Alternate Title: The Expat-Immigrant Debate Revisited
The Expat-Immigrant debate came up again – “again and again” to be precise – in my Facebook feed. It just won’t go away.
In engaging a friend in those tremendously rewarding Facebook arguments, I came up with the foolproof smell test to determine whether you are “expat” or “immigrant.”
You have to SELL OUT. It’s time to grow up and get serious. No more location-independent work online, no more teaching English or running whatever hustle you think is the most rational of your career options.
You have to sell out, and that means taking the highest-paying job you can get right now, in terms of dollars, wherever it may be. No weaseling out with cost-of-living arguments. Just the largest number of dollars you could earn given your current skills and experience.
To make the most money in terms of dollars, where do you go?
- I would go to my home country.
- I would leave my home country.
If you answered A, you are an expat.
If you answered B, you are an immigrant.
Why My Test is So Great
The test resolves the more difficult cases such as Mawuna Remarque Koutonin, the author of the Guardian article which just won’t die. He is a black software engineer from Togo living in London who wants to call himself an “expat.” The Brits tell him he’s not an expat, and he cries racism because he is black from one of the poorest countries in the world.
As I said in the last article, his is an intellectually lazy conclusion reached by causal fallacy. He assumes his blackness has something to do with his not being an “expat,” when it’s actually his being from one of the poorest countries in the world. As proof, would you consider black Americans or British living in Africa or Latin America to be “expats?” Yes, of course.
Under my new test, Mawuna Remarque Koutonin could attain the title of “expat” by plying his trade in any of the following countries: Eritrea, Guinea, Mozambique, Niger, Malawi, Tokelau, Liberia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Central African Republic and Somalia.
Is that not appealing? That’s what it means to be an “expat.” That’s the life we have CHOSEN.
My great test does not prohibit somebody from Togo from being an “expat” in London. If you’re a member of Togo’s ruling family or somehow oligarchy-connected, you would almost certainly make more money in Togo than in London. If somebody like that chooses to live in London — not just visit — while making less money, I would call him an “expat.”
Many Latin American business executives and mogul types realize their earnings potential in their home countries. If one of those guys decides to settle for less in the United States, I’d say they’re “expats.” Many upper-class Venezuelans, given the state of their economy, have been rendered “immigrants” under my test.
My test also allows for ugly Americans and white-privilege gringos like me to attain the status of “immigrant.”
Note: technically, I would argue that we expats who attain permanent residency and citizenship are also “immigrants,” but in a one-or-the-other world this is how I can make the leap.
A gringo may someday reach the point where his skills and experience allow him to make more money in his new country. For example, Inca Kola was founded by what are always called “British immigrants.” The Lindley family certainly would not be what it is today had they stayed in England. They reached immigrant status.
I studied international business and got all drunk on the globalization Kool-Aid in college. I didn’t take my studies seriously in high school and did not get into an elite university. Hence I had little hope of getting the kind of professional work I wanted. With fairly ordinary career prospects, I decided Latin America offered a unique set of skills and experience to make up for the lost time in my academic career.
My goal is to become an “immigrant,” in which I am worth more in Peru than in the United States. The great test doesn’t allow me to call myself that yet, because I can still cash in back in the States.
Why My Test Isn’t So Great
The “expats” who slip through my test would be the exact ones who probably created the term — multinational executives who are on assignments abroad. The ones who would rather be at home if it weren’t for the money would not be “expats” under my definition. But if they’re not there permanently, they’re not “immigrants” either.
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