THE BLOG

If Other People Are Called 'Immigrants', Why Do We Call British Emigrants 'Expats'?

28/03/2017 12:51 BST | Updated 28/03/2017 12:51 BST
getty

The word 'immigrant' has in many ways become a heavy label, dragging along with it certain stereotypical assumptions - many of them negative. The Brexit campaign encouraged intense debate over people defined as immigrants. Some argued that immigrants ultimately contribute to the economy and additionally positively encourage diversity and multi-culturalism in Britain. However, others drew attention to concerns surrounding the idea of too many people coming into Britain - potentially limiting employment opportunities for native Britons and leading to a chaotic flooding of the country due to the belief of a drastic population increase. Regardless of whatever perspective one might take in relation to immigration, it is worth questioning why a British person who goes to live abroad is, in contrast, typically admired for their decision, and why they are defined as an 'expat' rather than an immigrant.

A notable pattern can be detected in British culture and the media. Immigrants are often demonised; the featuring of one migrant who has exploited the benefits system on the front covers of right-wing newspapers has become a common occurrence, regardless of whether they are realistically representative of the wider immigrant population. Additionally, the Tory government has made very vocal efforts to further reduce the rights of the immigrant population by deliberately making it harder for them to effectively live comfortably in Britain - further aggravating the notion that somehow the immigrant population has merited punitive treatment through their actions. In contrast, when a British person chooses to live abroad they are respected and seen as adventurous, well-travelled and cultured. Consequently, they are attributed with the word 'expat' that holds much more positive connotations. Effectively, the superficial idea exists that expats contribute to other economies and society in positive ways, while immigrants take from the economy and create difficulties for British public life. More efforts should be made to challenge these unfair and generalised assumptions, that are so often perpetuated by media and political efforts, since as of yet these are just assumptions and very little justification can be given to explain their existence. If you really think about it, the reality is much more likely to challenge these perspectives.

Statistics can easily demonstrate the contribution of the immigrant population to the British economy. For instance, a study conducted by University College London's migration research unit in 2013 revealed how "immigrants contribute £25b to the UK economy". Given the fact that immigrants are not able to claim benefits unless they have secured employment, the argument that they only detract from the economy becomes somewhat less credible.

Originally, the term expat was used to refer to retirees who decided to spend their retirement in a warmer country. However, the word is now increasingly becoming associated with any British person who chooses to permanently reside abroad, regardless of their occupational circumstances. The fact that it is becoming mainstream to associate this complimentary word with British migrants highlights a problematic double standard. The UK has one of the highest level of 'expats' among countries in the EU and this pattern is only continuing to increase steadily - yet any potential negative consequences of Britons emigrating to other countries upon other countries' economies continues to be overlooked. This is not to suggest that emigrating Britons pose a problem to other societies, however, if it is acceptable to not consider any negative implications that British emigrants might pose on other economies then how is it ok to nurture such a vilified perception of Eastern European and Nigerian immigrants into Britain? When scapegoating immigrants for our problems it is worth at least remembering that we, too, produce a significant number of emigrants who presumably create the same amount of difficulties or contribute to the same extent as the average immigrant into our country might. The word expat is an unnatural one that has derived from a British sentiment of superiority deriving from our colonialist past that allowed us to assume our supremacy, since the countries we invaded were unable to challenge it. We need to get over these remnants of our colonialist history that are still ingrained into the British psyche.