Immigrant vs Expat: Difference between Immigrants and Expats

Immigrant, expat and migrant are all words used to describe people who leave their homes or country for another place to live or work, either temporarily or permanently. Undoubtedly certain groups and demographics are referred to and perceived as much more privileged than others. Country of birth seems to play a big part in how the group or demographic is perceived. There is some confusion between the various terms used. In this piece – Immigrant vs Expat –  we will proceed to clarify subtle nuances of the meaning of each word. 

Immigrant vs Expat: Difference between Immigrants and Expats
Immigrant vs Expat

Also Read: PIO vs OCI Cardholders: Difference between PIOs and OCIs

Expat Meaning 

Expat comes from the word expatriate. An expat is someone who lives or works in a country other than their own country of citizenship, most often temporarily or sometimes permanently. In everyday life, the term expat is also used to describe people considered to be of a certain demographic of rich, educated professionals working abroad. Terms such as immigrant or migrant, however, often have certain different connotations and associations. In this piece, we will talk about the differences in how we interpret and speak about different groups of people who leave their country for another in order to work and to find greener pastures. 

The underlying tension behind the connotations and associations of these words is based on differences between privilege, income and education levels. It seems unfair that select groups of people who have also gone to another country to work should be viewed and spoken about so differently from one another. 

The image of the wealthy expatriate comes from a time when westerners lived and worked abroad much less.

They were given generous packages, high wages, exclusive housing and schooling for their children. 

Often expats expected people in the country they were working in to conform to their culture rather than the other way round. Whereas immigrants have to immerse themselves and fit into the country they have come to.

Immigrant Meaning 

An immigrant is someone who leaves his/her country in order to live or work and settle in another country. 

Immigrant vs Expat

The differences between immigrant and expat the standard dictionary definition are:

Immigrant: Someone who moves to another country to live permanently.

Expatriate: Someone who resides outside of his/ her native country.

Both words apply to individuals who live outside their native country. Immigrants usually come in to live permanently in a country to enjoy quality life. Expats, on the other hand, are temporary residents, who visit a country on a temporary assignment and return to their country. 

Immigration in Today’s World 

In today’s world demographics such as Indians are considered to be a very high-income group in countries such as the U.S. Areas such as finance, IT and academia have a large number of Indians in them. Many Indians are doctors, engineers and scientists. The word immigrant in this case begins to have different connotations.

So today, immigrants range from the highest earning brackets to almost all ranges of income. 

Some general categories of immigrants are :

  • Entrepreneurs, or high net worth individuals, who bring in large sums of money to the country
  • Educated professionals in all areas mentioned earlier, such as IT, finance, medicine 
  • White collar workers
  • Blue collar workers
  • Skilled Workers
  • Manual workers 

Construction workers and goldsmiths are skilled workers. Indians also go as nurses, jewellery workers and plumbers to the middle east. Maids and agricultural workers are considered manual workers. Here we have an example of the Punjabi dairy farmers taking over the mozzarella cheese industry in Italy and Indian farmers also doing very well in California and Canada. 

In the U.K, the national health care system (NHS) has a large majority of Indian doctors. 

This goes to show that immigrants bring in great value and resources.

The Immigration Process

Some countries make it easier for immigrants to become citizens over time and some make it extremely difficult. Canada, Australia, New Zealand and even the U.S. and some European countries make it comparatively easier. Whereas in S.E Asia, countries like Singapore make it very difficult for immigrants to become citizens. Some countries allow citizenship by birth and many do not. 

In most countries, certain categories of immigrants are allowed in limited numbers from specific countries. Immigration can be very long and complex, especially if we realistically consider the long term process of permanently settling down in a new country. 

Paths of citizenship in the U.S. 

Immigrants typically go as students, with a work visa or as dependants. Through this, they can get residency and then apply for permanent residency. After permanent residency, immigrants may be able to opt for citizenship. Some countries allow dual citizenship between the country of birth and the new country. Other paths to citizenship include citizenship by birth and via marriage to a U.S citizen.

Emigrant vs immigrant 

Emigration is the process of leaving the country of one’s birth and going to another country. On the other hand, immigration is the process of coming into a country in order to settle there. Hence, a person who leaves his/ her own country to live in another is known as an emigrant and someone who has come into a foreign country to live there is known as an immigrant. An expatriate (commonly known as expat) is a person living outside his native country. 

Immigrant vs Migrant 

The difference between an immigrant and a migrant is that an immigrant moves to a country to settle there permanently whereas a migrant moves temporarily. Migrants can simply be relocating within their home or neighbouring countries with no paperwork involved. It is most likely a temporary move and that they will return to their home intermittently. They do not necessarily have to leave their home for good. 

The partition of India and Pakistan, for instance, was one of the most massive migrations in recent times, with Hindus relocating on one side, and Muslims on the other.

Refugees and Asylum Seekers 

Refugees and Asylum seekers are also a type of immigrants. They are looking for shelter to avoid adverse circumstances, persecution or war in their homeland.

Economic and Social Impacts of Immigration  

What are the economic and social benefits of immigrants?

So in this ever-changing global scenario, what exactly do each of these words mean? Do the images they bring up in our minds resonate with the truth? Given the examples above it appears that the common perceptions we have are not always true and also change over time. 

Immigrants, Expats and Migrants add a lot of value to the social and economic worth of a country. As the immigrants grow up and get educated in their native country, the country they immigrate to gets a ready-to-run individual. For example, our best-educated brains are now heading the Global Tech Industry worldwide. They also contribute to their home country by making large foreign remittances. 

The definition and difference between expat vs immigrant vs migrant may slightly vary from time to time and place to place.

Also Read: Definitions NRIs must know: NRI, PIO & OCI

Legal and Technical differences between NRI | PIO | OCI

SBNRI can help immigrants and expats in all of their economic activities. Expats (NRIs) and immigrants (OCIs & PIOs) can contact SBNRI to execute their banking financial transactions like account opening, remittance, tax filing, investment, etc. 

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