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Celebrating International Migrants Day: From Expats to Immigrants

The difference between an expatriate and an immigrant has been the subject of much discussion over the years.

For some, whether the terms are interchangeable or mutually exclusive is just semantics.

Since their introduction to the English language, the neutral meanings of ‘expatriate’ and ‘immigrant’ have become loaded with social and political connotations related to class, education and race.

But what about those whose reality is governed by the struggles of migration?

The United Nations has declared December 18 as International Migrants Day, a time for us to reflect upon and revisit the commitments made by the General Assembly two years ago in New York.

To commemorate this day, we want to dig a little deeper into what it means to be an immigrant, an expat, a citizen of the world.

A matter of linguistics

According to the Oxford Dictionary, an expatriate – or simply, an ‘expat’ - is defined as “a person who lives outside their native country.”

Conversely, an immigrant is “a person who comes to live permanently in a foreign country.”

Here, it seems like the difference between the two has to do with permanence.

While an expatriate lives outside their home country temporarily, an immigrant lives outside their home country permanently.

At the end of the day, everyone goes through a unique process of migration. The important thing is understanding how we can help those who get the shorter end of the stick.

Being an Immigrant

When a person decides to leave their home in search of greener pastures, they do so because they feel it is something they must do.

Even though it can be sad to say goodbye to their families, leave their communities behind and start from scratch in a new place, migrants do so hoping to provide for their loved ones and to become an asset to their new home.

It is brave to swim for new horizons, and migrants do so while helping their families with one hand and boosting their host economy with the other.

At Ria, we are no strangers to this reality. About 45 different nationalities make up the vast network of our people spread all over the world, making us a community composed of mainly immigrants.

We know first-hand what it feels like to leave the only life you've known behind to go settling in a new country. While adapting might not always be easy, immigrants do their best to embrace the new culture and its people, enriching not only their lives, but also contributing to the culture of their new home with their own traditions and backgrounds. 

By doing so, immigrants manage - almost unintentionally - to build cultural bridges, shaping our globalized world and making dreams come true for generations to come.

So, how do we make the migrants' journey easier?

The United Nations promotes the lowering of remittance costs, a 2030 Sustainable Development Goal, which will prove to be a key tool to aid migrants and their families.

Access to affordable remittances will allow migrant workers to save up more, invest in their host economies, pay their bills with more ease or dispose of more funds to help their families.

We’ve talked previously about the ways in which we at Ria are meeting this sustainability goal, but our initiatives extend beyond cost.

Many rural communities that depend on remittances lack a stable, handy network to receive their cash payments.

For this reason, we prioritize partnerships like the Rungika project, led by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) that looks to “strengthen the link between migration and development, as well as to support financial education and communication among rural communities in Burundi.”

From our end, we provide money transfer services through Burundi’s national post, Regie Nationale des Postes (RNP) to facilitate access to remittance pay-outs in rural communities around the country.

At a personal level, breaking stereotypes is something we can all do to speed up inclusion and is the first step on the road to exacting change.

For instance, I am a Migrant, a global campaign supported by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), is a great resource to learn more about immigrants.

Its purpose is to challenge “anti-migrant stereotypes and hate speech in politics and society.”  

We are one

The movement of people from one country to another is what drives a truly global world.

As UN Secretary-General António Guterres shared, "Migration has always been with us. Climate change, demographics, instability, growing inequalities, and aspirations for a better life, as well as unmet needs in labor markets, mean it is here to stay. The answer is effective international cooperation in managing migration to ensure that its benefits are most widely distributed, and that the human rights of all concerned are properly protected."

Our cause is united, to provide a fairer and faster money transfer service to all, whether they call themselves expatriates or immigrants.

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