Expat vs Immigrant

,A few weeks ago I moved back to Cusco, Peru. On a bit of a whim and very little planning. I bought a plane ticket and was sure I could find housing and a job no problem once I arrived in person. I was right. But why is it so easy for a western woman to just up and leave and move to another country without fear of admittance through Peru’s border, without worry about finding a job without a visa? Well, I think it’s pretty obvious why PRIVILEGE.

For those of you who have been living under a rock: the United States national security turns people away at the border based on the the region of the world they come from but more so the color of their skin regardless of their situation. Someone could be seeking refuge of war torn country,  or seeking better job opportunities, an education, or maybe they just want a freakin’ vacation but before I go on a tangent about systemic racism my point is this: an American passport is basically a global golden ticket. Simply the fact that I can get on my computer and purchase a plane ticket to South America without a shred of doubt about entering Peru for the third time, especially after last time I overstayed when my visa for at least three months, is a HUGE global privilege I hold as an American. Not only can I vacation where I please but I can choose to live in other countries if I so desire.

Living in Peru makes me an “Expatriate” or “expat” which isn’t entirely accurate since I don’t plan on living here for any extended period of time but I work, have an apartment and am not a stinky backpacker so I’ll take it. But why am I, and other people in similar situations, not “immigrants”? It is in reference of the country said person has original citizenship in. Myself and other westerners are “expats” while those whose home countries are not considered “first world” get labeled as ‘immigrants’ when they move to other countries.

In The United States ‘immigrant’ has become a tainted word associated with being desperate, poor, and dare I say, usually brown or black. This is another manifestation of global privilege that’s perpetuated in subtle ways and in this case it’s through language and rhetoric. It’s a view of what is considered safe and what is considered potentially dangerous. Expats and immigrants can be found all over the world but the difference is how they are perceived. The difference is that it’s easy to be an expat, you are welcomed, and even when the system doesn’t work in your favor rules bend to do so. Immigrants are seen as a burden and are largely unwelcomed.

The best example of how easy it is to be an expat I think in relation to my own life is my job. I don’t have a work visa yet I have a job and know that is a widely accepted fact- no visa no problem. My presence in Peru is not seen as threatening but rather as helping- to teach citizens English. I think we all know what the attitude towards undocumented workers in the United States is like.

I urge other people living abroad, so called “expats”, to really take this into consideration. You ooze with privilege so what are you going to do about it? Be aware at the very least that your birthplace has allowed you to slide by wandering the world while others are receive the opposite set of tools in life.

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