I found a question about a student visa that was closed as off-topic. Someone commented “your question is about immigration and thus off-topic”. I would agree with that sentence — but the question isn't about immigration, it's about a temporary visa.

I was surprised to realize that we now have a close reason that reads

"Questions about immigration or moving for extended periods of time (studies or employment, among others) are off-topic. See the meta post Is it OK to ask questions about migration?."

The part in bold doesn't seem to agree with prior consensus. The most upvoted post I can find on the subject is

Expats are often simply medium-term travelers; thus expat questions are on-topic here.

It's not even clear to me that a student counts as an expat — if “expatriates (…) are moving their entire lives to their new location” while “travel implies a (usually relatively short) temporary visit to a new place”, under what definition does moving to another country for a semester of study or even for a degree count?.

How did we go from there to the following, which mixes immigration with medium-length stays?

Any questions about immigrating to a country, or moving there for extended periods of time (e.g. for studies) is off-topic.

The on-topic list (formerly faq) is not very clear: it allows “working while on the go” but not “work visas”, and I have honestly no idea where student visas are supposed to fit there.

  • The question was about the restrictions on a French "request for residency" receipt, which makes it a question about immigration/expat paperwork and/or laws. Commented Aug 13, 2013 at 3:41
  • @hippietrail, that's either a circular comment or you missed the point of Gilles' post.
    – David
    Commented Aug 13, 2013 at 5:28
  • I can't see in the question what tells us about this "temporary visa". Commented Aug 13, 2013 at 9:06
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    @hippietrail “I am student in France but I am not French. During the holiday, I came back to my country.” (emphasis mine) A carte de séjour is a long-stay permit (valid up to a year), it works like a visa that's issued as a separate document rather than a stamp in your passport. Commented Aug 13, 2013 at 9:19
  • To me that's like saying a residency permit is like a visa but it's not. Residency is typically the step one takes to live long term or permanently in another country without becoming a citizen. For instance residents have certain rights above what non-residents have but fewer than citizens have. If we choose to allow this question about residency applications, we definitely need to have a good think about where instead we draw the line on what are expat and immigration questions. Commented Aug 13, 2013 at 10:52
  • For instance, for not the line is pretty clear but if we moved it would we say questions regarding residency are OK but questions about immigration and citizenship are not? And then for questions about being an expatriate would that mean you have to be a resident or an immigrant to be classified as an expat? Commented Aug 13, 2013 at 11:02
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    That most upvoted post that you link to - directly above it is the one by Stackexchange STAFF - which states "Expat questions are different enough from travel questions that they have their own proposal: Immigration. The on topic questions there appear to be more oriented towards moving and settling in, and those would be considered off topic here."
    – Mark Mayo
    Commented Aug 13, 2013 at 13:48
  • 4
    @MarkMayo “Expat questions (…) have their own proposal: Immigration”. That doesn't make much sense to me. Also that post may be by a (former) SE employee, but it isn't an official pronouncement. Besides, the question that sparked this isn't about “moving and settling in”. Note that I'm not convinced that long-stay visas should be on-topic, but I don't see where it's ever been discussed. This seems to have started as “changing permanent residence is off-topic” and morphed into “long stays are off-topic” without any rationale, debate or even conscious notice. Commented Aug 13, 2013 at 17:44
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    should add that (at the time of writing) 6 out of 15 questions on the front page of Travel are "on hold" or "duplicate". They are usually on hold for good reasons: they are subjective, ask for lists, etc. It seems like a well-formed questions with a straight factual answer is a real gem here, please don't push them off.
    – Shep
    Commented Aug 15, 2013 at 6:01
  • In my experience people with a lot of travel experience do not have a lot of experience in immigrating or being an expat. Expats are infamous for living in expat communities apart from the natives in the places they live. There are surely expats who also love the local culture and love to travel but the terms "traveller" and "expat" are very far from being synonyms. If we were to become travel + immigration + expats we would not have a coherent centre any more. We would have two or three main camps with little in common. These three topics are not the same thing and should not be shoe-horned. Commented Aug 17, 2013 at 4:51
  • @hippietrail That's nonsense. I don't want to get in a long debate on what is an “expat”, the way people engage with the local community, etc. but all the expats I know travel a lot, without exception.
    – Relaxed
    Commented Oct 3, 2013 at 9:10
  • 1
    It's not nonsense. Most of the expats I know are also travellers, but most of the expats I've bumped into are not travellers. They are English teachers, employees of international companies, guest workers, etc. Sure they travel from time to time too and they can ask those questions here but most of the time they're just living and working in a foreign country and questions about that stuff are not travel questions. On this trip most of the expats I've met were Indians in Bangkok, and Filipinos in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, and various western nationalities in Vientiane. Commented Oct 3, 2013 at 9:30

