A realist versus nominalist debate within the field of international migration questions whether refugees are fundamentally distinct from immigrants or whether the category is a social construction masking similarities with immigrants. Contemporary refugee and immigrant flows conform to patterns of the world system. However, refugee migrations are caused by changes in the nation-state. Like immigrants, refugees organize migration through social networks, but the composition of their networks and the effects of migration on social identity differ. In a host society, both populations adapt with household economic strategies that secure multiple income sources, although the state plays a greater role in the adaptation of refugees. The partial convergence of two migration forms once presumed opposite reveals general patterns in international migration and adaptation, supporting the nominalist perspective. The remaining differences suggest that refugees are primarily distinguished by their relationship to the state, thus supporting the realist perspective.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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