Key Terms

Asylum Seeker



One who moves, either temporarily or permanently, from one place, area, or country of residence to another; one who moves to another place of residence or study, field of employment, etc.1

Types of Migration

Demographers study the following types of migration:

  • Internal migration: migration which refers to “a change of residence within national boundaries, such as between states, provinces, cities, or municipalities. An internal migrant is someone who moves to a different administrative territory.”2
  • International migration: migration which refers to change of residence over national boundaries. “International migrants are further classified as legal immigrants, illegal immigrants, and refugees.
    • Legal immigrants are those who moved with the legal permission of the receiver nation, illegal immigrants are those who moved without legal permission, and refugees are those crossed an international boundary to escape persecution.” 1
    • The United Nations Population Division classifies an international migrant as “someone who has been living for one or more years in a country other than the one in which he or she was born.”3
  • Circular Migration: often the type of migration done for employment. “It involves temporary and usually repetitive movement of a migrant worker between host and home areas.”4
    • The International Organization for Migration advocates that destination countries should provide mechanisms that promote repeat and regular circular migration, while also providing incentives to return to their same job in their home country.5

Reasons for Migration

Reasons for migration are widespread and a migrant’s reason for seeking refuge is largely context specific. At an individual level, people may choose to migrate because of6:

  • Environmental Factors
    • Sudden or long-term changes to their local environment which effect a person's security and well-being. Environmental factors typically include “increased droughts, desertification, sea level rise, and disruption of seasonal weather patterns.”7
  • Financial Factors
    • In countries that are plagued by poor wages and a lack of jobs, people migrate out of their country to find work and higher pay. Often, they will send home remittances to their family while they are abroad trying to make a living to support themselves and their family members.
  • Political Factors
    • Persecution, war, and violence are often factors that push people to emigrate. They leave their country to escape unfavorable conditions propagated by instability within their home country that depletes their opportunity to create fulfilling lives.

Legal Statures for Migrants in the U.S.

Legal migration pathways in the United States cater to highly skilled professionals with formal qualifications and can fill jobs that require that level of skill or knowledge. Legal pathways are often too narrow for low-skilled migrants to come into the country and find work, thus they often turn to illegal migration into the country to find work. The legal process makes it difficult for employers to hire migrants, so they, too, often turn to illegal migrants for jobs. According to the Migration Policy Institute, at the 2016 New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, UN Member States declared their ideals of considering “opportunities for safe, orderly, and regular migration.”8 This would detract from the dangers, such as violence, abuse, and death, that often result from illegal migration into the United States All persons are governed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that “everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and return to his country.”9 However, this right is not recognized by all, and when migrant workers’ rights are violated there are not currently legal statues set in place that favor low-skilled migrant workers, making it easier to exploit them. Within international law, the problem of migration raises concerns with the regulation of asylum and immigration.  

Legal Policy for Temporary Migration to the United States

New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants

On September 19th, 2016, United Nations General Assembly adopted the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, a document which recognized a need for more cooperation between nations to manage migration effectively and ultimately led to the Global Compact for Migration, 2018.

  • Global Compact for Migration
    • GOM was an intergovernmentally negotiated agreement, prepared by the United Nations, that describes itself as covering "all dimensions of international migration in a holistic and comprehensive manner."10 The GOM had 23 objectives and commitments listed in its draft agreement, including: “collecting and using accurate and anonymized data to develop evidence-based migration policy, ensuring that all migrants have proof of identity, enhancing availability and flexibility for regular migration, encouraging cooperation for tracking missing migrants and saving lives, ensuring migrants can access basic services, and making provisions for both full inclusion of migrants and social cohesion.”10  The GOM agreement does not differentiate between illegal and legal migrants, but it does differentiate between regular and irregular migrants and gives states the right to distinguish between the two. 10

Current Migrant Info and Facts

Additional Resources



To come to settle in a country (which is not one's own); to pass into a new habitat or place of residence (literal and figurative); one who enters into a country for the purpose of settling there.11

According to, “Foreign born” and “immigrant” are often used interchangeably and refer to persons with no U.S. citizenship at birth. This population includes naturalized citizens, lawful permanent residents, refugees and asylees, persons or certain temporary visas, and the unauthorized.12

Types of Immigrants

There are different classifications of immigrants in the United States:

