While studying one word substitution I came across these two words, what I understood till now is like this:

  • Emigrant: One who leaves his own country to reside to another.
  • Immigrant: A person who comes to one country from another to settle.

For example: "A Swedish woman decides to emigrate to America. To herself, and to the country of Sweden, the woman is an emigrant to America. To her new American neighbors, the woman is an immigrant from Sweden, implying she has been somewhere else, and now is here, wherever here happens to be. So she has been an emigrant, in coming to America, and now she is a Swedish immigrant." (Quoting from here.)

Now what will be the one word for:

A person residing in a country of which he is not a citizen

To my understanding it seems immigrant should be the correct word, but the answer given in my module is emigrant. Please help me understand whether I am wrong or not.

  • 1
    Emigrant is one leaving, and immigrant is one coming.
    – justin--
    Nov 3 '12 at 22:04
  • 1
    Title and question are at odds: an emigrant/immigrant may well be naturalised, making him a citizen but but still an immigrant. Nov 3 '12 at 23:26
  • @TimLymington Agreed; the citizen thing makes it all not work.
    – tchrist
    Nov 3 '12 at 23:28

This is about geographical perspective. If you are an American speaking about someone from France who now lives in America, that person is an immigrant (from France). If you are an American speaking about an American who now lives in France, that person is an emigrant (from America).

Now, from the standpoint of the person you describe, it depends on how she sees herself, but the context always has to do with the geographical perspective. She can describe herself as an immigrant to America, or as an emigrant from Sweden. All immigrants are emigrants, and all emigrants are immigrants (that is, unless they remain forever at sea or fail to reach their destination for some other reason). It is the point of reference you wish to stress that should determine the word choice here.

Morton S. Freeman, in A Treasury For Word Lovers, puts it this way:

When a person leaves his country to take up permanent residence in another country, he becomes an emigrant and an immigrant. He is an emigrant upon leaving his homeland and an immigrant upon arriving at his destination.

  • 3
    Addressing the "what will be the one word for a person residing in a country of which he is not a citizen " part (emphasis added), I will point out that you could go with foreigner or alien.
    – RegDwigнt
    Nov 27 '10 at 17:20
  • 3
    @RegDwight: Good points. Additionally, I'll mention that the American community in Japan uses the term expatriate (normally shortened to "expat" as in "He's an American expat just like me.").
    – Robusto
    Nov 27 '10 at 17:23
  • 1
    'expat' is quite standard usage for a person who lives outside her/his country
    – ottodidakt
    Jan 6 '11 at 16:42

The term used for a national living abroad, or a permanent resident of foreign origin, is often an "Expatriate" or expat.

A person temporarily or permanently residing in a country and culture other than that of the person's upbringing.

  • Are these downvotes serial? Or does someone have an explanation for the downvote? The OP asked for "A person residing in a country of which he is not a citizen" and the definition of expat is "a person temporarily or permanently residing in a country and culture other than that of the person's upbringing". The similarity is uncanny.... Nov 3 '12 at 21:33
  • 1
    This actually looks like an answer closer to what the OP is asking for. +1
    – JAM
    Nov 3 '12 at 21:39
  • 4
    Sure, the similarity is uncanny, but an expat is decidedly not an immigrant. How exactly I'm not sure I can articulate (it may be purely context or connotation). Expats tend to have the freedom to come and go, are not expected to be seeking permanent residency. The English author Peter Mayles, an expat living in the south of France, is not considered an immigrant.
    – Mitch
    Nov 3 '12 at 21:43
  • @Mitch I think you're spot on, and TBD I think as JAM says, this answer is more to the point of the Q... but whatev, this is all for posterity anyway. Nov 3 '12 at 23:52
  • Yes, except for the OP's 2nd to last sentence, where the "correct" answer was given as 'emigrant'.
    – Mitch
    Nov 4 '12 at 1:24

A Useful Mnemonic Device

Not to detract in any way from what Rob has said, let me offer a little mnemonic trick I learned as a kid and which has always served to distinguish the two words:

  1. An immigrant is an in-migrant, someone who has migrated in to somewhere else. You remember it because in goes with imm-.
  2. An emigrant is an out-migrant, someone who has migrated out from somewhere else.

The exact reason here is because although in for in works, Latin didn’t use out to mean the opposite of in. It instead used ex, which in compounds like this is represented just by e- alone. More specifically, both words derive directly from Latin, which had paired verbs:

  1. Latin immigrāre meaning to immigrate in English, originally from im- in + migrāre, to migrate.
  2. Latin ēmigrāre meaning to emigrate in English, originally from ē- out + migrāre, to migrate.

