Migration: What Are the Differences Among a Migrant, Refugee, and Asylum Seeker?

Contributor: Hallah Elbeleidy. Lesson ID: 10443

Chances are your ancestors came here from another country. Were they migrants, refugees, or asylum seekers? What's the difference? Plenty! With online games and articles, learn to tell the difference!



learning style
personality style
Grade Level
High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!


In 2015, more than a million migrants and refugees crossed into Europe.

  • How do the legal definitions of "migrant" and "refugee" determine the types of rights granted to people by their destination countries?
  • What are the implications of using one term over the other?

An important theme of geography is movement, and this theme may explore the movement of people, animals, manufactured goods, and even ideas.

In this lesson, you will focus on the movement, or migration, of people across international borders. There are 3 broad classifications of people who move from one place to another: migrant, refugee, and asylum seeker. As you are reading the following texts, write down the definitions you come across and their distinctions:

These articles will repeat some information, but each provides more details in a particular subject that you’ll find useful.

According to the Migration Policy Institute, "In the United States, the major difference between refugees and asylees is the location of the person at the time of application. Refugees are usually outside of the United States when they are screened for resettlement, whereas asylum seekers submit their applications while they are physically present in the United States or at a U.S. port of entry. Refugees and asylees also differ in the admissions process and the agency responsible for reviewing their application."

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