What is the difference between a refugee and an immigrant?

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A person who wishes to settle in a foreign state on his own will for the purpose of employment, education or reunification with his family who is already in that state, is called an “immigrant”.

However, the law does not oblige the states to admit into their territory all foreigners who wish to do so. The states have this obligation only with respect to their own citizens.

This is why the states are entitled to deny admission into their territory to a foreigner who does not hold a valid ID/passport, an entry visa or a residence permit.

Therefore, those who wish to settle in a foreign state for the purpose of employment, education or the exercise of family life, before leaving their country, must apply for and receive a visa from this state. This is the only way for them to travel to the state, enter it legally and receive a residence permit.

When, however, a person enters a foreign state illegally and without a passport or a visa pretending to be a refugee, he will most probably be refused asylum by the authorities of that state.

In such a case this person will be forcefully returned to his country of origin by means of a procedure which is called “deportation” and whose enforcement may require that the person is detained by the police for up to several months.

Under these circumstances this person will also be imposed prohibition on entry (“a black stamp”) which is valid for all the EU Member States, Switzerland and Norway, and usually has a 5-year term of validity.

This prohibition is entered into a special European electronic system, called EURODAC, together with the person’s fingerprints.

This system allows the European states to check by means of the foreigner’s fingerprints at any point in time if prohibition was imposed on that foreigner by another European state and, if so, to refuse him entry and settlement on their territory till the term of the prohibition expires.

European Union

In 1951 the states in Europe started the process of unification which lasted till 1992 when a treaty was signed on the establishment of the European Community, which in 2009 was renamed into European Union (EU). The EU has passed its common laws – regulations and directives – which apply to all the states that are members of the EU. As of 30 June 2014 the EU has 28 member states: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cypress, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxemburg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom.