What is the difference between an “Expat” and a “migrant”?

An exhausted would-be immigrant rests beside sunbathing tourists on the beach near Tuineje, on Fuerteventura Island in the Spanish Canary Islands, after arriving in a small motorized boat with another 36 would-be immigrants Friday May 5, 2006. Thousands of people try to reach Europe through Spain each year, an increasing number of them coming from Mauritania and Moroccan-controlled Western Sahara. Mauritania's Red Crescent says more than 1,000 people have died trying to reach Spain since the beginning of the year. (AP Photo/EFE, Carlos Saa) ** LATAM, CARIBBEAN AND SPAIN OUT **

There have been a spate of recent articles focussing on the words migrant or immigrant. They suggest that there are hierarchies of terms within the debates around immigration. The guardian argues that only white Europeans qualify to be called ‘expats’. Despite the definition of expat being a person who lives outside of the their usual country of abode, it seems only to be used to describe Caucasians, usually who are in professional roles. Within the Hong Kong context we can see how this article has truth. When we use the term expat here we refer to bankers, financiers, architects, teachers from Europe and other countries outside HK – we do not, however, use the word to describe Filipino domestic helpers.

This is a fascinating example of how language can exclude, reinforce power relationships and entrench stereotypes and discrimination. In this article there is an interview with a highly qualified and educated professional who moved from an African country to work in the UK. He describes how he can not shake of the label of immigrant – even if he is sometimes referred to as a “highly qualified immigrant”.

Most white people deny that they enjoy the privileges of a racist system. And why not? But our responsibility is to point out and to deny them these privileges, directly related to an outdated supremacist ideology. If you see those “expats” in Africa, call them immigrants like everyone else. If that hurts their white superiority, they can jump in the air and stay there. The political deconstruction of this outdated worldview must continue.”

Whilst its good to debate the varying definitions of terms like migrant worker, immigrant and expat, remember that this, yet again, is a good indictment of language as a way of knowing.

“Reading a British tabloid newspaper in 2015, you might wonder if Europe was again at risk of being conquered by the Mongol Empire. The continent is under “siege,” the papers report, facing an “invasion” from a “horde.” Parts of Europe have become like a “war zone,” they say, as “marauding” foreigners “swarm” the borders. The reality, of course, is that there is no army at the gates. The migrants that cause Europe such angst aren’t arriving in warships. Instead, most arrive in a human trafficker’s dinghy, if they arrive at all.”

This quote from the Washington Post article celebrates the brazenly biased language of the British tabloid press. In alignment with the author of the Guardian piece this one argues …. “Words that convey an exaggerated sense of threat can fuel anti-immigration sentiment and a climate of intolerance and xenophobia,” Alexander Betts, director of the Refugee Studies Center at Oxford University

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