Why are white people expats when the rest of us are immigrants?

Surely any person going to work outside their country is an expatriate? But no, the word exclusively applies to white people

In the lexicon of human migration there are still hierarchical words, created with the purpose of putting white people above everyone else. One of those remnants is the word “expat”.

Expats or immigrants? Photograph: Matt Brandon

Expats or immigrants? Photograph: Matt Brandon

What is an expat? And who is an expat? According to Wikipedia, “an expatriate (often shortened to expat) is a person temporarily or permanently residing in a country other than that of the person’s upbringing. The word comes from the Latin terms ex (‘out of’) and patria (‘country, fatherland’)”.

Defined that way, you should expect that any person going to work outside of his or her country for a period of time would be an expat, regardless of his skin colour or country. But that is not the case in reality; expat is a term reserved exclusively for western white people going to work abroad.

Africans are immigrants. Arabs are immigrants. Asians are immigrants. However, Europeans are expats because they can’t be at the same level as other ethnicities. They are superior. Immigrants is a term set aside for ‘inferior races’.

Don’t take my word for it. The Wall Street Journal, the leading financial information magazine in the world, has a blog dedicated to the life of expats and recently they featured a story ‘Who is an expat, anyway?’. Here are the main conclusions: “Some arrivals are described as expats; others as immigrants; and some simply as migrants. It depends on social class, country of origin and economic status. It’s strange to hear some people in Hong Kong described as expats, but not others. Anyone with roots in a western country is considered an expat … Filipino domestic helpers are just guests, even if they’ve been here for decades. Mandarin-speaking mainland Chinese are rarely regarded as expats … It’s a double standard woven into official policy.”

The reality is the same in Africa and Europe. Top African professionals going to work in Europe are not considered expats. They are immigrants. Period. “I work for multinational organisations both in the private and public sectors. And being black or coloured doesn’t gain me the term “expat”. I’m a highly qualified immigrant, as they call me, to be politically correct,” says an African migrant worker.

Most white people deny that they enjoy the privileges of a racist system. And why not? But our responsibility is to point out and to deny them these privileges, directly related to an outdated supremacist ideology. If you see those “expats” in Africa, call them immigrants like everyone else. If that hurts their white superiority, they can jump in the air and stay there. The political deconstruction of this outdated worldview must continue.

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46 thoughts on “Why are white people expats when the rest of us are immigrants?”

  1. Twebakiki nongwayachi says:

    We have devised some of these terms on ourselves to be second class citizen and have passed this inferiority complex to our children.Everything that looks super and nice is related to the mzungu.A very big tasty guava,A very big beautiful looking dog,A big chicken and any good looking thing is termed chachizungu even some nice foods bought locally and cooked well are termed chachizungu.Its a mindset we have grown with.Even kids are taught to abandon their mother tongue for a white man language.You find some families struggling communicating with their kids in a queen’s language and even some adults in drinking joints.The best schools,lodges and other things are termed English standard and are obscenely expensive.So don’t blame the white man for this but own shallow mentality for putting ourselves down.Any bad substandard thing is related to an African.Even at our Sunday school lessons the devil was depicted as somebody black with very big horns.So do you expect an expatriate to come from such an environment?

  2. Ma says:

    iam black and working abroad and am called an expatriate, so dont use your experience to stereotype all of us blacks.

  3. Mtupatupa says:

    We can only be called expatriate if Malawians open companies outside Malawi and get people to work there or if Malawi become rich and donate to other countries like grants and take Malawians/ Africa fill most of the top jobs on those projects, but as it is, the poorest country, and continent who would want to learn frm a third world man? Take for example, Malawi, MTL used to host people frm Botswana, RSA, ZIM etc in a telecommunication sch called Mult-Country behind Mesium at Chichiri, but due to the poorer Malawi used to be since multiparty politics, these other countries pull out of that sch, why? They were afraid of learning sub standard telecommunication skills. Most Malawians/ Africans go to Europe illigally without visa/ permits, how could they called expatriete?

