New Flophouse Address:

You will find all the posts, comments, and reading lists (old and some new ones I just published) here:

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Playing for Change - Music is My Ammunition

Another wonderful offering from Playing for Change.  Enjoy!

Citizenship and Taxes

Citizenship not only confers certain rights, it also entails responsibilities:  military service, for example, as well as voting, jury duty and taxes.

While all of the above are pretty common overall, each state has its particularities about how and where these duties are to be discharged. They are worth looking into before you decide to request citizenship in a state.  Are you prepared, for example, to perform military service or put yourself under the jurisdiction of that state's inheritance laws?  It is also worth looking into if you marry a citizen of another country - the citizenship requirements of your spouse or the laws of his/her country may impact you even though you are not a citizen of that state yourself.

One of the little-known responsibilities of being an American citizen is the requirement to report and potentially pay U.S. taxes on world-wide income.  I learned recently how little-known and poorly understood this requirement is when I called a very well-known U.S.-based software company and asked if their very popular tax software was compatible with the reporting requirements for Americans overseas.  I actually got into an argument with the otherwise helpful sales staff when they tried to tell me that there was no requirement for me to report my income if it was all earned outside the U.S. (not true!)  I've heard similar things from friends and family both inside and outside the U.S. who are genuinely shocked to hear that this is a requirement for all Americans abroad (people teaching English or working in restaurants or as secretaries, just to give a few examples) and not just people who have high incomes and enjoy fabulous international careers as investment bankers or stock brokers.  If you are still not convinced, have a quick look at the US IRS (Internal Revenue Service) website here.

Why are so many people unfamiliar with this requirement?  Well, for one thing, it is unusual.  Many countries have territorial tax systems where you only pay taxes on income earned in that country.  These countries don't bother trying to figure out if someone made money somewhere else.  Costs money, for one thing and requires knowledgeable and sophisticated tax office staff.

Another reason is that it seems counter-intuitive to a lot of people living abroad.  After all, having paid French or German or Japanese taxes locally, it just doesn't occur to most Americans that there is also something to do on the U.S. side.  For some, it is downright controversial - having paid their taxes in their country of residence, they think it is unfair to have to file in two places.  See the American Citizens Abroad website for articles like this one to get an idea of the tone of the debate.

Finally, a lot of Americans abroad, in my experience, don't make a lot of money.  They have gone for the adventure and have taken regular (even low-paying jobs) just for the experience of living in a foreign country and learning a new language and culture.  The idea that their meager salaries might be of interest to the U.S. government is a big surprise to them.

Frankly if you are an average person with a regular salary working abroad, there are plenty of exemptions and deductions designed to avoid making you pay taxes twice (in the country of residence and the US). But in order to take advantage of that, you have to file.

I won't get into the debate over whether or not all this is reasonable or unreasonable.  It is one of the requirements of US citizenship.  Other countries have other citizenship duties like military service.  France, for example, has its own reporting requirements - French citizens must report all foreign bank accounts and there is a stiff fine for those who fail to comply.

If you live in a democratic nation-state like the U.S., it seems to me that the best way to make your opinion about laws like this heard is to actively participate in the American political process even if you don't reside in the U.S.  In other words, stay up-to-date with the legislation, write your elected representatives if you have something to say, and, above all, vote!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Carnets de Seattle (Notes from Seattle)

Earlier this year, I wrote a piece about a blog I found that really rocked my world.  It's called Carnets de deux expats a Seattle written by a French couple living in my hometown of Seattle.  I fell in love with this blog and I've spent many a day reading their impressions of "my" city. 

But that's not the only reason I read it.  Early in 2011, the adventure became something else when Loic was diagnosed with leukemia.  He and his wife did not return to France.  Instead he is being treated at a local hospital (coincidentally this the same hospital where the Elder Frenchling was born :-)

What happened to them tapped into some of my deepest fears about migrating so far from home.  I've often wondered what I would do if I became seriously ill or worse while living in France.  It's not about the medical system per se - it's about being so far from family in a country where I am still sometimes a "stranger" even after nearly 20 years.

I've been comforted by what Loic and his wife have written.  They have faced this situation together with grace and courage.  But they didn't face it alone.  Recently Loic started writing posts to thank all the people in the U.S. and France who have helped them get through this.

Unsung Heroes: Seattle part I

Read them.  People on both sides of the Atlantic may read in their experiences, and in the people they are grateful to, things that will make all of us more aware of how much sheer human goodness is to be found in all places and in all people.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

IDEA: the International Diaspora Engagement Alliance

Now this is interesting. According to this article in New America Media, back in May of this year, US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, "announced that the state department was adding a fourth “D” to its toolbox of Diplomacy, Development and Defense: Diaspora."

The IDEA (International Diaspora Engagement Alliance) is to harness the untapped potential of diaspora communities and networks to address global issues.  This is, as far as I am concerned, a very positive development.  "Diaspora" is a word with a lot of negative connotations:  loss and exile come to mind immediately.  Conflicted loyalty, unfair competition and refusal to integrate are others.  Some countries are very fearful of migrant populations in their midst that have strong connections to their country of origin and to global networks of fellow emigrants in other destination countries.  Many global conspiracy theories start with diasporas.  

Something about the idea of trans-national migrant groups organizing and forming networks causes nation-states to sweat even when their own countries have produced their own diasporas.  This is particularly true of countries of immigration who like to think of their emigrants as "expatriates" and "long-term adventure tourists," and not as immigrants.

What Clinton is pointing out is that diasporas can actually be useful.  Instead of fighting them or pretending they don't exist perhaps we could pro-actively harness their power to do some good.

What exactly is this "good" diasporas can do?  As a US immigrant to France and a proud member of the American Diaspora, I'll be happy to take that question.  Here is what I came up with in under 30 seconds:

  • Act as ambassadors.  Like it or not, when we are abroad, we represent our country in the eyes of the people we meet. Most of us are painfully aware of this and we genuinely try to do our very best to do our country proud.
  • Be mediators and interpreters. When tensions rise, we can do our best to encourage thoughtful discussions.  Those of us who have lived for long periods in our destination country know a lot about how each side views the other and we can translate between the two to reduce misunderstandings  
  • Create links between the country of origin and the destination country.  Friends, colleagues, business partners and family - these are the connections we make over time and these can be very strong.  No one in my family, on either side of the Atlantic, can be indifferent to the fates of the United States or France - we are bound by marriage and blood.   The circle of caring (interest and empathy) got a lot bigger because of this connection.  We think this is good for us, and good for our countries of origin too.
  • Vote.  Dear Republicans and Democrats, above and beyond the US military, there are millions of potential votes out there that I cannot believe you are not chasing.  In all fairness, we (the Diaspora) need to be a lot more aggressive about exerting our rights.  French emigrants are represented in their Senate, why can't we be represented in ours?
I was disappointed to see that IDEA seems to center around using the diasporas who have members living in the U.S (around 62 million people).  I concede that the American Diaspora's numbers are few (only 5 million) but I don't think it's all about sheer numbers.  It's about organization and influence.  I think we can do better.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Flophouse Adventure: Getting my Residency Card Replaced

A few months ago a pickpocket stole my wallet in the train station in La Defense.  In addition to taking (and using) my credit cards, they also took my recently renewed 10-year French Residency Card.

