Contempt before investigation is a most perilous mindset and I was skirting the edges of it as I reluctantly picked up Self-Initiated Expatriation: Individual, Organizational, and National Perspectives by Maike Andresen, Akram Al Ariss , Matthias Walther (Editors).
Self-initiated expatriation? The meaning was (I thought) clear but why invent a term when others already exist? I feared that it was just another bit of academic nitpicking designed to glorify the "adventurers" of the First World to the detriment of other migrants.
To my surprise, the book is quite good and I'm glad I gave it a chance to surpass my low expectations. I will discuss the difference between Self-Initiated and Assigned Expatriates in another post (in the book there is a good, if limited, study of both in Japan).
Today I'd like to talk about the very first chapter where the three editors take a stab at defining terms. What is the difference between migrants and expatriates? And what distinguishes both from long or short-term travelers?
These are not easy questions to answer. Sometimes migrant and expatriate are used in the same way citizenship and nationality are used: as interchangeable and having more or less the same meaning. Often they are used (especially when people label themselves) to make a distinction between someone from the developed world versus a "real" migrant or immigrant from the developing world. This distancing reveals not just global hierarchies, but also says a great deal about the self-perceptions of Europeans or North Americans. (See this Flophouse post on Immigrants vs. Expatriates.)
Even academics and researchers use these terms in different ways. The editors looked at English-language journal articles and found 74 definitions for expatriate and 84 for migrant. They concluded, "there is no consistency in the literature regarding how each of the three individual terms [migrant, expatriate, and self-initiated expatriate] is defined." They then took it upon themselves to clear up the chaos.
Their model is a good one, I think, and worth using. It is perfect but it is, I contend, more objective and deftly avoids the trap of trying to define migrants/expatriates by their countries of origin, socioeconomic class, and intentions. They are defined instead by what they do when they hit that distant shore.
The first step in cleaning up these categories divides the "people who move around" into two groups based on the answer to this question: Is there a geographic relocation across national borders and a change in the dominant place of residence? If the answer is No then the person is not a migrant, but a traveler. If the answer is Yes then the person is put in a big bucket called Migrant.
Under the category Migrant are subcategories and of them is Expatriate (others might be Entrepreneurs, Retirees, Education, Marriage or Family Reunification Migrants.) But what is the one thing, say Andresen et al, that always puts someone in the Expat group? An employment contract.
"Individuals," they argue, "who move to a foreign country without taking up employment cannot be categorized as expatriates." This can be a contract with a home country organization or company, or one with a host country organization or company.
And that is the difference between the Assigned Expatriates (AEs) and the Self-Initiated Expatriates (SIEs): the former is sent by a company in the home country (or country of residence) and the latter deals directly with an organization or company in the target country, signs a contract with them and relocates on his own dime.
I like it. Under this model an engineer, professor, aid worker, programmer, teacher, hairdresser or agricultural worker with a work contract who hails from North or South America, Europe, Africa or Asia are all Expatriates.
"But, but, but..." (I can hear some of you sputtering.)
OK, I agree that this model is not perfect, so let's discuss. Tell me what your objections are and, if you like, propose your own model.