Please note, these terms are defined in the context of the U.S. immigration system.
Refugee - a person outside his or her country of nationality who is unable or unwilling to return to his or her country of nationality because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. They must apply for refugee status through the UNHCR and then be selected for resettlement.
Asylum seeker - someone who has fled their home for the same reasons as a refugee, but their claim hasn’t been evaluated yet. An asylum seeker must apply for asylum either at the border or from within the U.S. It’s important to remember that asylum seekers are here legally.
Learn more about the differences between refugees and asylum seekers.
Asylee - someone who has had their case for asylum approved and been granted asylum.
Immigrant - someone who moves from one country to another with the intent to settle in the new country permanently, or at least long term.
Migrant - someone who has crossed the border but may not intend to stay permanently (ie migrant workers).
DREAMer - an undocumented immigrant who was brought to the United States as a child.
DACA recipient - a Dreamer who has applied for and received relief through Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). DACA temporarily shields recipients from deportation and provides them with work authorization. DACA protections are not written into law and recipients continue to lack legal status and a pathway to citizenship.
Learn more about the differences between Dreamers and DACA recipients.
Parolee - Someone who has been given temporary lawful presence in the U.S. under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). A more in-depth explainer here.
Undocumented (immigrant or migrant) - A non‐national who enters or stays in a country without the appropriate documentation (source). This has become a blanket term for a complex concept, and can sometimes lead to confusion since there are many reasons why immigrants are undocumented in the U.S. Having undocumented status does not automatically imply that someone has broken the law, and an unauthorized entry does not always lead to undocumented status.
Internally Displaced Person - A person who has been forced to flee his or her home due to war, poverty, or persecution, but remains in his or her own country and has not crossed an international border. For example, someone from eastern Ukraine who fled their city due to war and now lives in western Ukraine.
Stateless person - someone who isn’t considered a national under the operation of any country’s laws. For example, the Rohingya people from Myanmar who are now in Bangladesh.