What's the difference between "Migrant" and "Einwanderer"? Are they used in different registers, and do they occur in different frequencies?

  • 1
    Please take more care to tag your questions appropriately.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Apr 11, 2019 at 8:20
  • IMHO, exactly the same, except Migrand is just the foreign word for Einwanderer, and so it sounds highbrow.
    – äüö
    Apr 11, 2019 at 10:25
  • @äüö Jeder Einwanderer ist Migrant, aber nicht jeder Migrant ist Einwanderer, er könnte auch Auswanderer sein (zumindest bei gleichbleibender Perspektive). Apr 11, 2019 at 13:52
  • Actually, someone who moves from one country to another is a migrant. But for the destination, he is an Immigrant, and that is the equivalent of Einwanderer. For the country of origin. he is an Emigrant, or Auswanderer. Apr 12, 2019 at 8:26

4 Answers 4


Short answer: depends on speaker's point of view and his audience.

While Migrant is someone who changes it's country (or in a broader sense a society) and the direction is from viewer's perspective irrelevant, an Einwanderer is definetly coming into the country of the viewer.

The (local) society aspect for Einwanderer would be Zugezogener (see e.g. DWDS about it).

From my point of view the perception in media and people is a bit more far from the theoretical difference:

  • media uses Migranten mainly for immigrants if they talk about media's country as well as they use Einwanderer - in case of "which more" I would say Migranten is more often used in "serious" media
  • that means in my perception media uses Migranten for both directions if it is third party country because the will talk more or less about both countries affected
  • "common people" use in my perception more Einwanderer if talking about them "objective" and Migranten if ranting about them
  • the migrating people itself: I have no idea

This observation leads me to the conclusion: Yes, definitely used differently.

Main difference is: How feel I affected by them? (in case I'm none of them)

Depending on the situation of the speaker it would say that Einwander might be a bit more friendly and Migranten a bit more negatively. Thus it is largely dependent on the speaker and it's audience!(I see need to emphasize it)


  • Migrantenpack - strong negative meaning, more often used because it is shorter, another term with same meaning would be Asylanten
  • Einwanderungswelle - positive if waited for this kind of migrants, negative if otherwise/ feeling more fears
  • Einwanderung stoppen - strong negative meaning


Beside these two words there is currently more often used Flüchtling because it is somehow percepted that they had to flee for their lives - and somehow expected that they stay temporarilymore or less and will move back.Hot political topic! .

  • Of course, any designation of a group of people ending on -pack has a strong negative meaning. Apr 12, 2019 at 8:28

The foreign word Migrant derives from the Latin verb migrare, which translates to wandern. A Migrant, therefore, is a Wanderer in the sense of someone who moves between countries. To distinguish whether someone moved in or out of a country, prefixes are appended:

  • Immigrant ⇄ Einwanderer
  • Emigrant ⇄ Auswanderer

In everyday language, Einwanderer/ Auswanderer is way more common than Immigrant/ Emigrant. The opposite is true for Migrant. It is preferred over Wanderer, presumably because the latter could be mistaken for someone who is hiking or rambling. Personally, I would use Wanderer in the sense of Migrant only in a poetic context:

Den einsamen Wanderer verschlug es in ferne Länder.


Here is an answer from the perspective of popular (common) use.

(I have to premise that I do not subscribe to this use of the words, and particularly not to the underlying concepts. I am simply reporting about the current practical use, especially by people who are not professionally involved in working with "migrants", in linguistics, or in sociology and other humanities, i.e. people who are trained to choose their words with thought.)

Migrant: Used for people coming from poorer countries (accidentally they often have darker skin tones), with lower levels of formal education and typically with lower income levels, with the idea to live henceforth in Germany or whereever. (Accordingly not covered are tourists, people coming for business meetings, and students.)

The interesting point is that nobody coming from, say, Norway, the USA, Australia, and so on would ever be called Migrant. Also, a wealthy person from Saudi Arabia would probably not called a Migrant. I have met people who came from South Africa to live in Germany. These happend to have very bright skin tone, even as compared to the average hue in Germany. Nobody would ever have thought of calling them Migranten.

This shows that at the end of the day, the use of the word Migrant is always loaden with either inherent racism, or at least a form to communicate "these are actually not desired" or "I see them as strange, and I think their social position is below mine".

Einwanderer would be a German term for the same thing. But the word is not much in use, but perhaps as part of some bureaucratic and political terms such as Einwanderungsbehörde or Einwanderungsland (long debate in Germany whether Germany is a Einwanderungsland, here understood as a country that actively promotes people to come from abroad to live here, and regulating this process e.g. through selection criteria. Some political parties in Germany get the creeps when thinking of Germany taking a decision to define itself an Einwanderungsland in that sense).

Ant the wealthy? Interestingly, there is no common term for people from wealthy countries with "Western" culture (Norway, USA, Australia... ). In English, they tend to be called (or call themselves) "Expats" (never "migrants"), and the term might even be used in German informal conversation from time to time, but hardly ever e.g. in the media. When we want ot refer to such people we have to individually refer to them e.g. as

Er kommt aus Norwegen. Sie kommt aus Island. Er ist Amerikaner. Sie kommt aus Russland.

And so on.

An onomatopoetic sidenote. This is now nothing but my personal opinion. I have not seen any research about it. But I find the idea at least plausible: Migrant has an ugly sound to it, even for the German ear. The m-g-r cluster of consonants sounds like the snarl of a bad animal. There is a word grantig in German, meaning "angry", "disgruntled". And last but not least the sound of Migrant is very close to Migräne (migraine) - all bad things that nobody wants to have. So I think there is no chance people who are called Migranten to be seen as something positive, simply by way of phonetic proximity, and I would think it would be a good idea to find a word that sounds at least neutral.


The terms Einwanderer, Einwanderung have gone somewhat out of favor. The current terms are Zuwanderer, Zuwanderung. Compare Deutsch-Test für Zuwanderer, Zuwanderungsgesetz, Migrationsberatung für erwachsene Zuwanderer. The older term persists in compounds such as Einwanderungsland.

Although the term Migrant is technically quite wide – it can refer to a German moving to Germany from abroad, or to people moving from one foreign country to another – it is often used more narrowly, denoting foreign citizens coming to and living in Germany and is in that sense synonymous to Zuwanderer. The narrow meaning is evident in terms such as Migranten(selbst)organisationen and when looking at the Google search results for Migrantinnen und Migranten.

Finally, note the important term Menschen mit Migrationshintergrund, which nowadays encompasses almost a quarter of the population and has among its members both German citizens and people without personal experience of migration.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.