What Subject Headings are Commonly Applied to Anthropological or Sociological Works about the Phenomenon of Human Migration?

Subject Headings for: Migrants, Immigration, Emigration, and Refugees

ANSS Subject and Bibliographic Access Committee

Question/Answer on cataloging issues – September/October 2017

Question: What subject headings are commonly applied to anthropological or sociological works about the phenomenon of human migration? Are there subject headings focused on Immigration, Emigration, and Refugees?

Submitted By: Tom Durkin, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Anthropologists, sociologists, and many other social science researchers study the movements of people. This area of research covers a very broad sub-set of social science research. Studies of human migration have focused on complex and interrelated issues of international economics and industrialization, resource and land use, population shifts from rural to urban centers, and the effects of war, famine, and disease. Much research has been published on the effects of cultural diaspora and colonization, immigration and emigration, refugees and asylum seekers, international business travel and tourism, and many other interrelated topics. The socially and legally contested definitions and phrasing of asylum and human migration are also part of this wide-ranging area of study.

There are a very large number of subject terms related to the topic of human mobility. The clustered lists of terms presented below are not exhaustive.

Emigration and Immigration:

For the general topics of emigration and immigration, the primary subject headings are “Emigration and immigration” and “Immigrants.” The term “Emigration and immigration” can be used as either a topical term or as a subdivision. Other closely related subject headings are also included below.

The term “Emigration and immigration” is used for works on migration across national borders in modern times. For works on migration across national borders from a particular place, and/or migration across national borders to a particular place, the term is used as a subdivision under the names of countries, cities, etc. For example, Nigeria—Emigration and immigration. Works on the movement of population within the borders of a single country are entered under Migration, Internal. Works on the spread of population, largely in prehistoric times, are entered under Human beings—Migrations.

  • Emigration and immigration — Social aspects
  • United States — Emigration and immigration
  • Immigrants — United States — History — 20th century
  • African diaspora [Many other geographic variations exist similar to this term.]
  • Citizenship — Law and legislation — United States — Legislative history
  • East Indians — Foreign countries [Many other ethnic/nationality variations are possible.]
  • Emigration and immigration law
  • Human beings — Migrations
  • Immigration advocates
  • Immigration consultants
  • Immigration courts — United States
  • Immigration opponents
  • Transnationalism

 Immigration Stations: Angel Island and Ellis Island were two busy and well-known immigration stations, where the ancestors of many US citizens entered the US. They are applied as “corporate name” subject headings.

  • Angel Island Immigration Station (Calif.)
  • Ellis Island Immigration Station (N.Y. and N.J.)

 General Terms: These terms are useful for providing very general subject access to a variety of works about human migration.

  • Border crossing — Management
  • Boundaries — Economic aspects
  • Households — Location
  • Population geography

 Economic Aspects of Human Migration:

Economic incentives are frequently directly related to the movement of people from one region or nation to another. These terms describe a broad spectrum of migration types for economic reasons, notably migrant labor.

  • Brain drain
  • Child migrant agricultural laborers
  • Children of migrant laborers
  • Foreign workers — United States
  • Foreign workers, Mexican — Economic conditions [A variety of similar terms exist for other nationalities. This can also be subdivided by century, such as Foreign workers, Mexican – Economic conditions – 21st century.]
  • Internal migrants
  • Migrant agricultural laborers — Labor unions
  • Migrant labor — United States
  • Migrant laborers’ families
  • Migration, Internal — United States
  • Residential mobility — United States
  • Return migrants
  • Rural-urban migration
  • Urban-rural migration
  • Women foreign workers
  • Women migrant labor

The “Illegal Aliens” Subject Heading Controversy:

Illegal aliens — Government policy — United States

In March 2016, the Library of Congress announced that it would be removing “Illegal aliens” from the current list of Library of Congress Subject Headings. Suggested replacement terms included “Noncitizens,” “Unauthorized immigration,” and “Undocumented immigrant.” Subsequently, the US House of Representatives passed a resolution (HR 4926) related to the Legislative Branch Appropriations Bill of 2017 that required the Library of Congress to retain the Subject Heading “Illegal aliens.”

For More Information:

Peet, Lisa. 2016. “Library of Congress Drops Illegal Alien Subject Heading, Provokes Backlash Legislation.” Library Journal June 13, 2016. Accessed September 2017: http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2016/06/legislation/library-of-congress-drops-illegal-alien-subject-heading-provokes-backlash-legislation/

These three additional terms are closely related in usage:

  • Aliens — Law and legislation — United States
  • Children of illegal aliens
  • Human smuggling


There are many terms that are used to provide subject access to works about people who have been forcibly removed from their homes, or people who have been forced to flee their homes due to a life-threatening situation. The primary term used is “Refugees.” This term can be readily subdivided geographically, such as in the example below.

  • Refugees — Legal status, laws, etc. — United States
  • Asylum, Right of — United States
  • Defectors — Korea (North)
  • Environmental refugees
  • Internally displaced persons
  • Jewish refugees – England [A variety of similar terms exist for other nationalities/ethnicities.]
  • Legal assistance to refugees
  • Older refugees
  • Political refugees
  • Refugee camps
  • Refugee children
  • Refugee families
  • Refugee property — Law and legislation
  • Religious refugees
  • Sexual minority political refugees
  • Teenage refugees
  • Unaccompanied refugee children
  • Women refugees — United States
  • World War, 1939-1945 – Refugees [Many similar variations exist for other wars.]

Forced Removal: a number of terms are used to provide subject access to works specifically about the forced removal of people or communities. The euphemistic term “Assisted emigration” appears to be used to describe the former practice of the forced removal of European poor to other world regions.

  • Assisted emigration
  • Deportation — Law and legislation — United States
  • Deportees
  • Exiles — Australia
  • Extradition
  • Forced migration
  • Indians of North America — Relocation
  • Immigration enforcement — United States


A short list of terms describes the movement of people from one place to another during imperialistic expansion through military and cultural conquest, and subsequent retreat.

  • Colonization
  • Decolonization
  • France — Colonies
  • Indians of South America — Colonization
  • Land settlement
  • Migrations of nations

Travel and Tourism:

A separate list of terms provide subject access to works about temporary travel to distant locations for the purpose of business or enjoyment.

  • Amenity migration — United States
  • Business travel
  • Ecotourism
  • Food tourism
  • Heritage tourism — China
  • International travel regulations
  • Medical tourism
  • Sustainable tourism
  • Tourism — Statistics
  • Travel
  • Travel restrictions
  • Visas — Government policy — United States
  • Voyages and travels

 For further reading:

  • Gibney, Mark. “Refugees, Displaced Persons, and Asylum Seekers.” In Global Social Issues: An Encyclopedia, edited by Christopher G. Bates, and James Ciment. Routledge, 2013.
  • Loingsigh, Aedín Ní. “Migrancy.” In A Historical Companion to Postcolonial Literatures: Continental Europe and its Empires, by Prem Poddar, and Rajeev Patke. Edinburgh University Press, 2008.
  • Pullin, Eric. “Immigration.” In The American Economy: A Historical Encyclopedia, edited by Cynthia L. Clark. 2nd ed. ABC-CLIO, 2011.
  • Westin, Charles. “Migration.” In Dictionary of Race, Ethnicity & Culture, by Guido Bolaffi, Raffaele Bracalenti, Peter Braham, and et al. Sage UK, 2003.