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

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Countries of Immigration are also Countries of Emigration

I thought we could have a little fun today and shine the spotlight on some of the countries where immigration is a hot topic and where the rhetoric has a tendency to turn nasty.   How quickly some of us forget (or perhaps we never wanted to consider) that countries of immigration are also countries of emigration.

I suspect we don't want to think about it because it touches our amour propre (pride).  French, Canadian, UK and US citizens like to think of their countries as preferred destinations and not places people leave.

Here are a few interesting facts:

France:  In 2010 there were 1.5 million registered Frenchmen and women living abroad out of a population of 63 million.  It is estimated that this number would top 2 million if unregistered French citizens abroad would stand still long enough to be counted.  To put this in perspective this means that there is a population of French people equal to the population of Marseille and its surrounding communities who do not live in France at all.

UK: In 2006 it was estimated by the IPRR that the UK population living abroad was a whopping 5.5 million out of a population of 62 million. In 2009 alone the number of people leaving the UK for 12 months or more was estimated at around 368,000 with 140,000 of them classified as "emigrants".

USA: The Association of American Residents Oversees (AARO) counts a little over 5 million American civilians (excluding military) living abroad. As they point out on their website,
"If all these Americans were placed in one state it would be the 17th most populous state in the U.S.! "

Canada: 2.8 million Canadians live abroad according to this CBC News article which notes that, "For the Canadian-born population, the exit rate was estimated at 1.33 per cent, which translates into 500,000 Canadian-born leavers over the 10-year period."

For even more information on emigration rates for these and other countries I highly recommend that you consult the excellent UNDP "Integrative Map of Migration Data" where you will find emigration and immigration rates and other eye-opening statistics by region.

"But, but, but," you might say, " There are many MANY more people coming in than going out!"

And your point is?

Look, 5.5 million UK citizens, 5 million American citizens, 2.8 Canadian citizens and 2 million French citizens are still living in someone else's house.  You can call them many things: guests, ex-pats, global citizens, even "international misfits" but the fact remains they are living somewhere other than their country of origin.  They are all migrants.  And I contend that a British physicist in California or an American IT manager in France is not any different from a Puerto Rican chef in New York or an Moroccan telecom engineer in Marseilles.

So what I would ask of all the people out there who are filled with fear and angst and anger against those "people who move around" is to take a moment to consider this:  there is a strong possibility that one day you (or perhaps your children or your grandchildren) may be closing up your house, packing your bags and hopping on a plane to settle in a new land.  It may be for a few months, or a few years, or a lifetime (who really knows these things anyway?)

Keep that image in mind every time you are tempted to lash out.  If you stay home, treat others as you would one day wish to be treated if you happened to be a stranger in a strange land.  If you depart, pray that the people of your country of destination have internalized the immortal words of Francis Bacon:
If a man be gracious and courteous to strangers, it shows he is a citizen of the world, and that his heart is no island cut off from other lands, but a continent that joins to them.

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