Temporary or permanent refuge granted by a state, on its territory, to a person seeking sanctuary from the jurisdiction of another state. Temporary asylum is based on the U.N.-sanctioned legal principle of "non-refoulement," which prohibits a state from expelling asylum seekers back to their countries of origin, where their life or freedom may be endangered, while their applications for permanent asylum are pending. Asylum seekers are entitled to full protections of their basic human rights as spelled out in international conventions.


The act of expulsion from a country's territory. In Britain, for instance, those targeted for deportation are prohibited from re-entering the country until, and unless, the order is lifted.

Economic migrant

A strict reading of a 1951 U.N. convention on refugees limits the right of asylum to so-called "political" refugees -- those seeking a safe haven from political persecution in their home countries. The motives driving many immigrants today, however, range from poverty and famine to civil war, ethnic conflict and ecological catastrophes in their homelands.

Under pressure to act tough on immigration policy, many European governments deny asylum to such migrants, claiming they are driven more by a desire for greater economic prosperity than by a well-founded fear for their life and freedom. In countries that make the distinction, only 10-20 percent of asylum seekers are granted permanent refugee status, according to the U.N. The issue of whether economic migrants should be considered legitimate refugees is a highly charged one in many European countries.



Broadly defined as anyone who enters a country other than their native country with the intention of settling there. In practice, the term encompasses a wide range of non-native people who reside in a country, either legally or illegally. Most European countries have shifted from being countries of emigration -- that is, countries that people leave for other destinations -- to being magnets for migrants from other places, according to the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development.

The number of non-natives residing in the OECD area -- which includes the United States and Canada -- rose by more than 13 million between 1988 and 1998, to 57 million. In Europe, immigrants accounted for about 5 percent of the total population in 1998.

Internally displaced persons

Refers to migrants who have fled their home "suddenly or unexpectedly and in large numbers" as a result of "armed conflict, internal strife, systematic violations of human rights or natural and man-made disasters," and resettled in their own country, according to a 1951 U.N. convention on refugees.

Recent examples include Bosnian refugees "ethnically cleansed" from their native villages by Yugoslav troops, and Chechens who have sought sanctuary in the neighbouring Russian republic of Ingushetia after finding themselves caught in the crossfire between Kremlin troops and secessionist fighters.

International protection

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is mandated to ensure the welfare of people whose own governments have proven unable, or unwilling, to guarantee their basic human rights and physical security. Because the UNHCR lacks the supranational authority to enforce laws in sovereign states, the organisation can only "assist" Convention member states in fulfilling their obligations to protect refugees and asylum seekers.


The act of granting citizenship of a country to a person who is not a native of that country. Citizenship, or nationality, is the primary criterion used in most European countries to distinguish between those who are considered "locals" and those who are, for bureaucratic purposes, outsiders or immigrants. Some countries grant preferential treatment to certain categories of immigrants in the naturalisation process: Germany, for example, has expedited the naturalisation of ethnic Germans from Eastern Europe, the Balkans and Central Asia, according to the U.N. Population Division.


Often used to refer to the so-called "skilled" immigrant who comes to a country, commonly by invitation, to work in a particular field of expertise (such as information technology or nursing) under a fixed contract and who is expected to return to their country of origin when that contract expires.

Faced with labour shortages in key high-tech growth areas, Germany recently launched a green card scheme aimed at attracting up to 20,000 such skilled immigrants by 2004. In practice, experts say, the line between "non-immigrant" and "immigrant" tends to blur when members of the former category overstay their welcome and settle permanently in the new country -- as happened with many of the guest workers invited to help rebuild Germany after World War II.

Prohibition of return

A clause in the U.N. Convention on refugees that bars member countries from returning refugees to countries where their life or freedom would be threatened due to race, religion, nationality or social or political affiliations. Countries may challenge the clause, also known as "non-refoulement," in cases where they have "resonable grounds" to regard a refugee "as a danger to the security of the country."


Any person living outside the country of their nationality because of a "well-founded" fear that if they returned to that country they would be persecuted on grounds of race, religion, nationality, political affiliation or membership of a particular social group.

