Man is an animal suspended in webs of significance that he himself has spun...

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

American Migrants in Europe

There is a book that I've been eagerly awaiting for months now:  Migrants or Expatriates? Americans in Europe by Amanda Klekowski von Koppenfels.  She's a migration scholar and the director of the Master's program in international migration at the Brussels School of International Studies.  I've ordered the book and it should be here soon.  And as soon as I can inhale it, I will write up a review and post it here.

But if you are like me and incredibly curious about her research into Americans in the UK, Germany and France, there are a couple of places where you can get a peek at what she found.

She was a speaker a few weeks ago at an AARO (Association of Americans Resident Abroad) event here in Paris.  I missed it because I was in Montreal, misread my ticket and arrived home too late.  However, I did get to watch a video of the event and since I am the editor of the AARO newsletter,  I had a hand in editing an excellent article by Joe Coyle that will appear in the March edition (AARO members, it's coming soon to your mailboxes.)   A short excerpt of that article is posted on the AARO website here.

In that excerpt there is already food for thought.  Here are the top reasons from her study that   Americans in those three countries gave for  leaving the United States:

Top Reasons for Leaving the U.S.:

  • First: To be with a partner or join family members (23.4% among those moving to France, Germany and the U.K.).
  • Second: Study and research (13.3% for all, but 23.7% for those moving to the U.K.).
  • Third: offered a job (11% for all and uniform across all three destinations).
  • Fourth: Adventure/Had always wanted to travel (10.8% for all).
  • Fifth: Partner got a job (7.1% for all).
  • Sixth: Intra-company transfer (5% for all).
  • Seventh: Dissatisfied with political/cultural/social developments in the U.S. (4.5%).
  • Eighth: Drawn by the language/culture of current country (4.5% for all but triple that rate for France at 13.6%).

A couple of things I found very interesting about these numbers.

Family and Study:  Look at the first two reasons.  Family is the top reason for coming to Europe and study/research is second. That makes sense because these are two ways that American migrants (third-country nationals) can easily and legally migrate to a European member state. There are no special deals for Americans in these countries.  Though Justin Smith said in his talk at the American Library in Paris that getting his papers was facilitated because of his nationality, most of the people I talk to, and my own experience has been, that there is a process for entering third-country nationals and it's pretty much the same for everyone who comes from a non-EU country.  But all EU countries have family reunification programs and welcome international students and professors.

If you look at migration to the United States, it's not that different. In 2012 66% of those who got LPR (legal permanent resident) status had "a family relationship with a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident of the United States."

Marriage Refugees:  But here's an important difference - within the category of family reunification as a reason for Americans to leave the United States, are gay and lesbian couples.  Until very recently it was impossible for them to marry in the U.S.  Klekowski von Koppenfels makes a good argument that these people were forced migrants - they were pushed out of the U.S. because family reunification didn't apply to them in America.  So they had to seek other countries where they had a legal right to form families and could sponsor spouses for permanent resident status.  That has now changed in the U.S. but it would be interesting to know if those migrants will stay in the EU or leave for the U.S.

Now let's look at items 3, 5, and 6.  Notice that those who came because they (or their partner) got  a job (18% total)  outnumber those who were true expatriates and arrived because their company sent them to Europe (5%).

Decline of the Traditional Expat:  This is something I've suspected for a few years now - the number of American expat families seems to be declining.  At least that's what I think I'm seeing in Paris but also in one of the French multinationals I worked with that used to transfer quite a few workers abroad.  Those lovely expat packages that included a paid international school for the kids and a nice flat in Paris or Tokyo are not as common as they used to be.  Linda Jannsen agrees.  In her book, The Emotionally Resilient Expat, published in 2013, she says:
"More organizations are instituting cost-cutting measures such as reducing the number of traditional expatriate employees (i.e. those whose assignments are centrally managed from headquarters)... Other employees are being transitioned to local contract status, or replaced altogether with 'local' hires in which employees are recruited directly for jobs in global locations as needed."
So I think there is good evidence that more and more of those Americans who are coming to Europe to work are "on the economy" and have local contracts and local jobs.

So why would an American come to Europe to work without the safety net of a nice expatriate package?  Klekowski von Koppenfels suspects (and I think she's right) that economic reasons are driving more American emigration.  In her talk she quoted  a respondent who said that he/she was poor and came from a poor family and felt that she/he had to leave the U.S. to find a better life/social mobility.  

