Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Why I refuse to be called an immigrant

“America is a land of immigrants”, they say. About Dubai they say “It’s a land of expats”.  I would think immigrants and expatriates were synonyms. Until now. The Oxford dictionary defines an immigrant as someone who comes to live permanently in a foreign country. An expatriate on the other hand is someone who lives outside his native country. The main difference you would think is the thought of being ‘permanent’. Could be. Yet, I see so many Indians returning back from America, either willfully or just because their visa had expired. On the other hand I know of many Indians living in Dubai for close to 20 years.

The H1 and L1 visas are called non-immigrant visas. That itself takes away the ‘permanency’ from the word. If they are not intended for permanent immigration why are they not called ‘expat’ visas? Could there be a racist connotation, I wondered? Looks to me, there is. When white folk/westerns work outside their country they are called expats. When Asians/Africans work outside their country they are called immigrants. Now that sounded like a more correct (yet unfair) definition.  

When I utter the word immigration, the thoughts that come to mind are ‘cross border illegal immigration’, ‘Cramped boats waiting for relief on foreign shores’, ‘cheap labor’ and ‘visa woes’. When I utter ‘expatriate’ what comes to  mind are ‘Plush expatriate colonies’, ‘expat wives shopping at malls flashing their Louis Vuittons’ and ‘a lot of pampering in general’.

I can decorate the word with feel-good adjectives like ‘highly skilled’ or ‘professional’, but the fact is I would still be an immigrant and I would still not be guaranteed permanency! Unfair, don’t you think?

(A cartoon on US immigration, from a website related to women and finance.)

(An image in an article on 'Expat living in Singapore' in The Telegraph.)

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