The term also applies to people fleeing a country in which they may not have been nationals, but which they would describe as a place of "habitual residence." Among the universally recognised human rights to which refugees are entitled under U.N. conventions are the right to life, protection from torture and ill treatment, freedom of movement, and the right to leave any country.


Key dates

Since 1945 there has been a continual ebb and flow of people into and out of Europe. This shifting pattern of human movement can be divided into five distinct periods.

1945-47: Expulsions

Twelve million ethnic Germans forced out of countries of Eastern Europe; 11.5 million go to Germany, 500,000 to Austria. At same time, 100,000 ethnic Italians expelled from Istria and Dalmatia, and 300,000 ethnic Hungarians expelled from Romania and Serbia.

1947-49: Independence

Indian subcontinent gains independence from Britain in 1947 and is subsequently partitioned into Muslim Pakistan and predominantly Hindu India. Beginning of steady influx of Indian and Pakistani immigrants into Britain. Two years later, Dutch colony of Indonesia gains independence, sparking influx of immigrants into the Netherlands.

1948: Windrush

SS Empire Windrush docks at Tilbury, Britain, with 492 Jamaican immigrants on board seeking work in the UK. Beginning of Afro-Caribbean immigration into Britain.

1949: Two Germanys

German Democratic Republic (East Germany) is created. Over the next decade, 3.8 million Germans will move from East to West Germany. Flow finally ceases with construction of Berlin Wall in 1961. Also in 1949, West Germany's Basic Law (Article 16) makes provision of asylum a constitutional obligation. Law states: "Persons persecuted for political reasons shall enjoy the right of asylum." As a result West Germany remains main destination of choice for refugees entering Europe.

1950-70: Labour shortage

As their post-war economies grow, a shortage of labour forces the countries of Western Europe -- notably West Germany, France, Switzerland and the UK -- to recruit manpower from abroad. Immigrant workers pour in, both from the poorer countries of southern and eastern Europe and from further afield, notably Turkey and the former colonies in Africa and Asia.

By 1970, Europe -- heretofore a continent of emigrants -- displays a positive migration balance, with more people coming in than going out. In 1950, 4 million non-Europeans were living in Europe; by 1970 this number was 11 million and would grow to 19 million by 1993.

1951: U.N. Convention

United Nations convention on the status of refugees and stateless persons defines what actually constitutes a refugee and sets out obligations of member states in regard to refugees.

1954: Common market

Common Nordic Labour Market established. Large-scale immigration of Finns into Sweden begins.

1954-56: Colonial exodus

Dutch Antilles granted internal self-government. Steady stream of emigrants leaves colony for Netherlands. Similar flow from Dutch colony of Surinam, which eventually gains independence in 1975.

Withdrawal of French troops from colony of Indochina (now Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos) sparks wave of Asian immigrants into France in 1955. The following year, French colonies of Morocco and Tunisia gain independence, sparking wave of North African immigrants into France.

1956-57: Hungary

Nearly 200,000 Hungarians leave their country and move westwards as Soviet troops close border.

1960: Independent Congo

Belgium grants independence to Belgian Congo (subsequently Zaire, then Democratic Republic of Congo), sparking large-scale emigration into Belgium.

1961: Wirtschaftswunder

Germany begins large-scale recruitment of Turkish immigrant workers to help fuel its post-war economic boom ("wirtschaftswunder"). Policy continues until 1973, by which point large number of Turks have settled in Germany and become citizens. Turks today make up some 6 percent of German population.

1961-73: Spanish exodus

With Spanish economy stagnating under Franco, government encourages Spaniards to seek work elsewhere in Europe. By mid-1970s, more than 1 million have left -- 620,000 to France, 270,000 to West Germany, 136,000 to Switzerland and 78,000 to Belgium.

1962: Algerian independence

French colony of Algeria becomes independent. In next 12 months estimated 1 million people emigrate from Algeria to mainland France.

