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Language Arts

Immigration vs Emigration

Do you know the difference between immigration and emigration? In this article we compare immigration vs. emigration, define what immigration and emigration are, and offer tips on how to remember the difference.

Animals, birds, can people can all migrate, but only people can immigrate and emigrate. Immigrate and emigrate have the same root word, as well as similar pronunciations and meanings. This article will help you to understand how to remember which is which.

Migration: Context

Migrate is the root of both the words we are considering: immigrate and emigrate. Migration means moving from place to place, and when it refers to a seasonal movement repeated yearly, we may think of Monarch butterflies and Canada geese. And nomadic peoples and migrant workers are people who migrate. But a permanent move of one’s main place of residence, most often from one political entity to another distinct political entity (e.g., another country) is referred using the terms immigration and emigration.

Coming from the same root, you will not be surprised to find that the pronunciation is largely identical, with difference lying only in the initial vowel sound. Immigration is pronounced /IHM muh GRAY shuhn/, while emigration is pronounced /EHM muh GRAY shuhn/.

It’s All in the Perspective

Immigration and emigration come into English from Latin. Immigration is from immigrare, “to go into” (im + migrare) and emigration is from emigrare, “to move” (ex + migrare). Thus you may be able to guess that immigration and emigration actually refer to exactly the same action from two diametrically opposed perspectives:

Emigration: the act of leaving one’s homeland or country to settle in another. Emigration views the action from the perspective of the person’s origins. Here is an example:

Emigration is prompted by a variety of factors, as people leave their country in order to flee a war, find education or job opportunities, or join their family in another land.

Immigration: the act of coming to and settling in a new homeland or country from one’s original homeland or country. Immigration views the same action from the perspective of the person’s new home. Here is an example:

Immigration is more or less tightly controlled by host countries, who may be concerned about the effects of a large population influx or wish to achieve some kind of mix of incoming residents, or alternatively, provide a haven for a people or group suffering some kind of intense need.

Extending Your Knowledge

Given this, you can surmise that there will be a similar relationship between other pairs of words that are other forms related to immigration and emigration. That is, you will see the same relationship in pronunciation and the same relationship in meaning in the following word pairs:

Verb:                            immigrate                   emigrate

Present Participle:            immigrating                emigrating

Past Participle:             immigrated                 emigrated

Adjective:                     immigrational             emigrational

Remembering the Difference

You may be familiar with the prefix ex- meaning “out” from words like exodus. If you can remember both that and identify the I  immigration with the word in, then this will help you to remember that emigration is from the point of view of coming out, while immigration is from the point of view of coming in.

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