An ‘asylum seeker’ is someone who is seeking protection as a refugee. The term implies that the person has not yet had their refugee claim determined by an official – in other words, they might be a refugee, but we do not yet know because no one has heard and evaluated their claim.
A ‘refugee’ is someone who has a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of their race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership of a particular social group, and who cannot return home because this would expose them to a risk of persecution. Countries have obligations under international law to protect refugees, as well as people fleeing other serious human rights violations, such as torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. In recent years, Australia has accepted around 13,750 refugees annually.
A ‘migrant’ is someone who chooses to move to another country, usually for work, education or family reasons. Whereas refugees are compelled to leave their countries, migrants do so voluntarily. Countries have the discretion whether or not to admit someone as a migrant. Each year, Australia accepts around 190,000 permanent migrants.