What is the difference between an expatriate and a migrant?

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Knowing the difference between an expatriate and a migrant is the key to treating these groups of people in a more respectful way, and if you are part of one of these groups, you will know what your rights and duties are.

In this article, we will talk about all those differential factors that relate to one group of people and another, as well as their similarities and challenges. Let’s go for it.

What is an expatriate?

An expatriate is a professional who leaves his or her home country to work in another country, but without having a defined deadline for return.

When this happens, in most cases it is because a company or sponsor sponsors the professional to do the work needed in another country.

We must differentiate it a little from a posted worker, who is a professional who goes to another country to carry out a specific job, but with the difference that his or her return date is defined from the moment he or she departs.

What is a migrant?

An immigrant is a person who arrives in a country other than the one from which he or she comes with a single goal in mind: to settle there, to make a life, to work, to study, etc.

A person who lives outside his/her homeland either of his/her own free will or due to pressures set by social, economic and/or political conditions in his/her country of origin.

In many cases, they seek asylum status in order to have better work and life opportunities.

This is why some migrants have benefits and advantages in adapting to the new country, but others may face problems such as uprooting, loneliness or communication.

In addition, there are times when these people do not get favourable working and housing conditions in other countries, which makes it much more difficult for them to simply exist.

Not only that, but in many cases, immigrants are experienced professionals who have graduated from universities in their home countries, but still fail to gain social and professional validation in the country they are in.

On the other hand, migrants are only considered to be people who migrate internationally, i.e. who move from one country to another.

An immigrant may have legal documentation proving his or her status in the country of residence, or he or she may be illegal or undocumented if he or she has not regularised his or her status with the state.

What is the difference between an expatriate and a migrant?

With the definition of each you have surely been able to highlight differences between an expatriate and a migrant, but now we want to give you a list that explicitly mentions each difference:

  • The first difference between an expatriate and a migrant is that an expatriate leaves his or her country to work in another country for an indefinite period of time, mainly for a company or institution that relocates him or her. An emigrant leaves his or her country in order to settle in another country, other than his or her own, for personal, economic or political reasons.
  • The expatriate usually has a high level of preparation and benefits to adapt to the new country (work permits, bank accounts, housing, school…), while an emigrant may face difficulties in regularising their situation or integrating into society; in fact, in most cases they are in a state of irregularity.
  • Another difference between an expatriate and a migrant is that an expatriate usually intends to return to his or her home country when his or her contract or project ends. A migrant, on the other hand, has the clear intention of staying in the new country for as long as possible, acquiring nationality and becoming regularised in terms of employment, housing and all other aspects.
  • The expatriate usually maintains a cultural and linguistic identity linked to his or her country of origin because his or her sense of belonging and patriotism are intact. But this is not the case with an emigrant, who tends to adopt the culture and language of the host country, as well as its customs, in order to feel part of the new social group.

An expatriate tends to have a more cosmopolitan and open-minded approach to change. A migrant, on the other hand, is characterised by a more conservative outlook.

Now that you have seen the difference between an expatriate and a migrant, are there similarities? Let’s see.

Similarities between an expatriate and an émigré

There are some similarities between these groups of people, and they are:

  • Both come from outside the country where they are located.
  • Both expatriates and migrants can contribute to the economic and social development of the new country.
  • For both groups there are social, cultural and economic difficulties that make adaptation difficult.
  • In both cases, links with family and friends in the old country are made possible by new technologies.

Are expatriates refugees?

In both cases, it refers to people who are in a country that is not their country of birth.

However, there are notable differences that lead to the conclusion that refugees are not expatriates.

We have to remember that expatriates leave their countries of origin or residence for work purposes, being sent by their employers.

Furthermore, it must be understood that a refugee is a person who applies to the government of the new country for refugee status, which means that he or she cannot return to his or her country for political reasons until, for example, the current government of his or her country of origin is no longer in power.

So, if we have already seen that an expatriate is a person who goes to a new country to do a job and, although he or she has no deadline, returns, we can conclude that he or she can never be a refugee, since these people have no intention of returning to the country of origin.

What are the challenges facing expatriates and migrants?

Although there is a difference between an expatriate and a migrant, they both struggle with the same thing.

For example, it is normal for both of you to miss the family, friends and lifestyle you had before.

They also find it difficult to make new friends, adapt to the language and culture, face discrimination or preserve their native identity and culture.

In short, you know the difference between an expatriate and a migrant, their similarities and all that these groups face.

All that remains now is to differentiate between them and to know the rights of each of them.

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