Ask Difference

Migrant vs. Refugee — What's the Difference?

By Tayyaba Rehman & Fiza Rafique — Published on September 20, 2023
Migrant refers to someone who moves from one place to another, often for work or better living conditions. Refugee refers to someone forced to flee their country due to persecution, war, or natural disasters.
Migrant vs. Refugee — What's the Difference?

Difference Between Migrant and Refugee


Key Differences

Migrant is a term that generally applies to anyone moving from one place to another. This movement can be within the same country or across international borders. Refugees, on the other hand, are a specific subset of migrants who are compelled to leave their home country due to extreme conditions such as persecution, war, or natural disasters.
Migrants often relocate in search of better opportunities, such as jobs, education, or an improved quality of life. They may choose to move and are not being forced out by any immediate threat or danger. Refugees, conversely, don't have the luxury of choice; they are forced to leave their homes to escape danger, often at a moment's notice.
The legal criteria for being considered a migrant are less stringent than those for a refugee. Migrants may or may not have legal status in the country to which they move. Refugees, on the other hand, are often granted some form of legal protection under both national and international law because their lives are in immediate danger in their home countries.
Migrants usually plan their move, save money, and often have the time to apply for proper visas. They are generally moving to improve their life circumstances. Refugees often flee with only what they can carry, may not have proper documentation, and are usually focused on mere survival rather than improving their life circumstances.

Comparison Chart

Reason for Move

Choice, better opportunities
Forced due to war, persecution, or disasters

Legal Protections

Often granted under international law


Usually planned
Often sudden and unplanned


May have proper visas
May lack proper documentation

Status Duration

Often indefinite
May be temporary until safe to return home

Compare with Definitions


A person who moves within a country
The migrant relocated to a different state for a job.


An individual forced out by natural disasters
The refugee was displaced by a hurricane.


Individual seeking better job opportunities
The migrant moved to find better work.


A person fleeing war
The refugee escaped from the conflict in their homeland.


Someone who crosses international borders
The migrant left his country to study abroad.


A person seeking sanctuary for their safety
The refugee fled to protect their family.


A person moving for educational reasons
The migrant went to a different city for college.


One fleeing social or political turmoil
The refugee escaped from a country with an oppressive regime.


One relocating for improved living conditions
The migrant left for a place with a better climate.


Someone escaping persecution
The refugee sought asylum due to religious persecution.


An organism, especially an animal, that moves from one region to another (as for breeding) or that has established itself in an area where it previously did not exist.


One who flees, especially to another country, seeking refuge from war, political oppression, religious persecution, or a natural disaster.


An itinerant worker who travels from one area to another in search of work.


A person seeking refuge in a foreign country out of fear of political persecution or the prospect of such persecution in their home country, i.e., a person seeking political asylum.


A person who leaves one country to settle permanently in another; an immigrant.


A person seeking refuge due to a natural disaster, war, etc.




A person formally granted political or economic asylum by a country other than their home country.


A migratory animal, in particular a migratory bird.


(by extension) A person who flees one place or institution for another.


Traveller or worker who moves from one region or country to another.


To convey (slaves) away from the advance of the federal forces.


(informal) A person who leaves one place in order to permanently settle in another.


One who flees to a shelter, or place of safety.


Any of various pierid butterflies of the genus Catopsilia. Also called an emigrant.


Especially, one who, in times of persecution or political commotion, flees to a foreign power or country for safety; as, the French refugees who left France after the revocation of the edict of Nantes.




An exile who flees for safety




A migratory bird, person, or other animal.


A person who changes residence frequently in search of employment, especially farm labor, such as harvesting crops seasonally; also called migrant laborer or migrant worker. Sometimes the migrant worker is not a resident of the country in which the work is performed.


Traveler who moves from one region or country to another


Habitually moving from place to place especially in search of seasonal work;
Appalled by the social conditions of migrant life
Migratory workers

Common Curiosities

What is a Refugee?

A refugee is someone forced to flee their country due to extreme conditions like war or persecution.

What legal protections do Migrants have?

Legal protections for migrants vary by country and situation.

Do Refugees choose to move?

No, refugees are compelled to move due to life-threatening situations.

What legal protections do Refugees have?

Refugees are often granted legal protections under international law.

Do Migrants plan their move?

Migrants usually have time to plan their move.

Do Migrants choose to move?

Yes, migrants often move by choice for better opportunities.

What is a Migrant?

A migrant is someone who moves from one place to another, often for better opportunities.

Do Refugees plan their move?

Refugees often have to flee suddenly, without time for planning.

Do Migrants have documentation?

Migrants may or may not have proper documentation.

How long do Refugees stay in the new place?

A refugee's stay may be temporary until it's safe to return home.

Why do Refugees move?

Refugees move to escape dangers like war, persecution, or natural disasters.

Do Refugees have documentation?

Refugees often lack proper documentation due to sudden displacement.

Can a Migrant become a Refugee?

Yes, a migrant can become a refugee if their circumstances change to involve forced displacement.

How long do Migrants stay in the new place?

The duration of a migrant's stay can be indefinite.

Why do Migrants move?

Migrants move for reasons like jobs, education, or better living conditions.

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Author Spotlight

Written by
Tayyaba Rehman
Tayyaba Rehman is a distinguished writer, currently serving as a primary contributor to As a researcher in semantics and etymology, Tayyaba's passion for the complexity of languages and their distinctions has found a perfect home on the platform. Tayyaba delves into the intricacies of language, distinguishing between commonly confused words and phrases, thereby providing clarity for readers worldwide.
Co-written by
Fiza Rafique
Fiza Rafique is a skilled content writer at, where she meticulously refines and enhances written pieces. Drawing from her vast editorial expertise, Fiza ensures clarity, accuracy, and precision in every article. Passionate about language, she continually seeks to elevate the quality of content for readers worldwide.

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