Man is an animal suspended in webs of significance that he himself has spun...

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Defining Terms: Migrants, Expatriates and Travelers

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.


Anonymous said...

This is a more direct way of classing it than the other way.

I hang out with lots of the "expats" who come from the countries that are often labeled as "immigrants".

The media and the bleeding hearters all cheer for their equal treatment and to show that all is well, but the reality is that they don't feel treated like an "expat"

The method you write about now is more direct and accurate, but the other method you write about before is more how a non-native feels.

When the economy is good, expat labor is needed. When the economy goes sour, expat labor is not needed. "Expats" with longterm visas are let go first and hired last. A few of my "expat" technical friends are now just as jobless as "immigrants"

Indeed, there are tiers of payscales for different classes of "expats". These tiers are more subtle in the European countries and more obvious in other oil-rich or job-rich countries.

In summary, this method is more technically correct

In Scandinvia, Mark

Inaka Nezumi said...

I'm not going to sputter, but I will ask why it is useful to define someone by their work status? I would look more at where they consider "home." If they feel that where they live now has become home, then they are immigrants. If they feel they are not where they try truly belong, and plan to go back to that home some day, then perhaps they are expatriates -- literally, outside of their country. In other words, where do they define themselves in terms of?

As I've said before, I don't like the term migrants for people who have relocated permanently, because the word itself sounds transitory. The emphasis in that word is on the acting of moving. I prefer immigrant, because the emphasis is on the place where one has completed that motion. It sounds more like a permanent status -- one can always be an immigrant (came from somewhere else originally), but how can someone who is no longer actively migrating still be a migrant?

As for this whole developed/developing world distinction, I wonder if that is a European preoccupation, because I have never heard that distinction made here in Japan. Where I live and work, we're all just foreigners/gaikokujin/gaijin, no matter where we came from. Maybe it is different in Tokyo, though?

Inaka Nezumi said...

Oops, typo:
"acting of moving" -> "act of moving"

Nelson Edwards said...

In some cases a person could be an assigned expatriate (i.e. sent by a company) to start with, but then become something else (self-initiated expatriate) by quitting the first job and, for example, setting up his/her own company, but then again becoming something else (retiree). The permutations are endless, so not too helpful.

Inaka Nezumi said...

I'll give some examples of people I know to illustrate. Both are foreigners living in Japan. Both came for a couple of years, ended up getting married and settling down, and are probably here for life.

One is very homesick for the home country, talks about it all the time, and would probably move back in a heartbeat if the spouse's job was not tied to here. Not on any regular employment contract, but I would definitely consider that person an expatriate -- "out of one's country."

Another is someone who has sometimes worked for companies, and sometimes been self-employed. The constant thing about that person is not their work contract status -- indeed, that is probably the least interesting aspect of that person's life -- but the fact that that person is making a life here, raising kids here, trying to plan for retirement here, etc. Not necessarily enthusiastic about being here (though not a big fan of where they came from, either), but dedicated to making life here work. That person I'd call an immigrant.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

Wow. Very interesting perspectives. A lot to think about.

Here is an example I thought of today:

70+ year old French couple (now deceased). 40 or so years in the US. They tried to live as French in the US. One spouse was a professor. Other spouse was a French teacher whose English was pretty poor. Daughter was tutored in French at home. They both died in the US never having returned to France (though I speculate that they expected their daughter to go back - they certaingly gave her all the skills to do so).

Migrants or expats?

Victoria FERAUGE said...

Oh and I did want to respond to your comment about "home" Nezumi-san.

The more I move around the more "home" is a very vague thing in my mind. When we got back from Thailand both my spouse and I said that we were happy to be "home." The house in Versailles is already a distant memory and when we talk about it we usually just say "Versailles" or "the house in Versailles" and every so often as "home". Sometimes when I talk about my mother's house I will refer to it as "home" as well.

I think all of those places are "home" in their own way. One is a place I left long ago (Seattle), one is a place where I have a house (Versailles) and the last (Osaka)is where I actually live and cook dinner every night and have coffee and watch movies with my spouse.

Perhaps that puts me in another category: Serial Migrant

Inaka Nezumi said...

If the French couple always intended to return to France, I guess I'd consider them expatriates. Otherwise immigrants. I guess I see it as all about intention. Whether they were tenured professors, or free-lance French teachers doesn't seem important to me.

Home can certainly be a fluid concept. Ultimately, the attempt to pigeonhole human behavior always seems to end up resembling squeezing a balloon.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

Absolutely, Nezumi-san.

Intentions are very hard to pin down. One of the big surprises in Amanda's book Migrants or Expatriates? was how many Americans abroad were "accidental migrants." They had no intention of migrating or even staying in a country. Over and over people said, well, 20 years later and I'm still here...:-)

And a surprising number of people who fall into the classic sterotype of "immigrant" never intended to stay forever either. There is some interesting data about immigrants in the US which showed that at least 1/3 (if not more) left the country and went home after they made their money.

And I belong to an org and I attend meetings regularly with people in what we could call the "international community" in two countries. One of the common threads in many of our stories is how we realized once we got into recovery that our moving around had a lot to do with our substance abuse. As in "If I move to France, maybe I can stop snorting cocaine." Or drinking or name your poison.

All that made me aware is that when we ask people what their intentions are, they may not know themselves the why's and wherefore's behind their actions. So what comes out of their mouths may be the truth, a half-truth or an outright lie.

And that's just as true of reasons for moving as it is for seeking citizenship. Oddly enough, one reason people seek citizenship (especially long-term residents) is because they want to LEAVE. Their intention is, in fact, to go somewhere else and getting citizenship is only necessary because they want to be able to come back if things don't work out or to easily visit friends and family. Needless to say that intention is not one they share with anyone but especially not with the citizenship authorities of the host country. :-)