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.

Note: International human rights law provides that detention, including in the migration context, must only be used as a last resort, that is when alternatives cannot be applied. Examples of alternatives to detention include measures ranging from policy or legislative developments that have an impact on preventing unnecessary detention, to effective screening and identification procedures, community-based or casework-oriented models, bail, bond and surety options, open or semi‐open centres, reporting requirements and case resolution options.

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.

Note: In the context of assisted voluntary return and reintegration, voluntariness is assumed to exist if two conditions apply: (a) freedom of choice, which is defined by the absence of physical or psychological pressure to enrol in an assisted voluntary return and reintegration programme; and (b) an informed decision which requires the availability of timely, unbiased and reliable information upon which to base the decision.
In some cases, an assessment may be needed by qualified professionals to determine the extent to which a person is capable to take such a free and informed decision, and who, should the person lack such a capacity, could legally take the decision on his or her behalf.
Assisted voluntary return programmes may provide different levels of assistance to reintegration and, in some cases, they don’t provide any assistance to this effect.

See also country of origin, reintegration

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).

See also international protection, migrant, refugee (mandate), refugee (1951 Convention)

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.

Note: Article 3(1) of the Convention of the Rights of the Child stipulates “in all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration”((adopted 20 November 1989, entered into force 2 September 1990) 1577 UNTS 3).
The best interests determination imposes to take into consideration the child well‐being, which is determined by a variety of individual circumstances, such as the age, the level of maturity of the child, the presence or absence of parents, the child’s environment and experiences (UNHCR, UNHCR Guidelines on Determining the Best Interests of the Child (2008) p. 15).

Bilateral labour migration agreements – Agreements concluded between two States, which are legally binding and are essentially concerned with inter-State cooperation on labour migration.

Note: The International Labour Organization (ILO) Recommendation concerning Migration for Employment (Revised) (RO86 (1 July 1949)), adopted contextually to the ILO Convention (No. 97) Concerning Migration for Employment ((adopted 1 July 1949, entered into force 22 January 1952) 120 UNTS 71), in its annex “Model Agreement on Temporary and Permanent Migration for Employment, including Migration of Refugees and Displaced Persons”. In some cases, trade agreements or other regional cooperation platforms will also provide provisions for labour mobility.

See also labour migration

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).
Source: Adapted from International Organization for Migration (IOM), IOM Data Protection Manual (2010) p. 109; and IOM, Biometrics and International Migration (2005) International Migration Law Series, No. 5, p. 6.

Note: Biometric scanning is the process whereby biometric measurements are collected and enrolled in a computer system with the purpose of using the measurements to either verify or search for a person’s identity. Some governments have introduced the use of biometrics as an improved security measure in issuing passports, visas or residence permits.

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.

See also borders (international), border management

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.

Note: This broad definition extending to any areas where border governance is exercised, such as embassies or consulates issuing visas, has been chosen because of its relevance in the migration context. Generally, the term “international borders” is used as a synonym of boundary.

See also border governance, border management, sovereignty

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.

Note: Measures to manage borders include the imposition by States of visa requirements, carrier sanctions against transportation companies bringing irregular migrants to the territory, and interdictions at sea. Under international human rights law and international refugee law, States have a responsibility to ensure that border management legislation, policies and practices adhere to human rights and refugee law and respect the rights of all people moving across their borders despite their migration status. The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ Recommended Principles and Guidelines on Human Rights at International Borders (2014) provide guidance on how to ensure border management and governance activities comply with human rights standards.

See also borders (international), border governance

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).

Note: This is a working definition of the International Organization for Migration with an analytic and advocacy purpose which does not have any specific legal value.

Climate migration is a subcategory of environmental migration; it defines a singular type of environmental migration, where the change in the environment is due to climate change. Migration in this context can be associated with greater vulnerability of affected people, particularly if it is forced. Yet, migration can also be a form of adaptation to environmental stressors, helping to build resilience of affected individuals and communities.

See also environmental migrant, migration

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.

Note: The prohibition of collective expulsion is expressly embodied in several international human rights treaties. At the universal level, Article 22(1) of the 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), stipulates that “migrant workers and members of their families shall not be subject to measures of collective expulsion. Each case of expulsion shall be examined and decided individually”. At the regional level, the American Convention on Human Rights ((adopted 22 November 1969, entered into force 18 July 1978) 1144 UNTS 123) provides in Article 22(9) that “[t]he collective expulsion of aliens is prohibited”. Article 4 of Protocol No. 4 to the European Convention on Human Rights ((adopted 4 November 1950, entered into force 3 September 1953) 213 UNTS 221) stipulates that “[c]ollective expulsion of aliens is prohibited”. Similarly, Article 26(2), in fine, of the Arab Charter on Human Rights ((adopted 22 May 2004, entered into force 15 March 2008) in 12 (2005) International Human Rights Reports 893) states that “[c]ollective expulsion is prohibited under all circumstances”. In the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights ((adopted 27 June 1981, entered into force 21 October 1986) 1520 UNTS 217), the term mass expulsion is used instead of collective expulsion. Article 12(5) of the Charter only prohibits mass expulsions of non‐nationals which are aimed at “national, racial, ethnic or religious groups”.

Country of destination – In the migration context, a country that is the destination for a person or a group of persons, irrespective of whether they migrate regularly or irregularly.

Note: In the context of movements of internally displaced persons (IDPs) the term “place of destination” should be used.

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).

Note: There is a notion of temporariness in the concept of transit. However, for many migrants, particularly those migrating irregularly, the journey to the intended destination can take months or years. This challenges the very notion of transit and triggers the question on how much time needs to pass for the country of transit to be considered as a destination (United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Situation of Migrants in Transit (2015) p. 5).

