Migrant, Emigrant, Immigrant, Expat - do these terms matter?
When I wrote my dissertation on how young millennial immigrants’ news consumption and avoidance behavior had changed since their move to Sweden, I noticed the terms above pop up without further contextualization. I had put them all in one box in the beginning, thinking these were all just different words that would mean the same. Weeks later, I learned the difference between these terms, as little as they might be. As I specialize in integration topics, I thought it best to start my blog-article series with a simple explanation, as I’ll be referring to these terms in future articles.
The Cambridge Online Dictionary (2023) refers to the terms:
“A person that travels to a different country or place, often in order to find work”.
(e.g. The cities are full of migrants looking for work)
“A person who leaves a country permanently to live in another one”.
“A person who has come to a different country in order to live there permanently”.
Expat (short for ‘expatriate’)
“Someone who does not live in their own country”.
Rather often I wonder why language has become so complicated, or has it always been this complicated?
As far as I understand, a migrant is also an emigrant who becomes an immigrant once arrived in the new country, therefore also being an expat. I don’t think we need a new or distinguished term for every new meaning we encounter. That’s the beauty in words and simple language: we get to describe things.
I could say simply:
My name is Jasmin and I am living in Sweden now (the ‘now’ shows that I have not lived here before).
I have moved away from Germany, and live in Sweden now (showing that I’m a German emigrant).
I have moved to Sweden about three years ago, and I like it here, so I don’t mind staying (I’m an immigrant in Sweden).
Technically, I haven’t lived in Germany for already 7 years (I’m an expat - get it?).
I have used different examples which basically all say the same thing. Depending on the perspective, I can be an emigrant in one sentence, an immigrant in another. Fundamentally, I’m both (or all four, really).
And I also get that in our fast-paced-society, we need to become efficient. Once we achieved that, we have to be even more efficient. So, simply saying “I’m an expat” might cut it for many.
However, having in mind the rise of internationals moving places, according to a statistic made by Sweden.se, 2020 marked the peak year of immigration in Sweden. I’m assuming that it went down a little after that, because of the pandemic, therefore am expecting a rise throughout this year once again.
So, why make it even harder for immigrants by implementing fancy words instead of describing (with existing, easier words) which would help the ones learning a new language to develop it faster and also help the ones who already can speak a certain language to use it properly, instead of making up new words with every new sentence or meaning one encounters.