Alice has wondered herself the same question when lost in Wonderland: who in the World am I?
Well, thanks to a kind Facebook user who felt the urge to point out how I was wrongly calling myself an expat while I was in fact an immigrant, I am now to wonder the same.
Am I an expat, or an immigrant?
What is the difference between the two? An Australian friend of mine pointed out that he would consider himself an immigrant, because he comes from the other side of the World.
But is it the case? And YOU, who are you (Alice in Wonderland caterpillar’s voice)?
What bothered me the most in the Facebook comment was that it sounded like the word immigrant was meant as an insult. Like, I am not good enough to be called an expat. No no, I am an immigrant. Booo.
What makes an expat, an expat?
Expat. Expatriate. Expatriée. What is it all about, really? Here’s a definition given by Internations: “The term “expat” derives from the Latin prefix ex (out of) and the noun patria (home country, native country, or fatherland).” Still not crystal clear? Well, that’s because it is not so easy to define what an expat is.
Internations carries on with a : “the word “expat” is generally used to refer to people who temporarily or permanently live in a different country than the one they were born in or whose nationality they have.” Uh uh. So, that would mean that we are all expats; no matter where we come from, right?
Not quite; apparently. “They are usually highly educated and enjoy a higher than average income.” Let’s agree to disagree here. I find the generalization a bit too easy: yes, some expats with high qualifications earn a lot of money abroad, but a lot of them are also on minimum wages.
Quite a few expats I know left their country because they wanted to experience a life abroad but don’t own a university degree. And even when they do, if you are an expat yourself, you will know that the most common first jobs for a freshly arrived expatriate is to work in a call center, or a bar / restaurant. Because it is easy, and your chances to find a job quickly are massively increased, especially when you don’t speak the country’s language: your mother tongue and your personal background become your most precious skills.
It seems however we all agree on one thing. An expat is someone who left his home country to experience life abroad. Duh.
The expatinfodesk describes it this way:“ In general expatriates are considered to be people who are residing in their host country temporarily, with the ultimate intention of returning home at a later date. However, in recent times, more and more expatriates have left their home country and found that they can experience a higher standard of living and a better quality of life abroad and, for this reason, many of them never return home.” Well, that sounds a bit dramatic…
There are many reasons why you could become an expat. You could move away for work, because you found love, to study (and decide to stay there) or because you were seeking a better quality of life.
What makes an immigrant, an immigrant?
The dictionary defines an immigrant as being “a person who migrates to another country, usually for permanent residence.” As many expats also stay permanently in the country they moved to, I don’t see a difference here… Let’s look further.
In reality, defining what a migrant or immigrant is (asylum seekers aside) is trickier than it looks. Mainly because the definition itself will depend of the country’s.
However, in most cases, to be an immigrant means that you are subject to immigration control, visas and border entries. In Europe, it will also depend on whether or not you are coming from a country part of the EEA.
If you are an EEA national then you are not subjected to immigration control and thus, technically, you are not an immigrant. However, in public debate, this is usually not taken into consideration and you will be considered an immigrant no matter what. So yes, it is tricky.
Considering the fact that I do not obliged to immigration control, I am not technically considered an immigrant.
In the end though, does it really matter to know whether you are an expat or an immigrant? We are individuals before anything else, and deserve to be treated as such.
There is no such a thing as a typical expat, nor there is a typical immigrant. There is only one thing we all have in common: we have moved away from home.
Some people just need to accept the fact that migration, no matter how you call it, is not a crime. And “immigrant”, not an insult.