  4. Chamwaka says:

    They get more respect and paid more that us blacks, even if they have less academic qualification, simply because we Africans are like children; we can not do things well on our own. Take primary education or agriculture for example. We have the man power and other resources to make them function well. But we can not build the schools, or maintain them, or supply them with textbooks and chalk, let alone pay the teachers in time. The lake is all before use, but we can not put the land under irrigation and produce enough to feed ourselves and sell the surplus. Yet we have so called graduates from Bunda. White people command nature to make their lives better: what we think first is to consume, even those thing we can not produce nor have the means to purchase: cars, ipads, facebook 24/7, beer etc etc. So we steal and do corrupt deals always, from Nigeria, to Malawi, to Zambia to South Africa to…all countries where black are in majority.We are a drag on the global society.

  5. brutsha says:

    Much as this article is coming from a well meaning and an ambitious mind, it is very difficult to defend the mediocre way on how citizen from low socioeconomic countries conduct themselves. Africans and/or citizens from low socioeconomic status countries don’t need to verbally demand their rightful place in the global set up. We, as citizens from low socioeconomic status countries, need to change the mediocre way we conduct ourselves if we really want the respect citizens from high income countries enjoy. Our actions and not words will speak louder. Just imagine the high levels of corruption, poor service delivery. Can that earn you global respect? Just imagine the filthy slums in our cities, child malnutrition in our communities, environmental degradation in our countries, poor road network and communication systems, unreliable power etc. Do you think anybody with that background can have global respect? Now think of the consequences of all this; how many people are dying on Mediterranean Sea abandoning their motherland in search of better life in Europe? What is the direction of the flow of migration, is it from Europe to Africa or the opposite? How many South Americans are jumping the fence into the US? We should accept that we, as low socioeconomic status countries, have serious leadership problems. But for reasons that border on tribal or ethnic affiliation we support a sorry leadership at the expense of nationhood. It is until we realize that ‘cancer’ of mediocrity and change for the better we will earn international respect otherwise things speak for themselves. By the way, has someone ever wondered why in the SADC region we trek to South Africa for better life? Like it or not, the white man managed that economy and it became attractive. Conversely, Democratic Republic of Congo has everything it takes to be an economic giant but look what is there to be an economic magnet?. Ironically, an African man claims to be the strongest but sadly the strength doesn’t translate into action on the ground. Someone once said,” It doesn’t matter how many resources at one’s disposal if he doesn’t know how to harness them”
    The major problem in all this is lack of leadership.

  6. Robbbins mkonda says:

    In my opinion an expatriate is a professional sent by an organisation from one country to another usually but not always with skils not readily avalaibl. I haver seen several Black expats in our country. However highly Educated one may be if you enter another country on your own looking for a job and find one do not expect expatriate status.

  7. That’s a very good subject .the only person who’s good to dealing with this problem is best man him self .Robert Mugabe.forward and long live mr president

  8. ayaya says:

    The white people are principled and respect their office. Imagine ur giving statement at a Police station n the officers office rings she answers the phone starts chatting in front of all the people jokes giggles hung up and tells you to start from where you stopped. Punctuality does not count they will attend all the funerals down business during working hours. Professionalism none coupled with laz fare attitude disqualifies us from being expats. U can spend hours at a govt office bfo being attended to by either a rude nurse or an angry officer so what is yr story?

  9. ELIDA says:

    I have been working with a consultant from abroad. All he does is coming in office at 9.30 have his 2 packets of cigarettes and at 3.00 goes drinking with prostitutes. He does nothing and he is so lazy. Thanks to the Malawians in his capacity who do all the work for him.

    1. The Shunamite Ministry says:

      A rare case

  10. john mzunguwalira says:

    The problem here is that our trained engineers are lazy. They are just maintenance engineers. They like contracting each project so that they get something after. Povertly indeed. Everyday you see them in suit and always In office looking at ponngraphic photo on the computer instead of being out the field.