1964: Communist exception

Yugoslavia becomes only communist country to allow citizens to emigrate. West Germany, Austria, France and Switzerland all recruit significant numbers of Yugoslav migrant labourers. By 1973, 850,000 Yugoslav immigrants have moved to Western Europe.

1967: UK National Front

Extreme right-wing, fiercely anti-immigrant National Front is formed in Britain. By mid-1970s, organisation claims 17,500 members.

1968-69: Czechs, Slovaks flee

More than 150,000 Czechs and Slovaks leave Czechoslovakia after Soviet occupation. Majority flee to Western Europe.

1970-late '80s: Slowdown

The general economic slowdown in Europe, prompted in part by the oil crisis of 1973, leads governments to abandon their policy of recruiting immigrant labour. Immigration laws are tightened across the continent, while there is an upsurge of anti-immigrant feeling among native populations.

Although the recruitment of immigrant labour has effectively ceased by the late 1970s, immigration continues into the late 1980s as the families of established immigrants come to join their relatives. Europe witnesses a change from labour immigration to the immigration of entire communities.

1971: Bangladesh

After a bitter struggle, East Pakistan gains independence and is renamed Bangladesh. Refugees flood into the UK.

Also that year, British government passes the Immigration Act. Primary immigration to UK -- people coming to work and settle -- effectively stops. Immigration is limited to relatives of those already settled in UK.

1972: Sweden and France

Sweden halts recruitment of non-national labour and reduces number of immigration permits.

In France, Jean-Marie Le Pen leads the new Front National, a right-wing, anti-immigration party. Two years later, France halts legal immigration.

Also in 1972, Ugandan President Idi Amin expels all of Uganda's 50,000 Asians. Over the next six years significant numbers come to Europe, including 29,000 to UK.

1974-75: Portugal influx

Portuguese colonies of Angola, Mozambique and Portuguese Guniea secure independence. 500,000 returnees and immigrants flood into Portugal.

1978: Vlaams Blok

Right-wing, anti-immigrant Vlaams Blok forms in Belgium.

1980-81: Poland and Germany

A quarter-million Poles move to Western Europe after martial law is declared in Poland.

Meanwhile in 1981, West Germany declares it "is not, nor shall become, a country of immigration." It also asserts that "restricting non-EC immigration is necessary to safeguard social peace and to integrate the aliens already in Germany."

1985: Schengen Agreement

Germany, France, Netherlands, Luxembourg and Belgium sign the Schengen Agreement, which eliminates border controls between member states when it comes into force 10 years later. Italy signs in 1990; Spain and Portugal in 1991; Greece in 1992; Austria in 1995; and Denmark, Sweden and Finland in 1996. Britain and Ireland are the only EU counties to retain border controls.

Late '80s-late '90s: Dramatic rise

The collapse of the Soviet bloc, the fragmenting of the former Yugoslavia and political and economic crises in the Middle East, Africa and Asia result in dramatic increases in the number of people seeking asylum in Europe. In 1983 European governments processed only 65,000 asylum applications. By 1990 this figure rises to 500,000, and by 1992 to 700,00. Native resentment towards immigrants prompts a rise in support for far-right organisations.

1989-90: Soviet collapse

As the Soviet bloc begins to collapse, the stream of immigrants moving from Eastern to Western Europe increases. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, 344,000 East Germans cross into the West in the last two months of 1989 alone.

That same year, Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic abolishes autonomy in Kosovo, prompting an estimated 300,000 asylum seekers to move to Western Europe, majority to Germany, over the next decade.

Also that year, the European Commission estimates that Spain has 294,000 illegal residents, Portugal has 60,000, Greece has 70,000 and Italy 850,800.

In 1989-90, 300,000 Bulgarians of Turkish descent flee to Turkey to escape persecution.

1991-95: Bosnian refugees

Europe experiences the largest migration of peoples since 1945 as wars in Croatia and Bosnia make 5 million people homeless. Large numbers move westwards. In 1992 alone, 670,000 people apply for political asylum in Western Europe.

In 1993, another 690,000 asylum seekers arrive in Western Europe from the former Yugoslavia.

The previous year, a European Commission survey finds 20 million people in central and Eastern Europe wish to emigrate to Western Europe.