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.

Note: Unlike the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, the above definition is meant to cover both internal and cross‐border displacement. Principle 6 of the Guiding Principles stipulates the right to be protected against arbitrary displacement. Displacement is considered arbitrary in the following circumstances: “(a) When it is based on policies of apartheid, “ethnic cleansing” or similar practices aimed at/or resulting in altering the ethnic, religious or racial composition of the affected population; (b) In situations   of armed conflict, unless the security of the civilians involved or imperative military reasons so demand; (c) In cases of large‐scale development projects, which are not justified by compelling and overriding public interests; (d) In cases of disasters, unless the safety and health of those affected requires their evacuation; and (e) When it is used as a collective punishment” (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/ N.4/1998/53/Add.2, Principle 6.2). In order not to be arbitrary, displacement shall also last no longer than required by the circumstances (ibid., Principle 6.3).
In international humanitarian law, the (forced) displacement of civilians is prohibited and constitutes a war crime both in times  of international and non‐international armed conflicts except when required for their security or imperative military reasons (see Geneva Convention (IV) relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of  War  (adopted  12  August  1949,  entered  into force 21 October 1950) 75 UNTS 287, Art. 49(1); Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of Non‐International Armed Conflicts (adopted 8 June 1977, entered into force 7 December 1978) 1125 UNTS 609 (Additional Protocol II) Art. 17(1) and (2); Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (adopted 17 July 1998, entered into force 1 July 2002) 2187 UNTS 3, Art. 8(2)(a)(viii) and (e)(viii)). The prohibition of individual or mass displacement is also endorsed by the African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa (Kampala Convention) (adopted 23 October 2009, entered into force 6 December 2012) Art. 4(4)(b)).

See also internally displaced persons, migration

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).

Note: There is no international agreement on a term to be used to describe persons or groups of persons that move for environment related reasons. This definition of environmental migrant is not meant to create any new legal categories. It is a working definition aimed at describing all the various situations in which people move in the context of environmental factors.

See also climate migration, migrant

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).

Note: The terminology used at the domestic or international level on expulsion and deportation is not uniform but there is a clear tendency to use the term expulsion to refer to the legal order to leave the territory of a State, and removal or deportation to refer to the actual implementation of such order in cases where the person concerned does not follow it voluntarily (W. Kälin, ‘Aliens, Expulsion and Deportation’ in R. Wolfrum (ed) Max Planck Encyclopedia of Public International Law (2014).

See also removal

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 [2003] OJ L 251/12.

See also family unity (right to)

Family unity (right to) – A family’s right to live together and, as a fundamental unit of a society, to receive respect, protection, assistance and support.

Note: The right to family unity consists of the right of a family living in a country of which some or all of the family members do not have nationality not to be separated, through for example the expulsion of one of the family members. This right is not limited to nationals living in their own State and is protected by international law. The right is not absolute and can be limited in accordance to national law and international standards.
The right is stipulated in the following instruments: Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights ((adopted 10 December 1948) UNGA Res 217(A)); Arts 17 and 23 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights ((adopted 16 December 1966, entered into force 23 March 1976) 999 UNTS 171); Article 10 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights ((adopted 16 December 1966, entered into force 3 January 1976) 993 UNTS 3); Article 10 of the Convention on the Rights     of the Child ((adopted 20 November 1989, entered into force 2 September 1990) 1577 UNTS 3); Article 44 of the 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); Article 17 of the American Convention on Human Rights ((adopted 22 November 1969, entered into force 18 July 1978) 1144 UNTS 123); Article 18 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights ((adopted 27 June 1981, entered into force 21 October 1986) 1520 UNTS 217); Article 8, European Convention on Human Rights ((adopted 4 November 1950, entered into force 3 September 1953) 213 UNTS 221); Article 16, European Social Charter ((adopted 18 October 1961, entered into force 26 February 1965) ETS No 035); Article 16, European Social Charter (revised) ((adopted 3 May 1996, entry into force 1 July 1999) ETS No 163).

See also family reunification (right to)

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.

Note: Under human rights law the right to freedom of movement does not entail a right to enter and to remain in a State which is not the individual’s own country, except when the State has an obligation to admit the person under international law (e.g. in application of the principle of non‐refoulement).
Article 12 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights ((adopted 16 December 1966, entered into force 23 March 1976) 999 UNTS 171) describes this right as follows: “(1) Everyone lawfully within the territory of a State shall, within that territory, have the right to liberty of movement and freedom to choose his residence; (2) Everyone shall be free to leave any country, including his own; (3) The above‐mentioned rights shall not be subject to any restrictions except those which are provided by law, are necessary to protect national security, public order, public health or morals or the rights and freedoms of others, and are consistent with the other rights recognized in the present Covenant. (4) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of the right to enter his own country”.
As noted in the Human Rights Committee’s No. 27: “The wording of article 12, paragraph 4, does not distinguish between nationals and aliens (‘no one’). Thus, the persons entitled to exercise this right can be identified only by interpreting the meaning of the phrase ‘his own country’. The scope of ‘his own country’ is broader than the concept ‘country of his nationality’. It is not limited to nationality in a formal sense, that is, nationality acquired at birth or by conferral; it embraces, at the very least, an individual who, because of his or her special ties to or claims in relation to a   given country, cannot be considered to be a mere alien. […] The language of Article 12, paragraph 4, moreover, permits a broader interpretation that might embrace other categories of long‐term residents, including but not limited to stateless persons arbitrarily deprived of the right to acquire the nationality of the country of such residence. Since other factors may in certain circumstances result in the establishment of close and enduring connections between a person and a country, States parties should include in their reports information on the rights of permanent residents to return to their country of residence” (Human Rights Committee, General Comment No. 27: Freedom of Movement (Article 12) (1 November 1999) UN Doc. CCPR/C/21/Rev.1/Add.9, para. 20).
Freedom of movement is also a key right of nationals of States Parties to a regional free movement regime (e.g. European Union, Economic Community of West African States, Mercado Común del Sur (Mercosur) and the Caribbean Community).