This all happened back in April and I wrote about it here.  Since then it has been quite an adventure getting it replaced.  As of today, I still don't have it, though I see the light at the end of the tunnel.

The theft occurred on a Saturday when I was taking my daughter to Nanterre to pass an English exam.  I was in line at the Prefecture that Monday to report the loss and to start the procedure to get the card replaced.  This was absolutely my top priority - if I am asked for my papers by the police and can't produce them, well, that puts me in an "irregular situation" - a big problem when you are a migrant.  I also cannot apply for a job since one of the first things a prospective employer wants to know is: Am I here legally and do I have the right to work?

All procedures relating to my status here start with a trip to the Prefecture. There is always a line for migrants, so I always get there early. Some people arrive even earlier than me -  5 or 6 in the morning just to be sure.  The line is for the main "guichet" (counter).  You must stand in line until it is your turn and then you are oriented to the right area depending on what you need.  I always bring a book because the wait is usually 1-2 hours.  The last few times I've gone,  there is a nice gentleman who walks up and down the line and asks people what they need and tries to (if at all possible) expedite things.  My case is not considered a priority (which I completely understand) so I wait.

I arrive at the main counter.  I explain.  I am routed to a second counter with a number indicating in what order my case will be managed.  After about 45 minutes I am called to the counter where I show the police report and explain what happened.  The woman is sympathetic and helpful. I am given a form and a list of documents to bring for the next step, an interview where my documents will be examined and the Prefecture will determine if I indeed have the right to the Card.  She apologizes but the earliest date they can see me is July 22 - four months away.

The bright spot in all of this is that I had recently renewed the card so I had pretty much everything I needed on hand at home:  passport, birth certificate, my spouse's birth certificate, my children's birth certificates and so on.  I did have a little trouble with two documents.  The first was the "quittance de loyer" which I had to ask my landlord to send to me proving that:  1.  I do indeed live here in Versailles at the address indicated and that 2. I am up-to-date with my rent.  Naturally, doing this for me is not my landlord's first priority.  We have to ask twice before we finally receive it.  The second is some sort of bill that also proves that I am living here.  Usually you provide a "facture EDF' that is no older than 3 months.  Surprise!  EDF now issues bills only once or twice a year and the one we have is too old.  Another letter yields a note from the electricity company that says that indeed I live here and have paid my electricity bill.

Armed with all this (and a host of other papers I can think of that might be useful) I show up at the Prefecture  on July 22.  I wait for a little over an hour and then I am called to the counter.  I present my papers and they are checked by a young man who is both very new at his job and very polite. Everything seems OK so he asks me to sit down and wait while they examine my dossier.

Going to the Prefecture and mingling with my fellow migrants always bring out the amateur anthropologist in me since there is human drama and culture clashes everywhere you look:
  • A young professional of North African descent is conducting his business at the counter with exquisite courtesy toward the staff.  I am not surprised that everything goes smoothly for him and he leaves smiling.  
  • Another man is very irritated - this is his third or fourth visit and he still doesn't know if he will be allowed to stay.  He speaks very poor French with a heavy accent and has trouble understanding the staff.  The staff struggles to remain calm and polite but you can tell they are getting frustrated.  He takes all this very badly indeed but the Prefecture staff is firm - he must go home and wait.  He leaves visibly angry.  
  • Finally, at another window is a Portuguese women in a fury.  She has provided a birth certificate that the staff cannot accept because it is over a year old (the rules say it must be dated within 6 months).  She thinks this is stupid and they should take it anyway.  We (just about everyone in the Prefecture) know this because she is very loud and very very angry.  The conversation goes round and round with the staff saying they can't take it and until she provides a new one they cannot continue the process.  On her side, she argues and argues that the rule is ridiculous and couldn't they make an exception for her?  They don't, she gives up, and all of us in the room breathe a sigh of relief as she leaves with her family.
I am called back to the counter.  "My" civil servant smiles at me and says that everything is fine -  I will get my new card in 3 to 5 weeks and I will receive a "convocation" when it is ready.  I leave, happy and relieved.

As promised, when I come back from vacation, there it is with the rest of my mail.  It says that I am to come to the Prefecture as soon as possible to pick up the card.  I need to bring my passport, the convocation and two tax stamps which are available at the Public Treasury office or at tobacco stores.  I have never been able to figure out how the "tabacs" here got this job, but I'm not complaining because these stores are everywhere.

Alas, this turns out to be more complicated than I anticipated.  When I inquire, the tobacco store confirms that they do indeed sell tax stamps, but they don't sell them in the denominations that the Prefecture is requesting in the convocation.  The Prefecture wants one 19 Euro tax stamp and a second 155 Euro OMI stamp.   According to the tobacco store these stamps do not exist in those denominations - I or the Prefecture must have made a mistake.  They tell me to go back to the Prefecture and inform them that they are wrong.  I dissolve in peals of laughter as I try to imagine the reaction of the Prefecture staff to my telling them this. :-)

This is not a major problem, just a minor inconvenience.  The Public Treasury is not far and I can stop by when I am doing my shopping tomorrow.  Then I will go straight to the Prefecture and get my precious card so I can start feeling less precarious and much more "at home" again.

Almost there.  Wish me luck.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Leaving on a Jet Plane

Yesterday we packed our bags and headed home, leaving the Canadian Outpost of the Flophouse (aka the Elder Frenchling) behind to get settled in her dorm.

We did manage to do some sightseeing in Montreal before we left.  What is one of the signs of a great city?  You don't need a car.  We were able to walk or take the metro absolutely everywhere we wanted to go.  Here are the places where we had the most fun:

Photo from Internet:

Chinatown:  We walked around for a few hours in the Quartier Chinois.  The Younger Frenchling got to practice her kanji.  Great neighborhood.  SunYat-Sen Square was really beautiful.

Rue Sainte Catherine:  We heard every language under the sun strolling up this street.  Lots of shops.  Tons of restaurants.

The Planetarium:  The winner, THE place where we enjoyed ourselves the most, was the Montreal Planetarium.  In another life I worked for an NGO called The Committee on Space Research (part of the International Council of Scientific Unions) in Paris and, even after nearly 20 years, I find everything to do with space to be fascinating:  the solar wind, planetary geology and so on.  The Younger Frenchling seems to share my tastes.  We saw "Fragments of the Solar System".  Really well done.  The astronomer who animated the show was the best kind of scientist - one who can get others to share his passion while educating them about his subject.

Now we are home, jet-lagged and tired.  Garden is a mess.  Versailles is cold and gloomy.  I
m going to pour myself another cup of coffee and try to wake up enough to face the day:  post office, bank, prefecture....

