What Is The Difference Between "Immigration" and "Emigration"?

The terms "immigration" and "emigration" have similar meanings and often cause a lot of confusion when people are trying to understand what is involves with each one. Both derive from the term "migrate" which means to move from one country or region, to another one. This includes both permanent moves to another country and temporary ones, for example, workers might temporarily migrate for seasonal work like farming.

People often use the words interchangeably, but this is incorrect use of grammar, so if you want to make sure that you are using the correct term in its correct context, this should help:

When to use "migrate"

Emigrate refers to leaving a place, for example:

The family emigrated from the UK to the US.

The word emigrate should only be used when talking about people who leave one country to settle in another. Therefore, you would never say "the birds emigrated south for winter", it would be "the birds migrated south for winter".

When to use "immigrate"

The term immigrate refers to moving into a place, for example:

The family immigrated to the US from the UK.

Again, this only includes people that are moving from one country to another.

How to remember which one applies

Even when you read the definitions, it can still be difficult to remember which way around each one applies, so there is a little trick you can try to help remember which way round to use them.

If you think about the letter "I" at the beginning of immigration and think of it as "I" for "into", thus meaning that the person is moving into the country. You can also relate the letter "E" for emigration to "exit", reminding you that the person is exiting/leaving the country.

Immigration rules

Countries such as the US have immigration rules to help monitor the number and type of people that are coming into the country. For example, the US wants to limit the number of immigrants that enter the country and make sure that the US employment and security is prioritised before allowing nationals from other countries to immigrate to the US.

This is another way to remember which out of immigrate and emigrate to use, as the country has a greater vested interest in ensuring that people coming into the country are monitored, as opposed to those leaving the country. This is why the US has a set of immigration visas and a strict set of requirements to assess whether a visa applicant should be granted a visa or not.

However, many countries are in the Visa Waiver Program, which allows citizens from those select countries to visit the US without a visa when they are only visiting for a short period, such as for a holiday. In these circumstances, the traveller is simply visiting the country and is not immigrating i.e. not moving into the country to live there and will shortly return to their home country. Therefore, they simply need to apply for an online ESTA to obtain the relevant travel authorization to visit the US for business or tourism purposes.




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