  • United States Citizen. To become a US citizen, a green card must be held for a minimum of 5 years or for at least 3 years if filing as a spouse of a US citizen. Certain eligibility requirements must be met, including being at least 18 years old at the time of filing, being able to read, write, and speak basic English, and be in good standing legally. There is also a ten step naturalization process.
  • Lawful Permanent Residents are also known as green card holders and are legal residents who are able to accept employment offers without restrictions, own property, receive financial aid at public colleges and universities, and join the Armed Forces. LPRs may join the Armed Forces and apply for citizenship if they meet eligibility requirements.
  • Temporary Visitor US Legal defines a temporary visitor as an alien who seeks temporary entry to the United States for a specific purpose. Such alien should have a permanent residence abroad (for most classes of admission) and qualify for the nonimmigrant classification sought.13
  • Undocumented Immigrant is a foreign national who is living without official authorization in a country of which they are not a citizen.

Reasons for Immigration

The most common reasons for immigration are14:

  • Work and economic job opportunities
  • To be with family members
  • Education
  • Safety
  • Temporary Visitors for Business or Pleasure

Immigrants in the United States

As of 2017, according to, more than 44.5 million immigrants reside in the United States. This demographic makes up about 13.7% of the US population. 1890 holds the historical record for the greatest percentage of immigrant U.S. residents–14.8%12

Legal Statures & Policy for Immigrants


“The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) was launched in 2012 and it offered a two-year grant of deportation relief and work authorization to eligible young unauthorized immigrants. There were specified requirements for eligibility which included:

  • being at least 15 years old;
  • having entered the United States before the age of 16;
  • having continuously resided in the United States since June 15, 2007;
  • being enrolled in school, having earned a high school diploma or its equivalent, or being an honorably discharged veteran; and
  • having not been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, or three or more misdemeanors; or otherwise posing a threat to public safety or national security."15

On September 5, 2017 the Trump Administration announced a rescission of DACA that would also have a a six-month wind-down period. Federal courts have challenged the Trump Administration decision and a nationwide ruling has kept the DACA program in place, only for people who currently have or in the past have had DACA benefits.15

Additional Resources



According to Britannica Encyclopedia, a refugee is “any uprooted, homeless, involuntary migrant who has crossed a frontier and no longer possesses the protection of [their] former government.”16 The UN Refugee Agency defines a refugee as “someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war, or violence,” and states that “a refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. Most likely, they cannot return home or are afraid to do so.”17 

History of Refugees and Causes

Prior to the 19th century, the movement between countries did not require passports or visas, and the right to asylum (the protection granted by a state to a foreign citizen against his own state) was commonly recognized and honored. There have been multiple waves of refugees throughout history, but only when fixed and closed state frontiers came to exist did the topic of refugees became a problem. By the late 1920s and 1930s, the tradition of political asylum had decreased considerably because of increasing insensitivity to human suffering as well as a historically high number of refugees.16

For many centuries, refugee movements were because of religious and racial intolerance; entire groups were uprooted by secular or religious authorities to create conformity. Examples include:16

  • Expulsion of Jews from Spain in the late 15th century
  • Exodus of Huguenots from France after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685
  • Expulsion of Jews from Germany, Austria, and Sudetenland in the 1930s

Refugee movements have also been the result of political motivations since the development of governments powerful enough to oust nonconforming minorities. Examples include:16

  • Exodus of 1.5 million anti-communists during the Russian Revolution (1917) and the post-revolutionary civil war (1917-1921)
  • Departure of 1 million Armenians from Turkish Asia Minor between 1915 and 1923
  • Fleeing of several hundred thousand Spanish loyalists to France during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939)
  • Fleeing of over 2 million Chinese to Taiwan and to Hong Kong when the People’s Republic of China was formed in 1949
  • The Korean War (1950-1953), Hungarian Revolution (1956), Cuban revolution (1959), and Chinese take-over of Tibet (1959) were all sources of refugees in the 1950s
  • Fleeing of over 3.7 million refugees from East Germany to West Germany between 1945 and 1961 when the communist regime erected the Berlin Wall 

Refugee movements have been caused by territorial partition as well. Examples include:16

  • After Germany was defeated in World War II, the Potsdam Conference of 1945 authorized the movement of German minorities from several European countries, and 12 million Germans were shifted to the truncated territory of Germany, which was split into east and west regions
  • The greatest population transfer in history was a result of the partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947, when 18 million Hindus from Pakistan and Muslims from India became refugees
  • 8-10 million people were temporarily made refugees when Bangladesh was created in 1971
  • Palestine’s partition in 1948 caused an exodus of Palestinian Arabs because of a military confrontation between the new state of Israel and surrounding Arab countries

