Does living overseas make one an expat or an immigrant

Published:  7 Oct at 6 PM
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Foreigners who’ve chosen to live, retire or work overseas usually refer to themselves as expats, but should they be classified as immigrants?

The word ‘expat’ is most often seen in reference to nationals of particular countries working in other countries, but few of the wide range of individuals who live outside their home countries would refer to themselves as immigrants. This term seems to suggest an intention to move abroad and make the chosen country home for ever, or at least for the foreseeable future.

For example, the hundreds of thousands of retirees now settled in EU member states or inexpensive, warmer climes in Asia left the UK with no intention of returning, but refer to themselves as expats. Those in Europe are EU citizens, at least for now, and it’s possible they could call themselves immigrants, even although the post-Brexit environment may end their status overseas.

A Facebook argument over an article on expats in France set a lively argument about the use of either word, with many UK citizens saying they, as Europeans, had emigrated to France by personal choice and were, therefore, immigrants. The crux of the online argument seemed to be that everyone who lives outside his or her home country is an immigrant.

The Oxford dictionary, however, doesn’t agree, explaining the Latin root of ‘expat’ as ‘out of native country’. Those who prefer the term ‘immigrant’ state that ‘expat’ conjures up images of wealthy foreigners sipping cocktails whilst watching sunsets and waiting to return home, and is, at best, post-colonial. ‘Immigrant’, on the other hand, suggests a wish to stay in the adopted country for ever, and it’s often used to describe refugees, economic migrants, those fleeing dictatorships and those who arrive penniless via the Channel Tunnel.

Common sense dictates both words are synonymous with the desire to leave the familiar and opt for the unknown. ‘Expat’ is widely used nowadays to describe those who move abroad for a better job or a more satisfying lifestyle, but both expats and immigrants have the option of returning sooner or much later.

Some expats are, or will become, immigrants when they realise changes in their home countries aren’t at all to their liking, or when they’ve found the love of their life who doesn’t want to leave her family. In other words, the two terms are interchangeable and neither should be considered derogatory.
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