At one point though, my mother asked: “what would you say is the difference between an immigrant and an expatriate?”
This was not the opening line of some inappropriate joke, but a genuine question. And a good one, too. And I have to admit that I was somewhat flummoxed by it: I had never thought about the difference and I wasn't too sure what it was.
Out came the dictionary:
|im·mi·grant n |
a person who migrates to another country, usually for permanent residence.
a person who lives in a foreign country.
Mmmmm... Not a lot of difference, is there?
Maybe the former hints to a more permanent intention than the latter. However, I certainly know people who would never consider themselves immigrants, yet have no intention of ever leaving their host country (and by the way often don't even speak the local language despite having lived there many years).
So maybe the difference is more a matter of connotation. Somehow being an expatriate is cool and good (think “expat lifestyle”), whereas being an immigrant is not so good (think “illegal immigrant”). Mixed into all this is a whole load of preconceptions and prejudices, as well a misplaced post-colonial superiority complex.
Of course, I should declare as vested interest: I am an serial immigrant. My father is French, my mother English, I have lived in France, the UK, Germany, and The Netherlands, and now I spend a lot of my time in Finland. I feel more or less at home wherever I live; I also feel a foreigner wherever I am... So who am I to talk?
As for the Finnish connection in all this...
In Finland, immigration has raced to the top of the political agenda following the recent electoral success of the radical nationalist Perussuomalaiset party (True Finns as they like to be known in English, but quite literally Basic Finns - sic). This concern about immigration comes despite the fact that Finland has a tiny foreigner community (2.9% of the overall population in 2008).
It will be interesting to see how the Basic Finns propose to go about [*adopts a sarcastic tone*] weeding out those nasty immigrants from those more desirable expatriates.