Photo from Forbes


We hear a lot about “immigrants” but not that much about “emigrants.” 

That’s because the difference is so subtle, we mostly only use “immigrants” these days. 

But if you’re curious about the difference, read on:

When people flee their native land, as they are right now in Ukraine, they are technically called “emigrants.” That is, they are people leaving their country.  The “e” in “emigrants” is Latin for “leaving” or “exiting.” 

An “immigrant” is someone who is entering a country to start a new life. The “im” in “immigrant” is Latin for “IN.” 

Nowadays, everyone is an immigrant. 

Foreigners who leave their land soon become foreigners who enter a new land.  Thus, the difference between “emigrant” and “immigrant” is so subtle that even a Google search for “emigrants” only pulls up pages for “immigrants.” 

Still, we do use the verb forms, “emigrate” and “immigrate”: a person “emigrates FROM” a place and “immigrates TO a new place.” For example, “She emigrated from Ukraine and immigrated to the United States.” But it’s easier to say that someone came (or fled) from one country and settled in a new country. Latin-origin words make everything sound more formal.

As for “emigrant,” there is an Emigrant Bank of New York; the name is a remnant of the 19th century Irish immigration to New York. This bank, formerly called Emigrant Savings Bank,  was set up specifically for Irish “emigrants” by  earlier Irish “immigrants,” who formed the Emigrant Irish Society. 

But don’t worry: “Immigrant” is now the umbrella term for every foreigner seeking a start in a new land. 

Here are some immigrants you might know: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Actor and Politician; Sergey Brin, Co-Founder of Google; Arianna Huffington, Co-Founder of the Huffington Post, and the founder of Chobani yogurt, Hamdi Ulukaya, all arrived in the United States as immigrants. 

Whether you’re fleeing political danger or disaster; leaving your country for more opportunity; or whether you are rich, poor, or a genius, once you arrive in your new land, you are an immigrant … that is, until time passes and you decide to become a citizen. 


If you have questions or doubts about grammar, why not sign up for a free 20-minute consultation call with Louise to talk about how you can improve your English!