But it is with some hesitation that I do so, because I recognize its elitist and exclusive nature, and that it exposes how the words “immigrant” and “immigration” have evolved to mean something negative in contemporary society, resulting in the inequality and discrimination of the individuals we place in this category.
A “migrant” or an “immigrant” is someone that has left their home country to live in a foreign country. Therefore, this term incapsulates all individuals that live abroad, including Americans.
However, what’s interesting is that many tend to use the exact same definition for “expat” or “expatriate”.
So what’s the difference between “Expat” and “Immigrant” then?
First of all, mainly due to the fact that the term “immigrant” has come to mean something negative in today’s society, it is unlikely that anyone would use this word to self-denominate. “Immigrant” is almost always a word bestowed by the host society, and usually more on the basis of socio-economic status, race or origin, rather than on the condition of being an immigrant.
We cannot ignore that, unfortunately, the term “immigrant” tends to conjure up negative imagery of poor minorities from third world countries that come to “feed off” the welfare system, steal jobs from natives, sell drugs, instigate violence, and corrupt or alter strong national values and cultural traditions.
This is quite interesting because according to evidence, these claims are unfounded: immigrants as a whole tend to establish a complementary (not competitive) workforce which benefits the overall economy, they contribute more to social welfare and public services than they take out, and statistically they are less involved in crime than the native population.
Also, we forget that as a society, we are, and always have been, immigrants (the human race began life in Africa and has been migrating ever since), so it’s only natural that human migration continues to shape and transform the culture of our planet.
Contemporary use of the term “expat”
Today, the word “immigrant” is strongly linked to economic migration, or migration for survival. Considering the relative privilege of those referred to as, or self-identifying as, “expats” (usually college-educated individuals from first-world countries), their migration is not conceived as “economic”.
So, due to the fact that 1) the term “immigrant” is essentially never self-denominated due to its negative connotation and 2) Americans don’t fit the stereotype of a typical “immigrant” (who migrates for economic reasons ), it is unusual that anyone would refer to Americans living abroad as “immigrants”.
I propose that it was in this context the adoption of the term “expat” arose, which although not used by all Americans abroad, is the most widely used term in this regard. Besides, while Americans abroad may not all self-identify as “expats”, they certainly can’t deny that this is term the we use to refer to the community of English-speakers living abroad. The amount of websites, blogs and forums that utilize this term is astounding.
Read more about this issue here – What’s the difference between “expat” and “immigrant”?