Refugees in Our Time

War and ethnic, tribal, and religious violence are leading causes of refugees fleeing their countries. Two-thirds of all refugees worldwide come from just 5 countries: Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Myanmar, and Somalia.17 More than a third of the world’s displaced population — some 25.9 million people — have been forced to flee their own countries entirely, leaving familiar lands behind and becoming refugees.18 More than half of refugees are children.19

Here is a list of the top 7 countries of origin that account for the most refugees in the world today (as of July 2019):

  1. Syria – 6.7 million refugees

    1. Since the Syrian civil war officially began on March 15, 2011, Syrians have been subject to brutal conflict that has killed hundreds of thousands of people, torn the nation apart, and regressed the standard of living by decades. Healthcare centers and hospitals, schools, utilities, and water and sanitation systems are damaged or destroyed. The Syrian army and various militant groups are fighting to control territory in the northeast and northwest. The civil war has become a sectarian conflict, with religious groups fighting against each other.20 Most of the 6.7 million Syrians who are refugees are still located in the Middle East. Turkey holds 3.6 million, which is the largest number of refugees hosted by any country. Syrian refugees have also fled to Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq. In 2018, 1.4 million Syrian refugees returned home to Syria, but face lack of infrastructure and services and danger from explosive devices.19
  2. Afghanistan – 2.7 million refugees

    1. The 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan caused the first wave of refugees from Afghanistan to neighboring Pakistan. Now, Afghan refugees are the second-largest refugee population in the world.  Pakistan hosts nearly 1.4 million Afghan refugees, including those who are of the second and third generation and have never lived in their home country. Some have been forced to go back to Afghanistan from neighboring countries, but an increase in violence in Afghanistan since 2015 has created a new wave of refugees.19
  3. South Sudan – 2.3 million refugees

    1. South Sudan was formed as a new country in 2011 after a violent civil war, but conflict broke out on two year later in 2013, leading to a complex and dangerous conflict, economic decline, disease, and hunger. This conflict has caused millions to flee and millions more to be displaced inside the country.21 2.3 million people having fled to neighboring countries. About 80% of the refugees are women and children, and about 50,000 of those children are orphaned or unaccompanied.19
  4. Myanmar – 1.1 million refugees

    1. Members of the Rohingya ethnic group have faced decades of discrimination, statlessness, and targeted violence in Rakhine State, Myanmar. This persecution has forced Rohingya people into Bangladesh for many years, with significant increases following violence in 1978, 1991-1992, 2016, and 2017.22 About 1.1 million members of the Rohingya ethnic group have fled from Rakhine state, and as many as 700,000 relocated to Bangladesh since August 2017.19
  5. Somalia – 900,000 refugees

    1. With no functioning government, clan wars have lasted for decades, and a deadly terrorist group commands large portions of the country; Somalia has been described as a failed state.23 Most Somali refugees have fled to Kenya, Ethiopia, or Yemen. About 100,000 have returned to the country since June 2016 because of the Kenyan government’s intent to eventually close Dadaab, which at one time was the world’s largest refugee camp.19
  6. Sudan – 725,000 refugees

    1. An economic crisis in Sudan that began in 2018 has been worsened by increasing violence and insecurity that continues following the overthrow of the Sudanese government in April 2019. 725,000 people have fled as refugees. At the end of 2018, Sudan was hosting more than 1 million refugees from other conflict-torn countries including South Sudan and Eritrea.19
  7. Democratic Republic of the Congo – 720,300 refugees

    1. Conflict and food insecurity has forced people to flee, with more than 700,000 people from the DRC living in neighboring countries as refugees. Violence has also prevented containment of an Ebola outbreak that started in May 2018.19

Additional Resources

Asylum Seeker


The Cambridge English Dictionary defines asylum seeker as “someone who leaves their own country, often for political reasons or because of war, and who travels to another country hoping that the government will protect them and allow them to live there.”24 However, this definition varies slightly from country to country depending on their asylum laws; in some places, an asylum seeker “is someone whose claim has not yet been finally decided on."25 

Forms of Asylum in the United States

Individuals can claim asylum in the United States in two different ways. The types of asylum are:26

  • Affirmative Asylum: To apply for affirmative asylum, a person cannot be in removal proceedings. This is a form of proactive asylum application, and the application is reviewed by an officer of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). If the application is rejected, “the applicant is referred to removal proceedings, where he or she may renew the request for asylum through the defensive process and appear before an immigration judge.26
  • Defensive Asylum: To apply for defensive asylum, a person must be in removal (deportation) proceedings and must file their application for “a defense against removal from the U.S.” with the Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR).26

