Refugees vs. Asylum Seekers vs. Migrants

Many are fortunate to be born in a country where they feel safe and protected, finding themselves surrounded by boundless opportunities for employment, education, and a quality standard of living. Others, however, are forced to flee their countries of origin to escape violence, poverty or political instability, and yearn to build a new life in safety and in pursuit of better job prospects for a more sustainable life. This has led to record high numbers in the U.S. immigrant population in 2022.

The terms “refugees,” “asylum seekers,” and “migrants” all describe people on the move in search of a new place to call home. In this article, we aim to offer a comprehensive overview of these terms and the distinctions between them. Additionally, we will provide you with the information you need to contact an immigration lawyer in Los Angeles or San Francisco.

Who Is Considered a Refugee?

A refugee is an individual who has been forced to flee their home country because of fear of persecution, violence, or life-threatening circumstances based on race, religion, nationality, political affiliation, and more.

Refugees seek safety in another country, where they are granted special legal status and protection under international law. Refugees typically refuse or are unable to return to their country of origin due to the intense conflict and persecution they face there.

Refugee Status Explained

When a refugee flees to another country, they are automatically granted protection from the host country — assuming the nation has signed the 1951 Refugee Convention, an international treaty that outlines the legal standards and obligations of the signatory countries for the treatment of refugees.

The 1951 Refugee Convention primarily aims to protect refugees from returning to the nation where they experienced persecution and threats to their safety and well-being. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) enforces the 1951 Refugee Convention, ensuring the host nations are providing refugees with the safety and protection they legally deserve.

What Is the Difference Between “Refugee” and “IDP”?

According to the UNHCR, “Internally displaced persons (IDPs) are persons forced to flee their homes because of man-made (e.g. war) or natural disasters but, unlike refugees, have not crossed an international border, remaining instead inside their home countries.”

Who Is Considered an Asylum Seeker?

Asylum seekers, like refugees, leave their homes because of violence and persecution based on race, religion, nationality, politics, etc. However, they have not yet received refugee or protective status from the new country in which they have arrived.

What Is the Difference Between Asylum Seekers and Refugees?

All refugees were initially asylum seekers, but not all asylum seekers are categorized as refugees. A person is considered an asylum seeker when they are in the process of seeking international protection and their claim is under review. Once their application is accepted, they are considered a refugee.

Asylum seekers vs. refugees are terms that are often confused, but using the terms interchangeably can be harmful to the individual — and that is why it is crucial to understand the differences. Remember, asylum seekers are not officially refugees until they have the proper documentation to prove protection and refugee status.

Individuals seeking asylum in the U.S. can find resources and information on processes here. It is still recommended that those seeking asylum connect with an Immigration lawyer.

Who Is Considered a Migrant?

Many people tend to confuse migrants vs. refugees. Migrants typically move voluntarily from one place to another in hopes of improving their lives, but they are not necessarily forced to flee persecution like refugees and asylum seekers are.

Some reasons why migrants might choose to leave their homes include:

  • Searching for more economic opportunities.
  • Seeking better education.
  • Moving closer to family members.

If a migrant decides to return to their country of origin, they will still be protected by the government. Refugees, however, cannot safely return home and therefore need international protection from their new host country. Learn more about migrant resources and options here.

Discuss Which Immigration Options Are Right For You

Reeves Immigration Law Group has over 40 years of experience providing unparalleled immigration services to individuals and their families. Whether you are an asylum seeker looking for refugee status or a migrant seeking employment-based sponsorship or reunification, our team of California immigration attorneys will guide you through every step of the process.

Our immigration lawyers in Los Angeles and San Francisco have the knowledge to give you the info you need for peace of mind. Fill out our contact form today.


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