Asylum Seeker or Refugee Graphic

Immigration 101: Refugees, Migrants, Asylum Seekers: What's the difference?

We hear these terms all the time. Migrant. Refugee. Asylum seeker. Immigrant. What’s the difference? Let’s break it down. 

A migrant is a person moving from country to country for any number of reasons - better life, better job, more opportunities. 

An immigrant is someone who moved to another country and has established residency legally or illegally.

Then there are refugees and asylum seekers. They both seek protection because they fear persecution based on a number of factors, including race, religion, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion

But the process of how they get protection differs. Refugees must apply from overseas and have to be vetted and approved before traveling to the United States. 

Asylum seekers are people who are already in the US or at the border. They must apply for protection within one year of arriving.

Whether you are a migrant, refugee, immigrant or asylum seeker, it can take years to get legal status in America.


Get the free PBS App

Full Episodes

Upcoming Airdates

People vs. Kiera Newsome

One woman strives to prove her innocence from behind bars, while a team of pro-bono lawyers and students fight the odds to get her out.

  • 2020-12-02T21:00:00-08:00

Cannabis Country

State and local regulators are overwhelmed and outgunned when it comes to closing down California’s poisonous pot pipeline.

  • 2020-12-09T21:00:00-08:00

Fire Station 9

Take a rare behind-the-scenes look inside the busiest fire station in the country, where firefighters act as both primary care providers and emergency responders for the nearly 5,000 people living on Skid Row.

  • 2020-12-16T21:00:00-08:00

Access Denied

An investigation reveals how the state and many cities have let developers get away for decades with not paying their fair share when they replace affordable lodging with luxury hotels up and down California’s coast.

  • 2020-12-23T21:00:00-08:00