On Immigrants Versus Expats

immigrantsRegarding how the terms we use frame our perceptions, Mehran Khalili on the terms for people from other places:

Immigration, a lexicon: You’re a ‘migrant’ when you’re very poor; ‘immigrant’ when you’re not so poor; and ‘expat’ when you’re rich.

Semantics matter: the images evoked by the words used to refer to a group of people will, over time, help to define what we think about that group and how we act towards it. And in the case of people migrating to Greece who have in recent years been badly mishandled by the state, the use of neutral language in reporting by international media and NGOs is vital.

Literally speaking, ‘migrants’ and ‘expats’ do indeed have the same meaning. But since practical usage can be something else entirely, feed both terms into Google Images to see how they’re illustrated. ‘Expats’ in Greece are depicted as white; ‘migrants’ as darker-skinned.

Who decides what ethnicity a person should have to be called a migrant? Who decides what socio-economic background, or legal status, qualifies someone for the ‘expat’ label?

Let’s scrap the ‘migrant’ label and call everyone living outside their native country an expat.

12 Comments on "On Immigrants Versus Expats"

  1. howiebledsoe | Nov 1, 2013 at 8:15 am |

    The term “Expat” implies choice. You choose to expatriate yourself for some reason. A migrant tends to imply that you were forced out of your country of origin by political or economic duress. The expat worries little about being accepted into the new society, and worries less about costoms and imigration being a problem. A migrant often must sneak across borders to have a chance at living in the new country. I agree that there is certainly a class undertone to the 3 words, but language, like it or not, is often subtle. And yes, there are big differences between these 3 groups.

    • Calypso_1 | Nov 1, 2013 at 8:35 am |

      Agreed. You might go even further and add a fourth category for those who relocate primarily under duress – refugee. Migrant implies a more natural following of resource/labor trends and an impermanent status.

      • Eric_D_Read | Nov 1, 2013 at 10:37 am |

        It seems to me that refugee implies that they intend to return to their homeland if and when it becomes possible to do so; otherwise refugee would be a temporary label and they would eventually fit into one of the other three categories.

        • Calypso_1 | Nov 1, 2013 at 10:46 am |

          I don’t disagree with that viewpoint. However, I know a few Vietnamese boat people who, having no intention of return & are US citizens, still refer to themselves as refugees.
          It’s integral to their identity and the circumstance that forced them to flee.

          • Eric_D_Read | Nov 1, 2013 at 11:09 am |

            I can see that, although I’d say they would fit better in the “Expat” category.

    • Eric_D_Read | Nov 1, 2013 at 10:26 am |

      I was thinking along similar lines.

      An American Expat living abroad still identifies as an American even though they happen to live in Thailand, Japan, Costa Rica, or wherever.

      Immigrant implies moving to a new area, establishing roots, and assimilating into the local culture.

      A Migrant is simply a nomad, traveling to wherever they can best find the conditions and resources they need to survive.

  2. Ted Heistman | Nov 1, 2013 at 10:37 am |

    So if you remove lingo associated with class, then suddenly there will be no social classes? Wow, magic!

  3. Ted Heistman | Nov 1, 2013 at 1:21 pm |

    “My Parents were hard working expats.” Doesn’t have the same ring.

  4. I never thought about it in these terms before. I guess in my case, my parents were expats, for sure. Unlike the typical immigrant who works hard and sends money back to whatever their home country may have been, my parents would get regular infusions of cash from my mom’s family whenever they would get into fincancial trouble.
    Also, they flew into Miami with me, my little sister and a nanny in tow. They get off the plane in miami, look around, notice it’s full of other Colombians, so they buy a car and beeline it to California. Yeah, ex pats.

  5. Xpats don’t settle in the country, they are just there to work for a specified period of time. Migrants intend to stay in the destination country. Its not racist. You are making something out of nothing. Expats and migrants come from and go to all the countries in the world.

  6. Punctuated Colon | Nov 4, 2013 at 1:30 pm |

    Expats, migrants, infidels. All the same to my border patrol buddies when we’re shooting Welsh illegals trying to enter Ingerland.

    Come to my country, eat my cheese on toast? fuck that shit

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