A child is considered "migratory" if the parent or guardian is a migratory worker in the agricultural, dairy, lumber, or fishing industries and whose family has moved during the past three years. A "qualifying" move can range from moving from one residence to another or across school district boundaries due to economic necessity. A young adult may also qualify if he or she has moved on his own within the past three years to engage in qualifying work or sought to obtain qualifying work (with a history of qualifying moves).

The eligibility period is three years from the date of the last move. Eligibility is established through an interview conducted by a Migrant Education recruiter who visits both home and employment locations where migrant workers are employed. The law states that migrant education services are a priority for those students who have made a qualifying move within the previous one-year period and who are failing or are most at risk of failing to meet state academic standards, or who have dropped out of school.