The Distinction Between Migrant And Expat May Not Be The One You Think

The wrong definition will mark you as someone fighting the wrong battle.

If you insist that by definition expat means white skin, while migrant means person of color, what you are engaging in is performative social justice and virtue signaling. “Look at how virtuous I am!” What you are doing actually helps no one. Moreover, it insults large groups of people. The rest of the article will explain my logic.

I’ve seen a few definitions proposed by people in the fediverse. Here’s one:

An expat is someone who goes to another country seeking a better standard of living, but white.

A migrant is someone who goes to another country seeking a better standard of living, but not white.

– A naive person

Your definition is naive and entirely misses the mark. A migrant is someone who moves to another country with the intention to stay there indefinitely. An expat is someone who moves to another country with the intention to stay there temporarily. Temporarily can be months, or it can be years. And yes, they are allowed to change their mind along the way. Skin color does not enter into the equation.

The distinction I’ve given you above is based on the person’s own intent: do they want to stay indefinitely, or temporarily. There is, however, another view, the one held by the government. This view may or may not coincide with the view I’ve given you above. I’m an example of this. I came to the USA on a temporary work visa. It had to be renewed periodically, but in theory it was not a path to citizenship. So the government would have put me in the expat category.

(Quick note, I cannot talk much about other jurisdiction than the US. Moreover, the US government does not talk about expats. You’re either on an immigrant visa, or a non-immigrant one. My visa was non-immigrant. I’m simplifying here. However, going by the definition of expat I’ve given you, the government would have to agree that I was an expat because my visa did not allow for an indefinite stay.)

Truth be told, at the time, my intent was to stay, but I did not know if I would actually stay. I came to the USA to be in a relationship with my ex-wife. If the relationship had fallen apart, maybe I would have returned to Canada. The relationship did not fail, however, or I guess I should say that it did fail, 26 years later. The way the law is laid out, it was entirely legal for me to get a green card, and then citizenship.

So from my point of view I was a migrant, unless a disaster happened between my ex-wife and I. However, from the point of view of the government I was an expat. There is some fluidity in the two categories that the naive definition I cited above does not allow.

In addition, there is a third view, the one used by the mass media. The mass media likes to call those people moving to another country for temporary work, “migrant workers.” This label is validated by its usage. However, the label itself does not imply a migration from one country to another. Sometimes the term is applied to people within a country that seek work in another area of the same country. It typically has nothing to do with skin color or ethnicity.

Don’t take your cue from the mass media, however. It likes to distort everything, especially when it comes to minorities. If you are autistic, I’m sure you love the stereotyped version of the autistic person that the mass media peddles. This person cannot be a woman, or a person of color. It has to be a young white male savant obsessed with trains. If you are pansexual, or better pansexual or polyamorous, then you are someone who has no boundaries and is greedy. This is all nonsense.

Let’s say you have a group of people moving from a foreign country to the USA for temporary work. If we go by the definition based on intent, these people may be expats, or migrants. Some of them may willingly be coming only temporarily into the country. Others may be looking for a way to stay indefinitely. In the eyes of the government, however, all of them are expats, because their visa does not allow an indefinite stay.

As I said above, I’m a migrant. I’ve also been an expat at times in my life, like when I went to India and Taiwan. I was never aiming to migrate there, but I spent extended time in both place. Consequently, I’ve been a member of several expat communities. The naive definition I gave above insults the people who are part of these communities. Including the people of color who are, in fact, expats but that your definition excludes.

I can assure you that the expat community was not any more or any less racist than the rest of the population. Actually, I’d expect it was less racist, as those people were likely to be okay with interacting with people of different cultures, ethnicities, races, etc. I cannot prove this, however.

Moreover, here’s something you may have not considered. Migrants definitely get exploited, but expats also get exploited by citizens of the country they move to. Let’s take H1B holders from India. It is well-known that employers in the US hire them with the notion that they are going to work on the cheap. Some of them are in the US temporarily, and are expats. Some of them aim to stay permanently, and are migrants. However, the H1B is temporary. Consequently, from the point of view of the government, they are all expats.

I’ve mentioned being a member of several expat communities. These people were oftentimes people teaching languages abroad. And yes, some of them found themselves in difficult situations. Natives of the countries they moved to tried to exploit them. It did not matter to anyone that they were expats and not migrants.

I mentioned above having been an expat. People have tried to exploit me. It is simple, when people see a foreigner, they think they have an easy mark. Both in India and Taiwan, some folks tried to pull the wool over my eyes a few times. They were unable to do so. In India, the local language was Marathi, but I spoke only Hindi. In Taiwan, the main language was Mandarin, which I spoke, though not well. The secondary language was Taiwanese, that I did not speak at all. Who knows what I would have heard if I had been fully fluent in the languages I heard?

Asserting the naive definition that I gave above amounts to performative social justice, and virtue signaling. It makes you feel good about yourself, but it does not actually do anything of substance for the people you pretend to be defending.


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