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Thursday, May 17, 2012

Gathering Data about Citizens Abroad is Not Mission Impossible

In yesterday's post I talked about how odd it was that the U.S. government does not make any attempt to track Americans leaving the U.S. temporarily or permanently and has no clue about how many U.S. citizens live abroad or what they are doing.  I'm sure some of my fellow emigrants were mightily content with this state of affairs since it made it possible for Americans to leave the country and completely fall off the radar of the U.S. government (Tea Partiers take note.  Want to be free of U.S. government interference?  Leave the U.S.).  At least that used to be true.  With FATCA this state of affairs is now effectively over since the U.S. government has delegated the management of its emigrants to their host countries. Of course the only information that will be turned over is financial which, if I were very cynical, I might interpret as a complete disinterest in my well-being by my home country for anything other than the contents of my wallet.

Not every country sends that kind of signal to its citizens abroad.  Yes, financial data might be of interest (not just for tax purposes but also to get a feel for what money is available for investment in the home country and remittances) but it's not limited to that.  For a very good example of a very interesting expatriate study conducted by a home country government, have a look at this Enquête sur l’expatriation des Français en 2010.   In their words, this study was held because the French government recognizes that its emigrants,  "Contribuant pour beaucoup au rayonnement de notre pays à l’étranger, cette communauté reste cependant en partie méconnue." (Though they contribute a lot to the influence of our country abroad, this community remains, at least in part, unknown.)  And the final objective is to: "mieux cerner les besoins et les attentes des Français expatriés et d’identifier d’éventuelles vulnérabilités des dispositifs d’accueil et de traitement des demandes de nos consulats." (better understand the needs and expectations of expatriate French and to identify shortcomings in their host country welcome and in the services provided by French consulates.)  In short, they were curious about their own people abroad and how they are being treated.  Imagine that.

Here are some of the areas the French government decided to learn more about:

Demographic and socioeconomic profile of the expatriate population:
55% male in 2010 (down from 66% in previous years)
97% have French nationality - only 14% have dual citizenship
Of the duals citizens:  12 % are French/Turkish, 11 % are French-Canadian, 8% are French-American and 7 % are French-Algerian.
70% are married.
54% have no children.
74% of the French abroad have a Bac + 3 or above (so at least a university degree)
8 out of 10 work in their host countries
Most have salaries superior to the French national average with 26% earning between 30,000 and 60,000 Euros per year.

This chart shows in what fields they work:

What were their motivations for expatriating?
55% left for work
27% left for family reasons
6% are students
5.4% are retirees

Where did French expatriates go?
Mostly Western Europe but Asia and North America are also top destinations:

Of the potential emigrants interviewed the top destination was clearly Canada (nearly 10%) with the United States in second place (6%) and Australia and China in third place (about 5%).

How do the French find their lives abroad?
80% report that they are happy with their expatriate lives.  Difficulties encountered were:  integration problems, trouble learning the local language, missing their family and friends at home.

When I came to this section of the study I was absolutely floored by this question:  "Quels aspects de la vie quotidienne vous semblent meilleurs dans votre nouveau pays de résidence qu’en France?"  (What aspects of daily life seem better to you in your host country compared to France?)  Wow.  I can't even begin to envision an American government study that would ever include this kind of question.  Its funding would be pulled faster than you can say, "Best country on Earth and how dare you imply otherwise...." (I'm not kidding here, folks.)  So what did the French abroad have to say?

A clear majority preferred the following in the host countries:  standard of living and taxes.  They were evenly divided concerning social climate and safety.  They definitely preferred France to their host countries for transportation, cultural life and healthcare.

Questions were also asked about what consulate services the French abroad use and their overall satisfaction with the service delivered.  Fancy that, the French government actually wants to know if their customers abroad are satisfied (or not) with the level of service they (expatriates not tourists) receive.  Amazing.

Now let's be brutally honest here, ladies and gentlemen, this is not only fascinating data that shows a curiosity about, and a real interest in, the welfare of its citizens abroad, it is also the kind of study that is not that tough to put into place and administer.

So, as an American citizen abroad who pays taxes and votes, I want to know why in heaven's name my own government seems to find this sort of thing "too hard."  Clearly, if other countries can do it, the U.S. certainly could if it wanted to.  But it doesn't.  Or, if it does, it certainly isn't advertising it (I can just imagine some report gathering dust in the bowels of the State department in Washington.)  In either case, I would like an explanation.

Or would a clear answer be another thing that my government thinks is too much of a challenge? :-)


Anonymous said...