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.

Note: Humanitarian admission is an expedited process that may be used for an identified  population  in  an  extremely  insecure or vulnerable situation and in need of urgent protection. Upon admission, the beneficiaries are typically granted a status, which is usually temporary, and the ongoing need for protection is regularly reviewed.

See also international protection, non-refoulement (principle of), refugee (mandate), refugee (1951 Convention), pathways for migrants in vulnerable situations

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.

Note: Humanitarian border management is sometimes also referred to as “Crisis Border Management”, “Emergency Border Management” or “Emergency Prepareditioness” (International Organization for Migration, Internal Guidance Note on Humanitarian Border Management (internal document, 2014) para. 3).

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.

Note: Humanitarian visas can be granted by the visa-issuing authority of the State in the applicant’s country of origin or in a country of destination, and exceptionally also at the border of the visa-issuing State or to persons who are already within the State.
Beyond granting legal access to and temporary stay in the State, humanitarian visas rarely provide the person with any further entitlement to protection or services. Normally, the immigration or asylum status of a person with a valid humanitarian visa needs to be established upon arrival in the visa‐issuing State, including, where applicable, through asylum procedures or procedures for other statuses.
Humanitarian visas can facilitate the international travel of asylum seekers or other migrants in vulnerable situations, often as a part of, among others, humanitarian admission, humanitarian corridors, family reunification, medical evacuations and other immigration programmes and practices.
While the majority of States issue humanitarian visas on various international protection grounds (refugee status, subsidiary protection status or others), some States also use humanitarian visas to enable immigration or stay within a country to persons in situations of high vulnerability and/or with special/humanitarian protection needs, including but not limited to:

  • Victims of violations of human rights in the country of origin (Ley No. 761[2011] (Nicaragua), Art. 220),
  • Victims of certain particularly heinous crimes in the country of destination (such as rape, torture, trafficking, female genital mutilation  and  others,  e.g.  Immigration  and  Nationality  Act H [1965] (United States) 8 U.S.C. Sec. 1101(a)(15)(U), as amended by Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000, Sec. 1513(a)‐(c))); or
  • Victims of hate crimes (Código de Extranjería (Spain), Art. 126.1).

Humanitarian visas can also be issued in case of:

  • Natural disasters (Lei No. 13.445 [2017] (Brazil), Art. 14.III, §3°);
  • Economic hardships in one’s country of origin (e.g. Peruvian Visas to Venezuelans, Decreto Supremo Nº 002‐2017‐IN (Peru));
  • Serious illnesses and lack of adequate treatment in the country of origin (Loi du 15 Décembre 1980 sur l’accès au territoire, le séjour, l’établissement et l’éloignement des étrangers (Belgium), Art. 9ter, para. 1);
  • Individual vulnerabilities (e.g. 5 Decreto No. 37112‐G [2012]: Reglamento de Extranjería (Costa Rica), Arts 2, 135 and 136; and Decreto Ejecutivo No. 320 [2008] (Panama), Arts 171 and 172).

Many other States do not specifically define the  grounds  to  issue humanitarian visas and leave the decision to grant them discretionary, often to ensure compliance with international law obligations or to serve national  interests  (e.g  Regulation  (EC) No 810/2009 of the European Parliament and of the Council (European Union), Art. 25, para. 1(a); Aliens Act (2005: 716) (Sweden), Chapter 3, Section 4; Ley de migraciones No. 25.871 [2003] (Argentina), Art. 34).
Generally, the grounds to issue humanitarian visas are very broadly defined in national legislation which leaves a wide discretion to the authorities who are responsible for issuing the visa. This allows for flexibility and enables an individual determination. However, it also limits the possibility of judicial review, and renders the system largely unpredictable.

See also international protection, humanitarian admission, pathways for migrants in vulnerable situations

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”.

Note: The most common identity documents are national identity cards and passports.

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.
Source: Adapted from United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Recommendations on Statistics of International Migration, Revision 1 (1998) p. 10, definition of “long-term migrants”.

Note: This definition is adapted from the one of long‐term migrant provided by the Statistics Division of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA): “A person who moves to a country other than that of his or her usual residence for a period of at least a year (12 months), so that the country of destination effectively becomes his or her new country of usual residence. From the perspective of the country of departure, the person will be a long‐term emigrant and from that of the country of arrival, the person will be a long‐term immigrant” (UN DESA, Recommendations on Statistics of International Migration, Revision 1 (1998) p. 10). The reference to 12 months as a minimum period of stay has been omitted with a view to covering those who emigrate for a shorter period of time, provided that the person has changed his or her usual residence. Given that also short‐term emigrants are covered by the definition, and in line with UN DESA understanding of the term short‐term migrant, persons who move in cases where the movement to that country is for purposes of recreation, holiday, visits to friends and relatives, business, medical treatment or religious pilgrimage are excluded (ibid.). Whether an emigrant is considered as long‐term or short‐term depends on the duration of stay in the country of destination. A person who stays away from the country for a period of three to twelve months is considered a short‐term emigrant, whereas a person who stays away from the country for a period exceeding twelve months is considered a long‐term emigrant. The definition of who is an emigrant can vary from one country to another.

See also immigration

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.

See also immigrant

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.