  11. Mphwiyo Muliyenda says:

    Its true zimene Mr. Basikolo and Mr. Kamchenga alembapo. Kuno ndikugwira ntchito ine, tili ndi ntchito za engineering in emergencies. Koma wonse amene tili position yimozi, ndimadabwa nawo. Azunguwo. Munthu kukanika ndi ndikupeza zofunikira zoti agwirile ncthito yakeyo, like materials, tools and equipment…zimandibowa bwanji akamti athandize! Wina amkweza pompano kukhala engineering coordinator! Zongopasana basi. Samadziwa ntchitozo. Makape amenewa.

  12. Kenkkk says:

    It is a matter of semantics sometimes. All expatriates are immigrants but not all immigrants are expatriates. Expatriates tend to come through proper channels such as govt recruiting people from abroad for certain positions, then those successful work as expatriates in Malawi and accorded the relevant privileges regardless of the colour of the expatriates. If for example one of those recruited from abroad happens to be originally a Malawian but is now say BRITISH as he holds a UK passport, that person is an expatriate. But if that same person came on his own in Malawi and found a job, then he is not expatriate.

    Sometimes large numbers of people enter a country for example in Europe on the opening of borders to some former eastern block countries upon joining the European Union, those people are called immigrants not expatriates in Western Europe but are white such as polish, Czechs, Slovaks, Lithuanians, etc.

    People who come to a country on their own legally or illegally to do business or work are immigrants regardless of skin colour.

    We Africans sometimes put ourselves down by thinking that a black person can’t become an expatriate, yes we can depending on how such a person was recruited.

  13. I mean banda says:

    The expatriate community is a word for a community of office workers and business personel from overseas. So if UK or usa send a black family as a member of their diplomatic mission they integrate into the expatriate community. Please not economic migrants or unskilled Labour doesn’t qualify. However the association can also be based on common background and experiences of being foreign and living overseas so some personel who aren’t exactly experts may hang around with expatriate community. Many first world country produce enough experts through their reputeble education factories to an extent that even an expert who migrates to those countries is just there for his own economic migration not that there isa community of endangered species with rare skills imported from abroad. Please also remember in general research has shown that over 50 percent of white people believes that only white people are expert enough to a high standards and the statictics are the same for black people who think only white exparts are expart enough. In general racism and feel of inferiority exist in the real world together with msny other …isms. In usa they say..most black and most white passenger had the same thing going on in their minds they réalisé their pilots are both black women.

  14. ujeni says:

    The whites deserve it, what can you say about us, when we even ask them to fund us construction of pit latrines. And oir black president finds it fit in this day and age to be naming prison cells and scribbling grafitti on them as some achievement and development

  15. Chimbongondo says:

    Stop nepotism and woo back the intellectuals that are in diaspora then we can have sound development and federalism must be adopted

  16. gogoda says:

    In MOTA. ENGEL even a crane driver is an expert a Malawian Accoutant graduate is receiving less than 200thousand mk while a portugues driver is getting 500 thousand kwacha a Malawian diver get 50 thousand zosezi boma likudziwa

  17. edwin says:

    Thanks. Think of Kinnah Phiri and Avram Grant. Who was an expat & who was better?

  18. ğyu says:

    Interesting. I have been reading this post on various fora and it’s very interesting when you read the comments on guardian UK and then the comments it’s generated on nyasatimes

  19. basikolo says:

    eye opening article some of these so called expats come here to be trained by malawian professionals later on get promoted.tikuziona izi getting work permit just to supervise road construction while have able engineers in our country the problem is our stupid government alipo amadyapo money

  20. kanchenga. says:

    In 1978 the first Malawians were promoted to managerial positions as tobacco farmers under General Farming. A Mr Burger asked how much these Malawians will be getting. The MD (Aleke) said they are employed as managers and have managers salary and fringe benefits. Mr Burger challenged that as expats they can not get same conditions as Malawians. But Banda stood his ground and told to resign if they can’t take it. It remained like that till Gadama took over as MD. Many excuses were given for the changes but the bottom line was that Gadama too weak to manage white employee. This is true for most Malawian CEO. Stand up guys these people are an excess population in their countries. They need you. Call them immiigrants because that is what they are.