1994-95: Chechen refugees

Russia's invasion of Chechnya causes a massive refugee crisis, with tens of thousands of people leaving the country. In 1995 alone, 610,000 Chechens flee to surrounding republics, most of them to Russia.

1995: German jobs

Germany issues 1.3 million temporary work permits, 720,000 of them for jobs Germans are not prepared to do.

1997: Italy influx

Italy experiences mass immigration of Kurdish, Albanian and Iraqi refugees

1998-99: Kosovo refugees

The conflict in Kosovo produces the most extensive refugee crisis since the end of World War II, with 900,000 people displaced. Most flee to other Balkan countries, but 100,000 are flown out -- the majority to Germany and Switzerland -- as part of a humanitarian mission.

Late '90s-present: Controlled flow

While the governments of Europe adopt a tougher stance towards asylum seekers and illegal immigrants, they also acknowledge a renewed need for immigrant labour. Unlike the 1950s and '60s, however, when they were recruiting immigrants primarily for manual work, they now seek to attract overseas workers with high-tech skills.

1999: Common policy

At a European Union summit at Tampere, Finland, in October, EU leaders agree to develop "common policies on asylum and immigration."

That year, Germany naturalises a record 143,000 immigrants -- 109,900 of them Turkish.

Also in October 1999, Joerg Haider's far-right Freedom Party polls 27 percent in Austrian elections after campaigning on a strongly anti-immigration platform.

2000: Dover tragedy

In June, 58 Chinese illegal immigrants are found dead in a lorry at the British port of Dover.

Meanwhile, Irish government announces a plan to recruit up to 200,000 skilled immigrants by 2006, while Germany launches an employment program aimed at recruiting up to 20,000 overseas IT experts.

In September, Swiss voters reject a proposal to limit the number of immigrants in the country to a fixed percent of the population.

2001: Proposed measures

At a February meeting in Stockholm, EU ministers agree to adopt common measures to reduce the trafficking of humans into Europe, especially of women and children. At a separate meeting, France and Britain agree to tighten controls on the Channel Tunnel rail link to prevent illegal immigrants entering Britain.



International Organisation for Migration
European Development Policy Study Group
U.N. Population Information Network
Middle East Studies Association
Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development
U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees
Finnish Institute of Migration
Church World Service Immigration and Refugee Program
Office of Population Research, Princeton University
German Information Centre
Swiss Statistical Office
Amnesty International


British Refugee Council

Center for Immigration Studies

Center for International and European Law on Immigration and Asylum

Centre for Refugee Studies

Council of Europe Human Rights

Cultural Survival

Danish Refugee Council

EU Networks on Integration of Refugees

European Council on Refugees and Exiles

European Research Centre on Migration and Ethnic Relations

Forced Migration Projects

Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society

Immigrants Support Network

International Center for Migration, Ethnicity and Citizenship

International Organization for Migration

Michigan Law School Refugee Case Law Site

Migration Dialogue

Refugee Law Center

Refugees International

UK Immigration and Nationality Directorate

UK Immigration Appellate Authority

U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees


This feature presentation links educators to primary sources from the Library of Congress' online collections. These Web resources can make history come alive for students!

The feature provides an introduction to the study of immigration to the United States. It is far from the complete story, and focuses only on the immigrant groups that arrived in greatest numbers during the 19th and early 20th centuries. The presentation was shaped by the primary sources available in the Library's online collections and these questions:

It is hoped that educators will use this feature to help students formulate and articulate additonal questions of their own...and that students will be encouraged to find their own answers.

Historical and Current Issues of Immigration

Immigration: The Changing Face of America From Library of Congress.

American Immigration Homepage Started as a school project for a 10th grade U.S. history class, the project gives information on how immigrants--from 1607 to the present--were treated and why they came to America. From Bergen County Academies.

America: The Great Melting Pot A history of immigration in America from the beginning to the 1930s. From ThinkQuest Educational Foundation.

