Key Migration Terms
Alternatives to detention - Any legislation, policy or practice, formal or informal, aimed at preventing the unnecessary detention of persons for reasons relating to their migration status.
Source: Adapted from International Detention Coalition, There Are Alternatives: A Handbook for Preventing Unnecessary Immigration Detention (revised edition, 2015) p. 78.
Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration - Administrative, logistical or financial support, including reintegration assistance, to migrants unable or unwilling to remain in the host country or country of transit and who decide to return to their country of origin.
Asylum seeker - An individual who is seeking international protection. In countries with individualized procedures, an asylum seeker is someone whose claim has not yet been finally decided on by the country in which he or she has submitted it. Not every asylum seeker will ultimately be recognized as a refugee, but every recognized refugee is initially an asylum seeker.
Source: United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Master Glossary of Terms (2006).
Best interests of the child (principle of) - A threefold concept: (a) A substantive right: The right of the child to have his r her best interests assessed and taken as a primary consideration … and the guarantee that this right will be implemented whenever a decision is to be made concerning a child… (b) A fundamental, interpretative legal principle: If a legal provision is open to more than one interpretation, the interpretation which most effectively serves the child’s best interests should be chosen. … (c) A rule of procedure: Whenever a decision is to be made that will affect a … child, the decision making process must include an evaluation of the possible impact (positive or negative) of the decision on the child or children concerned….
Source: United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 14 on the Right of the Child to Have His or Her Best Interests Taken as a Primary Consideration (art. 3, para. 1) (29 May 2013) UN Doc CRC/C/GC/14, para 6.
Biometrics - Automated means of identifying an individual through the measurement of distinguishing physiological or behavioural traits such as fingerprints, face, iris, retina or ear features. Nowadays, it is used also as a synonym of “biometric identifiers”, which are the pieces of information that encode a representation of a person’s unique biological make up (e.g., fingerprints, retinal scans or voice scans).
Border governance - The legislation, policies, plans, strategies, action plans and activities related to the entry into and exit of persons from the territory of the State, comprising detection, rescue, interception, screening, interviewing, identification, reception, referral, detention, removal or return, as well as related activities such as training, technical, financial and other assistance, including that provided to other States.
Source: Adapted from United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Recommended Principles and Guidelines on Human Rights at International Borders (2014) 5.
Borders (international) - Politically defined boundaries separating territory or maritime zones between political entities and the areas where political entities exercise border governance measures on their territory or extraterritorially. Such areas include border crossing points (airports, land border crossing points, ports), immigration and transit zones, the “no-man’s land” between crossing points of neighbouring countries, as well as embassies and consulates (insofar as visa issuance is concerned).
Source: Adapted from United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Recommended Principles and Guidelines on Human Rights at International Borders (2014) p. 4.
Border management - The administration of measures related to authorized movement of persons (regular migration) and goods, whilst preventing unauthorized movement of persons (irregular migration) and goods, detecting those responsible for smuggling, trafficking and related crimes and identifying the victims of such crimes or any other person in need of immediate or longer-term assistance and/or (international) protection.
Climate migration - The movement of a person or groups of persons who, predominantly for reasons of sudden or progressive change in the environment due to climate change, are obliged to leave their habitual place of residence, or choose to do so, either temporarily or permanently, within a State or across an international border.
Source: Warsaw International Mechanism, Executive Committee, Action Area 6: Migration, Displacement and Human Mobility – Submission from the International Organization for Migration (IOM, 2016); M. Traore Chazalnoël and D. Ionesco, Defining Climate Migrants – Beyond Semantics (IOM weblog, 6 June 2016) (last accessed 23 May 2018).
Collective expulsion - Any measure compelling non-nationals, as a group, to leave a country, except where such a measure is taken on the basis of a reasonable and objective examination of the particular case of each individual of the group.
Source: Adapted from Andric v Sweden App no 45917/99 (ECtHR, 23 February 1999) para. 1.
