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In law, an alien generally refers to any person who is not a citizen or national of a given country,[1][2] though definitions and terminology differ to some degree. The term alien includes a foreign national and a refugee or asylum seeker.[3][4]



The term "alien" is derived from the Latin alienus, meaning stranger, foreign, etym. "belonging (somewhere) else".[citation needed] Similar term s to "alien" in this context include foreigner and lander.[5]


Different countries around the world use varying terms for aliens. The following are several types of aliens:

  • a legal alien is a foreign national who is permitted by law to be in the host country. This is a very broad category which includes permanent residents, temporary residents, and visa holders or foreign visitors.
    • a resident alien is a person who has permission by the government to reside and work in the country.[6]
    • a nonresident alien is a foreign national who is visiting a country as a tourist (e.g., for pleasure, for studies, on business, to receive medical treatment, to attend a conference or a meeting, as entertainers or sportspeople, and so forth).[citation needed]
  • an illegal alien is any foreign national inside a country where he or she has no legal right to be.[7] It covers a foreign national who has entered the country through illegal migration.[8] In some countries it also covers an alien who entered the country lawfully but subsequently fallen out of that legal status.[9][10]
  • an enemy alien is a foreign national of a country that is at war with the host country.[citation needed]

Common law jurisdictionsEdit

An "alien" in English law was someone who was born outside of the monarch's dominions and who did not have allegiance to the monarch. Aliens were not allowed to own land and were subject to different taxes to subjects.[11] This idea was passed on in the Commonwealth to other common law jurisdictions.


In Australia, citizenship is defined in the Australian nationality law. Non-citizens living in Australia are either permanent residents; temporary residents; or illegal residents (technically called "unlawful non-citizens").[12] Most non-citizens (including those who lack citizenship documents) travelling to Australia must obtain a visa prior to travel. The only exceptions to this rule are holders of New Zealand passports and citizenship who may apply for a visa on arrival according to the Trans-Tasman Travel Arrangement.[13]


In Canada, the term "alien" is not used in federal laws and statues. Instead, the term "foreign national" serves as its equivalent and is found in legal documents. The Immigration and Refugee Protection Act defines "foreign national" as "a person who is not a Canadian citizen or a permanent resident". Permanent residents and Canadian citizens are not considered as foreign.[14]

United KingdomEdit

The British Nationality Act 1772 regulated who was to be called a British subject.

The Aliens Act 1905, the British Nationality and Status of Aliens Act 1914 and the Aliens Restriction (Amendment) Act 1919 were all products of the turbulence in the early part of the 20th century.

In the United Kingdom, the British Nationality Act 1981 defines an alien as a person who is not a British citizen, a citizen of Ireland, a Commonwealth citizen, or a British protected person.[15]

United StatesEdit

World War II poster from the United States.

Under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) of the United States, "[t]he term 'alien' means any person not a citizen or national of the United States."[16][1] Every foreign national and refugee or asylum seeker is statutorily an alien.[3][4]

A lawful permanent resident (LPR) is explicitly referred to as an immigrant.[6] Such individual could either be an "alien" or a non-citizen "national of the United States,"[17] which requires a case-by-case analysis and depends mainly on the number of continuous years he or she has spent in the United States prior to committing an offense that actually triggers removability.[18][19][4]

The U.S. Supreme Court has long explained that "once an alien gains admission to our country and begins to develop the ties that go with permanent residence, his constitutional status changes accordingly."[20] The usage of the term "alien" dates back to 1798, when it was used in the Alien and Sedition Acts.[21]

Although the INA provides no overarching explicit definition of the term "illegal alien," it is mentioned in a number of provisions under title 8.[7] Several provisions even mention the term "unauthorized alien."[22]

Because the U.S. law says that a corporation is a person, the term alien is not limited to natural humans because what are colloquially called foreign corporations are technically called alien corporations. Because corporations are creations of local state law, a foreign corporation is an out-of-state corporation.

