Migration, Immigration, and Identities

Migration, Immigration, and Identities

Migration, Immigration, and Identities

Migrant/Immigrant versus a Refugee/Asylum Seeker

There are varied interpretations of the meanings of the terms migrant, immigrant, refugee, and asylum seekers. The understanding of these terms varies across individuals and official definitions used by governments and organizations. For instance, the British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey considers an immigrant to mean a permanent settler in Britain while the UN defines him as a person who stays in Britain for a minimum of one year as having moved from a foreign country (NatCen, 2003). The British government adopts the definition used by the UN in defining an immigrant (Blinder, 2015). However, the Oxford English Dictionary describes an immigrant as an individual “who migrates into a country as a settler,” while public perceptions indicate that an immigrant is a person who moves into a country for permanent residence, though government statistics reveal that temporary migrants make up a large share of immigrants (Blinder, 2015).  Studies reveal that many people associate immigration to asylum seeking. In Britain, for instance, many people believe that asylum seekers are individuals who migrate (Blinder, 2015). Despite the above definitions, a migrant is an individual who shifts from one place to another, mainly to find work or improved living conditions, and extends to include any individual who lives briefly or permanently in a foreign nation where he or she was not born, but has developed substantial social ties to this country. On the other hand, an immigrant is a person who shifts to a foreign country to live permanently. Article 1.1 (a) of the UN Convention on Rights of Migrants considers a migrant as a person who has willfully decided to migrate for reasons of his or her convenience and without the influence of a compelling external factor (Blinder, 2015). However, a refugee or an asylum seeker is a person who moves to another state against his or her wishes, for example, having been forced to do so by circumstances such as hostility from home country.

The Meaning of the Concept of Ethnicity

The term ‘ethnicity’ has existed in the English language since the fourteenth century, and its meaning has evolved over the years, resulting in different interpretations. Initially, the term meant heathens, pagans or gentiles, but it developed racial characteristics in the nineteenth century (Green, 2006). However, in the twentieth century, the term was used in the U.S. to refer to immigrants who did not belong to the northern or western European descent. Ethnicity refers to a person’s ethnic background. The members of an ethnic group possess similar features such as a shared culture, subjective and strong group attachments, and myth of common descent, which makes them distinct from other groups. An ethnicity possesses three core elements, comprising common descent, a common homeland, and a common history (Green, 2006). A similar thought was held by Max Weber who used the word ethnic group to imply a group of people holding a subjective belief in their shared descent due to similarities of physical type of customs or both, or due to memories of colonization or migration (Ratcliffe, 2014). As such, in determining a person’s ethnicity, the features of history, descend, and locality is significant.

The Main Contending Views

The understanding of migrant/immigrant, refugee/asylum seeker, ethnicity, and nationality varies across people. There is no common ground on the meanings of these terms. Individuals’ attitudes toward policies relating to immigrants and immigration vary based on immigrants of different races, ethnicity, or class (Brader et al., 2008; Hainmueller and Hiscox, 2010). For instance, some British media encourage the belief that immigrants relate to asylum seekers (Gabrielatos and Baker, 2008). There is also a disparity between public and media’s perceptions of asylum seekers since the public’s views these people are grounded on events in the recent past rather than simply media discourse.

The Relationship between Notions of Ethnicity and Nationality

Ethnicity and nationality are closely related as a nation may have different ethnic groups living together within its boundaries (Green, 2006). An ethnic group, therefore, refers to a minority group which exists as a subgroup of a larger society. Ethnicity is a person’s belonging to a subset in a nation. Scholars and institutions have presented different definitions of nationality. For instance, the term is used in the United Kingdom to mean the official relation between the state and a person, while other scholars perceive nationality as the legal relations between a person and a nation (Juškevičienė, 2014). As such, nationality is a person’s national origin. However, international relations scholars define a ‘nation’ as a group of people who have a strong sense of belonging to a particular territory and possess a myth of common descent. Thus, a person’s nationality is originating from a specific nation made up of people who have a sense of belonging to a particular territory.  