Note: Integration does not necessarily imply permanent residence. It does, however, imply consideration of the rights and obligations of migrants and societies of the countries of transit or destination, of access to different kinds of services and the labour market,  and of identification and respect for a core set of values that bind migrants and receiving communities in a common purpose.
In the refugee context, however, local integration as a durable solution would imply permanent residence as it refers to refugees’ “permanent settlement in a country of first asylum, and eventually being granted nationality of that country” (United Nations High Commissioner for  Refugees,  Master  Glossary  of  Terms  (2006) p. 14).

See also reintegration

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.

Note: Internal migration movements can be temporary or permanent and include those who have been displaced from their habitual place of residence such as internally displaced persons, as well as persons who decide to move to a new place, such as in the case of rural–urban migration. The term also covers both nationals and non‐nationals moving within a State, provided that they move away from their place of habitual residence.

See also internally displaced persons, migration

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.

Note: Whilst the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement are not binding, they have become an authoritative reference on how States should respond to internal displacement.  Adopted by the then Human Rights Commission (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/ N.4/1998/53/Add.2), the Guiding Principles have been endorsed by the United Nations General Assembly (2005 World Summit Outcome (20 September 2005) UN Doc. A/60/L.1, para. 132), widely used as an advocacy tool by international organizations and non‐governmental organizations, translated  into  two binding documents at the regional level in Africa (the African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced  Persons  in  Africa  (Kampala  Convention)   (adopted 23 October 2009, entered into force 6 December 2012) and the Great Lakes Protocol on the Protection and Assistance to Internally Displaced Persons (adopted 30 November 2006, entered into force 21 June 2008)), and incorporated in a number of States’ policies or legislation.

See also displacement, internal migration

International migration – The movement of persons away from their place of usual residence and across an international border to a country of which they are not nationals.

Note: Similarly to the above definition, for statistical purposes, the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA) defines an “international migrant” as “any person who changes his or her country of usual residence” (Recommendations on Statistics of International Migration, Revision 1 (1998) para. 32). The UN DESA definition excludes movements that are due   to “recreation, holiday, visits to friends and relatives, business, medical treatment or religious pilgrimages” (ibid).

See also climate migration, displacement, irregular migration, labour migration, migrant, safe, orderly and regular migration

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.

Note: Rather than an independent legal regime with its own set of rules, International Migration Law is an umbrella term used to describe the various bodies of laws, principles and norms that together regulate migration. The bodies of law that are relevant to migration are, among others: International Human Rights Law, Labour Law, Humanitarian Law, Law of the Sea, Maritime Law, Transnational Criminal Law, Consular Law, Refugee Law and Nationality Law.

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).

Note: As further underlined by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), “risks that give rise to a need for international protection classically include those of persecution, threats to life, freedom or physical integrity arising from armed conflict, serious public disorder, or different situations of violence” (UNHCR, Persons in Need of International Protection (June 2007) p. 1).

See also humanitarian visa, non-refoulement (principle of), refugee (mandate), refugee (1951 Convention)

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.

Note: Inter‐State Consultation Mechanisms on migration comprise of global processes on migration, interregional forums on migration (bridging two or more regions) and regional consultative processes on migration (covering one region).

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.

Note: Although a universally accepted definition of irregular migration does not exist, the term is generally used to identify persons moving outside regular migration channels. The fact that they migrate irregularly does not relieve States  from the obligation to protect their rights. Moreover, categories of migrants who may not have any other choice but to use irregular migration channels can also include refugees, victims of trafficking, or unaccompanied migrant children. The fact that they use irregular migration pathways does not imply that States are not, in some circumstances, obliged to provide them with some forms of protection under international law, including access to international protection for asylum seekers fleeing persecution, conflicts or generalized violence. In addition, refugees are protected under international law against being penalized for unauthorized entry or stay if they have travelled from a place where they were at risk (Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (adopted 28 July 1951, entered into force 22 April 1954)189 UNTS 137, Art. 31(1)).

See also migration

Labour migration – Movement of persons from one State to another, or within their own country of residence, for the purpose of employment.

Note: In line with the definition of migrant, labour migration is defined as covering both migrants moving within the country and across international borders. This choice is also justified by the significant number of persons moving within the same country for work purposes who sometimes face the same barriers or challenges faced by international migrants, such as discrimination and difficulties in integration. Although such challenges may be greater for migrants moving across borders they are not totally absent also for internal migrants.

See also bilateral labour migration agreements, migration

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.

Note: International law leaves States latitude to define who they consider a family member of migrants or nationals for the purpose of family reunification, as well as for the purpose of extending rights to which the primary migrant or national is entitled. The 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) sets a minimum standard, leaving States free to define the term more broadly in national legislation (for example, extending some benefits also to non‐dependent children).
The definition has been adapted to broadening its scope of application beyond family members of migrant workers to cover the family members of migrants in general. The definition also covers both the national or non‐national family members of the citizens of the State concerned. The aim of this broadening of the definition is to cover situations in which the identification of the members of the family is relevant in the context of both internal and international migration, as well as with regard to family reunification of the non‐national family members of a citizen of the State concerned.

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.

Note: At the international level, no universally accepted definition for “migrant” exists. The present definition was developed by IOM for its own purposes and it is not meant to imply or create any new legal category.
Two approaches are generally adopted to define the term “migrant”: the inclusivist approach, followed among others by IOM, considers the term “migrant” as an umbrella term covering all forms of movements; the residualist approach excludes from the term “migrant” those who flee wars or persecution (J. Carling, What is the meaning of migrant? www.meaningofmigrants.org (last accessed 8 May 2019)).
For the purpose of collecting data on migration, the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA) defines “international migrant” as “any person who changes his or her country of usual residence” (UN DESA, Recommendations on Statistics of International Migration, Revision 1 (1998) para. 32). The UN DESA definition excludes movements that are due to “recreation, holiday, visits to friends and relatives, business, medical treatment or religious pilgrimages” (ibid.). Specific definitions have also been developed by UN DESA to identify short‐term and long‐term migrants (see relevant entries).

