Expats or migrants: assets to society or proving to be an asset

Professor of cross-cultural management Marina Ruiz Tada says "expats are usually received positively by the public"

A promotional bag given at the Barcelona International Community Day fair
A promotional bag given at the Barcelona International Community Day fair / Gerard Escaich Folch
Gerard Escaich Folch

Gerard Escaich Folch | @gescaichfolch | Barcelona

November 5, 2023 10:41 AM

November 5, 2023 12:57 PM

"A lot of studies show that expats are usually received positively by the public. Public opinion is usually very good, and they are seen as an asset to society," Marina Ruiz Tada, professor of cross-cultural management at Barcelona's Ramon Llull – La Salle University, tells Catalan News. 

One of the examples Ruiz Tada uses is to do a Google search of the word 'expatriate.' 

"It is about tips for moving abroad, it is about how to integrate your children into the new host country, what kind of adventures you can have, what kind of food you can explore, what kind of places to live in," she says. 

Whereas, when the concept or the term used is 'migrant' or 'immigrant,' things are a little bit different. 

"It is about the immigrant problem, usually still associated with stigma," she added. In fact, when people or the media report on government policies, a lot of it is "about the policy on immigrants, which does not usually refer to the expatriate community," she says. 

One of the main differences between those who consider themselves 'migrants' and those who call themselves 'expatriates' is the way they are viewed in the society they are arriving in. 

"Those who come from higher socioeconomic places may not be required to prove themselves. While people who come from lower socioeconomic countries or backgrounds might be forced to prove themselves as an asset to the country," Ruiz Tada says. 

"Expatriates are almost automatically seen as assets to the country," she adds. 

Behind this distinction there is a lot of "stigma around the term 'immigrant,' although I think that the word itself has to be, not redefined or refined, but just more widely used to encompass varying degrees of experiences," this cross-cultural professor says.  



After all, the term 'expatriate' comes from, originally, a person who is no longer in their country of origin and who intends to go back to their country.  

"It does have colonialist origins," Ruiz Tada says, for example, "a British colonialist in India, and back in the day it was about colonial powers migrating to the global south." 

However, the patterns seen in migration nowadays are different and "not limited" to that definition, as currently the term is "more widely and retrospectively used as this collective term to mean several experiences like retirees, language teachers, digital nomads, even international students, and corporate hires." 

But on the other hand, "there is more stigma around the term immigrant, people going abroad to find better economic conditions." 

For Ruiz Tada, the term expat "captures a sense of experience that refers to a more global international middle-class elite." But on the academic level, doing research on the term 'expatriation' "is very difficult" as there is no actual definition and the research on the exact numbers of expatriation is complicated because "every academic has to define what the term expatriate means." 

In her field of expertise, cross-cultural management studies, 'expatriation' is referred to be "someone who is going on an international assignment abroad, usually for a short term of two to three years, whereas immigrants are people who go for longer term." 

The problem she raised during her chat with Catalan News is that people who identify collectively as expatriates "do not limit themselves" to the academic definition. 

Integration or assimilation 

There is not a clear comprehensive definition of 'integration,' Marina Ruiz Tada says. 

"The European Union in general considers that this bi-directional process with shared responsibility on both the immigrant's side, as well as the side of the host country, but the way to achieve integration really differs from region to region and the fact is, it is very loosely defined," she adds. 

Sometimes people define it as the process of learning the language, succeeding in employment and work and the education system, and sometimes it even means intermarriage. 

Other times, people may define it as an emotional thing, a feeling of achieving a type of normalcy or belonging in their new home.  

"There are so many different definitions of what it means to integrate," she says. 

But when referring to "letting go the cultural norms of where we are coming from, that is more a process of assimilation," she says. 

"I think the process of integration at least tries to ask immigrants or people who come to take some responsibility in, for example, learning the language, the cultural norms, and values," Ruiz Tada says. 

"Unfortunately, it is not always bi-directional and that is the problem with this integration approach," she concludes.