What Does Squid Game Ali Teach Us About Immigrants, Migrants, and Expatriates

Ever wonder what’s the difference between a migrant, immigrant, and expatriates? Find out below.

If you really hate spoilers, especially Squid Game spoilers, this introduction section ain’t made for you fam.

Scroll down to the section below the introduction for the content of this article! 


ALI! Oh, Ali, to think you’d to leave. Not the best boy dying this way please. We felt frustrated to see Ali’s death especially because he’s such a likeable character if not THE most. However, his death isn’t what I want to talk about today. Rather, I’m more interested in his backstory.

Abdul Ali, also known as Player 199, is a migrant worker who came to South Korea together with his family to find a better life. Working under a boss even when he’s not been paid for 6 months, he struggles to make ends meet for his family. The boss stubbornly refuses to give Ali his pay, and Ali finds himself at the Squid Game again after being given the chance to back out.

Ali’s backstory shows the tip of the mistreatment that foreign workers and families receive. Sadly, Malaysia doesn’t come out unscathed from such a topic of injustice and abuse. Mistreatment of foreigners like immigrants, migrants, and expatriates doesn’t only include work abuse, but also stereotyping which all of us are guilty of. Think about it, some of you may see foreign construction workers as unhygienic, refugees as low-wage job holders, or illegal immigrants as dangerous threats.

That’s just naming a few of the stereotypes foreigners not here for vacation go through! 

Let’s have a look if the stereotypes are true and how it affects them.




Before I can go into further detail, we’ve to understand what the terms ‘immigrant’, ‘migrant’, ‘expatriate’ and ‘refugee’ mean. I’ve been fed the phrase ‘illegal immigrants’ all these years that I thought they were poor refugees or troublemakers who illegally come into Malaysia. I only realised that they aren’t always what I define them to be when I finally searched the definition on Google. 

Here are the definitions provided by Cambridge Dictionary:

Immigrant: A person who’s come to a different country in order to live there permanently.

Migrant: A person who travels to a different country or place, often in order to find work.

Expatriate: Someone who doesn’t live in their own country.

Refugee: A person who’s escaped from their own country for political, religious, or economic reasons or because of a war.

To make it easier to understand, a refugee leaves his country in fear of persecution while a migrant can simply choose to temporarily go overseas for work. In the case of immigrants and expatriates, they’re the same by definition but with social class setting them apart. Immigrants hold the connotation of being the unskilled and poor ones, whereas expatriates are the professionals from a wealthy or an English-speaking country.

These are just definitions that barely even grace the tip of the iceberg. There ain’t no solid confirmations like how 1 + 1 equals 2. You could be a refugee and a migrant at the same time. You could be an immigrant in a place and be an expatriate in another. Really, you could even be so many of these terms at the same time. The disturbing factor of these terms lie in the fact that depending on what term people label you as, you could be treated so differently.

Well, What Do You Know?


With all the definitions aside, now onto the stereotypes! If you don’t see a stereotype you know here, just remember that this list is only the tip of the iceberg of what immigrants, migrants, and expatriates are viewed as around the world.

“Those immigrants are stealing OUR jobs ah!”


Oh my oh my, if it ain’t the robots then it’s the immigrants or migrants eh? Surprisingly, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce mentions that immigrants are ‘almost twice as likely’ to become entrepreneurs when compared to the locals. You could remove all the immigrants from a country, but you still wouldn’t find jobs equal to the number of immigrants removed. 

There’s also an issue with immigrants and migrants driving down wages, but really it shouldn’t even be an issue at all. It’s been proven by Northern Ireland and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that immigrants and migrants actually drive the wages up by helping the labour market and the economy to grow.


“They’re dangerous, don’t go close to them.”


People around us may tell us this with the intention to keep us safe, but when you think about it, this stereotype is so hurtful to hear if you’re the one others are talking about. It’s normal for the locals to be afraid of the immigrants, migrants, or expatriates especially when not much is known about them. However, saying that they cause crime and trouble is a little over-exaggerating.

If anything, when a sample of immigrants and locals were compared, those of the immigrants were significantly less likely to commit crimes. A more substantial proof is in America, where the top 10 states with lower crime rates have the most immigration increase. Even if they do commit crime, often enough they’re never willingly doing so. Hairun Jalmani is a good example of this. She may not be a foreigner, but she proves that sometimes people commit crime because they’re desperate to survive.

“Illegal immigrants are everywhere.”


This. This is the stereotype I hear so often that I thought was true. The overuse of this stereotypical statement is extremely terrifying. To make things clear once again, not all immigrants or migrants are illegal. Sure, there are a number of them who go undocumented, but there are also those who came to Malaysia through the legal process. 

Some of the main reasons people come to Malaysia is to look for business or work opportunities and some to escape persecution. According to the International Organization of Migration, Malaysia is a strategic place for Southeast Asians, South Asians, Middle Easterns, and Africans to migrate to. Other reasons they appear undocumented might be because some were stranded here after being fooled by ‘recruiters’, or had their visas taken from them before they were forced onto the streets. If you think about it, who wants to be voluntarily undocumented in the first place? Certainly no one who’s trying to look for better living conditions.

“Expats are rich and successful, they’ve nothing to worry about.”


After having read through this much of the article, you can probably estimate the amount of truth in this statement. Emma Brown, a writer at DutchRevew who calls herself an expat, shares that she also had nothing but a lot of credit card debt when she made her way to the Netherlands in 2016. Not all expatriates are instantly rich when they migrate to somewhere else.

Expats who change careers or decide to take up an international assignment have personal and professional sacrifices to make, and are also challenged to be flexible with their situations. If they can’t adapt, chances are they’d have to be forced to change careers or face unemployment.

“Say it till you believe it”. We’ve been stereotyping and generalising this group of people for so many years, that we’ve strongly influenced the immigrants, migrants, and expatriates themselves without even realising it. They’re under the stereotypical threats that we’ve imposed onto them. According to studies and research, stereotype threats can indeed cause the negatively stereotyped party to underperform due to the pressure to do better.

As for the expatriates, a majority of them in Singapore think that they’re viewed as ‘important’ and ‘vital’ which is a wonderful thing. You’d be shocked when I tell you that expatriates in the US view themselves as ‘a burden’ or ‘inferior. Instead of being the people who shred down the confidence of others, let’s be more open-minded and understanding towards the people around us and embrace people who’re different from us. Make them feel more included by asking about how they’re doing, where they're from (if they’re alright with sharing), or even try learning a bit of their language from them! A small gesture can set a warm smile on anyone’s faces!

Eunice Liow is currently pursuing a Foundation in Business at Taylor's  College. She is also a member of the Event Management team for Taylor's College Student Council.

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