Are you living abroad?
How do you call yourself- an expat or an immigrant? Maybe even a foreign national?
Do others (people or government of the country you reside) portrait you in the same way as you call yourself?
The issue is quite complicated but really important. According to Wikipedia:
An expatriate (often shortened to expat) is a person temporarily or permanently residing in a country other than that of their citizenship. In common usage, the term often refers to professionals or skilled workers sent abroad by their companies. However, it can also refer to retirees and others who have chosen to live outside their native country.
An immigrant is a person who moves to another country. Immigration is the international movement of people into a destination country of which they are not natives or where they do not possess citizenship in order to settle or reside there, especially as permanent residents or naturalised citizens, or to take-up employment as a migrant worker or temporarily as a foreign worker.
A foreign national is a person who is not a citizen of the host country in which he or she is residing or temporarily sojourning. However, in the European Union, a foreign national is a third country national, i.e. someone who is not a citizen of any of the member states of the European Union.
Looking at these definitions one may think “I’m all of it- an expat, an immigrant and a foreign national”. On the paper, he is right. They are quite similar or even the same. However, in reality they are not. Each of them carry specific connotations and assumptions about race, ethnicity, class, education or privilege. Sounds crazy in 21st century? Yes, it does…
Expat is a term reserved exclusively for a certain group of people- white people going to work or live abroad (Americans, Europeans, Australians). Most authors believes it applies to all white people, but I strongly disagree. I am white European, living abroad, but I’ve never heard anybody labelling me as expat. I will go back to that issue later in the article.
Expat carries a connotation of superiority, being above others, while immigrant “is a term set aside for inferior races”, for lower class/ethnicity (have a read here Koutonin in The Guardian). According to Koutonin, it’s “an outdated supremacist ideology” and I fully agree with him. To be honest, I didn’t even know the word ‘expat’ in English until I read an article many years ago about British expats in Spain. I had to look into dictionary and find the meaning. I was surprised I’ve never learnt that word before. Then I realised I know similar word- immigrant- so I thought they both can be used alternatively. Well…. not always.
Expats are North Americans, Europeans and Australians, while Asians, Middle Easterns, Africans and South Americans are mostly considered as immigrants. A highly educated PhD academic from India will be a highly qualified immigrant in Europe whereas a German worker (bartender) or a British retired person in Thailand will be always regarded as expats. In my oponion, it’s a preconception that derives from colonial times when white people used to have all privileges of the current world and used to be the well-educated ones compared to people from other races/ethnicities. It’s shocking that division still exists in the 21st century!
Some academics quarrel that it’s not about the colour of your skin, country of origin or economic status/salary that you earn. However, the general public standpoint is quite opposite. Malte Zeeck, founder and co-CEO of InterNations, the world’s largest expat network says “for people that we today call expats… living abroad is rather a lifestyle choice than borne out of economic necessity or dire circumstances in their home country such as oppression or persecution (…) That’s what differentiates them from refugees or economic migrants and not their income or origin.” ( more about it here Nash at BBC) Great view!!! It means, a relatively well off person from India who decides to stay in London for a longer period of time is expat, because it’s their lifystyle choice. Am I right? I wish more people think like him 🙂
As I wrote before, I am white European, living abroad, but I’ve never heard anybody labelling me as expat. Well… because there is division even within white race, particularly among Europeans 😛 Expats are only those who hail from western Europe. People from Eastern Europe (like me, from Poland) who live abroad are always considered as immigrants- doesn’t matter why they moved to another country.
I didn’t relocate to England due to economic reasons or any religious/political oppression. I relocated because of Love 🙂 I had a very good life in my country. I had my own apartment and Master of Law degree. However, I moved to Britain and I’m immigrant here. The government and public labels me like that. I don’t mind, but sometimes it does have an impact on my life- a negative impact. I guess I prefer to be recognised as a foreign national living in the UK. It might sound strange, but ‘foreign national’ term isn’t viewed so pejoratively as term ‘immigrant’. To be honest, it doesn’t really bother me, but I know it is a big problem for others, so it’s worth a discussion.
There is more than one label for life abroad. Some of them are more or less politically correct, some of them are even racist when used inappropriately. You choose who you are and just be happy:) I would call all of us The Abroaders who belong to The Abroaders Club 🙂 I came up with this name in one of my previous posts- Why do we move abroad?
We don’t have to be divided by certain terms. We are all equal regardless of race, religion, sex, social status, gender, age and political views. We are all global citizens 🙂
Have a great day all global citizens!
“Immigration, a lexicon. You are a ‘migrant’ when you are very poor; ‘immigrant’ when you are not so poor; and ‘expat’ when you are rich.”