Why are white people expats when the rest of us are immigrants?

Published: March 14, 2015
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Expats or immigrants? PHOTO: MATT BRANDON/GUARDIAN

Surely any person going to work outside their country is an expatriate? But no, the word exclusively applies to white people. In the lexicon of human migration there are still hierarchical words, created with the purpose of putting white people above everyone else. One of those remnants is the word “expat”.

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.

Africans are immigrants. Arabs are immigrants. Asians are immigrants. However, Europeans are expats because they cannot be at the same level as other ethnicities. They are superior. ‘Immigrants’ is a term set aside for ‘inferior races’.

Do not take my word for it. 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 is 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 have been here for decades. Mandarin-speaking mainland Chinese are rarely regarded as expats… It is a double standard woven into official policy.”

The reality is the same in Africa and Europe. Top African professionals going to work in Europe are not considered expats. They are immigrants. Period.

“I work for multinational organisations both in the private and public sectors. And being black or coloured doesn’t gain me the term “expat”. I’m a highly qualified immigrant, as they call me, to be politically correct,” says an African migrant worker.

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 out-dated 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 out-dated worldview must continue.

This post originally appeared here.

Mawuna Remarque Koutonin

Mawuna Remarque Koutonin

Mawuna Remarque Koutonin is editor of SiliconAfrica.com and a social activist for Africa Renaissance. @siliconafrica

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Parvez

    That was confusing……I don’t think prejudice is involved in the difference between ex-pat and immigrant. In my thinking an ex-pat is one who spends time in another country without wanting to change his nationality. While an immigrant is one who goes abroad with the express intention of changing his nationality.Recommend

  • BlackJack

    Nonsense. Usually expats shift locations while with the same company, and usually display little interest to integrate with the local culture/ system – the assumption that the expat will return to the place they came from is implicit in the term; immigrants on the other hand shift location for better opportunities and typically settle down, and eventually even apply for citizenship. I have been called an expat (still am), and I’m not white. Economic migrants and immigrants are not expats.Recommend

  • Adpran

    If you go to Europe with intention to work in a company there for few years, and then you back to your home country, you are expatriate. But if you go to Europe with intention to move there, and will not back to your home country, you are immigrant. This is the difference.

    Why White people called expatriates while Asian and African called immigrants?. Notice the reality. Mostly of White people who live in Asia and Africa do not intend to move there. They just work, and then will back to their home countries. While mostly of Asians and Africans who go to Europe have intention to move there and will not back to their home countries.Recommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    An expatriate (often shortened to expat) is a person DING DING DING DING take note, mental note visual note, ANY NOTE temporarily(as in for a short time) or permanently residing in a country other than that of their citizenship.
    An expat may or may not return to his homeland, but an immigrant will NEVER return willingly.
    Side note. These western countries bend over backward to be politically correct, so please cut them some slack. So what if they call someone an immigrant and others expats? They feed the immigrants, clothe them and give them jobs, just be happy with it.
    I personally belong to a community which is persecuted in all Islamic countries and many of us are forced to immigrate to western countries. When there they try to assimilate in the country and just go with the flow instead of asking for “rights” and forcing the native residents to “make allowances”. You should try to do this too. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. And don’t deride the people who give you shelter from harsh times.
    On the flip side, even if there is RAMPANT discrimination, even if you are given limited rights. What is stopping you from leaving? This situation is like you standing in the rain, someone invites you in their house, you sit by the fire, they give you warm clothes and food. Then as night falls the guy says that you can sleep on the extra mattress or the couch. At this you get really angry and tell him that it is your right to sleep on a bed and you want to sleep on a bed NOW. what is the poor guy supposed to do?Recommend

  • AlOmega

    An Expat is a TEMPORARY immigrant with no intentions to stay in a
    country. An immigrant is a PERMANENT immigrant with intentions to stay
    without leaving. That is the meaning of the word. Has nothing to do with
    “white” or “black”.

    Obviously He wants distort and misuse normal linguistic terms used for anyone in its normal context, whether they are brown, black or white, as a justification for his own hatred and envy of other (white)
    people. The problem here is not in the word expat but in the big-oted mindsets who frankly should learn to accept all peoples as human beings and not constantly view what envies on rac-ial terms.

    . Africans are the most ra-cist people on earth and you’ve just proven it. South Africa never was “black” to begin with.Recommend

  • Sehar

    Just because a country’s residents choose to refer to foreign workers in a certain way does not mean the term is being encouraged by those foreign workers. I doubt that some caucasians put a gun to someone’s head and asked to be called expats rather than immigrants. I think this bias is more likely a reflection of the local mindset of countries taking in expats than one encouraged by the expats themselves.Recommend

  • Fatima J

    I agree. That’s the difference and a correct one tooRecommend

  • Adpran

    I think the right question is “Why are white people expats when the rest of us are migrant workers?”

    I notice, when White people work in Gulf countries, people call them “expats”. But when Asians or Africans work in Gulf countries, people call them “migrant workers”.Recommend

  • Any she

    Seriously ET? This is someone who can’t understand plain English terms and you publish his blog? To elaborate: western people are considered expats simply because when they reside in foreign countries they do not put down roots. They work, they live and they leave. Immigrants are people who seek to permanently relocate to another country. Asians are stereotypically immigrants however, that is not the case in places like Dubai, where no one is awarded permanent residence. Therefore everyone here is an expat, be it Asian or otherwise.
    Recommend

  • Gulchand Mehta

    Bullpucky. There are Americans living in Malaysia. They are EXPATS.
    matter of fact there is an expat community near Kuala lumpur. That consists
    of British, Americans, Germans..etc..etc. They have moved to Malaysia permanently. Cheaper to live there. There is an expat community of Americans in Costa Rica, Mexico, Guatimala, Argentina, Italy…Can say the
    same for British citizens..They live there full time. And they are Expats….Recommend

  • Gulchand Mehta

    Bullpucky. There are Americans living in Malaysia. They are EXPATS.
    matter of fact there is an expat community near Kuala lumpur. That consists
    of British, Americans, Germans..etc..etc. They have moved to Malaysia permanently. Cheaper to live there. There is an expat community of Americans in Costa Rica, Mexico, Guatimala, Argentina, Italy…Can say the
    same for British citizens..They live there full time. And they are Expats….Recommend

  • Ramchand

    What happened? You are the most racist Hindu in these blogs.
    Were you beaten up by a “black”? They robbed you? Stole
    your car? Made fun of you?Recommend

  • BlackJack

    Oh the irony of this comment.Recommend

  • Gul Zaman Ghorgasht.

    Doubt it very sincerely anybody ever called YOU an ‘expat’. [Maybe in
    Arunachal Pradesh?…they are all Chinese there]. Hindus just don’t fit the criteria of ‘expats’Recommend

  • constantine

    It’s an economic thing, not a racial thing. You will never hear an Eastern European referred to as an expatriate, they’re always immigrants due to the fact that they come from a poorer country. They’re white, in fact many of them have blonde hair, blue eyes, and are whiter than the average English-speaking individual (who has brown hair and brown eyes), but they’re also (relatively) poor; but a Japanese businessman stationed in the west by his company is an expatriate. An expatriate is a middle class or better immigrant from a wealthy nation, the lower class person from a wealthy country and anyone from a poorer nation is an immigrant. It has nothing to do with race.Recommend

  • Stacy Metzger

    Most people view “immigrants” as people seeking to live in a country permanently while expats are there for a limited time.How race enters into this is in the author’s head. I’ve met many expats who are black, Asian, or none of the above.Recommend