Illegal Migrant

  1. definition
  2. examples and/or illustrations
  3. other useful sources
  4. bibliography



(n) person who resides in a country despite not having citizenship or any other recognized status

(n) foreign nationals who do not have sufficient documentation to live or work in accordance with the rules of law in the country where they reside


Examples and/or Illustrations

There are many circumstances from which a person may be and/or become an ‘illegal migrant.’ Due to the ‘invisibility’ of illegal migrants and their desire to remain ‘under the radar,’ the number of illegal migrants in each country is unknown, but rather estimated. For example, in 2000 there was an estimated seven million unauthorized migrants in the United States of America (approximately 2.5% of the total population) (Woodbridge, 2001).

The term ‘illegal migrant’ has been heavily criticized for its use in public policy and political debates for the ways in which it targets and criminalizes migrants.

The Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants has criticized the use of the term ‘illegal migrant’ because:

1)      Its connotation with criminality as most irregular migrants are not criminals. Being in a country without the required papers is, in most countries, not a criminal offence but an administrative infringement.

2)      Defining an individual or group as ‘illegal’ can be regarded as denying them their humanity and risks violating their innate right to recognition as a person before the law.

3)      Labelling asylum seekers who may find themselves in an irregular situation as ‘illegal’ may further jeopardize their asylum claims as it encourages a political climate of intolerance towards those seeking asylum.


Other Useful Sources

Ahmad, Nobil Ali. (2008) “Dead men working: time and space in London’s (‘illegal’) migrant economy.” Work, Employment and Society Vol. 25 Issue 1 pp. 675-692.

Griffin, Laura. (2011) “Unravelling Rights: ‘Illegal’ Migrant Domestic Workers in South Africa” South African Review of Sociology Vol. 42 Issue 2 pp. 83-101



“Terminology: The Use of Correct Terminology” (2012) Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants. http://picum.org/en/our-work/undocumented-migrants/terminology/

“Undocumented Migration Glossary” (2008) Undocumented Worker Transitions. http://www.undocumentedmigrants.eu/londonmet/library/h11625_3.pdf

Woodbridge, Jo. (2001) “Sizing the unauthorised (illegal) migrant population in the United Kingdom in 2001” Home Office Online Report 29/05.


Other related words (may be concepts):

  • Undocumented Migrants
  • Unauthorised Migrant
  • Alien