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

US and EU IT Systems for Migrant Management

When I was writing the "Pledge of Allegiance" series, I argued that nation-states were obviously not serious about controlling dual-nationality since they weren't, for example, sharing citizen databases.

As far as I know, we are not there - yet.  However, the systems to make that a reality one day are in progress.

On the EU side, ever heard of  The Schengen Information System (SIS) version II?  This system is used for both law enforcement and border control in the Schengen Area.  "It holds information on persons who may have been involved in a serious crime or may not have the right to enter or stay in the EU. It also contains alerts on missing persons, in particular children, as well as information on certain property, such as banknotes, cars, vans, firearms and identity documents, that may have been stolen, misappropriated or lost." The new version will come on-line in 2013 and, according to this article, will have a number of stunning new features.

On the US side, a system called E-Verify is becoming a killer-app.  This is a joint venture between Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration.  It's an on-line system that can be accessed anywhere by anyone with Internet access and is used to verify that someone has the right to work in the U.S.   Seems to be popular with just about everyone except U.S. farmers who are against legislation that would make its use mandatory.

I'm not clairvoyant but I'm pretty sure that once you build systems like these and fill them with a lot of juicy and useful data, someone is going to want to link them (with nods and winks toward local privacy laws, of course).  I'm not sure how I feel about this.  On one hand I'd love to see the technical specs (call it professional curiosity - these must be fun and well-funded projects).  On the other, this is exactly the kind of over-sharing that makes me queasy about group therapy and government - both can do a lot of damage when they know and promiscuously share too much.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Cracking the DaVino Code and Winning the Wine Wars

Wine Wars: The Curse of the Blue Nun, The Miracle of Two Buck Chuck, and the Revenge of the TerroiristsWine Wars: the Curse of the Blue Nun, the Miracle of Two Buck Chuck and the Revenge of the Terroirists by Mark Veseth is, hands down, one of the best books I've read recently.  The author is a "wine economist" but don't let that put you off.  This book manages to be both entertaining and informative with a style that is more like an enthusiastic and spontaneous conversation and nothing at all  like a dry lecture on supply and demand.   I can't attest to the validity of his arguments - I outsourced everything to do with wine to my French family over 20 years ago - but I am impressed by his facts and his ability to tie wine to so many different subjects, many of which I enjoy discussing here on this blog.  Here are a few examples:.

Migration:   The wine world we have today is a direct result of international migration:  Phoenicians and Greeks to Italy and Spain, and Romans to France and Germany.  From there it has spread all over the world where the climate was suitable - called the "30-50 wine belt" which includes North Africa, North America, Australia, New Zealand, China and Japan among many others. Interesting enough, up until the 1960's in France half the French wine actually came from North Africa (Algeria to be precise). Today, the wine shelf of your local supermarket looks like a model United Nations.  Wherever modern migrant populations gather, they demand the tastes of home and wine is no exception to that.  Veseth, who lives in North America, says that wine from Romania, Bulgaria, Moldova, and Georgia (a "cradle of wine") and many other countries, are all available in his local supermarket.

Language: The wine world is bi-lingual with the Old and New World speaking different languages with the former using geography (Veseth calls this the "DaVino Code") and the latter using a simpler (and more accessible to the amateur) system of brand/grape/region.

The Global Economy:  Wine is also about business and it is a tough one to succeed in.   I learned this first hand via a family member in France who ran a small traditional family (four+ generations) winery in the Loire Valley. He loved his "metier" but he still had to break even and turn a profit because, like most people, he had house payments to make and children to feed and to send to university.

France (Languedoc) is the center of production, the "world's largest vineyard,"  but the UK is the economic center of wine - the British not only consume one in six bottles of wine on the international market, but London is center of the auction market for really good, very expensive wine. This may change because Hong Kong is starting to give the British competition for this market.

New Technology:  Are you someone who would never drink "wine in a box?"  Surprise, you probably already have -that bottle of wine you bought in the supermarket might just have started life as "wine in a container."  Lots of technological change in the wine world designed to make it more "green".  One of those changes is the (now fairly common) practice of shipping wine in huge wine bladders and then bottling it locally.

Global warming :  This was a real shock to me since I never connected the dots that go from climate change to my glass of Sancerre.  All the places in the world that make wine today (both the traditional wine countries and the newcomers) are going to be severely and negatively impacted by global warming.  Veseth says that "Wine is the canary in the coal mine in terms of global climate change."  The grape varieties that to into wine are exquisitely sensitive to temperature.  By around 2050 experts are predicting that today's "terroir" will be pushed between 280 and 500 km toward the poles.  Great for Norway.  Bad for California, France and North Africa.

I'll stop there because I wouldn't want to deprive you of the pleasure of discovering this book for yourself. I recommend that you savour it slowly, like a really good Bordeaux...


Monday, August 22, 2011

Fear of Small Numbers: Majorities and Minorities

Yesterday, we looked at Arjun Appadurai's description of a potent cocktail that blends ethno-nationalism and social uncertainty and is shaken (not stirred) by globalization.

"Globalization," he says, "exacerbates these uncertainties and produces new incentives for cultural purification as more nations lose the illusion of economjc sovereignty or well-being."

While this "orgy of exclusion" does lead to a number of disagreeable and unseemly rhetorics and acts against non-citizens and citizens alike, it does not necessarily lead to an "orgy of violence."

Appadurai argues that the path to large-scale violence has to do with the creation of majorities and minorities (be they cultural, linguistic, religious and so on), a very modern phenomenen that relies on those "tools of legibility" that are the glory of the modern nation-state. The ability to count and categorize people reveals (creates?) differences that can be used to assign people to one group or another. There is nothing particularly natural or self-evident about this - minorities and majorities are made, not born.

Having assigned people to a category, the majority will sometimes turn on their minorities and not only deprive them of their dignity, liberty and property, but their lives as well. When you think about it, this is unbelievably strange and illogical. What is so threatening about a group that is numerically inferior and is, by definition, weak? This is the "fear of small numbers" Appadurai uses for the title of his essay. But there is a certain logic behind it if one's dream is a vision of the nation as a pure whole - ethno-nationalism taken to its bitter, and extreme, end. In this context, an identified minority is a provocation that "reminds the majority of the small gap between their condition as majorities and the horizon of an unsullied national whole, a pure and untainted national ethos." This creates what Appafurai calls, "the anxiety of incompleteness." When this is tied to a "predatory identity" that goes so far as to claim that the very existence of the majority is threatened by, and incompatible with, a minority, you have all the elements necessary for large-scale violence. The debate is framed as a fight for survival.

This is, in my view, exactly what the Far Right parties are trying to create. Here are a few examples of minorities under attack: dual nationals in France, Spanish speakers in America, Moslems in India and migrants just about everywhere. Right-wing parties and movements are claiming that these people, however small their numbers, are a real threat to their respective nations. Though the criteria for minority status differs by national context, the answer to difference is the same - elimination by various means with harsh measures and methods being proposed when the right-wing parties achieve some power through the electoral process or they see that polls and public sentiment demonstrate that the majority is amenable to moving in that direction.

