BlogGrammar RulesEmigrate vs Immigrate: How Can I Tell the Difference?

Emigrate vs Immigrate: How Can I Tell the Difference?

Helly Douglas
Writer and Teacher
Published Feb 24, 2020

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Do you get confused by the words emigrate and immigrate? Both refer to a permanent move. Emigrate means leaving your home country. Immigrate means moving into a new country.

Both words contain the word migrate and come from the same Latin origin, migrare, meaning ‘to move from one place to another.’ The difference between them comes from the perspective they take.

Emigrate looks at leaving: the prefix e means away. Immigrate focuses on entering the new country: im means into.

Let’s look at each word in depth to find out more about them.

Contents:
  1. What Does Emigrate Mean?
  2. What Does Immigrate Mean?
  3. What Is Illegal Immigration?
  4. Emigrate vs Immigrate: How to Remember the Difference

What Does Emigrate Mean?

To emigrate means to leave with the intention of permanently settling in a new country. You refer to people who have left as emigrants, and the act of moving is called emigration.

Examples using the verb to emigrate:

  • I want to emigrate from Germany because I can’t find a job.
  • Sophie emigrated from the United States when she was 17 years old.

Examples using the nouns emigrant and emigration:

  • Gianni is an emigrant. He left his home in Argentina.
  • The plane was full of emigrants leaving to settle in a new place.
  • Her emigration was triggered by a desire to live in a warmer country.

People can emigrate on their own, as a family, or in a bigger group. A substantial number of people emigrating at the same time is known as mass emigration. Mass emigration can be caused by negative factors such as war or famine, or for positive reasons including job opportunities and the chance of a better lifestyle.

Emigration differs from the word evacuation, which means to leave an area or country in an emergency but intending to go home when possible.

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What Does Immigrate Mean?

To immigrate means to move into a new country or region with the intention of permanently living there. You refer to the people who have chosen to live in a country as immigrants, and the act of moving into a new country is called immigration.

Examples using the verb to immigrate:

  • Amy wanted to immigrate to the UK.
  • Aisha immigrated to China, after leaving Singapore.

Examples using the nouns immigrant and immigration:

  • Dilip is an immigrant to Pakistan.
  • Marie and her family are immigrants to France.
  • Immigration brings lots of skilled workers into our country.

As with emigration, immigration can be carried out by one person or a group. A larger amount of people moving into a country or region is called mass immigration.

Here's a great YouTube video that explains the difference if you're struggling to tell emigration and immigration apart:

What Is Illegal Immigration?

Immigrants usually have permission to stay in the country, are free to work and move around, and can leave whenever they choose. People who enter a country without permission are known as illegal immigrants. They do not have the right to live or work in the country, and could be removed at any point.

Here are some examples:

  • Maria was an illegal immigrant, so had no right to stay in the country.
  • Illegal immigrants face the problem of no access to healthcare.
  • Tobias tried to illegally immigrate into Spain.
  • Illegal immigration means we can’t be sure of the exact number of residents.

If a person has been forced to leave their country because of armed conflict or persecution, we call them an asylum seeker rather than an immigrant. This means they are applying to become a refugee, protected under international law.

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Emigrate vs Immigrate: How to Remember the Difference

Emigrate and immigrate are antonyms. This means they are opposites. Prepositions help to remind you of the difference in perspective of the two words.

When talking about emigration, the preposition from shows the focus is on the country a person is leaving.

For example:

  • Alek is an emigrant from Russia.

When talking about immigration, the preposition to changes the attention to their new home.

Such as:

  • Faith is an immigrant to Kenya.

A person who moves from one country to another is both an emigrant and an immigrant at the same time. Both words can be used in the same sentence or paragraph.

For example:

  • Jen is an emigrant from Spain who immigrated to Canada after leaving university.

Remember: they both refer to a permanent move to a new place but take a different perspective.

Still got questions? Let us know in the comments below!

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Helly Douglas
Writer and Teacher

Helly Douglas is a UK writer and teacher, specialising in education, children, and parenting. She loves making the complex seem simple through blogs, articles, and curriculum content. You can check out her work at hellydouglas.com or connect on Twitter. When she’s not writing, you will find her in a classroom, being a mum or battling against the wilderness of her garden - the garden is winning!

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