3 Answers 3


Ask yourself a question: Am I a tourist or not?

If the stay goes belongs the tourist visa, it's crystal clear: you're not a tourist. You're a resident. The laws that apply to you are totally different, and to avoid the confusion, the separate Expatriates community was created.

  • 2
    So in your mind, a businessman who travels to a place for half a day of meetings and then leaves is “a resident”? He sure isn't a tourist…
    – Relaxed
    Commented Oct 10, 2021 at 21:02

This accepted answer for whether expat questions are on topic is this one from Dori, who was a StackExchange employee / community moderator at the time. While there have been differing opinions, over time the consensus has been that immigration questions are definitely off-topic on this website, and this includes any type of visa outside tourist, business, or working holiday visas.

  • 3
    That answer talks about expats and then goes on to mention an immigration proposal. That's not the same. on top of that, the existence of another proposal shouldn't be an argument to decide this site's scope. Another existing site could be, but not a proposal. Commented Aug 13, 2013 at 8:49
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    We've definitely already decided that this site's scope does not cover immigration / expat topics. What we have to decide for this question is how to decide on questions which involve travelling expats / travelling immigrants. Commented Aug 13, 2013 at 10:48
  • @Gilles when it's Stackexchange staff, then it is enough to decide this site's scope where that's the debate. However, as hippie points out - travelling expats is a different story - it's about a temporary visa/permit that you get, and ....well...I'm not sure.
    – Mark Mayo
    Commented Aug 13, 2013 at 13:50
  • @Gilles Yes, it was initially an Immigration proposal, failed to get enough votes, and was respawned as Expats (you can restart the same one). And I disagree: we don't HAVE to allow every question into the SE network, if there's a better fit in a proposal on Area51. Commented Aug 13, 2013 at 19:17
  • @Gilles Also, my opinion was we should have a combined Travel and Immigration site - meta.travel.stackexchange.com/a/337/108 - but it didn't find support with SE staff or the community. This line has been very well-debated here on meta. Commented Aug 13, 2013 at 19:20
  • @hippietrail, Ankur: Immigration is off-topic here, I don't see any room for doubt about that. But expats? Where was that decided? Commented Aug 13, 2013 at 20:05
  • 2
    Obviously immigrants and expats can travel and travel questions is what we're about. But the processes of immigration and becoming/being an expat are not the same as getting a visa. These are clearly vast other topics covering "How can I get a greencard for USA?" that are too different to allow to flood a site for people going on trips. People are unlikely to be experts in both fields. They're separate topics. Commented Aug 14, 2013 at 3:47
  • I can't say I understand this idolatry of former stack exchange staff. Based on the number of votes, it would seem that the community disagrees with former staff in this case. Why not listen to the community? Frankly, who cares what former staff said?
    – Shep
    Commented Aug 14, 2013 at 10:53
  • @Shep At the time when the site launched, she was actually a staff member. She is NOW former staff. Stack Exchange guides it community in the initial stages. Commented Aug 14, 2013 at 13:44
  • Right, they guide the initial stages (and I'm glad they do), but we're way past the initial stages now, we should be able to think outside the dogma of one (two year old!) post from a staff member (who has since moved on).
    – Shep
    Commented Aug 14, 2013 at 15:01
  • When I was wandering the world, occasionally I would ask a question about ways for a tourist to get extra time. Wanting to stay six weeks in a country where the usual visa is thirty days is not wanting to be an expat, yet I was often told it wasn't about travel. There are very few countries in Schengen small enough to really see in ninety days. But it takes a lot of work to get an answer other than "you don't need a visa to go to xxx."
    – WGroleau
    Commented Jul 27, 2022 at 2:27