Country of origin - In the migration context, a country of nationality or of former habitual residence of a person or group of persons who have migrated abroad, irrespective of whether they migrate regularly or irregularly
Country of transit - In the migration context, the country through which a person or a group of persons pass on any journey to the country of destination or from the country of destination to the country of origin or of habitual residence.
Source: Adapted from International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (adopted 18 December 1990, entered into force 1 July 2003) 2220 UNTS 3, Art. 6(c).
Displacement - The movement of persons who have been forced or obliged to flee or to leave their homes or places of habitual residence, in particular as a result of or in order to avoid the effects of armed conflict, situations of generalized violence, violations of human rights or natural or human-made disasters.
Source: Adapted from Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, annexed to United Nations Commission on Human Rights, Report of the Representative of the Secretary-General, Mr Francis M. Deng, Submitted Pursuant to Commission Resolution 1997/39, Addendum (11 February 1998) UN Doc E/CN.4/1998/53/Add.2, 5, para. 2 of the introduction.
Emigration - From the perspective of the country of departure, the act of moving from one’s country of nationality or usual residence to another country, so that the country of destination effectively becomes his or her new country of usual residence.
Environmental migrant - A person or group(s) of persons who, predominantly for reasons of sudden or progressive changes in the environment that adversely affect their lives or living conditions, are forced to leave their places of habitual residence, or choose to do so, either temporarily or permanently, and who move within or outside their country of origin or habitual residence.
Source: Council of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), Discussion Note: Migration and the Environment (November 2007) MC/INF/288; IOM, International Dialogue on Migration (no. 18) Climate Change, Environmental Degradation and Migration (2012); IOM, Outlook on Migration, Environment and Climate Change (2014).
Expulsion -A formal act or conduct attributable to a State by which a non-national is compelled to leave the territory of that State. Source: Adapted from United Nations, International Law Commission, Draft Articles on the Expulsion of Aliens, with Commentaries (2014) Art. 2(a).
Family reunification (right to) - The right of non-nationals to enter into and reside in a country where their family members reside lawfully or of which they have the nationality in order to preserve the family unit.
Source: Adapted from Council Directive 2003/86/EC of 22 September 2003 on the right to family reunification  OJ L 251/12.
Freedom of movement (right to) - In human rights law, a human right comprising three basic elements: freedom of movement within the territory of a country and to choose one’s residence, the right to leave any country and the right to return to one’s own country.
Source: Adapted from Universal Declaration of Human Rights (adopted 10 December 1948) UNGA Res 217(A), Art. 13.
In the context of free movement agreements, the freedom of entry and residence into another State that is a party to the agreement.
Humanitarian-admission - An expedited process offering a pathway for admission into a country on a temporary or permanent basis to persons or groups of persons with protection needs. Humanitarian admission can be used for persons in need of protection, including but not limited to refugees, persons with urgent protection needs, migrants in vulnerable situations, extended family members, or persons in need of medical assistance and care.
Humanitarian border management - Border operations carried out before, during and after humanitarian crises which trigger mass cross-border migration. It aims to improve preparedness of border authorities to respond appropriately to cross-border movements arising from both natural and man-made disasters, in a way that protects crisis-affected migrants and guarantees their human rights and interests, while respecting national sovereignty and security.
Source: International Organization for Migration, Internal Guidance Note on Humanitarian Border Management (internal document, 2014) para. 1.
Humanitarian visa - A visa granting access to and temporary stay in the issuing State for a variable duration to a person on humanitarian grounds as specified in the applicable national or regional law, often aimed at complying with relevant human rights and refugee law.
Identity document - An official piece of documentation issued by the competent authority of a State designed to prove the identity of the person carrying it.
Source: Adapted from United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, UN Recommendations on Statistics of International Migration. Revision 1 (1998) p. 10, definition of “long-term migrants”.
Immigrant - From the perspective of the country of arrival, a person who moves into a country other than that of his or her nationality or usual residence, so that the country of destination effectively becomes his or her new country of usual residence.
Immigration - From the perspective of the country of arrival, the act of moving into a country other than one’s country of nationality or usual residence, so that the country of destination effectively becomes his or her new country of usual residence.