The most extreme method of elimination, of course, is genocide.  Can you drew a straight line from social uncertainty exacerbated by globalization, ethno-nationalism, the "anxiety of incompleteness" and "predatory identities?"  I am convinced that, yes, you can. Here are the elements Appadurai cites as ingredients for genocide;

  1. "The capture of the state by parties or groups that have placed their political bets on some sort of racialized nationalist ideology
  2. The availability of census tools and techniques that encourage enumerated communities to become norms for the idea of community itself
  3. A felt lack of fit between political borders and community migrations and populations, yielding a new alertness to politically abandoned kin or ethnic strangers claiming to be one's kinsmen
  4. A successful campaign of fear, directed at numerical majorities, which convinces them that they are at risk of destruction by minorities who know how to use the law (and the entire apparatus of liberal-democratic politics) to advance their special ends."

A rather sobering list, elements of which can be read in every newspaper on and off-line, heard on every radio and viewed on every television in nations all around the world.  Fear of Small Numbers is a fascinating and frightening read.  I've gained two things from this book:   a language and framework that I can use to describe some of what I see and experience as a migrant among many other migrants in this increasingly global and interconnected world.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Fear of Small Numbers: Globalization and Autochthony

Before leaving Seattle I selected several books with intriguing titles that sparked my interest. In the stolen time I managed to carve out in our busy schedule, I've been reading here in our hotel room in Montreal.

Fear of Small Numbers: An Essay on the Geography of Anger (a John Hope Franklin Center Book)
Fear of Small Numbers: An Essay on the Geography of Anger by Arjun Appadurai is a brilliant book.  It is the second book in an ongoing project that examines globalization and seeks ways to make it work for those who "need it most and enjoy it least."  Comparing it to his first book, Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization, I found Fear of Small Numbers to be the better book. Both have excellent ideas but Fear of Small Numbers is more accessible to someone like me who has never had much patience with the language of "Theory."

Remember the heady post-Cold War days when we believed that globalization (exemplified by democratic movements, Free Trade, and the Internet) was ushering in an era of peace and prosperity for all?  Over the years much of our optimism has faded away to be replaced by a growing horror at some of the darker aspects of a world gone global:  terrorism, crashing financial markets and failed states.  We are forced to admit that a world that has become more connected is not necessarily a world with less conflict.  In Fear of Small Numbers Appadurai asks, "why in the 1990's, the period of what we may now call the period of 'high globalization', should also be the period of large-scale violence in a wide range of societies and political regimes?"

His argument begins with the nation-state itself.  He contends that, "No modern nation, however benign its political system and however eloquent its public voices may be about the virtues of tolerance, multiculturalism, and inclusion, is free of the idea that its national sovereignty is built on some sort of ethnic genius."   Even countries that have gone to extraordinary lengths to create Frenchman or Americans or Indonesians are not immune.    

Is ethno-nationalism sufficient to explain why this language of ethnic or cultural purity tips over into discrimination and violence?  No, other conditions are required.  One condition is "social uncertainty" which Appadurai traces directly to globalization.   Above all", says Appadurai, "the certainty that distinctive and singular peoples grow out of and control well-defined territories has been decisively unsettled by the global fluidity of wealth, arms, people and images..." What, specifically, are the "sins" of globalization that provoke our anxiety?

Loss of a sovereign and stable territory with a containable and countable population:  How many of 'us' and how many of 'them' are there in our territory or abroad?  I think he is absolutely right about this.  Our census, one of the "tools of legibility" so ably described by J.C. Scott, are unreliable. We know there are "illegals' but we can't know for sure how many.  Our fellow citizens living abroad?  These are people we cannot accurately count. The US government seems to have given up. France and other countries' statistics are unreliable. How can a nation-states fulfill their duties to citizens or demand that citizens fulfill their obligations if they have no idea who or where their citizens are?

Loss of reliable, stable categories for placing people: How do we determine that someone is one of 'us' and not one of 'them'?  Again, I agree 100% with Appadurai.  As much as I personally dislike categorization, I have to acknowledge that many people find it very disturbing when they encounter someone in their country they cannot place or who they suspect is not what he or she claims to be. An official asks me for my identification and is very surprised when I hand him my residency card.  In almost all nation-states it has become impossible to sort out the citizens/nationals and the "sons of the soil" from the dual-nationals, multi-linguals, legal  residents and undocumented aliens.

Let's take this one step further.  Having lost the old (and, let's face it, rather dubious) categories we are desperately in search of new ones. This is a perilous undertaking because, as Peter Geschiere points out in Perils of Belonging, "in practice any attempt to define the autochthonous community in concrete terms will give rise to fierce disagreements and nagging suspicions of faking."  That has not stopped some people from trying.  Le Pen of the Front National suggested that only French people with four French grandparents could be considered "truly French." If taken seriously, this would transform over 25% of the population of France into foreigners overnight.  The "National Operation of Identification" launched by the president of the Ivory Coast required that all persons go back to their "village of origin." to be "identified."  Only those who had as village to go back to (cities didn't count) were citizens with the right to vote and to own land.  Bobby Jindal, a rising star of the American Right, had his qualifications for high office questioned because he is the son of Indian immigrant who were not citizens at the time of his birth which, to some people on the Far Right, means that he can never be president of the United States even though he was born on US soil.

Potential loss of state-provided goods and services
:  This loss of nation-state sovereignty and of stable, consistent, reliable categories, according to Appadurai, "creates intolerable anxiety about the relationship to state-provided goods - ranging from housing and health to safety and sanitation-since these entitlements are frequently tied to who 'you' are and thus to who 'they' are."  I would add that, in an era of huge budget deficits and economic turmoil, even citizens are unsure if they will ever receive a government pension or have access to the same level of healthcare as they had in the past.  Desperate to hold onto what is left, they try to create categories with themselves as the deserving, first-class citizens, and the others as second-class citizens (not "true citizens") or undeserving non-citizens (migrants). Geschiere's book describes a similar struggle over resources that are handed over to local community control.  Suddenly the definition of "community" is of primary importance and people find themselves sorted into "natives" with rights to control these resources and "foreigners" who do not.

I find Appadurai's argument, from nation-state ethos to the local struggle for goods and resources, to be very compelling.  Within it, I find plausible reasons for the rise of Far Right parties (Front National, Tea Party and others) and for recent efforts at cultural purification in many nation-states all around the world.  What is interesting to me is how these movements or parties do not just target migrants, they also go after their fellow citizens in an orgy of exclusion. The paradox is, as Peter Geschiere points out, that the same parties that are interested in reducing the power and role of the state are calling on their governments to take drastic (and costly) measures against the second-class or non-citizens on their soil.

