There’s been a lot of talk in the news about these three groups. Sometimes you’ll see the terms being used interchangeably, but there are some differences you should be aware of. It’s important to understand what these words mean so you can use them correctly. Immigrants are people who come into a new country to settle permanently. Emigrants leave one country to settle in a new one. Both of them are considered migrants.
An immigrant is a person who moves to another country, usually for permanent residence. The key to remembering what this word means is its prefix, im-. Im- comes from the Latin word for in, which reflects the fact that an immigrant is one who comes into a new country.
An emigrant, on the other hand, is someone who leaves a country or region. Its prefix, e-, also comes from Latin and means out of. The same person can be both an immigrant and an emigrant. For example, “When Robert moved from London to New York, he was an emigrant from London and an immigrant to New York.” Note how the preposition changes depending on the word being used. An immigrant goes to somewhere, while an emigrant goes from somewhere.
The word migrant is the root of both immigrant and emigrant, and it, too comes from Latin. The Latin word migrare means to move from place to place. It’s resulted words like migrant and migrate. Migrant is the word to choose when you’re referring to people who are settling in a new place but don’t want to call attention to where they came from or where they’re going.
A migrant isn’t necessarily settling in a new place permanently. For instance, so-called snowbirds who live in New England but relocate temporarily to Florida in the winter are sometimes said to migrate. Animals like geese or butterflies are also migrants when they head south for the winter.