It's an interesting problem, with a number of wrinkles. In fairness, I do see why they find it difficult.

One potential source of data is other countries' censuses. The Canadian 2006 census had a large amount of information on immigrants from the United States: see

The problem is going to be that any US official total (which has to work with citizenship as US law defines it) must try to take in accidental Americans who may not see themselves as American or be aware that US law considers them to be American. A Canadian-born Canadian with a US parent probably will not self-identify as American, but she is seen as American under US law. But there is no way of counting people in this situation.

Take a 90-year old woman born in Alberta, still living in Alberta, whose father was born in Montana. She has never seen herself as American or done anything to assert US citizenship. Or had a passport, even a Canadian one. American law sees her as clearly a US citizen, but what conceivable census or study would detact her and count her?

The State Department estimates a million Americans in Canada, which is a rather sketchy number, but I think at least attempts to take in the many people in Canada who are technically American for one reason or another.

Anonymous said...

Hello Victoria
Generations of Americans have been raised on the "greatest nation on earth" principle. It has likely served to unite the "tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free" and create a good team America. So, I am very sceptical that there would be the slightest interest to reach out or even understand the millions of Americans who are overseas. Such a pity, isn't it? When times are difficult, America turns inwards. And of course, this is the pre-election silly season and anything goes if you can get a sound bite.
Thanks again for another thought provoking and interesting post!

Anonymous said...

Anonymous1 here:

It *might* be possible to count US-defined US citizens *more or less* in a country that has a detailed population database (France? Germany? Denmark?) *if* you had access to it, or if the country was willing to run their own query and give you some basic statistics. The total residents with a US birthplace plus those with at least one parent with a US birthplace (minus renunciations by duals with a citizenship in that country) would give you a working estimate. What you then do with that number is another question.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

Thank you both for your comments. I think the answer does not necessarily lie in counting everyone but in getting some good data (country databases would be a good start) and then doing a statistical analysis. I think the information about the birth countries of French naturalized citizens is actually available on line.

From there they could take a representative sample (like the French study in my post) and ask some basic questions. I think the answers would be fascinating.

Those Accidental Americans are a real conundrum however - a diplomatic disaster in the making. If the US tries to reach out to them, not only might they get a bit upset but their other country of citizenship (which may also be their country of residence) might find that a bit cheeky. But I think that as long as the U.S. tries to hold these people to the obligations of American citizenship, then they have a moral obligation to find and inform them of the fact before these Accidentals find themselves in a sticky situation; like being fined for not filing 5 years worth of FBAR's or not having US passports. One way the U.S. gov could do this is by using the media in countries that traditionally have had large numbers of American migrants. A note in Le Monde for example explaining US citizenship law and the consequences would probably do the trick. But for this to work there would have to be an easy opt-out solution that did not involve filing back tax returns or FBAR's or fees. Of course that would undoubtedly send the number of renunciations of US citizenship skyrocketing and make for some really bad press for the U.S. Is that why the U.S. gov prefers to sit on the problem and not act? I'd love to hear what you think...


Anonymous said...

These types of surveys, published by French bureaucracies are just as biased as their journalism.

In my opinion, not too many Americans feel the need to move abroad (except retirees), as they are aware that their standards of living are relatively elevated. The naive ones (like myself) think the socialist plan looks great - 35-hour work week, 8 weeks vacation, etc. The reality of the "fantasy" quickly nose-dived.

I've been to the US Embassy in Paris where the supervisor admitted that it wasn't easy to live abroad. Granted, I am in the Paris region, I dream of sunny spring and summers, spacious living environments, neighborhood swimming pools, and early work hours (early dinners too). I suspect if such a survey were to be implemented the favor would be towards American lifestyle. The threat of guns and bad healthcare are totally exaggerated in the French media. I love the healthcare system here, but I had equally good insurance in the US. Maybe it cost a little more - out of pocket - but definitely LESS in taxes. The hospitals in the Paris region are extremely run down, equipment is a little old, but you can find the good stuff when you need it. You will wait. But you will find it. I do have confidence in the doctors, but doubts about hygeine (no hand washing between patients and blood draw-ers never wear gloves).

