Global apartheid: Are you expat or immigrant? (updated)
What comes into your mind, when you’re reading the following lines?
“We tend to gather in certain locales (cities, sometimes specific neighbourhoods); we frequent particular businesses - some of the services being unique to our community; we have dedicated media, strong social networks and political tendencies; we even have certain etiquette, social rules and beliefs we would likely agree on (a topic for another day), all the result of shared experiences distinct to our clique.”
Why doesn’t she call them migrants? Well, it’s a question of class and “race": The people she writes about aren’t from Somalia or Iraq. They’re white people and wealthy. By using a different term, a distance to “the other” is established.
In its broadest sense, an expatriate is any person living in a different country from where he or she is a citizen. In common usage, the term is often used in the context of professionals sent abroad by their companies, as opposed to locally hired staff (who can also be foreigners).
The differentiation found in common usage usually comes down to socio-economic factors, so skilled professionals working in another country are described as expatriates, whereas a manual labourer who has moved to another country to earn more money might be labelled an ‘immigrant’. There is no set definition and usage does vary depending on context and individual preferences and prejudices.
I always found the usage of the word expat interesting. Personally, I never use it, and call everybody for migrants regardless their class or “race". Inspired by Steegar’s text I googled around and found that the usage of the terms expat and migrant is contested.
“If you picked up, moved to Paris, and landed a job, what would you call yourself? Chances are, if you’re an American, you’d soon find yourself part of a colorful community of ‘expats.’ If, while there, you hired an Algerian nanny– a woman who had picked up, moved abroad, and landed a job– how would you refer to him or her? Expat probably isn’t the first word that springs to mind. Yet almost no one refers to herself as a ‘migrant worker.’”
Yes, that’s because, as Laura María Agustín says in the interview with Howley, ” ‘migrants’ travel because they are poor and desperate, ‘expatriates’ travel because they are curious, self-actualizing cosmopolites.”
Westerners don’t like referring to themselves as immigrants because the word “immigrant” has such nasty connotations. (…) An immigrant is an unwanted job-stealer, while an expat is a foreigner who could be leaving any day now. An immigrant is on a desperate search for a better life. An expat is on an adventure. (…) Our usage of these words reveals a certain double standard. Whether you’re an expat or an immigrant depends not on your residency plans, but on the relative wealth of your native country.
UPDATE 1: (via richmondbrige) Great commentary in the Guardian by sociologist Peter Matanle, British migrant in Japan, published today. He feels uncomfortable when British people overseas, or the Guardian, use the term “expat” with reference to Britons abroad, then use words such as “immigrant” when describing people from other countries who are in the UK:
So, my proposal is for the Guardian to amend its style guide to discourage the use of the word “expat” in its pages. The word is too redolent of the days of empire and sipping gin and tonic in the shade while the locals toil beyond the fence. It is too easily used as a cultural marker to distinguish people from one another, making it easy for some Britons to feel both superior to and separated from the local people in their host cultures. I suggest that words such as resident, visitor, settler, immigrant and tourist be used instead in order to equalise the way we describe ourselves with the ways in which we describe others. It is only fair and just to do so.
UPDATE 2: Brendan Rigby has written an excellent post: Are you a Greek or a Barbarian?
UPDATE 3: Great post by Julie Sheridan, “native Scot” in Spain: Double acts & double standards. She asks: What makes me an expat but my neighbour an immigrant? She also draws attention to the etymology of “expat” (excluded, absent from one’s “fatherland") and ends her post with these sentences:
No idea how long I’ll be here, but while I am, I want to feel settled, and ideally integrated. And try to remember that being here is an experience, rather than an identity.