What is the Difference between Immigrants and Refugees?

People often assume there is no difference between immigrants and refugees, but the difference is important for economic, social and legal reasons.


Refugees are forced to leave their home countries because of war, environmental disasters, political persecution and/or religious or ethnic intolerance. They come to the United States with a special immigration status that gives them automatic admission into the country and helps them connect with family members who are already in the country. This status also provides them with a “green card” or a permit to work. Refugees are “invited” to live in the United States to start a new life.


Immigrants generally come to the U.S. for one of two reasons:

  • they are joining family members who already live in this country


  • they are “economic immigrants” seeking work and a better life for themselves and their families

Immigrants and refugees have a good deal in common. They experience new cultures and languages. They are often ethnic minorities who might face open discrimination or other forms of hostility, regardless of their immigration status.

Why Do Immigrants and Refugees Come to Iowa?

Immigrants and refugees live in Iowa for the same reasons other residents live here. Most are drawn by the availability of jobs. Many arrive to take jobs in meatpacking and other agricultural industries. But as time goes by, more newcomers work in other sectors of the economy, including construction, services, retail and hospitality. In many communities their labor is in great demand.

Newcomers also appreciate Iowa’s low cost of living, affordable housing and safe communities. Just like established-resident Iowans, immigrants and refugees realize their children receive a fine education in the schools. For refugees and immigrants, living in Iowa provides an opportunity to start a new life for themselves and their children. Iowa provides an opportunity for thousands of newcomers to live their version of the American dream.