Integration - The two-way process of mutual adaptation between migrants and the societies in which they live, whereby migrants are incorporated into the social, economic, cultural and political life of the receiving community. It entails a set of joint responsibilities for migrants and communities, and incorporates other related notions such as social inclusion and social cohesion.
Interception - Any measure applied by a State, either at its land or sea borders, or on the high seas, territorial waters or borders of another State, to: (i) prevent embarkation of persons on an international journey; (ii) prevent further onward international travel by persons who have commenced their journey; or (iii) assert control of vessels where there are reasonable grounds to believe the vessel is transporting persons contrary to international or national maritime law. In relation to the above, the person or persons do not have the required documentation or valid permission to enter.
Source: Adapted from Executive Committee of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Conclusion on Protection Safeguards in Interception Measures (10 October 2003) No 97 (LIV).
Internal migration - The movement of people within a State involving the establishment of a new temporary or permanent residence.
Source: Adapted from International Organization for Migration, World Migration Report 2015.
Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) - Persons or groups of persons who have been forced or (IDPs) obliged to flee or to leave their homes or places of habitual residence, in particular as a result of or in order to avoid the effects of armed conflict, situations of generalized violence, violations of human rights or natural or human-made disasters, and who have not crossed an internationally recognized State border.
Source: Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, annexed to United Nations Commission on Human Rights, Report of the Representative of the Secretary-General, Mr Francis M. Deng, Submitted Pursuant to Commission Resolution 1997/39, Addendum (11 February 1998) UN Doc E/CN.4/1998/53/Add.2, 6.
International migration law - The international legal framework governing migration, deriving from various sources of international law that apply to the movement of persons within or between States and regulate States’ competence and obligations, migrants’ status, rights and duties, as well as international cooperation.
International protection - The protection that is accorded by the international community to individuals or groups who are outside their own country and are unable to return home because their return would infringe upon the principle of non-refoulement, and their country is unable or unwilling to protect them.
Source: Adapted from United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Persons in Need of International Protection (June 2007).
Inter-State Consultation Mechanisms on Migration (ISCM) - State-led, ongoing information- sharing and policy dialogues on the regional, interregional or global level for States with an interest in promoting cooperation in the field of migration.
Irregular migration - Movement of persons that takes place outside the laws, regulations, or international agreements governing the entry into or exit from the State of origin, transit or destination.
Members of the family - Persons married to a migrant or a national, or having with them a relationship that, according to applicable law, produces effects equivalent to marriage, as well as their dependent children or other dependent persons who are recognized as members of the family by applicable legislation or applicable bilateral or multilateral agreements between the States concerned, including when they are not nationals of the State.
Source: Adapted from International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant workers and Members of Their Families (adopted 18 December 1990, entered into force 1 July 2003) 2220 UNTS 3, Art. 4.
Migrant - An umbrella term, not defined under international law, reflecting the common lay understanding of a person who moves away from his or her place of usual residence, whether within a country or across an international border, temporarily or permanently, and for a variety of reasons. The term includes a number of well-defined legal categories of people, such as migrant workers; persons whose particular types of movements are legally-defined, such as smuggled migrants; as well as those whose status or means of movement are not specifically defined under international law, such as international students.
Migrant flow (international) - The number of international migrants arriving in a country (immigrants) or the number of international migrants departing from a country (emigrants) over the course of a specific period.
Source: United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Toolkit on International Migration (2012) p.3
Migrants in vulnerable situations - Migrants who are unable to effectively enjoy their human rights, are at increased risk of violations and abuse and who, accordingly, are entitled to call on a duty bearer’s heightened duty of care.
Source: Adapted from High Commissioner for Human Rights, Principles and Practical Guidance on the Protection of the Human Rights of Migrants in Vulnerable Situations, Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to the Human Rights Council (3 January 2018) UN Doc A/HRC/37/34, para. 12.
Migrant stock (international) - For statistical purposes, the total number of international migrants present in a given country at a particular point in time who have ever changed their country of usual residence.
Source: Adapted from United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Toolkit on International Migration (2012) pp. 2–3.
