Thursday, 20 January 2011

expat or migrant?

i was there

Today I went online and check two definitions on the Oxford dictionary:
Expat (short for Expatriate): noun, a person who lives outside their native country.
Migrant: noun, a person who moves from one place to another in order to find work or better living conditions.

So, apparently, the "expat" takes the choice of living abroad, a choice that is not strictly or purely related to economic reasons, while a "migrant" is somehow forced out of his/her home country in order of finding a better enviroment for living and, ultimately, working.

But there's a slightly discrepancy between the words in the dictionaries and how they're used and perceived in real life.

This morning I got to work slightly earlier than usual, so my train was quite empty: raising my eyes from my book, I briefly saw the title of the newspaper article the man standing next to me was reading. Not a free newspaper, but something like the Sun or Daily Mail. It said something on the line of "2 out of 3 new jobs are for migrants, not British", in a quite accusatory way, the usual racist bigotry of the foreigner coming in to steal work and women. The man turned the page, shaking his head. Bloody foreigner.

Well, that got me thinking a lot. I know several Americans (as in both U.S. and Canadian citizens), Australian, Southafrican and none of them would ever go and define himself/herself as a migrant. Nope: they belong to the expats community and call themselves thus.
Yet, 99.9% of them moved out of their country to find work, making them theorically a migrant.

In real life, if you're white and anglophone, you are not a migrant.
But, if you're black and anglophone, you are a migrant.

An expat works in a big multinational company, a migrant cleans the table at Starbucks. 
It seems to me that social and economical conditions, nationality of the person define the status, not the reasons behind the change of country.

What I've been asking myself today is: what am I? How am I perceived from the outside? I'm not an expat, I'd say I fall in the "migrants" category, but few people would probably think of me as such. 
I never really thought about it before today. I never questioned myself about it: in Italian, I do say "I migrated to UK" to describe my status, but it's also true that the translation for "expat" sounds weird and not related to everyday life.
Until today, I've only thought of me as one of the many young Italians that are forced out of their own country, unwillingly or not. Or both.

What am I then? An expat? A migrant? But given I just recently started a new job, possibly "stolen" from some Midlands chap,  I might fall in the category of "those bloody foreigners".


  1. In India, the difference is more simple. Expat is someone who earns his salary in dollars or pounds, while doing his company a favour by staying in the third world.

    Migrant is someone who was so pathetic that he actually came to India and actually agreed to be paid in rupees!

  2. I know what you mean! Someone at Southwood was complaining about all the immigrants & I said, well, I was/am one too. I didn't migrate here to work, though, but to get married but then I got a job so I guess it's all the same thing. People used to say to my husband, 'couldn't you find a British woman to marry?'

  3. Found an article about the way the word "expat" is used on the Guardian:

    Quite an interesting read.