Responses to Requests for Asylum

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services can respond to requests for asylum in five different ways:27

  • Grant of Asylum: Asylum is given to the applicant. With the grant, they are given the ability to apply for an Employment Authorization Document, a Social Security card, a Green Card, and “immigration benefits for [their] spouse and unmarried children under the age of 21.”27 
  • Referral to an Immigration Court: If the applicant is found to be living in the United States illegally, they are referred to Immigration Court to have their case further reviewed.
  • Recommended Approval: An applicant receives this response if USCIS has pending security checks for the individual.
  • Notice of Intent to Deny: An applicant receives this response if they are not found eligible to be granted asylum. They are given 16 days to appeal their claim and/or provide new evidence. The applicant will then either receive a grant of asylum or a final denial. 
  • Final Denial: Appeals for this application will not be heard, and the decision stands for any dependents of the applicant. The asylum seeker may reapply, but only after a “changed circumstances that affect [the] eligibility for asylum” can be shown.27

Additional Resources


  1. “Migrant.” Home : Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford University Press,
  2. "Migration – Types Of Migration." Types Of Migration – Family, International, and Internal – JRank Articles, Accessed 18 April 2019. 
  3. "International Migrants by Country." Pew Research Center's Global Attitudes Project, 30 Jan. 2019, Accessed 18 April 2019. 
  4. "Circular Migration." Wikipedia, 1 Feb. 2019, Accessed 18 April 2019. 
  5. "International Organization for Migration." Wikipedia, 28 March 2019, Accessed 18 April 2019. 
  6. "Root Causes of Migration." Justice for Immigrants, 14 Feb. 2017, Accessed 18 April 2019. 
  7. "Environmental Migrant." Wikipedia, 15 April 2019, Accessed 18 April 2019. 
  8. Fratzke, Susan, and Brian Salant. "Moving Beyond 'Root Causes:' The Complicated Relationship between Development and Migration." Migration Policy, 30 Jan. 2018, Accessed 18 April 2019. 
  9. "Universal Declaration of Human Rights." United Nations, Accessed 18 April 2019. 
  10. "Global Compact for Migration." Wikipedia, 13 April 2019, Accessed 18 April 2019. 
  11. “Immigrant.” Home : Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford University Press,
  12. "Migration Policy Institute." Migration Policy, 1 Nov. 2018, Accessed 18 April 2019. 
  13. US Legal, Inc. "Temporary Resident Law and Legal Definition." USLegal, Inc., Accessed 18 April 2019. 
  14. "Why Do People Come to the US?" US Immigration Report, Accessed 18 April 2019. 
  15. Zong, Jie, et al. "Frequently Requested Statistics on Immigrants and Immigration in the United States." Migration Policy, 15 April 2019, Accessed 18 April 2019. 
  16. The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Refugee.” Encyclopaedia Britannica, 14 March 2019, Accessed 4 December 2019.
  17. “What is a Refugee?” The UN Refugee Agency, Accessed 4 December 2019.
  18. “The world’s 5 Biggest Refugee Crises.” Mercy Corps, Accessed 4 December 2019.
  19. “Forced to Flee: Top Countries Refugees are Coming From.” World Vision, Accessed 4 December 2019.
  20. “Syrian Refugee Crisis: Facts, FAQs, and How to Help.” World Vision, Accessed 4 December 2019.
  21. “South Sudan Refugee Crisis Explained.” The UN Refugee Agency, Accessed 4 December 2019.
  22. “Rohingya Refugee Crisis.” United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Accessed 4 December 2019.
  23. “3 Countries in the World that Produce the Largest Number of Refugees.” Refugee Council USA, 1 November 2016, Accessed 4 December 2019.
  24. “Asylum Seeker: Definition in the Cambridge English Dictionary.” Asylum Seeker Definition in the Cambridge English Dictionary, Cambridge English Dictionary, Accessed 4 December 2019.
  25. “What’s the Difference Between a Refugee and an Asylum Seeker?” Amnesty International, 24 Jan. 2019, Accessed 4 December 2019.
  26. “Types of Asylum.” The UN Refugee Agency: USA Types of Asylum, UNHCR, Accessed 4 December 2019.
  27. “Types of Asylum Decisions.” U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, 16 June 2015, Accessed 4 December 2019.


Sydney Gualtieri and Gregory Zankowsky ’19

Revised by Simon Glover, Samantha Simon, and Jenna Whiting ’19

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