  21. blackman always a suspect !!!

  22. Jelbin mk says:

    It is really unfair to treat someone basing on the colour of his/her skin but our performance also has to speak for us just imagine what is happening in Africa including here in Malawi and other continents other than Europe & America theft by public servants all over which is pathetic and our services are very far from professional, our services are hindered by massive corruption and noncommittal. A black & Asian shopkeeper will shout at a client for whatever reason a behaviour that rarely exist among Europeans therefore we ourselves do a very good job of denting our image.

  23. Jacob Yesaya says:

    I am originally from Malawi. I was an expatriate in Botswana for six years despite being black. The title of this article should focus on the term “expatriate” being abused.

  24. malawiana says:

    So APM was an immigrant in USA but now he is an expat

  25. tolatola says:

    its sad very sad that our own land places and jobs are taken by the foreigners, for instance look at the construction industry in Malawi MOTA-ENGIL 25% are Malawian and 70% are Portuguese 5% South Africans, for God’s sake am fade up the way government receives money from them in the name of corruption, most of the are security guards, cooks, cleaners and administrators, and they are still coming in every day, in each head of department is a Portuguese, and they receive In Euro in there own country, someone tell me why are we complaining that we don’t have forex? why do we have scarcity of jobs while our government encourage it, f****k the top officials because they are busy correcting and eating up money, and the problem is we don’t have a voice, to be heard…..MALAWI nditokha ndithu

  26. We can have couple academic qualifications but the fact is we are not great thinkers and we will always remain inferiors.

  27. kanundu says:

    A Malawi tiyeni tizionenetsa ndikumadzivera chinsoni pamene tikuona kuti anthu obwera akunja kutidyera masuku pamutu. Taonani ku ma construction kuli ambiri akuti ndi ma engineer yeti kwaoko ndi ma plumber. Kodi ma Univesty samaphunzitsa mokwanira pamene ambiri obwera kumatidyera masuku pamutu ndipo amangochotsa ntchito anthu mwankhanza kupita ku boma samathandiza. Mukati muone amapita ku holiday kawiri pamene mMalawi amapita pa Chrismas pokha. Koma atolankhani mumangokamba nkhani za ndale pamene za ufulu wa anthu mmene a Malawi akuvutikira simumakamba makamaka a Malawi ogwira.

  28. fkr says:

    Is this really news worthy? I have heard many white people say they are immigrating and not expatriating. I think the author is a little rascist and probably has a chip on his shoulder. I think your article is just stupid.

  29. chimidzi says:

    Sometimes when we don’t understand words its better to be silent than expose our ignorance. an Immigrant is anyone who Travels to another country. even an expatriate is an immigrant the word expatriate tries to differentiate betweena skilled labour and unskilled labour though it is not a direct translation but In literature that’s how its used nanga ndikasese munsewu ndiye ndikhale expatriate yes( expa) means outside (patria) means country but the term is used to distinguish the two statuses please don’t embarass yourself we have black Expatriates outside africa too.

  30. Kaithazi says:

    That’s true! You go to many offices for different services, they priortise these foreigners even if a native came first. Even a welcome is different. Unlike other countries I have ever visited. Get life Malawians, let’s value each other equally.

  31. Chidzukulu cha Akwitusya says:

    Anthu akudafe timakonda chidule we are called. Immigrans due o the fac that most do noT follow proedures we go to europe without VISA, we want to work without work permit. This is different with them they follow procedures..vomelani zimachititsa manyazi..after all those who really believe know that there is no different among tthe people except on the believe.