Do these attempts at exclusion (state-supported or not) always turn violent? Not necessarily.  While the language and legislation are often disagreeable, and isolated acts of violence and discrimination do occur, outright violence on a large-scale is rare in most democratic nation-states. Ethno-nationalism and social uncertainty are necessary conditions for, but not a complete explanation of, wide-spread, large-scale violence. Tomorrow we'll continue our discussion by looking at what Appadurai calls "the anxiety of incompleteness."

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Flophouse in Canada: A Third Place?

Over the years, late at night over a glass of wine and after a long hard day at work, the denizens of the Flophouse have had many conversations about Canada as a potential Third Place.

What is a "Third Place?" It's a country or community where the Flophouse feels at home and where none of us are citizens. Our last Third Place was Japan and while we were very happy there we knew that we would always remain "gaijin" which is both a good and a bad thing depending on the day.

Canada in general and Quebec in particular are more promising. For one thing it is the only country we've experienced where we can do in public what we do at home - start a conversation in French and finish it in English (or vice versa). Since we are all fluent in both languages it has never bothered us to switch back and forth but we have noticed that this perturbs people in our home countries. And then there is the little matter of our accents. The Frenchlings have native accents, my spouse and I do not which means that we are pegged as "foreign" the moment we open our mouths. Here in Montreal there is such a diversity of accents in both languages (our Lebanese cab driver on the way in had a very elegant French accent)no one raises an eyebrow or bats an eye when we start to speak.

This is also very clearly a "country of immigration" and that means diversity everywhere you look (at least in the big cities). A person from a more homogenous culture might find this disturbing - we find it delightful. Last night we found a Japanese/Korean delicatessen right next door to our hotel. The Frenchlings were in heaven because they found the same candy and instant curry that we used to love to eat in Tokyo.

These two things (and the quality of the welcome) make us feel like we've entered a world where a family like ours is not particularly strange or exotic. The added bonus is the lack of what I call the "home court advantage". Living in France or the US we are always aware that one of us is NOT a citizen and is, therefore, a person with fewer rights. This inequality is a source of tension that disappears when we arrive in a place where we are all foreigners and are equally disadvantaged.

So what has stopped us over the years from attempting to move here? Uncertainty mostly. There is so much we do not know. What is the job market like, for example? Could we survive the winters? Are my spouse and I too old to be allowed to migrate? What about our aging parents on both sides of the Atlantic? And so on.

All we know right now is that we are thrilled that the elder Frenchling chose Quebec, Canada as her Third Place. I was asked the other day if I would mind my daughter staying here after her studies are completed. The immigration officer at the airport made a similar suggestion when he saw her French and American passports saying that she might like Canada enough to become a Canadian citizen too.

I hope she does like it here. I'll go even farther and say that I hope she falls in love with this country. If we can manage friends and family across multiple countries right now then I don't see why we couldn't add another country to the mix. Canada is a beautiful country and, from what we have seen, the elder Frenchling just might fit in very well. If one day Canada agrees, well, that would just be the cat's pajamas. :-)

Friday, August 19, 2011

Policies toward Highly-skilled Immigrants: Comparing the US, EU and Canada

Selective immigration is a hot topic these days. Even countries that insist that they are not 'countries of immigration' are diving into the global competition for well-educated, highly-skilled immigrants.

However, each country or super-state is designing its programs differently. The EU Blue Card, for example, is not really equivalent to a U.S. Green Card.  The diversity of programs and lack of clear information about what is available make it difficult for a potential migrant to clearly understand the differences:  the advantages and dis-advantages of one program over another.

So I was very pleased to come across the work of Hristina Petrova, an independant Bulgarian researcher, who has done some excellent work in this area. Her comparative approach is exactly what is needed by both potential migrants and policy-makers.  She argues (and she is right) that you can't look at selective immigration programs in isolation; what one country does impacts the others.
Whenever there is a political debate, highly skilled migration alone is rarely the subject of discussion. Despite being a subcategory in migration, it is more closely related to skills accumulation than to general migration since it rhymes with knowledge, (technological) innovation, economic growth and cultural diversity. That is why the competition to attract and retain highly educated (trained) people has become a global issue, with any single policy implementation having a chain effect on competitors’policies.
Her Masters' thesis on Highly-Skilled Migrant policies which compares the EU, Canada and the U.S. is an excellent resource -  a good comparative analysis about the differences among the Canadian points-based system, the U.S. Green card and H1-B visa program, and the European Blue card scheme.  In her paper she also talks about the history of migration in these regions, the difficulty of finding good, reliable data on international migrants, how each country or superstate has crafted its immgration policies according to how it perceives the need for skilled labor, and the trends - what might these countries' policies look like in the future? A summary of her conclusions can be found here and I call your attention to two that I found intriguing:
Finally, some global trends are to be considered. At the time when the EU has finally shown interest in attracting the best and the brightest, somewhat inspired by the systems in the US and Canada, the time of adopting the legislation, changes have occurred in the latter countries. The future of the American immigration system is for the moment uncertain, depending on the lobby groups, while Canada has accepted a hybrid model of skills supply and demand...
The policies towards highly skilled migrants are characterized by exceptional dynamics and influenced by numerous factors, such as geographical, linguistic and cultural proximity; lobbying in favor of migrants; economic specificities; demographic problems; labour shortages. That is why it has to be kept in mind that ‘home’ and ‘host’ country are not static in the case of the highly skilled migrants and that in the imminent war for talents only the countries with fast and efficient political planning will be successful.
If you are interested in migrating to the U.S., EU or Canada and you want a good comparison of all three's selective immigration programs, this is the place to start.

Many thanks to Ms. Petrova for her research and for her permission to link to her site.  She has really done us all an enormous good and I highly recommend her work.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Flophouse in Canada: Welcome to Montreal

The Flophouse landed late yesterday in Montreal, the largest city in the province of Quebec.

The quality of the welcome was outstanding. Given the diversity of our passports and status (1 French passport, 2 French or US passports, and 1 US passport holder with legal residency in France - 3 tourists and one international French/American student) we braced ourselves for the inevitable confusion or difficulties as we entered the country. Not only were there zero problems (the custom declaration form actually allows for multiple nationalities within one family) the customs/immigration people were gracious and helpful.

As an international student my daughter could have benefitted from a program called Accueil Plus+ set up to welcome and guide students from abroad through the entry process. We didn't use it but we watched some of the young adults arriving alone from abroad being welcomed and thought it was a really brillant idea, nicely implemented.

Today we spent our time walking around the city and taking care of paperwork. The elder Frenchling was accepted at McGill University so of course we spent some time walking around the campus. Really nice though I couldn't help but wonder what it's going to be like in the middle of winter.

