Autochtoon vs Allochtoon & Expat vs Immigrant

Move over Black Pete debate! Because Holland just found its next hot racial topic. Just when everybody and his dog were getting started with November the Dutch government decided to drop the phrases ‘allochtoon’ and ‘autochtoon’. Big deal! What do those words mean anyways? Good question!


First off, don’t be afraid, but I’ve got some alarming news. This article is written by an allochtoon!

Allochtoon refers to a Netherlands resident who has at least one non-Dutch parent of non-Western descent. Since my dad is a Kurd, and last time I checked they were still battling it out with other tribes and non-Western people in the Middle East, that makes me an allochtoon.

The word autochtoon refers to a Netherlands resident whose parents are both Dutch; and not ‘passport’ Dutch, but ‘Auntie Truus eating stamppot’ Dutch. The terms were first used by the Scientific Council for Government Policy (WRR) in a 1989 report called Immigration Policy. Today, the WRR is removing these phrases in a report titled Migration and classification: towards a multi migration idiom. According to the WRR, the terms are no longer accurate and are stigmatizing. Which is funny in a way, because when these terms were defined, they were meant to be neutral and non-stigmatizing, like similar phrases such as ‘foreigner’ or ‘guest-laborer’. (Or plenty of other slurs that regular people use.)


I never minded the term allochtoon because it seemed like a fair definition. If you’re a Westerner (‘MURICA!) you’re not an allochtoon. If you’re an Afghani you’re non-Western, and that makes you an allochtoon. Alright Holland – if you wanna keep your statistical records like that then by all means go ahead. But somewhere it went all wrong and Japanese and Indonesians were classified as ‘Western’ while Surinamese and Antillians were defined as ‘non-Western’.


To make matters simpler in this linguistically confused nation of ours people will now be referred to as “people with a migration background” and “people with a Dutch background.” Who can be a coveted racist on Twitter with these definitions?

Expat vs Immigrant

It’s funny in a way, because since starting DutchReview we’ve unsuspectingly walked into many heated debates on a similar matter. Namely, the expat vs migrant debate, which is along the same lines as the Dutch debate, with many people complaining that they’re viewed as migrants when they’ve got colored skin and expats when they’re white or Western. Look into the debate here & here.

At DutchReview we never thought much of it and tried to apply the term expat when it’s about someone who got asked to move abroad for work, and migrant when it’s someone moving abroad to seek work. But to be fair, we never gave it much thought or enforced these idioms in a rigorous manner. And then there’s also refugees versus immigrants, yet another debate.

It just shows that a language intended for statistics can become emotionally charged when it comes to matters of religion, nationality and ethnicity. One is always left to wonder in a hippy-like fashion if there isn’t some other way to approach this topic? Or maybe better, not approach it at all

What are your thoughts? 

PS. If you came here for witty jokes about other countries and people, then Blackadder has your back:

Abuzer van Leeuwen 🇳🇱
Abuzer van Leeuwen 🇳🇱
Founded DutchReview. Rotterdammer living in Leiden. Politics, innovation and epic food-reviews are his thing. Interested in doing anything with DutchReview? Contact him at abuzer[at]



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