Today I am going to touch a touchy subject.
Since I arrived in Dubai nearly 4 years ago, I ‘ve always been uneasy with the terms ‘Expat’ and ‘Migrant worker’. Yes the words themselves disturb me.
Why? Well let’s look at what connotations and assumptions one might make when hearing those words.
‘Expat’ conjures up the image of a Westerner who is living abroad, making cash and laughing in the sunshine. Most are there for employment reasons, but some are there for adventure (could be both). Expats drink beers in Western styles pubs.
In my experience (so this is subjective) they love to complain about the local culture and people, or they take delight in the ‘cute’ things local people they do and their adorable customs.
There is often a sense of separation, and a sense of superiority.
They also often stick together and don’t associate much with the local people.
‘Migrant worker’ conjures up the image of person from a Developing country and a low socio-economic background, who has little choice but to work abroad. They probably have a family at home they are trying to support, and had difficulty finding work in their homeland.
Even when they move country, they do not share the same rights or benefits as ‘Expats’.
They are searching for a better life.
Now, lets refer to the good old Encyclopedia that is ‘Wikepedia’ for a broad definition of both terms. As my connotations above are riddled with my own prejudices and stand point no doubt ;)
‘An expatriate (in abbreviated form, expat) is a person temporarily or permanently residing in a country and culture other than that of the person’s upbringing. The word comes from the Latin terms ex (“out of”) and patria “country, fatherland”).’
The ‘United Nations convention on the Protection of the rights of all migrant workers and member of their families’ defines migrant worker as follows: The term “migrant worker” refers to a person who is engaged or has been engaged in a remunerated activity in a State of which he or she is not a national.’
Okey dokey. Not much difference there. I myself would agree that I am both according to these definitions. But society calls me an ‘Expat’.
Why? Because I am UK born and UK educated.
What troubles me is that, we assume that the ‘Expat’ made a choice. But, there are many people here that moved here because they had debts back in England. (Actually, student debt was one of the main reasons I came here!)
Also, Expats aren’t necessarily from a wealthy background.. in fact many of them here come from working class backgrounds, maybe lived off benefits, and came to Dubai to improve their standard of living.
So what is it then that makes them an Expat?
Is it that they are white and from England?
We also tend to assume that a Migrant worker is from a poor background, but I also know that many people living here come from middle class backgrounds and have a University degree. They just happen to come from a Developing country, and are placed in a low paid job here.
Financially the difference in wage means the money they send home is worth more, but they had to take a step down in terms of ‘class’ when they arrived here.
Why? Because of their Nationality.
I know of a housemaid who was a teacher in her home country, but became a maid here in Dubai because she was told she could make more money here.
Social Class can shift when you move country.
There is a stark difference in the salary given to someone from a British Nationality to someone of a Filipino Nationality.
Two people given the exact same Job position with the same level of experience, will receive different salaries based on their Nationality.
Now, to shake it up a bit- there are some people from ‘Developing countries’ who are rich and are coined as ‘Expat’. I know Indian and Filipino Expats for sure- plenty!
It’s definitely not as easy as saying all people from ‘Developing countries’ are migrants and all Britain’s are Expats, no not at all. But- you never hear of a ‘British migrant worker’!
Usually Developing World Expats are from rich backgrounds, or have worked their way up the socio-economic ladder through education and business. Most were educated in the West or went to an International/ private school.
SO! It seems we define someone as Expat when they are in a higher socio-economic class in the new country, and a Migrant worker otherwise. But, that being from a third world country and not from a high social class, will already box you into the ‘Migrant worker’ category, whereas being from a First world country, will place you into the ‘Expat’ ‘box…..
Yes, I still find these words disturbing.
I suppose it is the truth behind them that troubles me more than anything.
When will we be defined as human beings, and treated as such?