The tale of the expatriate and the migrant

In the aftermath of my studies abroad and the frame of my current deployment in Skopje, I recently wondered what are the implications of defining someone either as an expatriate or an immigrant, why there are these two options with unclear boundaries for seemingly similar realities.

First, it should be recalled neither the polysemic word “expatriate” nor the term “international migrant” is officially defined. But most importantly, in my opinion, are the meanings that may be conferred to those words. While thinking about it, the first thing which crossed my mind was a feeling of incoherence.

How come on the one hand some people from certain parts of the world in the process of relocating abroad who have not been through higher education are more likely to be defined as “immigrants”? Also why on the other hand other people, most often Westerners relocating for professional purposes as well will be considered as “expatriates”? Why some people may sometimes be pictured as an asset while other people are deemed a burden by some stakeholders in our societies?

I was willing to avoid thinking in closed-circuit. Therefore, I researched for existing theories on this topic. Here are a few interesting quotes from several online articles I found. These citations are quite helpful to measure the wide diversity of opinions regarding this debate. They are tellingly evocative when they are put into perspective from one another.

“Living in a foreign country raises all kinds of questions, both practical and emotional: how do you define yourself and how are you characterized by your adopted homeland? […] “Expatriate” means someone who has moved to live outside their home country, whereas “immigrant” is someone who has come from a foreign country to stay. The former term takes the perspective of the migrant, the latter that of the host country. […]

There are hundreds of thousands of French people living in London, many of whom have come to the city with a clear professional goal — to work in finance, for example. I wonder what sort of cultural traits they reinforce while living among other French expats in the UK capital. I doubt they hold émigré salons in celebration of French culture, but imagine if they did?”

Court, E., 2020. Expat Identities: Loaded Words For Movers Abroad. [online] Financial Times – Property Listings. Available at: [Accessed June 15th, 2020].

“When it comes down to it, expats and immigrants are the same. The dictionary definitions are:
• Expat: a person who lives outside their native country.
• Immigrant: a person who comes to live permanently in a foreign country.

This notion of permanency is a fallacy. A survey by the De Vere Group in 2017 found that 69 percent of Brits abroad said they’d never return ‘home’, while research by the University of Washington found that a third of those labeled immigrants actually do.”

Mitchell, V., 2019. My Label And Me: Don’t Call Me An Expat, I’m An Immigrant | Metro News. [online] Available at: [Accessed 16 June 2020].

“In reality, the word expatriate often confuses the employee seconded by his employer abroad, who benefits from health and pension insurance, installation and premiums schooling for children, with the one who organizes his departure and returns by himself. A mistake, according to Jean-Luc, who lives in Spain, for whom “expatriation is a term that refers exclusively to people and their families who are sent by a French company or organization to spend a few years abroad with the security of finding their job back in France. The immigrant works abroad with a local contract with no security other than that of the host country, no French social security, no contributions to French pension funds, etc. But that’s the way France is going: when a North African comes to work in France, he’s necessarily an immigrant, but French people in the same situation abroad are expats… it’s more elegant!”. […]

For Karen, who has been in China for 9 years: “I feel more like an immigrant than an expat since I came on my own. I wasn’t sent on a mission by a company. I think that’s what makes the difference.” Emmanuel considers himself an immigrant: “I’m not going back to France, and I’m doing everything I can to stay in the country where I’ve settled, Japan.

Are Expats in their bubble or French people wanting to integrate? “Wealthy” expatriates are not exempt from stereotypes. Despite themselves, they would keep a peaceful and good-natured tourist outlook on their new country and would evolve almost exclusively within the French community, unlike the French abroad in a more precarious situation, who have to make much more effort to integrate. These two populations with very different preoccupations coexist without always meeting each other. Dan, from Laos, explains: “I’ve never really considered myself as an ‘expat’ because I’ve never lived in the French community. If I’ve gone so far, it’s not to live the French way, surrounded by French people! So all my friends, all my working relationships are either local or come from other countries. So I have always felt like a candidate for residency, an immigrant trying to integrate as much as possible into this new society”.”

Parlange, Marie-Pierre. 2019. “Êtes Vous Expat Ou Émigré ?”. Lepetitjournal.Com.

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