Are Brits in Europe immigrants or expats?

Published:  21 Aug at 6 PM
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British expats in France are being asked to define themselves as either immigrants or expatriates.

In reports, news items and blogs, the descriptions ‘expat’ or ‘expatriate’ is the norm, with Western professionals rarely described as immigrants but, in many world countries including the USA and UK, the semi-official term is ‘immigrant’, no matter whether the person referred to is maintaining a long- or short-term presence in a foreign country. Recently, a survey by a well-known Europe-based English language online newspaper attempted to resolve the dilemma, with interesting results.

The poll was taken via requests to expats in France, and also on Facebook, where it’s still running, with the newsroom version a close call between respondents who preferred to be defined as expats at 49 per cent and those who preferred ‘immigrant’ at 51 per cent. Oddly, the Facebook-based poll showed the exact reverse of the first result, with 51 per cent seeing themselves as expats whilst the remaining 49 per cent preferred ‘immigrant’. Technically, it seems there’s no officially accepted definition for those living outside their home countries by choice or opportunity, with wording changes possibly down to the host country’s culture and its views of strangers.

Referencing a dictionary for an exact definition doesn’t help much, if at all, as ‘immigrant’ would seem to refer to an incomer taking up permanent residency and ‘expat’ suggests simply a person living outside his or her native country. Taking the present-day plight of British citizens living in Europe as an example, being regarded officially as ‘immigrants’ would suggest a right to remain, but the word ‘expat’ gives no rights at all. Interestingly, some reports referring to EU citizens in the UK use ‘immigrant’ exclusively, but don’t consider the word’s true meaning.

According to international and social media, the typical expat is living high on the hob via a huge salary and is usually found sipping cocktails in the sunshine by the side of an Olympic-sized swimming pool. The popular image of an ‘immigrant’ is far different, suggesting an escape from the mind-destroying poverty of a third world country and living off handouts somewhere in the West. Both images are the result of a total and possibly deliberately politicised misunderstanding of the terms as they apply to human beings in their search for security and an at least comfortable lifestyle.
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