  32. mj says:

    Coruption is too high in malawi, this country is in a mess. Expats come with dollars which we cashgate and cause a lot of suffering to our own poor malawian brothers

  33. Che Nkope says:

    Iwe Mboba ndiwe mbuzi chitsiru, mboli yako.have you ever worked in an environment with an expert? You are saying this because you lack exposure. Work and go in tea estates, European funded Consulting Firms, Some Hotels, mining companies including Kayelekera. That is where you will know the truth and you will stop writing this rubbish.

  34. The Sublime says:

    Do not worry about this minor conplexity. Language has a life of its own. Now that you have brought it to our attention, we will use the word expat for everyone. And eventually we will all be expats!

  35. jesus is lord says:

    This is indeed very true but in many ways we can blame ourselves for carrying on with this term of “expat” maybe we should start calling them immigrants just the same way they call the rest of us when we live in their countries, easier said than done I know but worth o try surely they would not sanction us for such a thing now would they….???

  36. Mulopwana Wa Mamwene says:

    I have always been wondering as to why only whites, even when they come here as either expatriate or consultants or investors, but the jobs they come are those simple jobs well done by ourselves and the unfortunate thing is that even our government just accepts anything and looks at it with their big eyes. How can you say expatriat yet he nobody from China selling in a shop at Mulanje boma, somebody coming all the way from UK only to be a primary school teacher at Kamuzu Academy or St Andrews and not even performing beyond our own teachers from Chancellor college or Domasi. You have consultants alway the way from USA only to be here doing those simple jobs which locals do better than them, and consultants are supposed to be consultants for a certain period and the maxmum is 3 years and impart knowledge to the locals but most of them are here for more than 6 years and they have become managers now, just check with most government programs like in the ministry of education, Gender/Social Cash Transfer, Agriculture, Finance, Water, Health, etc. Most of them they are busy holidaying and enjoying huge allowances but you always blame civil servants on allowances. What kind of consultancy or expartriate services you will for somebody to come all the way from somewhere just to teach to plant cassava yet in their own country they don’t have cassava, coming here just to writing payment vouchers. So these other things have to be looked into if we are to prosper because most of these money given by donors go back to them through huge consultancy fees. For example if EU gives us $15million, almost $7million goes to consultants as fees. Check how much expatriates gets as compared to a local Malawian doing the same job? That is why I like donations from China because they don’t donate but come to develop like infrastructures and I can call them development partners, yes sometimes the quality is very much compromised but they develop without many attachments to it. I therefore ask patriotic Malawians including you and you and you, to wake up from slumber and work hard to develop our own Malawi on our own. News papers and online like you Nyasatimes please make serious research about this you will find these people eating our money freely in Malawi. Malawi now can do without their services, 50 years down the line we should be mature enough to develop ourselves with very little hand from the so called donor’s kids called expartriates or consultants.

    1. Collins says:

      An Expart Is a person who learnt about the job and does what is required of it.not a shop keeper presenting as soldier,a mechanic using eyes instead of a filler gauge.

    2. The Shunamite Ministry says:

      Our Primary school teachers can not hold a conversation in English let alone write an essay in good English. The children at St Andrews start communicating in English from reception class. R u sure they can employ them to teach such children?

  37. wongani says:

    Guys, those who disagree with this story do not know what is happening around them. Go to the tea estates you will find a useless mare mechanic by profession being accorded all the previlleges of an expatriate simply because he is white while a well qualified black african from a neighbouring country is languishing at the same company.

  38. White expats ? as far as iknow colors idoubt if there is white people neither black.

  39. Alfred Munduwabo says:

    We also respect refuges more than the owners of the land .

  40. mboba says:

    Most of the Europeans are expats coz they are not corrupt they are stret people

  41. Yesaya Dziko says:


  42. ujeni says:

    Its time to put things right and level the playing field. In Malawi for instance; amwenye are exparts, they bring all their village people and we give them permits as exparts. This should stop and Government of this African poorest country should start respecting its people Nobody is going to respect Malawians on its behalf

    1. lol says:

      I just like your comment.

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