See also environmental migrant, internally displaced person, migrant in an irregular situation, migrants in vulnerable situations, migrant worker, migration, separated children, unaccompanied children

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

Note: “Migration flow data are a  dynamic  measure  counting  the number of people crossing international borders, possibly including those who cross several times during a given time interval” (United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Toolkit on International Migration (2012) p. 3). Other terms are often used in the media to describe a sudden arrival of non‐ nationals in large numbers, such as influx, wave or stream. Their usage is discouraged because of the negative perception and alarmist attitudes it conveys with regard to migration.

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.

Note: The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (HCHR) in its report to the Human Rights Council underlines that: “the vulnerable situations that migrants face can arise from a range of factors that may intersect or coexist simultaneously, influencing and exacerbating each other and also evolving or changing over time as circumstances change” (HCHR, 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, Addendum (7 February 2018) UN Doc. A/HRC/37/34/ Add.1, para. 12). The HCHR further explains that: “[f]actors that generate vulnerability may cause a migrant to leave their country of origin in the first place, may occur during transit or at destination, regardless of whether the original movement was freely chosen, or may be related to a migrant’s identity or circumstances. Vulnerability in this context should therefore be understood as both situational and personal” (ibid., para. 13). Finally the High Commissioner report also recalls that: “migrants are not inherently vulnerable, nor do they lack resilience and agency. Rather, vulnerability to human rights violations is the result of multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination, inequality and structural and societal dynamics that lead to diminished and unequal levels of power and enjoyment of rights” (ibid.).

See also vulnerability

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)).

Note: A similar term is “migrant‐sensitive health systems”.

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).

Note: The Convention expressly provides protection to migrant workers and their family members not only when the migrants are actually working in the country of destination, but “during the entire migration process of migrant workers and members of their families, which comprises preparation for migration, departure, transit and the entire period of stay and remunerated activity in the State of employment as well as return to the State of origin or the State of habitual residence” (Committee on the Protection of the Rights of all Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, General Comment No. 1 on Migrant Domestic Workers (23 February 2011) UN Doc. CMW/C/GC/1, 1, quoting the 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. 1).
The International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families applies to those that fulfill the definition specified in Article 2(1), from which the following groups are excluded:

  • “(a) Persons sent or employed by international organizations and agencies or persons sent or employed by a State outside its territory to perform official functions, whose admission and status are regulated by general international law or by specific international agreements or conventions;
  • (b) Persons sent or employed by a State or on its behalf outside its territory who participate in development programmes and other co‐operation programmes, whose admission and status are regulated by agreement with the State of employment and who, in accordance with that agreement, are not considered migrant workers;
  • (c) Persons taking up residence in a State different from their State of origin as investors;
  • (d) Refugees and stateless persons, unless such application is provided for in the relevant national legislation of, or international instruments in force for, the State Party concerned;
  • (e) Students and trainees;
  • (f) Seafarers and workers on an offshore installation who have not been admitted to take up residence and engage in a remunerated activity in the State of employment” (ibid., Art. 3).

Migrant workers are sometimes referred to as “foreign workers” or “(temporary) contractual workers”.

See also migrant

Migration – The movement of persons away from their place of usual residence, either across an international border or within a State.

See also climate migration, displacement, internal migration, international migration, irregular migration, labour migration, migrant, safe, orderly and regular migration.

Migration cycle – Stages of the migration process encompassing departure, in some cases transit through a State, immigration in the State of destination and return.

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.

Note: The definition provided draws from a definition developed by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the one which is provided in the International Organization for Migration (IOM) Migration Governance Framework. This Framework has been endorsed by IOM Member States on 24 November 2015, by Council Resolution no. 1310. IOM’s view is that good migration governance “adheres to international standards and fulfils migrant’s rights; formulates policy using evidence and a ‘whole-of government’ approach; engages with partners to address migration and related issues” (International Organization for Migration, Migration Governance Framework (2015) C/106/40, p. 6). The objectives of a sound migration governance should be to seek to “advance the socioeconomic well-being of migrants and society; to provide an effective response to the mobility dimension of crises; and to ensure that migration takes place in a safe orderly and dignified manner” (ibid.). States are the primary actors in migration, mobility and nationality issues and have the responsibility to govern migration at the national and international levels. However, other actors – citizens, migrants, international organizations, the private sector, unions, non-governmental organizations, community organizations, religious organizations and academia – also contribute to migration governance (ibid., p. 4). As such, migration governance has both a national and a global dimension. Global governance has been defined as the “norms, rules, principles and decision-making procedures that regulate the behaviour of States (and other transnational actors)” (A. Betts, Global Migration Governance (Oxford University Press, 2011) p. 4). According to the Global Commission on International Migration, “in the domain of international migration, governance assumes a variety of forms, including the migration policies and programmes of individual countries, inter-State discussions and agreements, multilateral [forums] and consultative processes, the activities of international organizations, as well as relevant laws and norms” (Global Commission on International Migration, Migration in an Interconnected World: New Directions for Action (October 2005) p. 65).

See also safe, orderly and regular migration

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.

Note: The concept is linked to public administration in the area of migration, which refers to the management and implementation of the whole set of government activities dealing with the implementation of laws, regulations and decisions of the Government and the management related to the provision of public services (United Nations Development Programme, Public Administration Reform Practice Note (2003) p. 2). Given its focus on the organization and operationalization of public policies, migration management is generally understood as a more specific concept than migration governance. Migration management is primarily carried out by States, whereas the term “governance” refers to all the frameworks, institutions and processes, in the development and establishment of which many more actors, than only States, are involved.

