I once had someone ask my thoughts on the difference between expats and immigrants. When I was searching in the internet for blogs of people who had moved to Egypt so that I could get a glimpse of their experiences to prepare me my move, I came across the word “expat” a lot. Once in a blue moon no matter how many years you have lived in an English spoken country, you will learn common words that you have no idea how you have missed it before. Expat was one of those words that I have never heard or learned throughout the 16 years of living in the US.
Growing up in USA I was always revered to as an immigrant or a green card holder. Every time I would hear that word “immigrant” or “green card holder”, I would grouch my teeth, as it always made me feel inferior or marginalized. I faced a lot of discrimination and verbal bullying for simply being an immigrant. So when she asked me what my thoughts on expat vs immigrants were, I immediately went back to that bad feeling I had with the word “immigrant”.
She had told me something interesting which got me thinking. “Expats are always revered to white people and immigrant are for the people of color”. Although to some extend she is right, she had never lived in America and didn’t know that even white people that are not born there are revered to as immigrants. Off course, class status, country and your purpose to moving to the United States can have an affect on how people precede towards your migration. A Saudi Arabian, Angolan, Chinese, German student who is privileged enough to study in the United States is revered to as international student. This student is not here to stay and take away the jobs of hard working Americans, in fact, these students are very good for the American economy because they come here, their government or rich parents pay for the schools and they often spend a lot of money.
Now a white Romanian who has migrated to the United States in the hopes of catching the “American dream” will face a lot of obstacles and discrimination as a Latino would, holding the same purpose for migration.
However, when moving to Egypt, I faced something very different. Expats are those who have a special passport from either “USA, Canada, UK, German, European Union and some others”. Are also the diplomats, international lawyers, petroleum employees and international companies that hold employees from overseas.
Every other immigrant are either refugees from Middle East, East Asia, Sub-Saharian Africans and what we like to consider as “others” for the very minority groups.
With this I felt very uncomfortable as well, when all the sudden I was given privileges and priorities for simply being an American passport holder. Throughout my life in United States, I had to fight harder, had to over come many obstacles because I didn’t have the same privileges as someone who simply was born in the US. You can imagine how strange it is to all the sudden have the roles switched on me.
I like to tell people that I am a Cape Verdean American Muslim revert, living in Egypt who’s lives very much like an Egyptian woman. In other words, I am a little bit of both, not quite American and not entirely Egyptian. You can expect this to be very difficult for me, as I don’t hold the same privileges that any other Americans or expats would, living in fancy places and putting their children in expensive international schools nor do I share some of the same values or perspective in life as many Egyptian woman do.
So, there you have it, these are some of my thoughts on “expats vs. immigrants”. What are your thoughts on this subject? Do you feel the same or different? What are your experiences and feelings with theses two words? I would love to hear your thoughts.