“Since the word ‘illegal’ has become a stigma in my everyday dealing with people, I started to ask myself whether I was really illegal. Of course, I am not and will never be. I am undocumented.”
- Undocumented migrant worker from the Philippines, living in the Netherlands

PICUM promotes accurate, humane terminology and strictly avoids using the term ‘illegal migrant’. ‘Undocumented migrant’ and/or ‘irregular migrant’ are internationally recognised terms with equivalents in all languages.

PICUM’s Terminology Leaflet is available in English, Greek, Dutch, Italian, French, German and Spanish. It provides reasons why not to use the term ‘illegal migrant’, a lexicon with translations of ‘undocumented migrant’ and/or ‘irregular migrant’ in all EU languages and an overview of key institutions who have already committed to accurate terminology in reference to undocumented migrants.Launched in June 2014, the leaflet serves as a major resource to support our network’s promotion of accurate and human terminology.


“It’s notable that the countries that most pride themselves on their commitment to equality, human rights, and democracy (like the United States and the western European countries) are precisely those that, in the late twentieth century, invented a new status (‘illegal’) in order to deprive some of their residents of access to equality, human rights, and democracy.I am honored to lend my name to PICUM’s campaign to end the use of the term ‘illegal’ and to challenge the whole concept of illegality as a status.”
-Aviva Chomsky, Professor of History and Coordinator of Latin American Studies Salem State University, USA1.
To read Aviva Chomsky's full statement, here.

Many institutions and individuals have already committed to avoid using the term ‘illegal migrant’ including policymakers, human rights advocates, and media. You can follow their example and engage yourself in the promotion of recognised accurate terminology.

Photo: PICUM Director, Michele LeVoy, gives a terminology leaflet to UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon at the Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD) in Stockholm, Sweden, May 2014.

"It is vital that we remain alert to inbuilt prejudice in the language used to describe ethnic minorities. Labelling human beings crossing the EU’s external borders ‘illegal’ is most definitely an example of such bias, and FRA therefore wholeheartedly supports PICUM’s campaign."
Morten Kjaerum Director,EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA)
To read the full statement of the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), click here.


  • Commit yourself to using fair terminology when referring to undocumented migrants.
  • Share the terminology leaflet with your contacts and inform friends or colleagues of the importance to use ‘undocumented’ and ‘irregular’ or the equivalent in your language.If media, policymakers etc. speak in discriminatory language about undocumented migrants, send a respond in form of a letter or social media and share the source with PICUM.
  • Follow and engage in the debate on social media (Twitter: #WordsMatter).
  • Send us your written quote or statement saying why you think accurate terminology is important, this can also be a personal story or based on the experience of an undocumented person you know.
  • Send us a photo showing your terminology message in your language.Send us a video showing why it is important to use fair language.
  • If you are an undocumented migrant or a supporter of undocumented migrants, send us your personal experiences of how discriminating ternminology and discourse has impacted your daily reality.


Photo: PICUM staff promote fair terminology in the team’s various languages..



For more information or to submit statements, photos, and videos, contact:
Elisabeth Schmidt-Hieber, PICUM Communications Officer at:


1Aviva Chomsky is also author of the book “How Immigration Became Illegal” (Beacon Press, 2014).

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