Many of us that live abroad don't identify ourselves as "expatriates", but rather as "migrants".

Although it might appear simmilar, “expat” can be considered vocabulary invented to differentiate White or Western people, from other races or origins, living abroad. It can be considered therefore implicitly racist. See for instance this.

  • 1
    You mean classist, not racist. See the footnote in my answer.
    – gerrit
    Mar 13, 2017 at 19:53

2 Answers 2


Yes, the word expat(riate) has classist¹ origins.

Why is this site called expats, you ask?


Stack Exchange originates in Stack Overflow, a website for programmers. Many SE sites exhibit a strong bias toward the programming profession, and Expats is no exception. One site where this is particularly obvious is The Workplace. Browse the questions there and you will see overwhelmingly disproportionately many more questions concerning software developers than janitors, cleaners, fast food workers (there are some of those, often students), fishermen, farmers in rural Kenya, cooks, drivers, mailmen, barbers, or indeed middle class non-programming professions such as nurses, teachers, doctors, lawyers. Hence, it is no surprise that the initiative for our Q&A came from white-collar mind workers, quite possibly dominated by software developers. Within such communities, people often refer to themselves as expatriates rather than migrant workers.

That does not mean that anyone who uses the word expatriate is classist. More likely than not, most have not thought about it too much.

Our community

On Stack Exchange, we should thrive to be an inclusive community. Clearly, we welcome questions from migrant workers (and non-workers) in all categories I have listed above and many more. The key questions to think about are:

  1. Is usage of the name "Expatriates" off-putting to people whose questions and expertise would be a welcome addition to the site, but who do not identify as such? In other words; are we losing potential users due to our name?
  2. If the answer to question (1) is demonstrably positive, would a name change, such as "Migrants", resolve this problem?
  3. Are there any downsides to a name change? Might any current users feel less welcome, users who identify as expatriates but not as migrants? Would we risk losing users?

My view

Personally, I don't like the word expatriate at all. I've lived outside my home country for nearly ten years. I've worked as a scientist in Sweden, Canada, and the United Kingdom. When people talk about migrant workers, they typically think of blue-collar manual workers in restaurants, hotels, agriculture, construction, etc. I consciously refer to myself as a migrant worker, perhaps just to remind people that migration transcends class boundaries.

I would support a broad and inclusive debate about the pros and cons of a name change. A name change is a quite radical measure, and should not be taken lightly. However, if we can show solid evidence that a name change would be beneficial to the site and its users, then I believe it is the right path to take.

¹I think the word is classist, but I don't think it's racist. A middle class man from Bangalore who moves to Silicon Valley is typically described as an expat. A construction worker from Bulgaria who seeks a job in Germany is typically referred to as a migrant worker. Skin colour is not the determinant, although it does correlate with class on a global scale, of course. The article you link claims that Top African professionals going to work in Europe are not considered expats. They are immigrants., but I am not convinced. If an African analyst works for a bank in the City of London and earns £200k/year, I believe he or she will be called an expat.

  • Yes, I agree with the most part of your comment. I've always been an immigrant indeed, but at some point people started treating me as an expat (when my status changed) so the word results quite annoying to me and my class consciousness. Anyway, my goal was indeed to open some discussion around the issue, so thanks for the clarity. I guess that it would be too ambitious to change the name of the site, although i would not be against.
    – retrot
    Mar 14, 2017 at 0:59
  • As for the racism / clasism debate, also mostly agree with you. I would add indeed that racism is often in fact a manifestation of clasism, as Kareem abdul Jabbar brilliantly exposes here time.com/3132635/ferguson-coming-race-war-class-warfare
    – retrot
    Mar 14, 2017 at 1:03
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    For example, BBC News uses the word expats for Turks in western Europe: bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-39264536
    – gerrit
    Mar 14, 2017 at 13:07
  • When people talk about migrant workers, they do mean brown people too, I don't think isolated counter-examples or the implied poverty make the word any less racist.
    – Gala
    May 20, 2017 at 10:55
  • @Gala Maybe you're right. Sounds ilke a topic for sociologists to study.
    – gerrit
    May 20, 2017 at 13:53
  • I am an immigrant (I moved to this country 48 years ago) but not an expat. My mother is an expat, with strong ties and frequent visits to our country of origin. I am most assuredly not a migrant worker, because to me that implies a person who regular goes back and forth between countries according to the work available, or who is temporarily in another country for work reasons. I like the name expats because it refers to the state during which people need the site. You're new in town and don't consider yourself a local yet. You are out of your own country and not yet fully in this one. Jul 13, 2017 at 13:21

Er? Half my office is from India and Bangladesh and they all call themselves expats as well. I think it's stretching it to call it racist.

Names generally come from the area51 site, in this case: http://area51.stackexchange.com/proposals/38732/expatriates

Íf voted on, committed to and accepted, they become these beta sites.

The idea of an expat, to me at least, is also someone who still has ties to their original country, and runs into problems being an expat - eg sending money home, or dealing with international taxation issues. Technically immigrants have this too, but anyway. As seen by this thread on quora, there has been language drift on this over time anyway, and the two have kinda merged for many segments of the population.

  • Well, you're right, maybe I could have said classist better. I don't know if you're counting the janitors and cleaning personnel, which is usually latino here where I work, and certainly consider themselves as immigrants (as the society considers them too). And yes, people from their same countries and color, that work in highly educated jobs, consider themselves as expats (maybe because that way they can separate themselves from the former!).
    – retrot
    Mar 5, 2017 at 21:02
  • And anyway, that a majority is voting for a name, does not mean a lot when it comes to this kind of questions. And certainly I dont think is a valid argument against my complains.
    – retrot
    Mar 5, 2017 at 21:08
  • FWIW, I've lived, studied, and worked outside my home country for almost 10 years and I refuse to call myself an expat, I make a point of calling myself a migrant worker (NB: I work a a scientist at a university). Still happy to participate in this site, though.
    – gerrit
    Mar 13, 2017 at 19:25
  • 1
    Clearly immigrants and usually their children and often even grandchildren have (often strong) ties to their home country. Just consider the current controversy with Turkish-origin citizens of Germany, Netherlands, and elsewhere in Europe. I don't think any attempt for an objective non-classist distinction between migrants / migrant workers and expatriates really holds, at least the ones I've seen do not.
    – gerrit
    Mar 13, 2017 at 19:54

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