Monday, 2 September 2013

Migration: An Emigrant/Expatriate view

On 29th of August 2005 I was leaving Portugal, I could never have guessed that my life would never be the same. A few days have passed since my migration birthday so I decided to dedicate a bit of time discussing migration. By the way, for an initial clarification an expatriate is someone living outside their country of origin - usually (but not always) with some intentions of returning. An immigrant is someone intending to settle in another country. It's technically possible to be both an expat and an immigrant.

Where did you come from?

Being emigrant/expatriate is not easy especially when you sometimes hear "go back to where you came from", but where is that?
In my specific case, my great-grandparents were Italian, my grandmother was Brazilian, my father although Portuguese lived some time in India and all its youth Angola, my mother also lived in Angola in her "early teens". My parents never met in Angola only in Portugal.
I was born and lived all my younger years in Portugal, I also lived several years in the Netherlands where I had my first Master, my first job and found my true love. Today I live in Australia (already for 3 years) and I can brag that I got an award on Academic Excellence and Community Contribution especially due to my work with poor and rural indigenous communities in Australia.

I suspect that when I sometimes hear "go back to where you came from" they might mean Portugal, where I was born, this is also quite interesting when at the same time there are friends saying that I don't behave like a Portuguese any more, that I start to make grammar mistakes in the Portuguese language or that I should stay away from Portugal since the economy %*$#... I mean... "it's not so good". So also in the country where I was born I hear "Go back where you came from" and again I ask myself "where is that?"

If you are an emigrant/expatriate yourself I bet you sometimes have the same reactions and ask, "Where is home?" This is actually common cultural problem for people that travelled or lived many years in different locations/cultures. Essentially there is no simple answer as that philosophical question goes much further than the original emigration/expatriation issue as people that did not travel may find that they do not belong to their current cultural setting. That can be a discussion for a different topic, for now let us focus on the emigration/expatriation issue.

Even if you have lived in more than one country it is always important to have an idea where home is - someone much wiser than me said that home is where the heart is. Although we should always be close to our heart in a migration scheme of things it is important to acknowledge that home might be faraway and that can be something that changes or evolve, e.g. a 9 year old child that recently moved with their parents may feel that home is the place where they were living, after 9 years the former child and current teen may feel that home is where he/she is currently living. Nevertheless, it is important to have a place where to call home being that a country, a city, a village or a neighbourhood, that place physiologically will be used as a "safe harbour" even if you are not close from home.

The "go back to where you came from" maybe signal that someone is not integrating in society. Fortunately I believe that I am very well integrated in Australia, but I have seen many situations different from mine.

How to integrate in a different culture?

One of the first and most important things to do once living in the a different culture, and can be begun even before immigration/expatriation, is to learn to speak the language spoken by the majority of people, and tends to be the common ground that most people will start with when integrating to a new society. Being out and about will usually mean that most people will already be using plenty of their new language, and the more they use it and learn it, then the better their language skills will become and will make it easier to integrate with other people living in the same area, or working in the same location.

Getting to know the people in a new country can often be a difficult thing to do, but the best place to start is by speaking with those who live around you. Introducing yourself to neighbours may not be the normal thing to do for those living in the inner city or in an unpleasant neighbourhood, but for the majority it is good to know their neighbours. By simply stopping to have a conversation with them it will help those immigrating to the country to learn more about the people around them, and to start to understand what actually makes them tick.

One thing that many people will want to do when they are trying to integrate into a different culture is to actually join clubs and societies in the area that they are interested in, and by doing so they will get to know people who they have a common ground with, and can find out more about the culture and feel more a part of it.

A new society can certainly be quite intimidating for anyone that is new to the country, and there are many differences between countries around the world. By making the biggest effort to becoming integrated and to start getting to know and understanding those people around you, then this is something that will certainly bear fruit, and will make your new country much more like a new home rather than a country that is simply to live and work in.

On the other hand, people can live integrated in society but still feel xenophobia from others, so what to do?

How to deal with xenophobia?

