What is the difference between a refugee, immigrant, asylum seeker, migrant worker, etc?
The words we use matter. They have different legal implications, and using the correct words can clear up misconceptions, preventing divisive rhetoric and undue alarm about who people are and why they have come to Canada.
“Inaccurate and inflammatory language about refugee claimants risks harming people whose lives may depend on Canada treating them fairly. Refugee claimants are among the most vulnerable people in our society. They should never be used as a political football.” (Canadian Council for Refugees)
Refugee - a ‘refugee’ is a person who has been forced to flee from their country of origin due to a well-founded fear of being persecuted or harmed for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion (CCR). Under Canadian and international law, refugees have the right to safe and dignified assistance, and should not be expelled or returned to places where their lives or freedom would be at risk (UNHCR). Once a person receives refugee status, they become a ‘protected person’ and can apply to become a permanent resident of Canada (UNHCR).
Immigrant - a person who has settled permanently in another country (CCR). Immigrants freely leave their home countries to seek work, be reunited with family, or simply because they choose to. Refugees cannot return home until it is safe, but immigrants can return home if they wish to (UNHCR).
Refugee Claimant - a person who has fled their country and is asking for protection in another country. The term ‘refugee claimant’ is used under Canadian law to refer to a person who is applying for refugee status in Canada, but their case has not yet been evaluated (CCR). The term ‘asylum seeker’ has increasingly been used in media reports, but has no basis in Canadian law. It’s better to use the term ‘refugee claimant’ as it is the correct legal term, and it doesn’t ideologically distance claimants from other resettled refugees (CCR). Canada sets its own laws on which claimants qualify for refugee status, and claimants must demonstrate that their fear of persecution in their home countries is well founded, and that they would face real harm if they returned (UNHCR).
Resettled Refugee – a person who has fled their country, is temporarily in a second country and then is offered a permanent home in a third country. Refugees resettled to Canada are selected abroad, are recognized as refugees by the Canadian government before they arrive, and arrive to Canada as permanent residents (CCR). Government Assisted Refugees and Privately Sponsored Refugees fall under this category.
Newcomer - A general term used to refer to people who have recently arrived in a new country, regardless of whether they are legally defined as immigrants or refugees. Many newcomers prefer to use this term in order to assert their agency in their own stories, to have an identity beyond a label, and to avoid the negative assumptions that immigrants and refugees are helpless or needy (Do Justice).
Migrant Worker - a person who has permission to be in Canada for a set period of time via the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. This program was created to allow people from other countries to come to Canada to work in low-wage, less-desirable jobs that were hard to fill with Canadians, such as agriculture workers or live-in caregivers (CCR). Migrant workers cannot apply to become permanent residents of Canada and they may have restricted access to social services. Some migrant workers report experiences of labour rights violations (KAIROS).
Stateless person- a person who does not have legal identity documents. A stateless person may have been born in a country that did not issue these documents, or reside in a country that does not recognize the person as a citizen. A stateless person lacks the human rights and access to services of those who have citizenship (UNHCR).