See also migration governance

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.

Note: In Objective 1 of the Global Compact for Migration, States are encouraged to “[d]evelop and use country‐specific migration profiles, which include disaggregated data on all migration‐ relevant aspects in a national context, including those on labour market needs, demand and availability of skills, the economic, environmental and social impacts of migration, remittance transfer costs, health, education, occupation, living and working conditions, wages, and the needs of migrants and receiving communities,     in order to develop evidence‐based migration policies” (Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, in General Assembly Resolution 73/195, adopted on 19 December 2018, UN Doc. A/RES/73/195 (19 January 2019) Objective 1, para. 17 (j)).

See also migration governance

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).

Note: Largely considered as falling under State jurisdiction, there are a very few rules on naturalization in international instruments. Article 34 of the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees ((adopted 28 July 1951, entered into force 22 April 1954) p. 189 UNTS 137) and Article 32 of the Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons ((adopted 28 September 1954, entered into force 6 June 1960) p. 360 UNTS 117) require States Parties to facilitate the naturalization of refugees and stateless persons respectively, in particular by expediting naturalization procedures and reducing the charges and costs of such procedures. Access to naturalization should not be discriminatory (Human Rights Committee, Q v Denmark (1 April 2015) UN Doc. CCPR/C/113/D2001/2010). Finally, with regard to the time required to be naturalized, Article 6(3) of the European Convention on Nationality ((adopted 6 November 1997, entered into force 1 March 2000) ETS No 166) requires States to set a period of lawful and habitual residence   in the country not exceeding ten years before the lodging of an application for naturalization.

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.

Note: A widely accepted principle of international customary law, the principle of non‐discrimination is established in the Charter of the United Nations ((adopted 26 June 1945, entered into force 24 October 1945) Arts 13(1)(b), 55(c) and 76(c)). The Charter prohibits discrimination based on race, sex, language, or religion. The principle is also enshrined in most human rights treaties as the reverse side of the principle of equality. Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights ((adopted 10 December 1948)  UNGA Res 217(A)) stipulates that “[a]ll human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights,” while Article 2 recognizes that: “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and  freedoms  set forth in this Declaration without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status...”. The grounds of discrimination vary from one convention to another. The human rights conventions most recently adopted (including the International Convention for 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. 7) also list, among these grounds, “nationality”, which is more specific and relevant to migration than the broader term “national origin” used in other human rights treaties (see, for example, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (adopted 16 December 1966, entered into force 23 March 1976) 999 UNTS 171, Art. 2(1)).

Within humanitarian settings, non‐discrimination is the underlying principle of impartiality, one of the four humanitarian principles. Assistance should be provided on the basis of needs and in proportion to need (see also humanitarian principles).

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.

Note: The principle of non‐refoulement is a fundamental principle of international law. It has its  origins  in  international  refugee law as found in Article 33 of the Convention relating to  the  Status of Refugees ((adopted  28 July  1951, entered  into force  22 April 1954) 189 UNTS 137), which stipulates: “No Contracting State shall expel or return (“refouler”) a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion”. The principle was then developed further in Article 3 of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment ((adopted 10 December 1984, entered into force 26 June 1987) 1465 UNTS 85), which prohibits States Parties to: “expel, return (“refouler”) or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture”. The same Article also specifies that: “For the purpose of determining whether there are such grounds, the competent authorities shall take into account all relevant considerations including, where applicable, the existence in the State concerned of a consistent pattern of gross, flagrant or mass violations of human rights”. The principle is also enshrined in the Article 16 of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons against Enforced Disappearances ((adopted 20 December 2006, entered into force 23 December 2010) 2716 UNTS 3). Other human rights bodies have then interpreted the prohibition of torture and inhuman and degrading treatment as entailing an obligation for States parties to the relevant conventions (notably, at the universal level, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights ((adopted 16 December 1966, entered into force 23 March 1976) 999 UNTS 171) not to send persons  back  to a country where there is a real risk that they are submitted to the proscribed ill‐treatments. The reference to “irreparable harm” in the definition has been added to take into consideration the jurisprudence of the Human Rights Committee (Human Rights Committee, General Comment No. 31: The Nature of General Legal Obligation Imposed on States Parties to the Covenant (26 May 2004) UN Doc. CCPR/C/21/Rev.1/Add. 13, para. 12).
Human rights bodies have also clarified that States should avoid any risk of “indirect refoulment” in the cases in which the real risk of ill‐treatment would not subsist in the State to which the person is returned in the first place, but in any other country to which the person would risk being subsequently returned by this State (ibid.).

See also humanitarian admission, international protection, refugee (mandate), refugee (1951 Convention)

Pathways for migrants in vulnerable situations – Pathways for admission to countries of destination, building on existing national and regional practices for admission and stay of appropriate duration based on compassionate, humanitarian or other considerations for migrants compelled to leave their countries of origin, due to sudden-onset natural disasters and other precarious situations, such as by providing humanitarian visas, private sponsorships, access to education for children, and temporary work permits, while adaptation in or return to their country of origin is not possible.
The term may also refer to other solutions for migrants compelled to leave their countries of origin due to slow-onset natural disasters, the adverse effects of climate change, and environmental degradation, such as desertification, land degradation, drought and sea level rise, including when based on devising planned relocation and visa options, in cases where adaptation in or return to their country of origin is not possible.
Source: Adapted from Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, in General Assembly Resolution 73/195, adopted on 19 December 2018, UN Doc. A/RES/73/195 (19 January 2019) Objective 5, para. 21(g)(h).