Once all our official business is taken care of we plan to spend some time sightseeing. Both my spouse and I have visited this city many times but always on business which meant that we saw the inside of many office buildings and meeting rooms but not much else. We hope to rectify that in the next few days.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

European Blue Card - Update on France

As promised I have been following the implementation of the EU Blue Card in France and I'm paying particular attention to the OFII site Pour la promotion de l'immigration professionelle.  Here's what's I found: 4Q6U5RP85X6V

Loi n° 2011-672 du 16 juin 2011 - this is the text of the law, commonly referred to as the "Loi Besson", that was passed last June.  See Chapter II, articles 17-20  about "La carte de sejour temporaire portant la mention 'Carte Bleue Europeene'"

Métiers en tension - this site is very interesting.  Not only does it provide a list of 'professions in crisis' but it also gives a very clear statement about when it is acceptable for French companies to actively recruit foreigners:
La situation de l’emploi en France n’est pas opposable aux entreprises qui souhaitent faire appel à des étrangers pour les qualifications connaissant une pénurie de candidats. La liste de ces métiers en difficulté de recrutement, dits métiers en tension, est répertoriée dans une liste nationale ou négociée dans le cadre des accords bilatéraux. Leur nombre peut varier selon le pays d’origine des migrants.
(The employment environment in France is not against companies that wish to recruit foreigners for positions that lack candidates. The list of these professions, called 'metiers en tension', are  placed on a national list or are negotiated within the context of b-lateral agreements.  Their number varies according to the migrants' country of origin.) 
There are two lists.  This one is the most recent (2011) and is called la liste des 14 metiers. These professions are open to all foreigners.  The second is older (2008) but it still seems to be valid and it lists 150 professions by region for which France is open to hiring from some EU countries so not too useful unless you are from those States.

Questions fréquentes : Procédures d’embauche (FAQ: Hiring Procedures) - This is very useful.  It's actually destined for employers who wish to hire a foreigner but no reason you can't use it.  Good information about the procedures and what documents will be required and so on.

I went over the site pretty thoroughly and I don't see a clear path or procedure for those who are interested specifically in the EU Blue Card.  I'm encouraged however by the fact that they do have a link to the text and they seem to be advertising it on their site.  I suspect that we'll see more once everyone gets back from vacation in early September (July/August in France is kind of slow - one of the reasons I love it).

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Migration Equation

It is impossible to ever be completely certain why people do what they do.  We ourselves are unsure as to why we acted in one way or another. Motivation is a strange beast. Our lives are mysteries that we only begin to unravel when we have some distance (measured in years or decades) and can look back to make some sense of the patterns and defining choices that put us right here, right now, in this place. It may be that what we think is less reliable then what we feel.  I would be very suspicious of any poll that reported the "real reasons" people migrate.  Studies may be more reliable but the ones I have read are very limited in scope, "The Mexican-American Experience", for example, or "British International Retirement Migrants in Spain" or "Chinese-Canadian Managers in Shanghai."  Since there is so little reliable information, migration is a blank slate upon which people write their own narratives and impute motives to migrants that have everything to do with natives' own inner turmoil and very little to do with the migrants themselves. 

There is no one answer to the question, "Why did you/they leave?"  In some cases migration is involuntary - borders change, wars break out and stateless people are cast upon the mercy of other states willing to receive them. These migrants had their decisions made for them.  They had to leave or can only stay under conditions that are hostile and precarious.   Even today there are more people than you might think in this position and their stories are tragic and heartbreaking. Nearly 680,000 in Europe alone at the beginning of the 21st century. That story merits its own post so for now we'll restrict our discussion to voluntary migration.

For the voluntary migrant a decision to migrate is made based on an evaluation of the opportunities and constraints in the home country, the attractiveness of certain destination countries and the individual's personal context.  Bear in mind that the potential migrant is almost always making this decision with limited information.  No migrant knows for sure what life is really like in the destination country. It is a leap into the dark, an act of faith, a gamble.  Here are a few of the factors I thought of that go into evaluating the migration equation:

Opportunity:  Sometimes it is as simple as believing that there are better jobs that pay more elsewhere.  This is true of workers but it is equally true of skilled or executive labor.  An expatriate businessman or woman may choose to accept an assignment overseas because he may enjoy a higher standard of living in a destination country and be able to save money to bring back home.  For other people the draw may be the ease of starting a business or because they are held back at home because of racial or gender discrimination.  In Leaving America by  John Wennersten, he devotes an entire chapter to the exodus of African-Americans to Europe, Asia and Africa.  I know North African women in Paris who left home because they felt limited in spite of their advanced academic credentials and work experience.  Many countries even advertise opportunities hoping to attract people.  Go to Google and type in "Teaching English in Korea," and see how many hits you get.  Sweden has this site, Three Good Reasons to Work in Sweden.  Escapeartist has an entire page devoted to finding overseas jobs.  See this video, Coming to Australia, about working and living in the Land Down Under.  A quick pass through these sites show that there is as much "pull" as there is "push".

Networks:  Despite all the advertisements, no migrant really knows if he or she will fare better somewhere else but one way that migrants hedge their bets is by using social networks to gather information and to ease into life in a new land.  A lot has been written about the Overseas Chinese network but nearly all countries have established immigrant communities that will help new migrants get established in the host country.  In France, for example, the Portuguese community is very strong.  In Multi-Ethnic France: Immigrants, Politics, Culture and Society, Alec Hargreaves writes, "On a per capita basis the Portuguese population is believed to have a denser network of voluntary associations than any other minority group in France...This, together with the relatively generous provision of state support for mother tongue teaching, and the geographical proximity of Portugal, which makes it easy for families to pay regular visits to the home country, has enabled the Portuguese to maintain closer cultural ties than many other groups of recent immigrant origin."  Another example would be the large communities of American retirees in Mexico who send back news about the good life south of the border and encourage others to come on down.

Adventure:  I cannot count the number of people I have met who want to do the "Peter Mayle thing."  For some people there is something delightful about selling everything and relocating to an exotic land to build a new life in a new language. After business reasons, this is, I think, the primary reason that people from developed countries in America and Europe leave home.  For Americans this taps into something very deep in the American psyche:  the desire for new frontiers that drove previous generations farther and farther across the continent until they reached the Pacific Ocean.  Today there are very few frontiers in the U.S.  I think John Wennersten is absolutely right when he says, "The same types of people who used to move to Montana or Alaska to escape are now moving to Mexico, Canada and beyond...In the current atmosphere of cultural flux, downsizing, and diminished opportunities, things seem better in Budapest than Buffalo."  Other people have similar reasons.  I know French people in Tokyo who are in love with Japan and find the idea of returning to France rather boring after living in such a beautiful, exotic and gracious land.  I've talked to Brits who have the same feeling about France - they have successfully installed themselves in small villages all over the countryside and find it and the people wonderful.  People who go for adventure take the economic environment into consideration but it's not the primary motivation.  Many are willing to take low-paying jobs in exchange for a chance to do something interesting and different in a foreign land.

André Aciman wrote, "expatriation, like love, is not only a condition that devastates and reconfigures the self; it is, like love, a trope, a figure with which we try to explain, try to narrate profound psychological disruptions in terms of very measurable entities: a person, a place, an event, a moment, etc."