Encyclopaedia of USA History: Immigration to the USA 1860-1960 Comprehensive guide to European immigration to the United States, including migration patterns by country of origin as well as immigrants' experiences through their journeys and in their new homes in America. From Spartacus Educational.

U.S. Immigration History Immigration statistics, history of immigration legislation, and immigration history from the 1970s to the present. From Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR).

Peopling North America: Population Movements & Migration A historical overview of migratory movements to and within Canada, the United States, Mexico, and the Caribbean from Europe, Asia, and Africa. The site examines the demographic, economic, cultural, and political nature of major movements and considers their growth and development, regional and global causes, and impact. From the Applied History Research Group, University of Calgary.

Immigration A history from the Reader's Companion to American History.

Short History of Immigration From the Center for Immigration Studies.

Fabric of a Nation Articles on our nation of immigrants, impacts of immigration, ongoing issues, immigrants seeking prosperity, social and religious freedom, involuntary immigrants and student activities. From Newspapers in Education.

Coming to America: Immigrant Passages A brief history of immigration by sea (which is the way most immigrants arrived before recent time). From Mystic Seaport: The Museum of America and the Sea.

Immigration Links from

Africans in America From PBS.

Encyclopaedia of Slavery Extensive articles grouped under these categories: slave accounts, the slave system, slave life, events and issues, campaigners against slavery, and political organizations. From Spartacus Educational.

U.S. Slavery Great link collection from the World-Wide Web Virtual Library.

Immigrant Arrivals: A Guide to Published Resources Extensive bibliography on information concerning immigration to the United States, including personal narratives, passenger lists, and the immigration experience. From Library of Congress.

On the Trail of the Immigrant Photo album based upon text and pictures from a book, On the Trail of the Immigrant, by Edward A. Steiner published in 1906.

Foreign Immigrants in Industrial America Online lecture outlining the history and nature of 19th century immigration to the United States, including related web links. From Stanley K. Schultz, Professor of History, University of Wisconsin.

Wikipedia: Asia American Encyclopedia article with extensive links.

Overview of Asian and Pacific Islanders in the U.S. From the Center for Policy Alternatives. (PDF file)

Chinese Immigration A short history.

Chinese Immigration to the United States A history.

History of Chinese Immigration From the Brown Quarterly (Spring 2000).

History of Chinese Immigration Links from the East Asian Library, University of Kansas.

The Chinese in California, 1850-1925 A collection photographs, original art, cartoons, illustrations, letters, excerpts from diaries, business records, legal documents, pamphlets, broadsides, speeches, sheet music, and other printed matter. From Library of Congress.

Asian Americans Articles discussing Chinese, Japanese, and Korean immigration to the United States, as well as links to online resources dealing with Asian immigration and Asian-American communities. From

Chinese Immigration to the United States 1851-1900 Overview of Chinese immigration from 1851 to 1900, including primary source documents reflecting observations of and reactions to Chinese immigrants in California during that time. From Library of Congress.

1882 Chinese Exclusion Act Full text of the act. From Stanford University.

Historical Census Browser Census statistics from 1790-1960. From the University of Virginia Library.

Global Data Center Immigration statistics, data, and immigration profiles on all countries.

Mexican Repatriation from the United States, 1929-1939 By Dr. Jorge L. Chinea. Published in East Wind/West Wind (Winter 1996).

Cycles of Nativism in U.S. History Brief history of nativism. From the National Immigration Forum.

Boundaries of Restriction: The Dillingham Commission An article by John M. Lund from the University of Vermont: History Review, vol. 6, December 1994.

A New Century: Immigration and the U.S. Profile of immigration to the United States during the 20th century with discussion of 21st century immigration challenges in this country. Includes extensive bibliography. From the Migration Policy Institute.

The Difficulties Immigrants Face in the Post-9/11 World Article discussing the impact of 9/11 on current American immigration law and policy. From FindLaw's Legal Commentary.

Famous & Notable Immigrants Comprehensive guide to famous and notable immigrants to the United States. From About, Inc.

Celebrity Immigrants Photographs and links to biographies of famous immigrants across a wide variety of fields/industries. From American Immigration Law Foundation.

Above links compiled by