Xenophobia is the fear of strangers. People who look different, speak a different language or have different customs can appear frightening to those who are used to only one ethnic group, lifestyle or set of behaviours. But xenophobia can be overcome, and the key is education. If you're trying to help someone defeat xenophobia, here are some steps you can take:

  1. Identify the group or groups that are inspiring the fear.
  2. Avoid being confrontational or telling the person that they are wrong or bad to be afraid.
  3. Pick one or two specific points to focus on to start.
  4. Introduce a few non-threatening facts about the feared group or one of the feared groups. For instance: although an emigrant/expatriate maybe you are creating jobs for the country; if a Catholic is afraid of Muslims, you might mention that Muslims really revere Mary. Present these in a "wow, isn't this interesting?" style rather than as a point of persuasion.
  5. Expect negative reactions to the facts you offer. Let it go. Don't argue.
  6. Wait a few days, then point out an interesting article about the feared group working with the favored group in some way.
  7. Try to arrange social gatherings like a party or a dinner with feared groups. You could let people know what you are hoping to accomplish. Most people are more than willing to help someone overcome fears and misunderstanding.
  8. Be prepared for negative reactions. Make light of them when they occur. Don't mock them, but act as though you "know" the comments were made in jest. This might give the fearful person time to save face and get to know the stranger.
  9. Offer delicious food choices from the feared group's cuisine. For instance, if someone loves desserts, and is afraid of Asians, make a special Asian dessert. Once they're enjoying it, you can offer the recipe with the Asian name. Creating positive associations can go a long way towards reducing xenophobia.
  10. Don't give up. Overcoming xenophobia can take a long time. Keep offering positive contacts, information and cultural exposure in small doses.
  11. Never push or demand, and above all never belittle the person for their fears. No one learns when they feel attacked and misunderstood.

Still it is important to have a sense of the pros and cons of migration...

The Pros and Cons of Migration/Expatriation

There are many arguments about the advantages and disadvantages of migration and how it has affected us locally.

Impacts on host countries

  • Job vacancies and skills gaps can be filled.
  • Economic growth can be sustained.
  • Services to an ageing population can be maintained when there are insufficient young people locally.
  • The pension gap can be filled by the contributions of new young workers and they also pay taxes.
  • Immigrants/Expats bring energy and innovation.
  • Host countries are enriched by cultural diversity.
  • Failing schools (and those with falling numbers) can be transformed.
  • Depression of wages may occur but this seems to be temporary.
  • Having workers willing to work for relatively low pay may allow employers to ignore productivity, training and innovation.
  • Migrants may be exploited.
  • Increases in population can put pressure on public services.
  • Unemployment may rise if there are unrestricted numbers of incomers.
  • There may be integration difficulties and friction with local people.
  • Large movements of people lead to more security monitoring.
  • Ease of movement may facilitate organised crime and people trafficking.

Impacts on countries of origin

  • Developing countries benefit from remittances (payments sent home by migrants) that now often outstrip foreign aid.
  • Unemployment is reduced and young migrants enhance their life prospects.
  • Returning migrants bring savings, skills and international contacts.
  • Economic disadvantage through the loss of young workers
  • Loss of highly trained people, especially health workers
  • Social problems for children left behind or growing up without a wider family circle

An Oxford Economics research study published by the Department of Employment and Learning (DEL) concluded that migrant workers had helped maintain an adequate labour supply to fuel the 2004–2008 economic boom. The availability of migrant labour seems to have made the difference between some businesses surviving, or in the case of food processing, not needing to relocate production abroad. (The authors quote a survey of 600 businesses where 31% said that migrants were important in the survival of their organisation and this rose to 50% in health and social care and agriculture.)

In addition the study indicated that migrants have:
  1.  facilitated growth in the economy;
  2. brought benefits to the tourism industry through the development of new air routes;
  3. had a positive influence on the productivity or efficiency of local workers;
  4. contributed new ideas and a fresh approach to firms;
  5. and greater cultural links with developing nations that will prove useful in growing international trade.

In addition to these economic benefits, incomers have helped the health and care services to continue functioning; contributed to cultural diversity; and increased the vitality, especially of some rural schools.


It is clear that immigration can be beneficial for migrants, but only if their rights are protected properly. It can also be economically beneficial for both countries of origin and host countries; however, with present economic and trading structures it is the rich and powerful countries that benefit most. Migration brings social and cultural pressures that need to be taken into account in planning for future services.
Migration also has the potential for bringing peoples together culturally but friction occurs if efforts are not made to dispel the myths held by local people. It is also essential to provide good information about the local way of life to newcomers and ensure opportunities for people to mix and integrate.


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Blog Editor and Owner: Luis Aparicio Fernandes (or Mikey) is a Business Expert and a Traveler based in London, UK. He is a member of The International Honor Society Beta Gamma Sigma due to his achievements in business. You can follow Luis on Google+, and LinkedIn.