There are a multitude of unique and highly complex U.S. domestic tax laws and regulations affecting the U.S. tax residency of foreign nationals, both nonresident aliens and resident aliens, in addition to income tax and social security tax treaties and Totalization Agreements.[23]

Other jurisdictionsEdit

Arab statesEdit

In the Arab states of the Persian Gulf (United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain, Qatar, etc.), many non-natives (foreigners) have lived in the region since birth or since independence. However, these Arab states of the Persian Gulf do not easily grant citizenship to them. As such, referring to these people as foreigners is seen by some as inappropriate.[24][25][26]


On Latvian passports, the mark nepilsoņi (alien) refers to non-citizens or former citizens of USSR who don't have voting rights for the parliament of Latvia but have rights and privileges under Latvian law and international bilateral treaties, such as the right to travel without visas to both the European Union and Russia, where latter is not possible for Latvian citizens.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b Garner, Bryan A. (June 25, 2009). alien (9th ed.). Black's Law Dictionary. p. 84. ISBN 0-314-19949-7. Retrieved 2018-08-17. A person who resides within the borders of a country but is not a citizen or subject of that country; a person not owing allegiance to a particular nation. - In the United States, an alien is a person who was born outside the jurisdiction of the United States, who is subject to some foreign government, and who has not been naturalized under U.S. law.
  2. ^ "alien". Webster’s Dictionary of Law. 1996. Retrieved August 17, 2018.
  3. ^ a b 52 U.S.C. § 30121(b) (federal definition of a "foreign national").
  4. ^ a b c 8 U.S.C. § 1157(c)(3) ("The provisions of paragraphs (4), (5), and (7)(A) of section 1182(a) . . . shall not be applicable to any alien seeking admission to the United States under this subsection, and the Attorney General may waive any other provision of [section 1182] . . . with respect to such an alien for humanitarian purposes, to assure family unity, or when it is otherwise in the public interest."); see also 8 U.S.C. § 1159(c); Matter of J-H-J-, 26 I&N Dec. 563, 564-65 (BIA 2015) (collecting court cases); cf. 8 U.S.C. § 1182(h) ("No waiver shall be granted under this subsection in the case of an alien who has previously been admitted to the United States as an alien lawfully admitted for permanent residence if either since the date of such admission the alien has been convicted of an aggravated felony or the alien has not lawfully resided continuously in the United States for a period of not less than 7 years immediately preceding the date of initiation of proceedings to remove the alien from the United States.").
  5. ^ Van Houtum, Henk. "The mask of the border." The Routledge Research Companion to Border Studies. Routledge, 2016. 71-84.
  6. ^ a b 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(20) ("The term 'lawfully admitted for permanent residence' means the status of having been lawfully accorded the privilege of residing permanently in the United States as an immigrant ....") (emphasis added); see also 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(15) (defining the term "immigrant").
  7. ^ a b See, e.g., 8 U.S.C. § 1252c(a)(1); 8 U.S.C. § 1330(b)(3)(A)(iii); 8 U.S.C. § 1356(r)(3)(ii); 8 U.S.C. § 1365(b) ("An illegal alien ... is any alien ... who is in the United States unlawfully...."); 8 U.S.C. § 1366.
  8. ^ "Immigration Terms and Definitions Involving Aliens". United States: Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Retrieved July 3, 2016.
  9. ^ "Homeland Security: More than 600,000 foreigners overstayed U.S. visas in 2017". USA Today. August 7, 2018. Retrieved 2018-10-16.
  10. ^ "DHS: 700K-plus Overstayed US Visas Last Year". Voice of America (VOA). August 7, 2018. Retrieved 2018-10-16.
  11. ^ William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England (1753), Book 1, Chapter 10
  12. ^ Key Issue 5. Citizenship Fact Sheet 5.2 Citizenship in Australia Retrieved 2012-03-05.