The same mnemonic device works for the verbs that worked for the nouns

  1. To immigrate is to migrate in.
  2. To emigrate is to migrate out.

More /^[ie]?m+igr/i Words

There are a bunch of related terms to each of these. From the OED, we have these three sets:

  • immigr-: immigrant, immigrate, immigrated, immigration, immigrator, immigratory.

  • emigr-: emigrant, emigrate, emigrated, emigrating, emigration, emigrational, emigrationist, emigrator, emigratory, émigré.

  • migrat-: migrate, migrated, migrater, migrating, migration, Migration Age, migrational, migrationism, migrationist, migration myth, migration path, Migration Period, migration-station, Migration style, migrative, migrator, migratorial, migratory, migratory labour, migratory locust, migratory thrush, migratory worker.

Obviously, the migrat- prefixed words are the most abundant, but there are more emi- prefixed words than you may realize.

Qu’est-ce que c’est?

The odd one out in those lists is the one that’s written with diacritics: émigré. Those acute accent marks give away that this a word that took a French holiday while en route to us from Latin. It’s still an emigrant, but a particular kind of emigrant and not just any one one.

Émigré came from the past participle of the verb émigrer in French, which simply meant to emigrate there. Per the OED, an émigré is a noun used either for a Frenchman in specific, or by transference — and I think, now much more commonly — for:

An emigrant of any nationality, esp. a political exile.

Its English pronunciation is /eɪmɪˈgreɪ/.

Wikipedia expands on this definition, giving a bit of context to help tell all these words part:

Émigré is a French term that literally refers to a person who has “migrated out”, but often carries a connotation of political or social self-exile. [. . .] Whereas emigrants have likely chosen to leave one place and become immigrants in a different clime, not usually expecting to return, émigrés see exile as a temporary expedient forced on them by political circumstances. Émigré circles often arouse suspicion as breeding-grounds for plots and counter-revolution.


Just remember that with all these words, imm- means in and em- means out, and you’ll always keep them cleanly separated in your mind.

  • 1
    Émigré is one who has emigrated, presumably from a French-speaking country.
    – justin--
    Nov 3 '12 at 22:06
  • 1
    @justin-- Not sure what you are trying to say. Are you somehow disagreeing with me, or rather, with my references? An émigré is not just any old emigrant; if it were, we wouldn’t have a separate for it.
    – tchrist
    Nov 3 '12 at 23:24
  • No, there is a distinction between the past participle émigré and "emigrant" which is actually the present participle émigrant. The present participle suggests an ongoing process, which would ordinarily be assimilation into the culture and ways of a new country, and when this process is completed, one would not be considering oneself an émigré from the point of view of the old country. But applying the past participle to one who has emigrated --- qui a émigré in French --- would seem to connote some degree of passivity and disaffectedness, but I am not sure.
    – justin--
    Nov 4 '12 at 20:37
  • 1
    @justin-- You seem to have confused ELU with FLU. How the word works in French need have nothing to do with how it works in English.
    – tchrist
    Nov 4 '12 at 20:39
  • The excerpt from Wikipedia is fine for an encyclopedia article, and it does help give context for how the word is often used, but at the same time it is way too much to read into the definition of the word. Not that this example is inconsistent in any way, but in general I prefer to avoid using an obviously foreign word in English prose in a manner inconsistent with its meaning in its original language. In this case I'm content to go with common usage, consistency with its original denotation, and not reading too much into the word by itself. Connotation is flexible, denotation less so.
    – justin--
    Nov 4 '12 at 21:22

"A person residing in a country of which he is not a citizen" - neither immigrant nor emigrant is correct.

I could move from country A to country B, then take on citizenship of country B - I still am an emigrant from country A and an immigrant to country B. Nationality has nothing to do with it.

On the other hand, you may be a citizen of country A, but born in country B as the child of immigrants from A who didn't change their citizenship. You are a person residing in a country of which you are not citizen, but you are living where you were born, where you lived all your life, so you are neither emigrant from A, nor immigrant to B.

Now if you are a citizen of A who moved to B and kept his citizenship, then all your new neighbours will call you an "immigrant", while all your old neighbours call you an "emigrant". So even in this case, the correct answer depends on the context, and it is more likely that the context means you are an immigrant.

One correct word would be "foreigner". In the USA, people may use the word "alien" (I personally would use the word "alien" for murderous things from outer space, but that's me); in the UK that would be rare. "Expatriate" is often used by people of the same nationality, for someone who deliberately keeps their original citizenship, and often for someone who is a temporary resident who is willing to return to his home country at any time; that word would probably not be used if you applied for citizenship of the new country and haven't succeeded (yet).

All in all: The answer in your module is totally incorrect for multiple reasons.

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