18 March 2015

White people are "expats." Others are "immigrants."

From The Guardian:
What is an expat? And who is an expat? According to Wikipedia, “an expatriate (often shortened to expat) is a person temporarily or permanently residing in a country other than that of the person’s upbringing. The word comes from the Latin terms ex (‘out of’) and patria (‘country, fatherland’)”.

Defined that way, you should expect that any person going to work outside of his or her country for a period of time would be an expat, regardless of his skin colour or country. But that is not the case in reality; expat is a term reserved exclusively for western white people going to work abroad...

The Wall Street Journal, the leading financial information magazine in the world, has a blog dedicated to the life of expats and recently they featured a story ‘Who is an expat, anyway?’. Here are the main conclusions: “Some arrivals are described as expats; others as immigrants; and some simply as migrants. It depends on social class, country of origin and economic status. It’s strange to hear some people in Hong Kong described as expats, but not others. Anyone with roots in a western country is considered an expat … Filipino domestic helpers are just guests, even if they’ve been here for decades. Mandarin-speaking mainland Chinese are rarely regarded as expats … It’s a double standard woven into official policy.” 
More at the link, which is an op-ed piece and reflects the opinion of the author.  I invite commentary from international readers of this blog as to whether the distinction hold in their country.


  1. According to Wikipedia

    I am constantly surprised that professional journalists are willing to publish work that contains this phrase.

    1. I'll be charitable and say that maybe they are not aware of the distinctions in the use of the term, however they are supposed to be experts in the nuances of the language by nature of their jobs.

  2. I hardly ever hear "expat" used in Australia. I think of it as an American word.

  3. I'm From NZ, living in the UK and consider myself an ex-pat Kiwi. In NZ I don't think we really use the term ex-pat to describe others who have come to NZ - for that matter I don't think immigrant/migrant is a common term used either (refugee is sometime used where appropriate). Mostly we use whatever term denotes their home country/culture - Poms, South Africans etc etc. Maybe the term ex-pat is self-applied? I'm pretty sure here in the UK I'd be considered an immigrant (in the vast tide of unwelcome immigrants if you listen to UKIP).

  4. In France the term "Expat" corresponds quite well to the one described in the article. French people who go live in Cameroon, Mali, Magadascar, Thailand or Morrocco are "expats", whether it's for a short mission for a job or to live permanently, people coming from these countries would mostly be considered as immigrants but in a few domains that would not be the case, for example I have a friend form Pakistan who works in the Banking and Financial sector and another from Yemen who works as a journalist, they are not considered as "immigrants" per se but have more or less the same status as a american or a brit would have.

    So I'd be inclined to add a more subtle touch to the article : the difference between beign an expat or an immigrant is more linked to how much money you make and your education, which leads to say that if you are here because you had no other choice you are an immigrant, if you are here because you chose between Paris, Milan, New York, Frankfurt and London, then you're an expat, wherever you come from.

    Also, I think there has something to do with being in a country with a history of colonization (as a colonizer), in the UK and in France, the word "expat" means pretty much the same thing, I guess (and tell me if I'm wrong).

  5. I was only thinking about this a couple of weeks ago. As I am now an expat for 2 years, also technically an immigrant I guess. I am Irish, but now living in Austria. Within the EU it is no problem for the resident of one EU country to go and move to another EU country to live and work, as far as I know, you need no work permit.

    After reading Yuri2001's comment there, I would agree that what term is used on the person depends a lot on the factors of race, class, education, ect. I was in my German course one evening and the topic of, talking about where we came from came up. A girl from Malaysia who got a job with the UN in Vienna, a Nigerian Woman here with her family, who needed to pass the course to be allowed stay in the country, a Somalian lad of 17 who fled his country as a refugee, he managed to get one of those dangerous, illegal, overcrowded trafficing boats you hear about and landed in Italy (apparently Italy offers a lot of the refugees free train tickets with a choice of destination country, to anywhere north of Italy just so they don't have to deal with all the immigrants themselves), he can never go back to Somalia to see his family (which he has not heard from in a year), if he does his Refugee status is revoked by Austria, then he can't come back to Austria. Then me sitting there, pale-ass Irish bloke, just plopped down in the country 2 years ago and started working in a pub without a care in the world. Doesn't seem fair to me I get the handy expat tag (though I probably took 100% Austrian to most strangers on the street) and he gets the "negative" immigrant tag when people look at him

  6. As a French who lived in the US for 6 years, I was always an expat. You guys make the difference very clear: you talk about "immigrant status" for those who have a green card and "non immigrant status" for those who have a visa. The green card changes everything: you can change job and move around. Whereas with the visa, you are linked to your sponsoring employer which makes your situation much more precarious.


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