Migrant-friendly health systems - Health systems that consciously and systematically incorporate the needs of migrants into health financing, policy, planning, implementation and evaluation, including such considerations as the epidemiological profiles of migrant populations, relevant cultural, language and socioeconomic factors and the impact of the migration process on the health of migrants.
Source: Adapted from World Health Organization, International Organization for Migration, Government of Spain, Health of Migrants – The Way Forward, Report of a Global Consultation (3–5 March 2010) p. 14 (building on J. Puebla Fortier, Migrant-Sensitive Health Systems (Background Paper for the Global Consultation on the Health of Migrants, March 2010)).
Migrant worker - A person who is to be engaged, is engaged or has been engaged in a remunerated activity in a State of which he or she is not a national.
Source: International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (adopted 18 December 1990, entered into force 1 July 2003) 2220 UNTS 3, Art. 2(1).
Migration governance - The combined frameworks of legal norms, laws and regulations, policies and traditions as well as organizational structures (subnational, national, regional and international) and the relevant processes that shape and regulate States’ approaches with regard to migration in all its forms, addressing rights and responsibilities and promoting international cooperation.
Source: Adapted from International Organization for Migration, Migration Governance Framework (2015) C/106/40, 1; Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Migration and Human Rights – Improving Human Rights Based Governance of International Migration (2013) p. 9.
Migration health - A public health topic which refers to the theory and practice of assessing and addressing migration associated factors that can potentially affect the physical, social and mental well-being of migrants and the public health of host communities.
Migration management - The management and implementation of the whole set of activities primarily by States within national systems or through bilateral and multilateral cooperation, concerning all aspects of migration and the mainstreaming of migration considerations into public policies. The term refers to planned approaches to the implementation and operationalization of policy, legislative and administrative frameworks, developed by the institutions in charge of migration.
Migration profile - An analysis of available accurate and disaggregated data on some or all migration-relevant aspects of a country’s national context, prepared in consultation with a broad range of stakeholders, which can be used to enhance policy coherence, evidence-based policymaking on migration and the mainstreaming of migration into development plans.
Naturalization - Any mode of acquisition after birth of a nationality not previously held by the person that requires an application by this person or his or her legal agent as well as an act of granting nationality by a public authority. This definition does not include automatic acquisition that is not initiated by the individual concerned or his or her legal agent (even in cases where the individual has an option to decline this attribution of nationality) or acquisition of nationality based on a unilateral act by the target person (e.g. acquisition by declaration or option).
Source: European Union Democracy Observatory on Citizenship, The EUDO Glossary on Citizenship and Nationality (2015).
Non-discrimination (principle of) - Principle obliging States not to discriminate against any persons. Discrimination should be understood to imply any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference which is based on any ground such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status, and which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by all persons, on an equal footing, of all rights and freedoms.
Source: Adapted from United Nations Human Rights Committee, General Comment 18: Non-Discrimination (10 November 1989) para. 7 in (1994) UN Doc HRI/GEN/1/Rev.1.
Non-refoulement (principle of) - The prohibition for States to extradite, deport, expel or otherwise return a person to a country where his or her life or freedom would be threatened, or where there are substantial grounds for believing that he or she would risk being subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, or would be in danger of being subjected to enforced disappearance, or of suffering another irreparable harm.
Permit - In the migration context, documentation, such as a residence or work permit, which is usually issued by a government authority and which evidences the permission a person has to reside and/ or carry out a remunerated activity.
Refugee (mandate) - A person who qualifies for the protection of the United Nations provided by the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), in accordance with UNHCR’s Statute and, notably, subsequent General Assembly’s resolutions clarifying the scope of UNHCR’s competency, regardless of whether or not he or she is in a country that is a party to the 1951 Convention or the 1967 Protocol – or a relevant regional refugee instrument – or whether or not he or she has been recognized by his or her host country as a refugee under either of these instruments.
Source: Adapted from United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Handbook and Guidelines on Procedures and Criteria for Determining Refugee Status (2011) HCR/1P/4/enG/Rev. 3, 7, para. 16.
