Immigrants or Expats?

This post has been picked as one of Blogadda’s Spicy Saturday Picks. Thank you Blogadda

Pal’s post reminded me of some of the terminology which I get annoyed with.

Have you noticed how people from developing nations, living in other wealthier countries, are automatically termed as ‘immigrants’, while people from wealthier nations living in less privileged nations are mainly called ‘expats‘. The assumption is that if you are from a less privileged nation, you are more than likely to be an immigrant, that you are ready to cast off your original nationality and look to live in a foreign country permanently. I come across these two terms in lots of places, magazine articles, blogs, forums.. and always in the manner that I have mentioned above.

While there are plenty of people who do look to living in wealthier countries, there are several people who are genuinely expatriates, even if they do come from developing nations. Our IT consultants, for instance. We travel to so many countries, on projects, and most do return back to the home country. Going by the definition, most of us are expatriates rather than immigrants. Granted, some of us do choose to stay back in other countries, but most don’t. Most of us complete our work on the projects, and return , or travel somewhere else. Yet, the assumption is that we are all immigrants.

I know that they are just words, but to some extent, I do feel that it indicates how the world perceives people, based on their country of origin. I have heard of second or third generation immigrants asked, where they come from. And people like us asked, ‘Why’, when we talk about our plans to return to our country. I would doubt if the same questions would be raised if expatriates living in countries like India would be subject to that question, even if the quality of life that some expatriates(by their own admission) have there, is much better than in their home countries.

Then again, not every body thinks like this. I had some colleagues who were very conversant with life in different countries. They were well-travelled and well-read, and would not make such assumptions.

While I do understand the reason why such generalizations happen, it still bugs me when people assume that we live abroad because we do not have such a wonderful life back home. Sometimes, you just end up living in a place. People from all over the world, move to different countries, based on different factors, be it careers, spouses, or just looking for a different sort of life. Sometimes, life is too settled to upset, even if you know that there are several other advantages back at home. Sometimes people just go with the flow, and live abroad. Some actively seek the nationality of their current country – making them the real immigrants.

Another word, which annoys me even more,  is the word, ‘natives’. Someone was once telling me that they heard people being addressed as ‘natives’ in a professional setting – where people ought to have known better. For some reason, it is applied only to the developing world. I don’t hear it being applied to people in the western world. Aren’t they just as ‘native’ to their own country? Yet, somehow, the word ‘native’ seems to come into use mainly in the context of less developed countries.

Are these terms just used for convenience, just a leftover of the older order? The colonial times, when everybody else was the ‘natives’ and later became the ‘immigrants’?  I hope so. And I also hope that we reach a point where irrespective of whichever country we come from, we would not be part of a generalization of this sort. After all, that should be what globalization is all about, right?