Legal Dictionary

irregular immigration

Definition of irregular immigration

Further reading

Irregular immigration (or Illegal entry) is the migration of foreign citizens into a country in circumstances where such people do not meet the legal requirements for immigrating in that country, that is, when they are violating the immigration laws of that jurisdiction.

It is often called "illegal immigration," however the term "irregular immigration" is now considered the preferred terminology by international governmental and non-governmental organizations, such as the United Nations agency the International Labour Organization (ILO), the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and others. "Unauthorized immigration" is another term which is occasionally used to refer to this form of migration. The term "undocumented immigration" is used as well, though it is considered less inclusive than "irregular immigration."

Irregular immigration has numerous and complex causes, but in general, it consists in people from poor countries seeking better life opportunities in more developed countries, and includes forced migration and voluntary migration. Irregular immigration has impact on many political, economical, social and ethical issues.


Illegal immigration describes people entering a country without formal permission. The term "illegal immigration" has been shifted away from in the 2000s due to many factors, including political correctness and the non-objectivity of the term "illegal immigration." "Undocumented immigration" is described as less inclusive because immigrants can be "documented" but still be in violation of a nation's laws in living there. The ILO uses the following examples to describe this:

    "For instance, some documented persons such as tourists may undertake employment in the host country - violating conditions of entry. Similarly foreign workers sent by traffickers may have valid documentation thanks to a thriving fake documentation industry."

There are many views on terminology for irregular immigration, often depending on political standpoint:

  • illegal alien
  • illegal immigrant
  • clandestine workers
  • sans papiers / "without papers"
  • irregular immigrant/migrant/alien/worker/resident
  • people "hiding/living/staying/working/ in the shadows"
  • undocumented immigrant/migrant/alien/worker/resident
  • unauthorized immigrant/migrant/alien/worker/resident
  • paperless immigrant/migrant/alien/worker/resident
  • immigrant "without immigration/legal status"
  • out of status immigrant/migrant/alien/worker/resident
  • unnaturalized immigrant/migrant/alien/worker/resident
  • boat people


In 2010, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) estimated that 10%-15% of the world's total 214 million international immigrants are irregular immigrants, though the IOM notes that difficult to get accurate estimates. The IOM states that "most of these migrants enter legally but overstay the authorized stay."

The IOM states that "most experts today would agree that there are already inadequate legal channels for migration and especially for migration for work."

It has been estimated that most irregular immigration is from developing countries to other developing countries.


  1. Wiktionary. Published under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.


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2.     lex fori
3.     status quo
4.     ownership
5.     lex loci delicti commissi
6.     lex situs
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8.     lex causae
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