I believe that migration is central to the human experience. It devastates and recreates. It is both a deeply personal decision and a path that was tread by all our ancestors at one point or another.  I don't believe for a moment it can be stopped and I am very dubious about efforts to control it.  States can put up barriers, increase deportations and spend millions, if not billions, of euros turning their countries into fortresses but no power on this earth has ever prevented people from dreaming and acting on their hopes and aspirations.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Emigrant Myths

During our sojourn at the farm, we had a lot of time to talk over a roaring evening fire and many glasses of wine. One very interesting discussion was sparked when I pointed out there are over 5 million American living abroad, a figure that raised a few eyebrows.  So many?  Yes, I replied.  After mulling it over for a few minutes one family member asked me, "Why would anyone want to leave America?"

Now, you might be thinking at this point that this is another example of an insular American who can't imagine why anyone would leave the land of milk and honey that is the United States.  I would strongly disagree with that assumption because I have heard this question asked by natives in all the countries I've lived in.  I have heard Frenchmen and women ask, "Why?" when they see young French students leaving for Canada or French workers holding down jobs in Japan.  It is a real enigma for those who stay and the statistics, once they are revealed, seem to provoke a real sense of uneasiness .  If people leave, does this mean that there is something wrong with our country? Or, more perversely, is there something deeply wrong with emigrants themselves that caused them to pack up and leave?   On the emigrants side, confronted by questions from their home country natives, they feel uncomfortable having to defend their personal choices and their right to still be considered French or American or Japanese. 

What makes these conversations so difficult and so emotional is how hard it is for each side to empathize with the other.  An emigrate has had an experience that changes him in ways that are very hard for his compatriots who have never lived anywhere else to relate to.  The natives who remain also have an experience  - one of continuous residence in the country of origin - that emigrants find equally difficult to understand.  To the question "Why did you leave?" an emigrant could just as well retort, "So, why did you stay?"

In my humble opinion, both questions merit serious reflection and both sides in this debate need to start "assuming goodwill." If we stopped stopped bickering (or idealizing in some cases) and opened ourselves to the idea that we could learn something from an honest exchange, we might all be better off and more comfortable in our national skins. Here is my take on some of the myths about emigrants that I personally find silly or destructive. If you have another view or you disagree with my thoughts, please feel free to say so:

Emigration says something negative about the country of origin:  Nonsense.  Even countries of immigration are countries of emigration.  There are flows in and flows out. This has always been true.  According to John Wennersten in his book, Leaving America, during the golden age of immigration in the U.S. (1880-1920) 17.6 million people arrived and 6 million people left

Emigrants are rejecting their country of origin:  This is one that deserves to be confronted head on.  Nothing I have ever seen or heard from emigrants (be they French or American or English....) lends credence to this idea.  On the contrary, many find that they feel more American or more French in a foreign country.  Looking at their culture from the outside makes them appreciate the things they like about home and their fellow citizens.  Many remain politically active - the debate over Sarko versus Segolene comes to my mind - and even those who do not actually vote in their home country elections still take a lively interest in home country life and politics.  Certainly there are critics (American Bush-haters, for example, or French entrepreneurs complaining about the bureaucracy involved in starting a business in Paris or the Moroccan who criticizes gender discrimination at home) but the vast majority of folks I have encountered overseas are excellent ambassadors for their home countries. They love where they are from.

Emigrants are rich tax cheats:  This one is particularly funny.  Anyone who thinks that Americans move to the EU, for example, to escape taxes is insane.  Taxes can be very high in the destination country. They can also be lower.   It all depends.  As for emigrants being rich, well, I'm sure some of them are but a quick overview of the expatriate communities in Tokyo and Paris reveal lots of managers, taxi drivers, waiters/waitresses, IT people, language teachers, professors, entrepreneurs and part and full-time regular workers. Among my friends and acquaintances there are many who are struggling - living in studio apartments and teaching their native  language part-time or driving taxis or trying to make a go of a small bookstore or desperately searching for consulting jobs. Some emigrants are comfortably middle or upper income, a few are wild successes, but most are just trying to make a living.  Just like people at home.

So, if emigrants are not rejecting their home countries and they are not escaping taxes to live the good life in a chateau in the French countryside or a beach house in the Caribbean, why do they leave? 

More tomorrow.....

Back from the Farm

A wonderful time was had by all.  We ate fantastically well - fresh vegetables from the garden and local meat.   We made a fire every night - no lack of wood in this part of the world - and roasted marshmallows. The children played croquet and badminton in the fields.  The adults played too but in their own particular way (adult play is work that adults actually enjoy doing.)  Here is what we managed to accomplish....

Finished the siding on the barn.
This kind of siding is called board and batten and it is often used for barns.   Large wood planks are nailed into place and then smaller strips of wood are used to cover the spaces between the large planks. 

Weeded the flowerbeds
Painted the exterior of the house

Finished painting the inside of the house
This morning we packed up and headed back to Washington.  Every time I cross over the Columbia River, I think of the Woody Guthrie song, Roll on Columbia:

"Roll on, Columbia, roll on
Roll on, Columbia, roll on
Your power is turning our darkness to dawn
So roll on, Columbia, roll on

Green Douglas firs where the waters cut through
Down her wild mountains and canyons she flew
Canadian Northwest to the oceans so blue
Roll on Columbia, roll on

Other great rivers add power to you
Yakima, Snake, and the Klickitat, too
Sandy Willamette and Hood River too
So roll on, Columbia, roll on

Tom Jefferson's vision would not let him rest
An empire he saw in the Pacific Northwest
Sent Lewis and Clark and they did the rest
So roll on, Columbia, roll on....."

On the Washington side, no trip up Interstate 5 would be complete without a stop at Mrs. Beesley's (Exit 59 - Toledo, Washington).  The best hamburgers and fried onion rings I've ever tasted.  

After four hours on the road we finally arrived in Seattle and, as we passed by Boeing Field, we caught a glimpse of Boeing's new airplane, the 787 Dreamliner.

We are back at the Phinney  Ridge house now - tired, tan and happy.  I brought my Kindle along on the trip and managed to get some reading done.  More tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Off to the Farm

We live in interesting times.  One of the pleasures of coming to States on vacation is the chance to read the morning newspaper over a cup of coffee. However, the headlines being what they are, this is more a source of stress than anything else.

Only response I can think of is to put down the newspaper, turn off the computer, and hit the road.  We are headed for the farm, a place of peace in the midst of so much turmoil. Nothing, in my view, calms the spirit more than good hard physical labor and pulling weeds out of rich deep soil with your bare hands. 

Zen Mind, Beginner's MindIn Shunryu's Suzuki's book, Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, he says,
"To think 'Because it is impossible we will do it,' is not Buddhism. Even though it is impossible, we have to do it because our true nature wants us to. But, actually, whether or not it is possible is not the point. If it is our inmost desire to get rid of our self-centered ideas, we have to do it. When we make this effort, our inmost desire is appeased and Nirvana is there. Before you determine to do it, you have difficulty, but once you start to do it, you have none. Your effort appeases your inmost desire. There is no other way to attain calmness. Calmness of mind does not mean you should stop your activity. Real calmness should be found in activity itself. We say, 'It is easy to have calmness in inactivity, it is hard to have calmness in activity, but calmness in activity is true calmness."

