Immigration vs Emigration: What’s the Difference Between the Two?

By March 19, 2020Immigration Law Blog
immigration vs emigration

Immigration vs emigration…what is the difference? These two terms are frequently confused and it’s easily done, so today we’re going to talk about the difference between the two and what you should know about each.

Immigration vs Emigration: What’s the Difference Between the Two?

The field if immigration is often clouded by confusion due to the complexity of the process and the legal vocabulary used. Today we’re going to help to clear up one of the most common points of confusion – the difference between the terms immigration and emigration and when to use each.


When we talk about an immigrant, we are talking about someone who has moved away from their home country and who now lives in a different country. Often, immigrants who have moved to another country have done so with the intention of living there permanently. For example, someone who moved from Mexico to the U.S. because they got a job in the U.S. and want to seek a better quality of life. In this situation, if the person were seeking a better quality of life, they likely wouldn’t return to Mexico to live.

The best way to remember that immigration refers to a person moving to another country is the prefix “im” which is similar to “in”. An immigrant has moved INTO a new country from their native country.


When we talk about emigrating, we are talking about someone who leaves a country or region. For example, we could talk about the individual above and say that they emigrated from Mexico to live in the U.S.

The prefix “em” means “out” which makes this term a little easier to remember.

Can Someone Be Both an Emigrant and an Immigrant?

Yes, someone can be both an emigrant and an immigrant which is likely where a lot of the confusion begins.

John used to live in Mexico but he got a job in the U.S. which offered him the opportunity to better his quality of life. So John emigrated FROM Mexico and immigrated TO the U.S. where he lives as an immigrant. For most people though, there is little need to combine both of these terms.

The average person usually simply uses the word immigrant. This is likely due to the structure of the English language and the fact that we tend to refer to the present situation before referring the past situations. For example, if we were talking to friends about John we would more commonly say that John came to (or immigrated to) the U.S. instead of saying that he left (emigrated) away from his native country which refers to something that happened prior to John’s immigration.

Of course, working in fields like immigration law, it’s part of the everyday language to use both of these terns but only in the right context and never as synonyms for each other.

Can an Immigration Attorney Help With Immigration and Emigration?

This depends on the attorney in question. Many attorneys have subspecialties of practice within their area of expertise. These highly specialized attorneys tend to have a narrow area of focus. In the case of general immigration attorneys, however, you should be able to request assistance for any immigration and emigration concerns. For example, as an immigration attorney, I often receive questions from students seeking visa help for overseas study.

What is a Migrant, Then?

Sometimes you may hear someone referring to a “migrant” instead of an im-migrant or an e-migrant. When we talk about a migrant, we are talking about someone who moves regularly rather than immigrating to one place for permanent residence. For example, vineyards and orchards often hire seasonal laborers during crop picking season to help to get the crops harvested quickly with as little crop spoilage as necessary. These seasonal laborers often migrate to the vineyards and orchards just for the season so that they can earn a better wage. Once the crop picking is over, though, many of these migrants will return to their native country.

The main difference in migrants is that they rarely have the intention of permanently relocating to another country.

When hired legally, migrants receive a work visa that is valid for a specific time period and this visa is granted based on the belief that the worker is not planning to seek permanent residence at that time. Migrants can go on to extend their visa or to pursue permanent residence in certain circumstances, but it is important to speak with an immigration attorney first to receive guidance on whether or not you are eligible for a visa extension or change of status. If you are eligible for a change in status, there is also a specific time period during which you may do this, if you miss this window, you will have to begin the process all over again by leaving the country and seeking entry again.

Dealing with Immigration or Emigration and Need Legal Help?

If you’re dealing with immigration or emigration and need an attorney to help you through the process, Nelson and Associates can help! Just give us a call today at 626-683-3451 and let us know how we can help you! Attorney Franklin Nelson has been practicing immigration law since 1994 and is admitted to practice before all courts in the State of California, the United States District Courts for the Northern, Central, and Eastern Districts of California, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and the United States Supreme Court. Attorney Nelson has also played an important role in multiple landmark supreme court cases defending the rights of U.S. immigrants.