I do participate in such surveys with from time to time.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

Hi there, thanks so much for your comment. Here's the thing - since we don't have any reliable data and the US doesn't make any effort to track its emigrants, it's really tough to know who is leaving, for what reasons and whether they leave temporarily or permanently. I do know that most of the folks I meet in the Paris expat community are working and/or are here as American spouses married to French. When I was in Asia the population I encountered was a combination of retired U.S. military and English teachers or translators. I also work in the tech sector (a field with skills that are transferrable to almost any country in the world). From what I've seen over the years, these folks are more mobile then most with lots of Americans heading for India, Europe and other interesting places. Infosys apparently is a real magnet for American IT workers. But we won't know for sure unless some effort is made to study this population. I really doubt it would be all that tough or cost that much money. For goodness sakes, they could even outsource it to keep the costs down. And I really want them to do it so we can all stop with assumptions and get some hard data upon which we can then make policy that is not based on guesswork.

I hear you about the early dinner. Been here nearly 20 years and I still have trouble sitting down to the table at 8 PM. :-)

All the best,


Anonymous said...

Anonymous1 again -

The core of the problem is the combination of 1) a very expansive grant of citizenship, frex. to people born in the US to foreign parents who left in infancy, or children of US/Country X duals born abroad, with 2) a very strict and complicated set of tax obligations for US citizens.

They really needed to choose one system or the other. There was a lot to be said against the old INA of the 1950s, but in some ways it was more realistic than the current system.

Just Me said...

byline for this, might be FACTS not FATCA :)

There is a good opinion piece in the NYTs this morning that I recommend to you as more food for thought.

Citizenship to Go...

"As a mortar is made by a mortar-maker, so a citizen is made by a citizen-maker." ..not birth

"Instead of using birth for assigning citizenship, why not keep the boundaries of current countries, open the borders, and use residence to define citizenship, as the 50 states do? Free movement of people in the United States does not diminish the authority of states in our federal system, or the right to participate politically as a citizen of one state and not another. Nor did it lead to the citizens of Georgia moving en masse to Massachusetts."

"People should be free to move across borders; they should be citizens of the states where they happen to reside — period."

Victoria FERAUGE said...

Great article. Thanks, Marvin. I actually have her book about citizenship for mortals. Excellent read

I think I'll do a short review/synopsis of the book - there are some great ideas in there.

Oh and I signed up for updates to her site here:

Victoria FERAUGE said...

@Anonymous1, you have described perfectly the situation of the Accidentals. One easy way to fix this would be an "opt-in" system. Let's say that at age 18 a notification must be sent to the local US Embassy confirming that the young adults wishes to activate his or her American citizenship. Not activating it would be a sign that the person does not wish to exercise this option. Other countries do this. Not sure why the U.S. doesn't.

Anonymous said...

Victoria and Anonymous1
Canada used to have an opt-in system. If you were born abroad and lived abroad, you needed to request and confirm Canadian citizenship before the age of 21, otherwise it was lost. That has since changed and it is possible for anyone with a certificate of birth abroad to obtain Canadian nationality. You can enter Canada with the certificate and your paperwork is regularized.

Anonymous said...

Hi Victoria
Re May 18 10:00 am.
This is anonymous2.
I shudder as I write this, but FATCA will be a source of data on USC overseas, albeit only those who meet the thresholds, have a US birthplace or have willingly acknowledged they are US "Persons" and obviously only those who have a bank account.
I am doubtful that funding for gathering data (outside of Fatca) would be forthcoming. I believe there was a review to determine if overseas Americans could be counted in the census and was rejected. Maybe a lobby with lots of influence and money, LOL.
I don't remember if place of birth is included in the French census. If it was, would the French share such information with a foreign government?

Victoria FERAUGE said...

@Anonymous2, Good point and something that makes me very fearful. It's financial information without any context. That's why I think it's vital that some sort of study be done. Doesn't have to be the US gov - it could also be done by one of the expat groups in conjunction with a private service that specializes in such things.

Place of birth is (to my knowledge) information that is readily available in France. It is a way of getting around the rules about not tracking race or ethnicity. I also recall seeing an OECD report that included these numbers and it had how many French citizens had the US as their state of origin. I think the report is called Outlook on International Migration. Let me check the OECD library and see if I can find it.

But I'd say that if the French were willing to share it with the OECD than the US already has it :-)

Anonymous said...

Hi Victoria
Sorry if this is obvious, but I came across a page at INSEE where
you can order customized reports. The readily available reports by nationality or place of birth do not breakout the USA (grouped as Ameriques et Oceanie or sometimes North America). So, if the USA wanted data on its citizens in France, it would be quite simple and looks like it is not expensive!

Perhaps the EU also collects census data from member states ?

Victoria FERAUGE said...

Hi there! That is a great link and an excellent resource. I will definitely use it and I'm sure others who are looking for information will find it useful as well. Thanks so much.