Difference Between Alien and Immigrant

Main Difference – Alien vs Immigrant

Alien and immigrants are two terms that are used to refer to non-nationals of a country. Although both these terms have similar meanings, it is importance to understand the legal meaning and definitions of these two terms. The term alien refers to a broad category which includes all non-citizens or non-national residing in a country. The legal meaning of immigrant refers to all aliens who have been granted the right to reside permanently and work without restrictions in that particular country. This is the main difference between alien and immigrant.

This article covers,

1. Who is an Alien? – Definition, Meaning, and Characteristics

2. Who is an Immigrant? – Definition, Meaning, and Characteristics

3. Difference Between Alien and Immigrant 

Difference Between Alien and Immigrant - Alien vs Immigrant Comparison Summary

Who is an Alien

The term alien refers to a person who is living within the borders of a country and is not a national of a country. Alien is a very broad category. In short, it can be used to refer to all non-citizens or non-nationals living in that particular country. Tourists, foreign students, temporary workers, permanent residents, businessmen, entertainers, sportspeople who are visiting the country, people who are in the country to receive medical treatment, etc. all belong to this category.

According to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), an alien is an individual who is not a U.S. citizen or U.S. national. This definition also includes immigrants.

An illegal alien is an individual who has entered the country illegally or who has entered legally but has fallen out of status. Illegal aliens can be deported if apprehended. 

Main Difference -Alien vs Immigrant

Who is an Immigrant

An immigrant  is an alien who has been granted the right to reside permanently in the country and work without restrictions. In the United States, this right is granted by the USCIS. In the United States, an immigrant is also known as a Lawful Permanent Resident. The term permanent resident alien also refers to immigrants.

The term nonimmigrant refers to aliens who are granted the right to reside temporarily in a country. Some nonimmigrant statuses allow employment whereas some don’t.

Immigrants move from their motherland to another country for purposes of permanent residence.  However, alien also refers to people who are traveling to another country for a temporary stay. This is the main difference between alien and immigrant.

Difference Between Alien and Immigrant

United States Permanent Resident Card

Difference Between Alien and Immigrant

Legal Meaning

Alien refers to all non-citizens or non-nationals.

Immigrant refers to aliens who have been granted the right to reside permanently in a country.


Aliens may enter a country for different purposes such as education,  travel and tourism, employment, permenant residence, etc.

Immigrants enter a country with the purpose of permanent residence.


Aliens is a broad category which includes tourists, foreign students, foreign employees who are using temporary visa, sportsmen, entertainers, businessmen who are temporary visitors, etc.

Immigrants legally refer to the permanent residents of the country.

Image Courtesy: 

 By U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) –  Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons by ahkitj.(Original text: [1] [2]), (Public Domain) via

published in Harper’s Weekly, (New York) November 7, 1874 – (Public Domain) via


About the Author: Hasa

Hasa has a BA degree in English, French and Translation studies. She is currently reading for a Masters degree in English. Her areas of interests include literature, language, linguistics and also food.

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