Student Loan Refugees:  Something I've been seeing the past few years are what I call the American Student Loan Refugees.  These are young Americans who have incurred an enormous amount of personal debt to fund a university lelvel education and they cannot find jobs in the United States that are commensurate with their educational level and compensate them enough to live and pay back their loans.  Europe and other places are getting them because 1.  Some fall into the category of "Skilled/Educated worker" and 2.  Some are the children of immigrants to the U.S. and can get residency status in the parents' (or even grandparents') countries fairly easily (where they aren't already dual citizens).

Every country has a different opportunity structure and the thing to remember is that skills that aren't marketable in one country may have value in another.  If nothing else an American university graduate can almost always find a job somewhere in the world teaching English as a second language (a skill that is hardly a big deal in the US or other English-speaking countries).  It's not necessarily paid all that well but it is still a "white-collar" job and beats the alternative which could be a low-level position in the U.S. service sector.

Working People with Families:  Just from this snapshot of American emigration we can see that the stereotypes of Americans abroad (or American expats or migrants) bear no relationship to reality.  Most American migrants in Europe have families and work in their host countries.  That has important implications.   The freewheeling adventuresome American going abroad for a few years for personal enlightenment and growth exists, but certainly he/she is not the majority of long-term residents in the three countries studied.   Also the vision of the rich American expat on a fancy company expatriate package or the rich, idle American sipping champagne on the beach in the south of France is a wonderful homeland fantasy, but the evidence shows that it is just a dream, a fairy tale, a stereotype.  

Perverse Policy:  This is why American emigration policy (such as it is) is so perverse.  The U.S. government is chasing after a fantasy with the idea that all Americans abroad are part and parcel of the 1% and that huge sums of money are to be gained by making these ostensibly rich individuals pay up.  

Klekowski von Koppenfels' research simply explodes that misconception.  Americans in Europe are working families, students, and retirees who go to local schools, draw local paychecks and pay local taxes, rent and utilities.  Once those things are paid for, there is very little left over to send taxes (forced remittances?) "home".

And that is why I believe that the US government is going to be terribly deceived by just how little money they will be able to squeeze out of Americans abroad.

And I personally think they are making a big mistake by trying.  This is, I wager, an effort the American homeland will eventually come to deeply regret.

5 comments:

Blaze said...

I was particularly intrigued by the migration of same sex couples.

Before same sex marriage was recognized by any states and by very few countries, my sister and her partner came to Canada and got married.

Gay marriage is still not legal in Pennsylvania and the Governor is fighting the entire idea.

My sister's partner is an "Accidental Canadian"--born and raised in US to Canadian parents. They had hoped to retire in Canada because my sister's wife can sponsor her for immigration in a way I can't as her sister.

They wanted to do that because they find Canada far more accepting and inclusive.

Since they have learned about FATCA, FBAR, IRS, etc, they realize they will never achieve that dream.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

@Blaze, I've heard from some of these couples. And if there ever was an indication that gay and lesbian couples were second-class citizens in the US, this is exhibit A. Not being able to live legally in the same country as one's spouse? That is definitely flagrant unacceptable discrimination. OK, it's changing but as you point out it's going to take awhile...

Patricia said...

FATCA is not about taxes, they already know less than $1 billion annual return on this program. FACTA data is specifically exempt from protections prohibiting data transfer to law-enforcement and intelligence agencies. FACTA data and derived information will enable unrestricted domestic spying in the US

Northerndar said...

It interesting the reasons why Americans emigrate. My late husband and I emigrated to Canada for reason 7 forty four years ago. We stayed and became citizens because we realized we fit more in the Canadian way of thinking.

FATCA is now my nightmare.

Michael Putman said...

Fascinating sample. I expect the Student Loan refugees will pick up in numbers over the years.

Family is what I expected #1 to be, although Homelanders somehow don't think of it, oftentimes.

I don't know what the peculiar animus against people leaving is, unless it is really that the country was founded on a sort of Calvinist covenental socio-theology, such that emigration can only be a sort of apostasy. This is not consciously realized as such, but I think it is there under the cultural surface and a secularist facade.