Difference Between Expats and Immigrants
One of the unfortunate aspects about living in a world that is being rent apart by international discord is that the word ‘immigrant’ has taken on a whole new level of meaning which is anything but kind. Part of it is of the media’s making, and part of it is due to political divide across party lines, but the sad fact remains; no one likes to be called an immigrant anymore.
Perhaps ‘expat’ would be more to their liking but, is there really a difference? Santa Fe Relocation examines this in depth in an article entitled, “If you had to move to another country would you call yourself an expat or an immigrant?” You just might find the answer you are looking for there.
The Impact of World Events on Semantics
There is an entire branch of linguistics in which the meaning of words is closely examined. In the study of semantics, linguists seek to understand why some words carry certain connotations which can be interpreted differently for a variety of reasons.
The word ‘immigrant’ is one example of how one relatively benign word has come to mean different things to different people, and more often than not, it frequently carries a negative connotation due to world events in contemporary times.
There is increasing pressure to close national borders to stop the influx of immigrants, and in this regard, the meaning is clear. In this context, the implication is that an ‘immigrant’ is an illegal who is crossing the border without the proper documentation. Typically, society worries about terrorists, drugs and arms dealers and other illegals who have less than ethical reasons for crossing.
So Why Is Being an Expat Any Different?
In today’s global economy, global relocation is a way of life. Few people stay in the cities and towns in which they were born and when life offers them better opportunities abroad, they seek a global relocation provider and move to where they can find employment and a better life for their family.
These people are, in the strictest sense, immigrants. Their move is more of a permanent solution and there may, or may not, be a time when they return to their native country. An expat, on the other hand, is thought to be someone who happens to be staying and perhaps working in another country but on a more temporary basis. An expat may apply for work authorisation but is not looking for permanent residency as is an immigrant.
Unfortunately, because of the negative connotation the term ‘immigrant’ has associated with it, many immigrants are choosing to call themselves ‘expats.’
Immigration from a Historical Perspective
If you find yourself thinking of immigrants as less than honest, hard-working people, it’s time to look at immigration from a historical perspective. Think about 3 of the largest 10 countries by land mass and you’ll see that immigrants are the foundation of all three countries.
Of the ten largest countries on earth, the United States, Canada and Australia (not in that order) are among the largest, and few native people still reside on those lands. The economies are largely made up of immigrants within the past few hundred years and each country has now taken on an identity of its own.
Can you say that immigration stifled the growth of those nations? While we are still rightfully concerned about keeping our borders open to illegal entrants, it’s time to stop referring to them as illegal immigrants. They are not by any stretch of the imagination immigrants and perhaps the UN has it right by calling them by other terms altogether.
It’s time to look at why we fear immigration and put it back into perspective. Without migratory people, the world would be in stasis, economies would stagnate, and growth would stop altogether. Once you understand that, immigration is not so bad after all, is it?