The Difference Between Immigrants and Expats

immigrant vs expat

The Difference Between Immigrants and Expats

I have to be honest here. I didn’t even pay much attention to the word expat until a few months ago when I started my podcast. Since my podcast’s primary goal is to inspire the immigrant community to dream big and follow their passions, I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing many people who have done just so. However, it turns out, some of my guests would be considered expats, who knew? So shouldn’t they be regarded as immigrants as well? Let’s explore the difference between the two, Shall we?

There seems to be this unspoken yet prominent prejudice against the word immigrant. What do you think of when you hear that word? Is it a positive portrayal of someone who moved to another country? Or does the name carry a negative connotation with it? Be honest with yourself here.

Who are Immigrants?

It seems like immigrants are portrayed as people who move to other countries without education, to work physical jobs, and stay closed-minded in their communities of other immigrants who also come from the same countries or speak the same language.

Who are Expats?

On the other hand, the word expat seems to carry a positive connotation with it. An expat gets the rep of a person who is a white-collar, educated worker that moves to another country for a few years.

According to Mawuna Remarque Koutonin, a journalist from the Guardian, “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.”

You read that right, western white people. When I read that article, I was in for a rude awakening. I am a Polish woman living abroad, so I am definitely considered an immigrant since I do not come from western Europe. Expats are deemed superior to society.

Immigrants and expats are really one and the same

Meanwhile, by definition, an immigrant is someone who comes to live permanently in a foreign country, and an expat is defined as a person who lives outside their native country. I mean, talk about blurred lines here. The only difference seems to be that immigrants intend to stay in their new country, and expats may or may not. So why are immigrants unwanted and expats celebrated?

What I understand from all of this is that prejudice is extremely hard to escape. On the one hand, it hides in the nooks and crannies of social groups, but on another, it is blatantly displayed for everyone to see. It serves as a reminder that our world is very divided. Expats are celebrated, and immigrants are criticized. But no matter how we look at all of this, expats are simply put glorified immigrants.

If the word expat is preferred, let’s call all immigrants expats then. Immigration is a worldwide trend, and it has been for centuries. The trend is growing. There were 244 million international migrants worldwide in 2015, according to the United Nations. That’s an increase of 22 million from 2010. Let us stop the divide and connect the immigrant communities around the world.

Moving to a new country is not easy. It’s a scary, emotionally charged task for many. Just think about it. You end up leaving behind your home, family, friends, culture, and traditions and move to an entirely new place. It’s not easy immigrating to a new country, and we all need support. Let’s end the divide. Let us all be expats, and let’s all be immigrants. After all, we are all part of one glorious human race. We’re one incredibly diverse world. Our world is not perfect, and it’s definitely not linear. It’s a beautiful, accented world. Let’s celebrate it for what it truly is.


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