  13. ^ "Australia's Visitor and Temporary Entry Provisions" (PDF). Joint Standing Committee on Migration, Parliament of Australia. September 27, 1999. Archived from the original (PDF) on June 29, 2011. Retrieved July 20, 2011.
  14. ^ Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (S.C. 2001, c. 27)
  15. ^ section 51, British Nationality Act 1981
  16. ^ 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(3) (emphasis added); 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(22) ("The term 'national of the United States' means (A) a citizen of the United States, or (B) a person who, though not a citizen of the United States, owes permanent allegiance to the United States."); Ricketts v. Attorney General of the U.S., ___ F.3d ___, ___, No. 16-3182, p.5 note 3 (3d Cir. July 30, 2018) ("Citizenship and nationality are not synonymous."); Jennings v. Rodriguez, 138 S.Ct. 830, 855-56 (2018) (Justice Thomas concurring) ("The term 'or' is almost always disjunctive, that is, the [term]s it connects are to be given separate meanings.").
  17. ^ Ricketts v. Attorney General of the U.S., ___ F.3d ___, No. 16-3182, p.2 (3d Cir. July 30, 2018) ("When an alien faces removal under the Immigration and Nationality Act, one potential defense is that the alien is not an alien at all but is actually a national of the United States."); Mohammadi v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 782 F.3d 9, 15 (D.C. Cir. 2015) ("The sole such statutory provision that presently confers United States nationality upon non-citizens is 8 U.S.C. § 1408."); Matter of Navas-Acosta, 23 I&N Dec. 586, 587 (BIA 2003) ("If Congress had intended nationality to attach at some point before the naturalization process is complete, we believe it would have said so."); 8 U.S.C. § 1436 ("A person not a citizen who owes permanent allegiance to the United States, and who is otherwise qualified, may, if he becomes a resident of any State, be naturalized upon compliance with the applicable requirements of this subchapter. . . ."); 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(23) ("The term 'naturalization' means the conferring of nationality of a state upon a person after birth, by any means whatsoever.") (emphasis added); TRW Inc. v. Andrews, 534 U.S. 19, 31 (2001) ("It is a cardinal principle of statutory construction that a statute ought, upon the whole, to be so construed that, if it can be prevented, no clause, sentence, or word shall be superfluous, void, or insignificant.") (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Saliba v. Att’y Gen., 828 F.3d 182, 189 (3d Cir. 2016) ("Significantly, an applicant for naturalization has the burden of proving 'by a preponderance of the evidence that he or she meets all of the requirements for naturalization.'").
  18. ^ See generally 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(13)(C)(v) (eff. 1996); see also Matter of Campos-Torres, 22 I&N Dec. 1289 (BIA 2000) (en banc).
  19. ^ 8 U.S.C. § 1229a(e)(2) ("The term 'removable' means—(A) in the case of an alien not admitted to the United States, that the alien is inadmissible under section 1182 of this title, or (B) in the case of an alien admitted to the United States, that the alien is deportable under section 1227 of this title."); see also Tima v. Attorney General of the U.S., ___ F.3d ___, ___, No. 16-4199, p.11 (3d Cir. Sept. 6, 2018) ("Section 1227 defines '[d]eportable aliens,' a synonym for removable aliens.... So § 1227(a)(1) piggybacks on § 1182(a) by treating grounds of inadmissibility as grounds for removal as well.").
  20. ^ Landon v. Plasencia, 459 U.S. 21, 32 (1982)
  21. ^ "Alien and Sedition Acts". Retrieved November 23, 2011.
  22. ^ 8 U.S.C. § 1324a(h)(3)
  23. ^ "Foreign Nationals: Non-Resident Aliens and Resident Aliens". Protax Consulting Services.
  24. ^ Habboush, Mahmoud. "Call to naturalise some expats stirs anxiety in the UAE".
  25. ^ "Say no to expats calling for Saudi citizenship". November 24, 2013.
  26. ^ "GCC Citizenship Debate: A Place To Call Home - Gulf Business". January 5, 2014.

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