With the US Presidential election right around the corner, and foreign ownership of Vancouver real estate a perpetual hot topic, we get bombarded with talk of immigration policies all the time. People move from country to country all the time, sometimes temporarily, sometimes permanently. And it’s important that you understand the difference between what it means to emigrate and what it means to immigrate.

Far too often, people can get the two terms mixed up, because they might not even be aware of the word “emigrate” and its numerous variations, like emigration and emigrants. The two words are based on the same root origin, referring to the migration of people from one country to another. This migration could be voluntary or involuntary, as we see with the Syrian refugee crisis, for example.

The difference between the two terms is actually really straightforward.

The verb to immigrate refers to coming to live in a new country. It refers to the act of coming in or entering a country and can be used in the context of an individual or a larger group of people. For instance, years ago, I discussed the waves of Chinese immigration into Vancouver.

The verb to emigrate describes the same fundamental action, but it is from the perspective of leaving a country in order to move somewhere else. It refers to the act of exiting a country. It refers to where the person is coming from and not where they are going to.

This whole discussion of migration and moving from one place to another also relates to the term “expatriate” or “expat” for short. In that context, the reference point is the person’s place of origin. Thomas is a German expatriate living in Singapore.

Put another way, Thomas emigrated from Germany and immigrated to Singapore. My parents emigrated from China and Hong Kong, landing as immigrants in Canada. Because of this, discussing Canadian emigration and Canadian immigration are two entirely different and utterly opposite topics, though they may come up in the same conversation.

Have a suggestion for a Grammar 101 post? Let me know!