The Role Played by Ethnicity in the Political Relations within and Between States

Ethnicity has a great impact on people’s conduct of political affairs and influences political relations within and between states. It is harmful in the practice of political affairs in countries with diverse ethnicities because it is the leading cause of many conflicts, wars, and revolts (Hashmi & Majeed, 2015). Ethnic violence resulted in the loss of over ten million people between 1945 and 1975 (Hashmi & Majeed, 2015). Also, between 1990 and 1994, Rwanda and Burundi lost the lives of approximately 800,000 people due to ethnic violence between Hutus and Tutsi tribes (Hashmi & Majeed, 2015). Similar incidences were witnessed in Croatia between 1991 and 1995 when about 13,583 deaths and 40,000 injuries were recorded during the homeland war (Hashmi & Majeed, 2015). After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Bosnia Herzegovina witnessed the worst kind of ethnic violence, which led to 200,000 deaths (Hashmi & Majeed, 2015). Ethnicity is also considered to be the cause of the Civil War witnessed in Nigeria between 1967 and 1970 (Samson, 1999).

As such, the existence of two or more than one groups with different characteristics within the same political system is a basic condition for the emergence of ethnic conflict. Ethnic groups act as political actors having the interest to achieve political rights, such as representation in political and administrative organs, access and control of local resources, and the use of specific language as an identity marker and a medium of instruction and communication. If an ethnic group feels that it has been denied any rights by another or other ethnic groups, it may resort to violence.

Ethnic groups in a state form alliance called a society. A state and society have a close relationship because many ethnic groups form a society whose members are bound together by nationality (Hashmi & Majeed, 2015). As a result, the ethnic groups found within a society not only cause conflict but sometimes create alliances. The alliances formed by ethnic groups in a state are useful for the state in changing the nature of ethnic disputes in favor of the control and domination of the state. The members of the ethnic groups in every state are protective of their country and oppose any external attempt to subvert their state. As a result, society in a state may revolt against any external threat that may include foreign nations.


Blinder, S., (2015). Imagined immigration: The impact of different meanings of ‘immigrants’ in public opinion and policy debates in Britain. Political Studies, 63: 80-100.  

Brader, T., Valentino, N. A. and Suhay, E. (2008). What triggers public opposition to immigration? Anxiety, group cues, and immigration threat. American Journal of Political Science, 52 (4): 959–78.  

Green, E. D. (2006). Redefining ethnicity. Paper prepared for presentation at the 47th Annual International Studies Association Convention, San Diego, CA. Retrieved from https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/3b21/fb3e20e6d8f6f238d36e6f2644db68ba3402.pdf

Hainmueller, J. and Hiscox, M. J. (2010) ‘Attitudes toward highly skilled and low-skilled immigration: Evidence from a survey experiment. American Political Science Review, 104 (1): 61–84. Retrieved from https://web.stanford.edu/~jhain/Paper/APSR2010.pdf

Hashmi, R. S. & Majeed, G. (2015). Politics of ethnicity: A theoretical perspective. A Research Journal of South Asian Studies, 30(1): 319–331. Retrieved from http://pu.edu.pk/images/journal/csas/PDF/21%20Dr%20Rehana_30_1.pdf

Juškevičienė, A. (2014). What does nationality mean today? Construction of national identity of the students who are attending Lithuanian schools. Mediterranean Journal of Social Sciences 5(22): 20-26.

National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) (2003). British Social Attitudes Survey 2003. London: National Centre for Social Research.

Ratcliffe, P. (2014). Ethnic group. University of Warwick, UK. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/323953735_Ethnic_group

Samson, (1999). The impact of ethnicity on Nigeria’s political development: An assessment, 1999-2011. Department of Political Science and International Relations, 2(12): 71-99.


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