What’s the Difference Between an Expat and an Immigrant?

Expat and immigrant are both terms that are used to describe someone who has left their native country to live abroad. But what is the difference between the two terms?

The difference between an expat and immigrant

The difference between expats and immigrants mainly comes down to semantics.

The Cambridge Dictionary defines an expat as:

“someone who does not live in their own country”

And it defines an immigrant as:

“a person who has come to a different country in order to live there permanently”

So, we can see that both terms can be applied to someone that has moved out of their native country to live abroad.

Often, an immigrant is seen as someone who has moved to another country permanently, and an expat may be seen to have moved to a country temporarily. Expats may be more likely to move around than an immigrant.

Both immigrants and expats often find work abroad. Sometimes, people view expats as those who have a higher wage and more senior position in their employment, whilst an immigrant will have a lower wage. However, by definition, those who live and work abroad and earn high salaries are also immigrants.

Why do people become immigrants and expats?

There are many reasons why someone might choose to live and work abroad. Typically, expats are seen to leave their native country because they are seeking a better way of life. It might be that they want to live somewhere with better weather, or a more relaxed lifestyle, or a lower cost of living. Whatever the reason, the move is more likely to be a choice.

On the other hand, an immigrant may move abroad out of necessity. This could be to find work or better pay, although this type of immigrant is also sometimes referred to as an economic migrant.

Another reason why someone might be forced to leave their native country is to avoid persecution. They may not agree with their government’s policies or living in that country may be a risk to their safety. Sometimes people move overseas to avoid wars, although this type of immigrant can also be referred to as a refugee.

The impact of immigrants and expats

When people move to another country to work, it will most likely have a positive impact on the economy. Foreign workers often fill gaps in the workforce which can bolster struggling industries. Many workers who move overseas are highly trained and qualified, so they can increase the skillset of a workforce. This can apply to a range of industries, from healthcare to technology.

Often, people may move abroad to retire. Foreign retirees can also have a positive impact on the economy. They can increase employment for locals by creating jobs, and they will also contribute to the economy by spending money. One economic issue of foreign retirees can arise when a country offers free healthcare. In that instance, a retiree that does not have international health insurance will use the public healthcare services while not contributing to its funding. However, their overall contribution to the economy may balance this out.

Becoming an immigrant or expat

The immigration process will differ from country to country. Some locations have a simple immigration process, where applying for a residence and/or working visa is quick and simple. Other countries have a more complex process.

Some countries, such as Australia and New Zealand, offer working visas that require the worker to be highly skilled and have experience in a specific field. Other countries may not need you to work in a particular industry, but they may require that you earn a certain wage or have a minimum amount of money in your bank account.

Different visas will allow the individual to live and work in the country for a set amount of time. Some countries will allow the individual to then renew their visa, whilst others will ask that they leave the country for a while before they can come back.

Often, if an individual has lived and worked in a country for a long period of time, they will be allowed to apply for permanent residence or even citizenship. But again, different countries have varying levels of complexity for this, with some making it a simple process and others less so.

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