 Not sure we will be able to attain this state but if, at the end of the day, we've managed to reorient our priorities, remember what is truly important (family, friends, meaningful work), and get the vines trimmed and the barn sided and the rosebeds weeded, then we will have accomplished a great deal.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Flophouse Favorite #7 - Two Birds Tattoo in Seattle

Body art
  • items of jewelry or clothing worn on the body and regarded as art.
                    - the practice of decorating the body by means of tattooing, piercing, plastic surgery, etc..
  • an artistic movement originating in the 1970s in which the physical presence of the artist (or of a model) is regarded as an integral part of the work.
Yesterday I walked into Two Birds Tattoo and I walked out with a beautiful tattoo on my left shoulder. I knew what I wanted (a floral design) and Tarah was my guide.  She helped me select the design (custom) and did a superb job of realizing it.  Here is the inspiration and the result:

Photo from Web

Photo by M.L. Reslock 


Friday, August 5, 2011

EURES: the European Job Mobility Portal

This is a great resource for anyone seeking employment in a European country.

EURES (European Employment Services) is a network coordinated by the European Commission to "facilitate the free movement of workers within the European Economic Area; Switzerland is also involved. Partners in the network include public employment services, trade union and employers' organisations."  According to their website, they have three objectives:
  • to inform, guide and provide advice to potentially mobile workers on job opportunities as well as living and working conditions in the European Economic Area;
  • to assist employers wishing to recruit workers from other countries;and
  • to provide advice and guidance to workers and employers in cross-border regions.
I have the impression (I could be wrong here) that this organization was originally designed to facilitate movement for work purposes between European countries.  However, since very few EU citizens take advantage of this (about 2%), I think that their scope has expanded to providing guidance for both mobile workers within  Europe and work migrants from non-European countries.  In any case, the site is available in 20 languages and has a number of good links to resources that you might find helpful:

My EURES: Here you can create an account, post a CV, set up database searches and receive alerts by email.

Jobseekers:  On-line database of jobs available in over European countries.  I ran a search on "Computer Professionals" and hit the jackpot - over 1000 IT jobs in France alone.

Are you a graduate?:  See the section "6 Tips to starting a Professional Career Abroad" which has links to tips for finding a job, preparing a European-style CV (resume), applying for a job, interviewing and the practical and legal aspects of moving to a new country.  The information is ostensibly for students but I think everyone can benefit from this information.

Living and Working Conditions:  A really fine database of information about labor conditions, cost of living, housing and social services in European countries.  Just go to the map of Europe and click on the country you are interested in.  I pulled up labor market information on Bulgaria and was really pleased by the content and its timeliness - the site was last updated in March of 2011 so this is really up to date information.

Hope this helps all you jobseekers out there.  Good luck!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

U.S. Citizens in the EU

Having written about immigration from the EU to the US, I thought I would turn the subject around and see what I could find out about American citizens residing in EU countries.  I quickly discovered that this is a very tricky topic.

For one thing the American government does not seem to have a reliable system for tracking its citizens abroad.  The US Census department considered including Americans abroad in the 2010 census and decided it was impossible.  Only military and government personnel overseas counted - not private citizens.  It is possible for US citizens abroad to register with the State Department or to inform the local US Embassy but this is strictly voluntary.  In theory, US citizens everywhere in the world are supposed to file tax returns with the IRS but many don't.  Voting records might give a clue but many who leave the US find it hard to figure out how to vote from abroad and just give up.  (Tea Partiers take heart - all you have to do to be invisible to the US government is to leave the country.)

To complicate matters, the American population in Europe is very diverse and its citizens have radically different reasons for being in an EU country.  Some US citizens in European countries are transient and have no intention of staying long-term:  military and government personnel, tourists, students, professors, businessmen and women on assignment for their companies, people in the entertainment industry or the arts.  Of the semi-permanent population there are international retirement migrants, spouses of EU citizens and work migrants.  Finally, imagine the difficulty of determining the number of dual US/EU citizens who are living in one of their countries of citizenship in the EU and are not considered foreigners by that country and so do not appear in that country's statistics on immigrants.

Nevertheless, some organizations are trying. One source I found was the website of the Association of Americans Resident Overseas (AARO). They say that there are 5.08 million US citizens living outside the US (excluding military personnel) in over 160 different countries.  About half of the migration (2.2 million) is to North and South American countries. Europe is a distant second with roughly 1.2 million.  European countries with over 100,000 American citizens are:  Germany, Spain, France, Greece, Italy and the UK.

Given that the EU has a population of nearly 500 million people I think it's fair to say that US migrants are a very small drop in a very big bucket. Nevertheless, our status is the same as any other migrant to the EU. We are called "third-country nationals" which just means that we are not citizens of any EU member state and we enter, live and work according to the laws of the EU country we reside in. Third-country nationals have limited rights in their countries of residence and almost none at the EU level. The EU is trying, however, to extend more protections to long-term foreign residents including the possibility of allowing permanent residents to circulate within the EU regardless of the member country where they first established EU residency.  This directive passed in 2003 was one such attempt to protect the rights of all long-term foreign residents.

So a US citizen wanting live and work in an EU country must go through the immigration authorities for that particular country.  Strangely enough I have met any number of Americans in France who are genuinely surprised that they have to go stand in line at the prefecture, speak to the officials in French (no, they do not generally speak English), provide the proper documentation and wait for the verdict just like everyone else.  I don't want to poke fun at anyone's pain but it is deliciously ironic to hear US citizens complaining about the French bureaucracy and, in some cases, to hear their horror stories about trying to communicate with a French government official in a mixture of English and very bad French.  One young gentleman I met recently admitted that it was a very humbling experience and that he now has much more empathy for immigrants trying to come to the US.

It's not easy to find precise and accurate statistics about how many Americans live in Europe and in what countries.  I did find this site which combines data from AARO, AAWE (Association of American Wives of Europeans), ACA (American Citizens Abroad) and others.  I can't vouch for these numbers but let's assume that they are roughly accurate.  Here is their breakdown for EU countries that have large American resident populations:

UK:  224,000
Germany: 210,880
Italy: 168, 967
France: 101,750 (I saw a figure elsewhere that said that 75,000 of these US citizens live in Paris)
Spain: 94,513
Greece: 72,500
Ireland: 46,984

If you interested in this topic (and personally I think it should be of interest to Americans at home and abroad) check out the Migration Policy Institute (MPI).  They have good articles on both US and European immigration. From what I have read there is a fair amount of cooperation between the EU and the US on this subject.

I also hope that one day the US government takes a little more interest in US citizens abroad.  Given that we are required to file tax returns in the US, it seems a bit odd that our numbers (5 million which would make us the 17th largest US state) don't count when it comes to Congressional seats.  I believe that this is called "taxation without representation." :-)