Citizens of the World: The Unique Privilege of the Expatriate Experience at Sciences Po

By October 14, 2019 No Comments

Katarzyna Skiba


The story of the “Sciences Po expatriate” is far from unique on campus. At the beginning of each semester, it is not difficult to find a slew of students who have lived in multiple countries, been educated at high-ranking international schools, and have learned how to speak multiple languages from the source. These expatriates comprise a much smaller percentage of the population than do immigrants, migrants, and refugees – and the expatriate experience comes with its own unique set of privileges. Although the terms “immigrant” and “expatriate” are sometimes used interchangeably, there are notable differences between the two. “Expat” implies education and wealth, whereas “immigrant” or “migrant” carries with it the notion of forced movement, lower-income, and/or inter-country struggles. 

Few are lucky enough to call themselves expatriates. In the United States, where the immigration system is notoriously difficult, it is only becoming more discriminatory under the current administration. According to the Pew Research Center, a single country can account for no more than 7% of all green cards issued annually (Pew). This means that for countries with a higher level of insecurity, poverty, or population size, even though more people want to emigrate to the U.S., few are afforded the opportunity to do so by legal means. This country-of-origin bias is incredibly prevalent when examining the green card wait times for immigrants from various nations. Compared to the average wait time of 5 years, immigrants from India (8.5 years), Mexico (8.4 years), and the Philippines (8 years) have a more difficult time obtaining a green card. This means that they must either rely on an unsteady work visa or live in the U.S. without any documentation (Cato Institute). 

The privileges of this system are also seen in the fact that, in regards to employment visas, preference is given to those workers with more money, education, and higher professional ranking. Although immigration to the U.S. is difficult regardless, having economic capital makes the process far easier as the likelihood of success depends, not only on country of origin but on individual income as well. This year, according to the Washington Post, the Trump administration announced a new plan to ban immigrants who benefit from social welfare programs, including food stamps, Medicaid, and housing assistance, from green card application (Washington Post). As intended, the move would further bias the process “in favor of the highly-skilled, high-income immigrants President Trump covets” (Washington Post). 

And it isn’t just the United States. Anti-immigrant sentiment has been present for many years in the rhetoric of Marine Le Pen in France, Matteo Salvini in Italy, Boris Johnson in the UK, and nearly every other far-right Western politician. These attacks notably consist of accusations that immigrants are “stealing jobs” from the native-born working class. 

Nowhere in this xenophobic discourse are white-collar jobs in finance, business, or academia mentioned. It seems that with enough money and status, especially if one comes from the “right” countries, being foreign-born has little to no stigma attached to it. Expatriates notably have access to these financial privileges, as described by Corporate Consultants ECA International: “The value of a typical expat package for a middle manager in Hong Kong is $266,000, the fourth-highest in the Asia Pacific region… In Singapore, that is about $239,000 and in India, middle managers’ expat pay packages average $293,000.” (ECA). 

But is it only finances that separate expats from immigrants? Malte Zeeck, the founder and CEO of the expat network InterNations argues that this is not the case. In an interview with the BBC, he claimed that “[w]hether someone is an expat or not doesn’t depend on origin – it’s about the motivations behind their decision to move abroad… for people that we today call expats… living abroad is rather a lifestyle choice than borne out of economic necessity or dire circumstances in their home country such as oppression or persecution” (BBC). 

For millions of people around the world, leaving their country is not a “lifestyle choice” but a necessity for survival. Political persecution, lack of economic opportunities, and mass violence force many immigrants to enter into a new country with a new culture to which they must adapt. This is a huge risk, given that they may be entering without a sufficient language level, and that they may be automatically marginalized in both private and professional spheres for having an accent, having a “foreign-sounding” name, or for differing from what is deemed the cultural “norm.” These are widespread issues that are present within every country in which undocumented migrants are being systematically targeted, and that are part of constant political discourse. Even with the well-known crises linked to migration, immigration, and documentation status, one thing rings clear: for a very elite sector of the population, borders yield very little influence. And this is a sector that is overrepresented at Sciences Po. 

As Sciences Po focuses specifically on training its students to become future leaders, the overrepresentation of expatriate students does have its downfalls. It is difficult to understand the issues that immigrants, migrants, and refugees face if nearly everyone in the classroom is the exception to the rule. For most, worldwide mobility is a difficult, strenuous, and sometimes impossible process. Although individual students are not to be blamed for their privilege, it is important to ask how leaders can empathize with and represent the public they serve if they are uneducated about what the majority of that public is experiencing.

Secondhand discussion of these issues in class is beneficial, but frankly not enough to grasp the reality that most immigrants around the world must face. Hosting on-campus sessions with those who have directly experienced these issues, and diversifying the campus to include more students from lower-income and first-generation immigrant backgrounds would greatly improve the discourse held in class. This is not a Sciences Po problem exclusively, nor is it the fault of individually privileged students, but any institution promising to deliver a comprehensive education of political issues around the world should aim to see those issues represented as accurately as possible in order to create a cohort of leaders able to address them in the future. 


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