Legal Definitions: What is an Immigrant? A Refugee?

In response to many inquiries from people seeking to understand the difference between “immigrant” and “refugee”, Frosina is pleased to provide the following explanations:

What is an immigrant?
An immigrant is a foreign-born individual who has been admitted to reside permanently in the United States as a lawful permanent resident (LPR).

How Do Immigrants Get Admitted to Permanently Reside Here?
Typically a foreign-born individual seeking to become an LPR can attain legal status in one of two ways:

  1. Through family-sponsored immigration, a U.S. citizen can sponsor her spouse, foreign-born parent (if the sponsor is over the age of 21), minor and adult children, and brothers and sisters. A lawful permanent resident can sponsor her spouse, minor children, and adult unmarried children.
  2. Through employment-based immigration, a U.S. employer can sponsor someone for a specific position where there is a demonstrated absence of U.S. workers. A small number of diversity visas are also awarded through a special lottery to individuals from specifically designated countries.

What is a refugee?

  1. A person outside of the United States who seeks protection on the grounds that he or she fears persecution in his or her homeland is a refugee. To attain regfugee status, the person must prove that he or she has a “well-founded fear of persecutuion” on the basis of at least one of five specifically enumerated, and internationally reconized, grounds. Those grounds include the person’s race, religion, membership in a social group, political opinion, or … national origin.
  2. A person who has already entered the United States, and who fears persecution if sent back to his country, may apply for asylum here. Once granted asylum, an asylum applicant must also prove that he has a “well-founded fear of persecutuion” based on the same enumerated grounds. Both refugees and asylees may apply to become LPR’s after one year.

What is an Undocumented Immigrant?
An undocumented immigrant is a person who is present in the United States without the permission of the U.S. government. Undocumented immmigrants enter the U.S. either:

  1. Illegally, without being inspected by an immigration officer, or by using false documents; or
  2. Legally, with a temporary visa, and then remain in the U.S. beyond the expiration date of the visa.

Four out of ten undocumented immigrants enter the U.S. legally.

What are Non-Immigrants?
Non-immigrants are individuals who are permitted to enter the U.S. for a period of limited duration, and are given only temporary visas. Some non-immigrant (temporary) visas are given to: students, tourists, temporary workers, business executives, and diplomats.

What is a Naturalized Citizen?
Lawful permanent residents are eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship through a process called naturalization. To qualify to naturalize, applicants must reside in the U.S. for 5 years (3, if married to a U.S. citizen), demonstrate a knowledge of U.S. history and government, show they have paid taxes, have committed no serious crimes, be of “good moral character,” and demonstrate that they understand, speak, and write English.

Leave a Reply