Note: The term primarily refers to regular migration pathways that can be used for persons compelled to leave their country of origin, who are in vulnerable situations and in need of protection. However, in the Global Compact for Migration, States committed “to adapt options and pathways for regular migration in a manner that … responds to the need of migrants in situations of vulnerability” (Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, in General Assembly Resolution 73/195, adopted on 19 December 2018, UN Doc. A/RES/73/195 (19 January 2019) Objective 5, para. 21). Such situations can arise not only in countries of origin, but also in countries of transit and destination (ibid., Objective 7, para. 23). Persons in need of these pathways typically include victims of trafficking,  victims  of  torture  and  other  serious   human  rights violations, unaccompanied migrant children, persons seriously ill or any other person who may find him or herself in a situation of vulnerability, at any point during the migration cycle.

Pathways for migrants in vulnerable situations may include:

  • Humanitarian visas and humanitarian admission programmes;
  • Private sponsorships programmes;
  • Access to education for children, student visas, or other educational opportunities;
  • Temporary work permits or other labour mobility schemes;
  • Planned  relocation  for  people  affected  by  slow‐onset natural disasters, the adverse effects of climate change and
  • environmental degradation;
  • Family reunification schemes; and
  • Medical evacuations.

See also humanitarian admission, humanitarian visa, migrants in vulnerable situations, regular migration pathways, vulnerability

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.

Regular migration – Migration that occurs in compliance with the laws of the country of origin, transit and destination.

See also regular migration pathways, safe, orderly and regular migration

Regular migration pathways – Migration schemes or other migration options that allow eligible persons to migrate regularly to the concerned country of destination based on conditions and for a duration defined by such country.

Note: The final draft of the Global Compact for Migration refers to regular migration pathways in Objective 5, para. 21. In this Objective, States have committed to: “adapt options and pathways for regular migration in a manner that facilitates labour mobility and decent work reflecting demographic and labour market realities, optimizes education opportunities, upholds the right to family life, and responds to the needs of migrants in a situation of vulnerability, with a view to expanding and diversifying availability of pathways for safe, orderly and regular migration” (Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, in General Assembly Resolution 73/195, adopted on 19 December 2018, UN Doc. A/RES/73/195 (19 January 2019) Objective 5, para. 21).

See also pathways for migrants in vulnerable situations, regular migration, safe, orderly and regular migration

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.

See also international protection, refugee (1951 Convention)

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).

Note: Under international refugee law, recognition as a refugee is declaratory and not constitutive. “A person is a refugee within the meaning of the 1951 Convention as soon as he fulfils the criteria contained in the definition. This would necessarily occur prior to the time at which his refugee status is formally determined. Recognition of his refugee status does not therefore make him a refugee but declares him to be one. He does not become a refugee because of recognition, but is recognized because he is a refugee” (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Handbook and Guidelines on Procedures and Criteria for Determining Refugee Status (2011) HCR/1P/4/enG/Rev. 3, para. 9). The second part of the definition also covers stateless persons who are outside their country of habitual residence.
Instruments adopted at the regional level complement the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees ((adopted 28 July 1951, entered into force 22 April 1954) 189 UNTS 137) and build upon its definition, by including specific reference to a number   of objective circumstances which may compel a person to leave their country. Article 1(2) of the Convention Governing Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa ((adopted 10 September 1969, entered into force 20 June 1974) 1001 UNTS 45) includes in the definition of refugees also any person compelled to leave his or her country “owing to external aggression, occupation, foreign domination or events seriously disturbing public order in either part or the whole of his country or origin or nationality”. Similarly, the 1984 Cartagena Declaration states that refugees also include persons who flee their country “because their lives, security or freedom have been threatened by generalised violence, foreign aggression, internal conflicts, massive violations of human rights or other circumstances which have seriously disturbed public order”.

See also international protection, refugee (mandate)

Reintegration – A process which enables individuals to re-establish the economic, social and psychosocial relationships needed to maintain life, livelihood and dignity and inclusion in civic life.

Note: The various components of reintegration can be described as follows.
Social reintegration implies the access by a returning migrant to public services and infrastructures in his or her country of origin, including access to health, education, housing, justice and social protection schemes.
Psychosocial reintegration is the reinsertion of a returning migrant into personal support networks (friends, relatives, neighbours) and civil society structures (associations, self‐help groups and other organizations). This also includes the re‐engagement with the values, mores, way of living, language, moral principles, ideology, and traditions of the country of origin’s society.
Economic reintegration is the process by which a returning migrant re‐enters the economic life of his or her country of origin and is able sustain a livelihood.

See also assisted voluntary return and reintegration, integration, country of origin

Remittances (migrant) – Private international monetary transfers that migrants make, individually or collectively.

Note: Remittances are primarily sent to people in countries of origin with whom migrants maintain close links, although, in some cases, they are also sent to relatives in other countries   of destination. Increasingly, the terms “social remittances” or “social capital transfer” are used in the context of transfers of non‐monetary value as a result of migration, such as transfer of knowledge, know‐how, networking and skills.

See also social remittances

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.

Note: The removal of non‐nationals is an expression of a State’s sovereignty to determine who enters and remains on its territory. A number of principles of international law, and most notably the principle of non‐refoulement, limit a State’s sovereignty in this regard.
International law also set standards for the way in which removals are carried out. Removals should preserve the dignity of the individual and the use of force should be exceptional, limited to what is reasonably necessary, should never endanger the life or physical integrity of the individual. In particular, any techniques that may have the effect of obstructing partially or wholly the airways of the person should be avoided and any provision  of medication to persons being deported or subject to a deportation order must only be done on the basis of a medical decision and in accordance with medical ethics (European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT), Deportation of Foreign Nationals by Air, Extract from the 13th General Report of the CPT (20013) CPT/Inf(2003) 35, paras. 36 and 40 in CPT, CPT Standards (Rev. 2015) CPT/Inf/E (2002) 1, pp. 79–80).

