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Journal of Cross-Cultural and Interlanguage Communication

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Volume 35, Issue 6


From cultural distance to skills deficits: “Expatriates,” “Migrants” and Swiss integration policy

Shirley Yeung
  • Corresponding author
  • Department of Anthropology, University of Chicago, 1126 East 59th Street, Chicago, Illinois IL, USA
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Published Online: 2016-08-11 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/multi-2015-0074


This article examines two social categories brought into being by recent migration policies in Switzerland: the expatriate (or “expat”) and the migrant. Treating these categories as relationally constituted, the article explores how this distinction was constructed and managed in response to processes of European harmonization in the 1990s, employing shifting discourses of difference: while Switzerland’s Three Circle immigration model differentiated immigrants along lines of “cultural distance” vis-à-vis Switzerland, Swiss participation in the Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons contrasted these groups according to a new discourse of “skills.” Focusing on this discursive transition, the article argues that the expatriate-migrant distinction constructs differently valued immigrants whose contrasting relationship to the nation and “integration” is enacted in legal and social expectations surrounding language use. The article argues for critical attention to how “brain gain” and skills discourses enable, and extend border-maintaining discourses of “culture.”

Keywords: integration policy; Switzerland; Three Circle Model; linguistic integration; migrants; expatriates


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About the article

Published Online: 2016-08-11

Published in Print: 2016-11-01

Citation Information: Multilingua, Volume 35, Issue 6, Pages 723–746, ISSN (Online) 1613-3684, ISSN (Print) 0167-8507, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/multi-2015-0074.

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