More commonly we are referred to as expats. This is despite the fact that upon closer inspection, we actually meet the criteria of migrant workers more closely. Yet expat is how we identify ourselves as well as those we know. I suspect it has a lot to do with the color of our skin, our education levels, and our very bland middle-class-ness.
The fact is, we are foreigners living in a foreign land. Legally we’re allowed to be here until my husband’s contract expires. Prior to June, he and my children would have had EU rights to stay past that time, but well…then Brexit went and happened and overnight my kids lost the right to live, work, and reside in 27 different countries. I’m sure my children’s thank you note for that is in the mail….
For all intents and purposes, we are immigrants. Though it’s likely we’ll return to the United States one day, we have no immediate plans to do so. But because we are white and prosperous we’re generally not considered that kind of immigrant. If we brought up to those in the UK who voted Leave or those in the US who voted Trump that we are the very immigrants they voted against, I suspect many would be horrified.
We are not who they were voting against.
I guess we’re the good kind of immigrant.
I’m not sure why. The jobs my husband gets or any other ‘expat’ gets are jobs that could be given to citizens of whatever country we are in. The job my British husband did in America could have been filled by an American. In fact, from an economic standpoint I would argue that a farm laborer is far more important to the day to day lives of most Americans and Britons.
I would also argue that most won’t see or appreciate that. They only see different. They see other.
Anti-immigration rhetoric is nothing new. The idea of someone ‘else’ swooping in and taking what, by some imagined right, belongs to you. It’s the same rhetoric that led to the rise of the KKK in the US–spread a few whispers that the big, black man is coming for your pretty white wife. It’s the same rhetoric which led to the rise of Hitler– the Jews are coming for your money. And it’s the same rhetoric that is gaining volume not only in the US, but all over Europe–you would have so much more if it weren’t for the dirty immigrants coming in and taking your jobs.
We are those immigrants coming in to take those jobs. So is the family of every ‘expat’ I know. We can convince ourselves that it is because there isn’t a deep enough pool of local talent, but at the end of the day, that’s all a lot of hooey. Countries could invest in education in order to increase that pool of local talent, but they don’t. It’s easier and more economical in the short-term to hire foreigners.
Farm owners could hire locals to pick and harvest fruit. But they don’t. Because they’d have to pay them higher wages and their profit margins would decrease. Food prices would increase. It’s easier and more economical to hire migrant workers.
No one blames the companies. No one blames the corporations. We blame the folks doing the jobs–but the truth is, some folks shoulder more than their fair share of that blame. Part of it is race, part socio-economic, and a big part is perception.
Why should my white husband be considered an expat and a Romanian care worker in the UK an immigrant? Why is a Mexican laborer called a migrant and an oil executive an expat? I’m guessing that your average British couple who retire to the Algarve to soak up the sun in their golden years don’t refer to themselves as immigrants. Though that’s exactly what they are.
Immigrant is a term reserved for everyone other than us, everyone who may not look like us or act like us or have the same value system or identity.
At the end of the day, if you are working for an Embassy in another country, you are a migrant worker. If you are a CEO of working overseas, you are a migrant worker. If you think your income level, the importance of your job, or color of you skin makes you any different from the Romanian woman caring for your granny, the Polish builder who gives you a better deal on your decorating or the Mexican waitress taking your order, then you are part of the problem.
My family’s migrant journey is approved. We reside here legally by the grace of the Danish government. And the harsh truth is that it is pretty damn easy for us to get that approval. Our multi-layers of privilege makes it easy for us to travel from country to country, job to job. And yet many, many of the folks who are being targeted in the US, in the UK, in Europe are there legally as well.
But because they don’t look like they should be there, they have a bulls-eye on their back.
When my husband first came to the US, he did so on a tourist visa. We followed the rules. He never over stayed his visa, he got a job which offered him a working visa, something that many in the upcoming US administration are against. After we were married in 2001, we were advised by immigration officials not to apply for green card status. Right now he is still entitled to a green-card, but who knows how those regulations will change in the upcoming years? I guess nowadays it’s just your bad luck if you fall in love with someone who doesn’t come from the same country, right?
How we identify ourselves and others plays a major part in our perceptions. Those perceptions inform our decisions, our actions. It’s always harder to look closely at our own reflections than it is to look at those around us. But when we don’t, we fail, rather spectacularly at times, to recognize that for the most part, there aren’t as many differences as we think.