Opening up to an IHRM colleague I lamented disenfranchisement. His response — get a postal vote — could help me resolve the logistics, but not the power issues! The problem isn’t my inability to vote at home, but more my inability to participate in either my home or my host country’s political process.
Most expats aren’t diplomats, they are parents, partners, employees and business people. They talk about cultural transition because that’s what they experience, and they ignore the political process because they can’t or don’t want to participate.
Unfortunately, their very existence is governed by politics. The length of stay, the way that immigrants are treated, the way they do business, how they live, if they can own property, what personal freedoms they have and even in some places where they can go, who they can talk to and what they can wear.
If you aren’t a diplomat, how do you get the system — that you aren’t included in — to work for you? When I go through immigration in my home country, I always go in the line with the non-citizens so I can ensure that my husband’s status isn’t in question. I talk to my leaders about my issues, I protest and I take part in shaping the society that I come from.
When you are an expat it is difficult to have the same confidence in the political process. You aren’t able to vote and politicians aren’t legally responsible to help you. Your embassy can’t resolve every interaction that you have that goes wrong.
Immigrants are scapegoated and targeted by unethical people who often use the justification that they should be treated better than you because they’ve been living in a place longer. You are excluded with the justification that you are transient and that someone native should be given the rewards of better housing, or a promotion at work, or just be liked more.
In the end, power plays become racist.
Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of blogs about expat disenfranchisement that I will post during the run-up to the American presidential elections.