Immigrant or Expat?
I am an Australian man, who married a Swiss woman. We met, and lived in Australia for many years, but of course travelled to Switzerland quite often.
However, as is sometimes the case, circumstances in our professional lives changed and we made the decision to settle permanently in Switzerland.
So I immigrated. Or emigrated. Or migrated. I wasn’t expatriated, nor did I expatriate myself.
But by doing so, I became known by many people in Switzerland as an expat, not an immigrant or migrant. Even years later, when I gained Swiss nationality, I was still referred to as an expatriate and not an immigrant. This is true today. I’m an Aussie expat living in Switzerland, even though I am Swiss.
This bothers me, because an expat is someone who is working and living temporarily in a foreign country and expects to return home once the mission is completed and does not intend to take a new nationality. I am not here temporarily, and I have taken a new nationality.
The word expat is not used when referring to many of my friends here, though. One, who was born and educated in Switzerland, but holds Portuguese nationality, is an immigrant. His wife, who is American, is an expat.
Many British people have lived in Switzerland for most of their lives, have children born here, and have dual nationality. Naturally, all of these people are expats and certainly not immigrants.
There is a large Sri Lankan community in Switzerland, particularly in the Zurich area, and in Valais, it is Italians who have lived there for generations. But these people are of course all immigrants.
Our next door neighbour is from Reunion. Immigrant. Another neighbour is from Rwanda. Immigrant. Another is from Belgium. Expat. On the floor below us lives an American neighbour. Expat of course. Our American’s neighbour is from Portugal. Immigrant.
You know what? I do not like being called an expat. I am an immigrant. I migrated to a new country, separated from my family, learned a new language, adapted to new customs, struggled very hard to find a job, accepted my new country’s laws and way of life, and was fortunate enough to be granted citizenship and the right to vote in my new home. I am not here temporarily, I emigrated.
I dislike being called an expat, simply because I am a white Caucasian male. I also dislike the fact that it is only white Caucasian expats who call me an expat. Thankfully, my great friends from Reunion, Portugal, Rwanda, Sri Lanka, India and from almost anywhere else in the world, allow me to be one of them. A content, happy and proud, fellow immigrant.
Immigrant and expat. Two seemingly interchangeable words, which are used ever so politely and politically correctly, yet by their selective application, usually smack of racism.