Refugee (1951 Convention) - A person who, owing to a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.
Source: Adapted from Convention relating to the Status of Refugees ((adopted 28 July 1951, entered into force 22 April 1954) 189 UNTS 137) Art. 1A(2).
Removal - Also referred to as deportation or, sometimes, expulsion, the act, following a deportation, expulsion or removal order by which a State physically removes a non-national from its territory to his or her country of origin or a third country after refusal of admission or termination of permission to remain.
Safe, orderly and regular migration - Movement of persons in keeping both with the laws and regulations governing exit from, entry and return to and stay in States and with States’ international law obligations, in a manner in which the human dignity and well-being of migrants are upheld, their rights are respected, protected and fulfilled and the risks associated with the movement of people are acknowledged and mitigated.
Separated children - Children, as defined in Article 1 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, who have been separated from both parents, or from their previous legal or customary primary caregiver, but not necessarily from other relatives. These may, therefore, include children accompanied by other adult family members.
Source: Adapted from Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 6: Treatment of Unaccompanied and Separated Children outside Their Country of Origin (1 September 2005) UN Doc CRC/GC/2005/6, para. 8.
Smuggling of migrants - The procurement, in order to obtain, directly or indirectly, a financial or other material benefit, of the irregular entry of a person into a State Party of which the person is not a national or a permanent resident.
Source: Adapted from Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime ((adopted 15 November 2000, entered into force 28 January 2004) 2241 UNTS 507) Art. 3(a).
Social remittances - The transfer of ideas, behaviors, identities and social capital from migrants to their communities of origin.
Source: P. Levitt, Social remittances: Migration driven local-level forms of cultural diffusion (1998) 32 International Migration Review. 4, 926–48.
Sovereignty (territorial) - The existence of rights over territory and the authority which a State exercises over all persons and things found on, under or above its territory. An aspect of territorial sovereignty relevant in the context of migration, is the sovereign prerogative of a State to determine the admission and exclusion of non-nationals to and from its territory, within the limits imposed by international law.
Stateless person - A person who is not considered as a national by any State under the operation of its law.
Source: United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons ((adopted 28 September 1954, entered into force 6 June 1960) 360 UNTS 117) Art. 1.
Trafficking in persons - The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.
Source: Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, Supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (adopted 15 November 2000, entered into force 25 December 2003) 2237 UNTS 319, Art. 3(a).
Unaccompanied children - Children, as defined in Art. 1 of the Convention on the Right of the Child, who have been separated from both parents and other relatives and are not being cared for by an adult who, by law or custom, is responsible for doing so.
Source: Adapted from United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 6: Treatment of Unaccompanied and Separated Children Outside their Country of Origin (2005) CRC/GC/2005/6, 6.
Usual residence - A place within a country where a person lives, that is to say, the place in which he or she has a place to live where he or she normally spends the daily period of rest.
Source: Adapted from United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Recommendations on Statistics of International Migration (1998) 92.
Visa - An endorsement by the competent authorities of a State in a passport or a certificate of identity of a non-national who wishes to enter, leave, or transit through the territory of the State that indicates that the authority, at the time of issuance, considers the holder to fall within a category of non-nationals who can enter, leave or transit through the State under the State’s laws. A visa establishes the criteria of admission into, transit through or exit from a State.
Vulnerability - Within a migration context, vulnerability is the limited capacity to avoid, resist, cope with, or recover from harm. This limited capacity is the result of the unique interaction of individual, household, community, and structural characteristics and conditions.
Xenophobia - At the international level, no universally accepted definition of xenophobia exists, though it can be described as “attitudes, prejudices and behaviour that reject, exclude and often vilify persons, based on the perception that they are outsiders or foreigners to the community, society or national identity”.
Source: Declaration on Racism, Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance against Migrants and Trafficked Persons (adopted by the Asia-Pacific NGO Meeting for the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, Teheran, 18 February 2001) www.hurights.or.jp/wcar/E/tehran/migration.htm last accessed 12 April 2018.