My story differs from most as my label hasn’t held me back or exposed me to prejudice; some would say I should be grateful for it.
For 15 years I’ve lived, on and off, in Asia, Italy and Australia and have been labelled an expat, but it never sat well with me.
From the moment we accepted averagely-salaried jobs during our mid-20s in Taiwan, the classification began. Our bank offered us premier expat membership, they wanted to help us to ‘live our best international life’.
We skipped queues, were offered posh coffee and any calls we made to the bank from Asia were routed to a special UK-based call centre.
Invisible algorithms got wind of our new status and our inboxes filled with VIP sports invites and relocation agents’ ads, boasting that their landlords only rented to expats. Exclusive social clubs urged us to join, in the interests of meeting ‘like-minded global citizens’.
This all felt overwhelming and a little confusing. Asia felt foreign but ‘expat’ felt like the moon. I can’t say I didn’t get swept up in some of it early on in my desperation to embrace everything living overseas entailed.
However as anti-immigration rhetoric gained momentum worldwide, I noticed a massive gulf between the treatment of us ‘expats’ and that of those labelled ‘immigrants’. It felt uncomfortable, I felt like an entitled fraud.
We had been welcomed and more than accommodated in our new countries, while those in identical situations were being vilified.
But when it comes down to it, expats and immigrants are the same.
The dictionary definitions are:
Expat: a person who lives outside their native country
Immigrant: a person who comes to live permanently in a foreign country
This notion of permanency is a fallacy. A survey by the De Vere Group in 2017 found that 69 per cent of Brits abroad said they’d never return ‘home’, while research by the University of Washington found that a third of those labelled immigrants actually do.
Our motivation for leaving our home country was the same as most – for career prospects and a different quality of life. Like other immigrants, we contributed to workforces and paid local tax. This isn’t an assumption – the Migration Advisory Committee found in 2018 that immigrants contribute more in tax than native-born Brits, those from the EU being the most lucrative.
My label didn’t come from a lack of permanency but from my Burgundy passport. I never met a Brit abroad who’d been called an immigrant. Equally, it’s rare for people who’ve moved to the UK (especially from non-English speaking countries) to be called expats. The label is a hangover from British imperialism.
Pockets of assumed western superiority, relics from the colonial era are still alive and well around the world and I had access to more than a few.
My Hong Kong baby group was held at the Matilda Hospital, a building built in 1907 by a banker from Hampshire. Here western mums chatted school back-handers and spa membership over MingCha while their Filipino ‘Ah Mahs’ waited outside to be handed crying babies.
In Dubai, our marina apartment came with a concierge who called me madam while barking at my driver to pull closer to the door and at the builders to make themselves scarce. Both the driver and builders were from the Indian subcontinent.
At a Sydney playgroup, a group of mums were bemoaning the flow of immigrants to Australia. One said, ‘except for my Malaysian cleaner and French au pair – they can stay’. When I pointed out that I was an immigrant, she said: ‘You’re not an immigrant, you’re a POM (a term Australians use to call the British), you’re one of us’.
Back in the UK, I’m relieved to have shed the expat label. I’d like to see it become obsolete. Moving overseas gave me empathy and respect for those who’ve had the gumption to leave behind everything they’ve ever known to seek a different life in the UK. I feel a closer affiliation to them than to some native-born Brits and I should’ve shared the same label.
Maybe that label is ‘immigrant’, or even ‘brave’, but at the very least it’s human.
Labels is an exclusive series that hears from individuals who have been labelled – whether that be by society, a job title, or a diagnosis. Throughout the project, writers will share how having these words ascribed to them shaped their identity — positively or negatively — and what the label means to them.
If you would like to get involved please email [email protected]
Source: Read Full Article