Is there a single word which can be used to describes people who legally moved to your country from abroad but do not have refugee or asylum seeker status?

In current political discourse, the word "immigrant" is used as a catch-all term which refers to asylum seekers, refugees, illegal immigrants and legal immigration through other processes than the asylum system. So it would be useful to have a word to refer to just the latter.

Usage example:

Immigrants who came to our country as refugees are accepted for humanitarian reasons while [blank] are accepted for economic, diplomatic and/or demographic reasons.

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    How about immigrant? Jun 22, 2018 at 11:31
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    It would, but as is often the way in political discourse, there isn't currently a word that hasn't been infected.
    – Colin Fine
    Jun 22, 2018 at 11:38
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    What about human being, then...? Or migrant. It's tricky, as Colin said. Jun 22, 2018 at 11:41
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    @OliverMason So refugees aren't "human beings"? "Migrants" covers both "Immigrants" (people who come) and "Emigrants" (people who leave). Please try to take the question seriously.
    – Philipp
    Jun 22, 2018 at 11:41
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    There are TONS of immigration statuses. Asking for one term for all those legal immigrants that are not asylum seeking is like asking for one term for all breads with wheat in them that are not Brioche. Please clarify if I have your request properly understood. Jun 22, 2018 at 19:06

4 Answers 4


The term "economic migrants" is often used for people who have moved to a new country seeking improved economic status and not fleeing war or persecution. If quality of life is included in the notion of economic status it could also include those who have migrated for "better weather" or "cultural experiences" etc.

For example Farage uses the terms refugee and economic migrant contrastively:

... What you find is that most people aren’t refugees, they’re ... economic migrants source

as does the refugee council in Australia

For many years, Australian politicians and other public figures have debated whether or not asylum seekers reaching Australia by boat have serious claims for refugee protection or are merely “economic migrants”. source

  • 1
    Finally an answer which is actually making a constructive suggestion. Too bad that, some people on the contra-side of the refugee debate tend to claim that many refugees actually are economic immigrants who use the asylum process instead of regular immigration because it is easier.
    – Philipp
    Jun 22, 2018 at 18:37
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    @Philipp If this is more along the lines of what you're looking for, then the way you've phrased your question about legality is misleading and you should clarify it. Jun 22, 2018 at 18:41
  • @JasonBassford My understanding is that asylum is a form of legal immigration. That's why my third category is "legal immigration through other processes than the asylum system". But that's quite a mouthful to say.
    – Philipp
    Jun 22, 2018 at 19:13
  • @jsw, I have tried to address that already. "Economic" can be taken in the narrow sense to be those seeking financial reward. But it can also be used to mean "better quality of life" (I have a citation some where for "economics is not about gdp but maximising quality of life" for the wider use of the word) It would seem that, for example, a retired mother joining her son who migrated to find work could be classed as an economic migrant, in some more generalised use of the word.
    – James K
    Jun 22, 2018 at 20:44
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    The term economic migrant does not cover exactly what the OP has in mind. It includes the people who move for economic reasons without having the legally required permits, which the term sought by the OP would exclude. It also (as understood by the general public) excludes some people that the term sought by the OP would include, such as retirees moving to a more appealing climate (the broad sense, outlined in this answer, which makes such motives economic, is suitable only for certain theoretical contexts.). (This comment consolidates what were originally three separate comments.)
    – jsw29
    Jun 29, 2018 at 17:28

There is no single word for illegal immigrant, so why expect one for the opposite? If precise meaning is required, simply use legal immigrant.

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    I may be misinterpreting, but I think OP is asking for a word that describes immigrants that aren't refugees, not immigrants who aren't illegal immigrants.
    – wrymug
    Jun 22, 2018 at 18:53
  • @rosslh You could be correct but, if so, the way the question is phrased can be misleading, and it should be rephrased so that what is being looked for is very clear. Jun 22, 2018 at 18:59
  • And that has been provided. Immigrants who are not refugees are simply migrants, illegal or not. The word is migrants, as defined by the United Nations. Jun 22, 2018 at 19:03

Migrant and Refugee are exclusive terms and not interchangeable. A group may be comprised of both migrants and refugees but a single person is either a migrant or qualifies for refugee status.

Countries deal with migrants under their own immigration laws and processes. Countries deal with refugees through norms of refugee protection and asylum that are defined in both national legislation and international law.

Source: http://www.unhcr.org/uk/news/latest/2016/7/55df0e556/unhcr-viewpoint-refugee-migrant-right.html

The word is Migrant. A migrant can then be further classified using various qualifiers.

  • Your answer hasn't said anything. If I take your answer to be migrant, its dictionary definition is no different than immigrant, and it doesn't exclude illegal migrants. Jun 22, 2018 at 17:46
  • No one mentioned illegal immigrants. You have just added that. My answer is the correct answer in regards to the word refugee and the word migrant. A refugee is not a migrant. Jun 22, 2018 at 17:53
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    Illegal immigrant is right there in the question itself. I didn't make it up. Jun 22, 2018 at 17:55
  • Nope. The question was to distinguish between a migrant and a refugee. The legality of the migrant does not affect the difference between a migrant and a refugee. Jun 22, 2018 at 18:11
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    The OP is not seeking ordinary English. The OP is seeking a defined term. I have provided it. The word is migrant. Jun 22, 2018 at 18:32

It's tough to separate this question from the current political situation, but I might call the class of people you are describing

conventional immigrants

to distinguish them from refugees, illegal immigrants, asylum seekers, and the class of people fleeing abject poverty sometimes called "economic migrants".

Rather, this system would acknowledge that our country relies on far more temporary foreign laborers than the conventional immigration system allows, and create a middle ground that allows immigrants seeking legitimate work to enter without running afoul of the law. -- Forbes Magazine, 2013-10-04

The positive wage effects we find are, although modest, too large to be explained by a conventional immigration surplus. We suggest alternative explanations, based on the idea that immigrants are paid less than the value of what they contribute to production and we assess the magnitude of these effects. -- Summary of academic paper on immigration and wages, at University College, London

  • It's courteous to explain why you are downvoting an answer.
    – arp
    Jun 30, 2018 at 18:55

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