It was silly to close this question, for several reasons:

  1. We're way too stuck on our interpretation of the will of the SE overloads. As far as I can tell, the justification for pushing out "expat" questions is entirely dogmatic: it's based on one post from two years ago by someone who was then staff. If you read the post, you'll see that it's rather informal: doesn't specify that we must close anything remotely smelling of expats. If we're going to treat all things expat as toxic, we should at least get more recent confirmation that this is what SE wants. After all, they also rely on us to give feedback and evolve on our own.

  2. Pushing away expat-like questions pushes out expats, and that's bad for the site: some of the best traveling experiences I've had were when I visited expats and got to see a country in a way you don't experience as a short term traveler. Would you rather hear about France entirely from tourists who snapped a few pictures of the Eiffel Tower and ate some over-priced cheese, or would you like to hear (in addition) about the hidden beauty of the remote villages no one ever goes to see? Do you want to push out the Peace Corps volunteer who's spent the last two years in Tanzania, in favor of one more testimony from the guy who went on safari once? Expats learn a lot that Lonely Planet doesn't know, pushing them away is silly.

  3. That the post's author has some form of temporary long-term visa is irreverent, the question was about reentering the their country of residence (France). Returning to your country of residence is a major part of traveling. The question wasn't about living in France, but rather about traveling from France.

  • 1
    1. Gilles was not the one who asked the question. 2. We're not pushing anyone away. We just have some rules. The expat proposal is very close to the beta and soon immigration and expat questions will have their home
    – Dirty-flow
    Commented Aug 14, 2013 at 21:43
  • 1. good point, fixed that, but it doesn't change anything. As for 2, it's basically the point I address in my first point: this "rules are rules" attitude isn't productive, especially if you have no logic to back it up. Some rules make sense, but this one in particular isn't popular and has no justification.
    – Shep
    Commented Aug 15, 2013 at 5:48
  • 4
    @Shep The whole point of StackExchange is to have websites for very specific verticals rather than a free-for-all platform like Quora. Hence the "rule" of having one kind of topics on one SE site makes perfect sense. Commented Aug 15, 2013 at 8:29
  • 1
    right, I understand the topological layout of SE, but the bounds of subjects are up for interpretation. There's not one SE for C++ and another for Python, nor is there one SE for Particle Physics and another one for Cosmology. The point is that there's synergy when similar subjects are grouped together.
    – Shep
    Commented Aug 15, 2013 at 8:39
  • 3
    In general, can we please stop these arguments which are based on "those are the rules"? I understand the philosophy of SE, and I understand the precedent set in Travel. What I don't understand is how closing everything smelling like "expat" is going to improve this forum.
    – Shep
    Commented Aug 15, 2013 at 8:45
  • Can we also please stop downvoting on meta. It is a discussion not an znswer.
    – user141
    Commented Aug 15, 2013 at 10:52
  • 6
    @Andra Voting is different on Meta: it often means “I agree” or “I disagree”. The voting on Shep's answers presumably reflects whether people agree tend to with his posts. It's a coarse measure, of course, since a voter may agree with some points and disagree with others. Commented Aug 17, 2013 at 10:33
  • In some metas, it seems that a question will be downvoted because it is wrongly interpreted as a blasphemous implication that something might not be perfect.
    – WGroleau
    Commented Jul 27, 2022 at 2:31

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