See also collective expulsion, expulsion, family unity (right to), non-refoulement (principle of)

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.

Note: The term is the one used in the title of the Global Compact for Migration (Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, in General Assembly Resolution 73/195, adopted on 19 December 2018, UN Doc. A/RES/73/195 (19 January 2019)). Some variations are used in other documents. Target 10.7 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development requires States to: “Facilitate orderly, safe, regular and responsible migration and mobility of people, including through the implementation of planned and well‐managed migration policies” (United Nations General Assembly, Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (21 October 2015) A/RES/70/1). The IOM’s Migration and Governance Framework (MiGOF) also refers to “orderly, safe, regular and responsible migration” in its title, whereas one of the framework’s objectives is about ensuring that “migration takes place in a safe, orderly and dignified manner” (International Organization for Migration, Migration Governance Framework (2015) C/106/40, Objective 3).

See also migration, migration governance, regular migration, regular migration pathways

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.

See also migrant, unaccompanied children

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).

Note: In the above definition, the term illegal entry used in the Protocol’s definition has been replaced by the term irregular entry.

See also trafficking in persons

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.

See also remittances (migrant)

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.

Note: In the context of migration, the prerogative of a State to determine the admission in and exclusion of non‐nationals from its territory, which is based on its sovereignty, is subject to limitations imposed by international legal obligations derived from customary and treaty law such as the principle of non‐refoulement, human rights, as well as some provisions contained in bilateral or regional agreements (e.g., free movement agreements).

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.

Note: An individual is a stateless person from the moment that the conditions in Article 1.1 of the United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons are met ((adopted 28 September 1954, entered into force 6 June 1960) 360 UNTS 117). As for the first element of the definition, according to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR): “[a]n enquiry into whether someone is stateless is limited to the States with which a person enjoys a relevant link, in particular by birth on the territory, descent, marriage, adoption or habitual residence…” (UNHCR, Handbook on Protection of Stateless Persons under the 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, (2014) p. 12).

The second element of the definition “under the operation of its law” requires an analysis of how a State applies its nationality laws in an individual’s case as well as of any review/appeal decisions that may have had an impact on the individual’s status. UNHCR has clarified that: “This is a mixed question of fact and law. … [A] State may not in practice follow the letter of the law, even going so far as to ignore its substance. The reference to “law” in the definition of statelessness in Art 1.1 therefore covers situations where the written law is substantially modified when it comes to its implementation in practice” (ibid., pp. 15 and 16).

Article 1.1 applies in both migration and non‐migration contexts. A stateless person, for example, may have lived his or her entire life and have never crossed an international border. Nonetheless, statelessness is often considered as both a cause and a consequence of migration. In some cases, a stateless person may also become a refugee if he or she is unable or unwilling to return to his or her place of habitual residence due to fear of persecution on one of the grounds of the refugee definition (United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees ((adopted 28 July 1951, entered into force 22 April 1954) 189 UNTS 137) Art. 1(A)(2)).

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).

Note: Article 3 of the Trafficking Protocol also stipulates that: “[t]he consent of a victim of trafficking in persons to the intended exploitation set forth in subparagraph (a) of this article shall be irrelevant where any of the means set forth in subparagraph (a) have been used” 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(b). Trafficking can also happen within State borders.

See also smuggling (of migrants)

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.

Note: In the context of migration, children separated from both parents or other caregivers are generally referred to as unaccompanied migrant children (UMC).

See also separated children

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.

Note: Temporary travel abroad for purposes of recreation, holiday, visits to friends and relatives, business, medical treatment or religious pilgrimages does not change a person’s place of usual residence (ibid.).

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.

Note: The visa requirements of an individual’s travel outside his or her country will depend on the agreements between the State of whom he or she is a passport holder and its international agreements with the transit and destination States. The types     of visas that are issued vary from State to State, and may have differing labels, but generally include: student visa, tourist visa, workers visa, marriage visa, visitor visa, business travel visa, and medical visa.
International practice is moving towards issuance of machine‐ readable visas which comply with International Civil Aviation Organization standards, printed on labels with security features.

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.

Note: As a concept, vulnerability implies exposure to and susceptibility to some form of harm. There are different forms   of harm, meaning that different sectors use the term differently (e.g. vulnerability to food insecurity, vulnerability to hazards, vulnerability to harm and violence and abuse, vulnerability to rights violation).
Vulnerability derives from a range of intersecting and co‐existing personal, social, situational, and structural factors. For example, in crisis or disaster affected communities, individuals and groups may have different levels of vulnerability, depending on their exposure to hazards or to risks of neglect, discrimination, abuse and exploitation. The level of exposure is determined by the interplay of many factors: their sociodemographic characteristics, their capacities (including knowledge, networks, access to resources, access to information and early warnings, etc.), their location (in a camp, in a spontaneous settlement, in a transit center, at the border, etc.) and the crisis induced factors having  an impact on them (such as separation, loss and lack of resources and opportunities, discrimination in access to assistance, etc.) (International Organization for Migration, Guidance Note on How to Mainstream Protection across IOM Crisis Response (2016) IN/232, pp. 6–7).

See also migrants in vulnerable situations

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.

Note: The Declaration on Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance recognizes that: “xenophobia against non‐nationals, particularly migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, constitutes one of the main sources of contemporary racism and that human rights violations against members of such groups occur widely in the context of discriminatory, xenophobic and racist practices” (Durban Declaration, adopted by the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance (2001) para. 16).