? May 26, 2011 at 10:58
  • 2
    I didn't think that alien had this connotation? Is that for sure?
    – BBischof
    May 26, 2011 at 13:31

I have heard the phrase "wretched refuse" used to obliquely refer to poor immigrants. It is a phrase lifted from the poem on the Statue of Liberty, instantly recognizable to any American with a small modicum of education. As such, it actually has a slightly more positive connotation than such a phrase would otherwise have. It probably would only work for immigrants to the USA though.

Generally a term like that is only really needed during an immigration wave. Such waves tend to be centered from one country, so every such term tends to be associated with a particular nationality (usually as an epithet). As such, you will have great trouble finding a word or phrase that doesn't double as a specific racial epithet.

  • Anyone with a 'small modicum of education' would simply say 'modicum of education'--most modicums are small.
    – user3847
    Jan 2, 2015 at 2:36

An American term in wide use over a century ago was "wop," or "without papers."


It referred particularly to Italian immigrants, and there are other, less flattering references to them.

  • reference? ... ...
    – GEdgar
    Aug 23, 2011 at 19:03
  • 1
    A reference would indeed be really nice here for the first sentence. For the second, it was so ubiquitous that it should be unnecessary. I can assure you that "wop" used to be a common epithet for Italians here. If you ever saw The Untouchables (movie), Sean Connery's character uses the word to taunt an Italian-American assaulting him.
    – T.E.D.
    Aug 23, 2011 at 19:27
  • A reference has been added. I omitted some others that even wiki conceded were less trustworthy.
    – Tom Au
    Aug 23, 2011 at 20:14

FOB stands for "fresh off the boat." Usually it's used for immigrants with heavy accents or poor English. It's also derogatory, not humorous and shouldn't be used.

  • IMHO it beats the ugly term used for those who instead immigrated overland from the south ("wetbacks" - presuming they swum the Rio Grande).
    – T.E.D.
    Aug 23, 2011 at 19:40
  • In Michigan, FOB and FOP are derogatory terms for people from Ohio.
    – oosterwal
    Aug 23, 2011 at 20:11
  • 1
    FOB sounds like its a made-up phrase--a term Europeans ascribe to Americans who refer to illegal or recent immigrants. I'm American and I have never heard or read this 'FOB' term anywhere.
    – user3847
    Jan 2, 2015 at 2:41

Can't think of any general BE terms - perhaps asylum seeker if you are the Daily Mail.

Generally it's just the name of the county abbreviated. There are a few offensive terms for inhabitants of certain countries, mick, frog, kraut etc but not specific to immigrants.

There was a case recently where a politician got into trouble for saying 'Jap' for Japanese, he claimed it was the official abbreviation for Japan but it was ruled to be offensive like Paki for pakistani.

  • i am also a paki
    – Furqan
    May 26, 2011 at 15:14
  • @Furqan, and generally paki is regarded as offensive. The question is whether 'jap' is automatically offensive or merely an abbreviation. Obviously it's how it's meant
    – mgb
    May 26, 2011 at 16:21
  • Is calling a British person a Brit, or a Swedish person a Swede, or a Finnish person a Finn, offensive? Jun 24, 2011 at 21:29
  • @Malvolio - I wouldn't have said so. Calling a Swede a Fin or v.v. probably would be!
    – mgb
    Jun 24, 2011 at 21:47
  • You know why all the trees in Norway lean towards the east? Because Sweden sucks! Mwa-ha-ha... Jun 24, 2011 at 21:49

More of a euphemism than a slang term, but my local public library has a couple of shelves designated as the 'New Americans Center'. (Why it's a 'center' I have no idea.) Of course, many people might resent being called an American before they wanted to be called an American, if that makes sense. On the other hand, I think it's a gesture that wouldn't necessarily get made a lot around here.

As someone has mentioned, FOB is definitely offensive, but I thought I would note that I've not heard it in the Midwest, only in California and almost exclusively to refer to Asians (often by other Asians).

  • Using AmE doesn't mean one wants to be called an American. But I am definitely with you on your points. Aug 23, 2011 at 22:49
  • I know that a lot of people want to be called "Americans" because it emphasizes that you are part of the country rather than being an outsider. And yes, I've only heard FOB as referring to Asians--at least now.
    – simchona
    Aug 23, 2011 at 22:51
  • if they are already citizens, FOB or BOF or whatever is just nonsense, US isn't a pure country of the red. Your ancestors invaded it. People move down from Canda, up from Mexico, Pru, from Europe, etc and bring all messes there. Then what, should they be called non-immigrants ?\ Aug 23, 2011 at 23:00
  • @Stack: Whose ancestors are you talking about?
    – simchona
    Aug 23, 2011 at 23:03
  • @Stack Oh, I see what you mean about AmE. It's a section of resources for people new to the country/area (in various languages), rather than books aimed at people learning English.
    – hoyland
    Aug 27, 2011 at 14:57

"Pom" or "Pommy" for a Briton goes at least back to WW2, and quite possibly to WW1.

As I understand it, it derives from "Pomeroy", a snooty British name.

Most often used by the ANZAC troops.

  • 1
    Welcome to English Language & Usage @Fuzzy. Can you support your answer with references, so that it expresses more than just your opinion?
    – user63230
    Jan 2, 2015 at 3:16

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