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Friday, July 13, 2012

Diaspora Engagement Policies

“Sometimes we feel we straddle two cultures; at other times, that we fall between two stools.”
Salman Rushdie, 

All emigrants discover at one point or another that their relationship to their home government substantially changes when they leave their country of origin.   For some this is an expected and welcome development - for others it is a rude awakening.  The worst shock is when the home country actually reaches out and attempts to actively exert its sovereignty over its citizens living in foreign countries.  

The result of these efforts is always uncertain and depends greatly on the context.  Do these emigrants still consider themselves to be active citizens of the home country and can they be persuaded/coerced to cooperate?  What kind of leverage can a home country hope to use against someone whose entire life is lived abroad and he/she no longer has assets or interests in the old country?  Do the emigrants have any influence (through voting rights, for example, or remittances) in home country political or economic life which would enable them to push back and have their interests taken into consideration?  

There is also the link between the home and the host country governments to consider.  If these citizens are duals, the other country of citizenship and residence can protest attempts by the other state to win the contested citizens' loyalty or to force them to act in ways that are contrary to the interests of the state of residence.  It is not a simple situation and real people (emigrants) are often caught in the middle.  It is clear that citizen/sovereign relationship is simply not (and cannot be) the same when the citizen is no longer physically present within national borders.

Many nations have come to realize that a new relationship must be negotiated.  Mexico cannot simply snap its fingers and expect Mexican-Americans to act on its behalf.  This is true of all diasporas, including the American and French ones.  Nations interested in connecting with their "Domestic Abroad" sometimes form what are called Diaspora Engagement Policies, something Alain Gamlen says is just another word for "emigration management."

In his 2006 paper, Diaspora Engagement Policies:  What are they, and what kinds of states use them?, Mr. Gamlen has some very interesting things to say about how states attempt to govern those who have "slipped the leash" (so to speak).  What does he think is the ultimate purpose of these policies?
At specific moments, a number of states have deliberately coordinated their diaspora
engagement policies so as to ‘reinscribe’ (Gupta 1992) the place of the nation as a “transnational social field” (Levitt 2001). These projects are bound up with challenges regarding the “management of [spatial] scale” faced by home-states as a result of international migration (see Rogers 1998). States hope that diaspora engagement policies will help them to manage the scale of their political and economic manoeuvres; both by leveraging powerful expatriates to upscale their concerns into global-scale arenas, and by exerting control on urban-scale transnational dynamics through closer engagement with migrant civil society.
In short, to better their relative positions vis a vis other states and to that end they see their expatriates as potentially useful assets.  In his paper he identifies three types of relationships that states attempt to forge with their expatriates in order to achieve their objectives.  

The very first is about communication which involves convincing the diaspora that it is indeed still a part of the nation.  These communication policies, which really are the foundation upon which all else depends, "comprise of a broad range of initiatives and programmes to increase emigrants’ sense of belonging to a transnational community of conationals, and to boost the profile of the state within this community."  They must feel that they belong and this can be accomplished through domestic rhetoric extolling their virtues or through websites, publications and special programs. Some states even hold conferences or conventions for their expatriates.  Jamaica, for example, has this site for Jamaicans Abroad and India has its very well-known annual Pravasi Bharatiya Divas. In some cases institutions are created for the sole purpose of managing this relationship: government agencies or migrant organizations that have an advisory role.   Very often these initiatives are a complete about-face for the nation concerned which may have, in years past, vigorously denounced these emigrants as traitors. 

It is one thing to act more inclusive, it is quite another to actually include citizens abroad in the nation's political/social/economic life.  The second relationship is one where the emigrants are offered real rights (to vote, to hold dual citizenship, to be excused from military service) or benefits like social programs and protection.  The last is a bit problematic since it is very hard to realize because another state is involved.  The U.S. and Mexico is a good example of this.  Gamlen quotes Carlos Gonzalez Gutierrez who said this about the dance with U.S. authorities:
Most immediate and evident obligation of the Mexican government is to protect the interests of its citizens abroad….[A]lthough any state enjoys the sovereign prerogative of controlling its borders, the defense of Mexican immigrants rights in the United States is a dominant and legitimate concern of their homeland, a goal that Mexico will actively pursue within the limits of international law….When dealing with local authorities, the trick is to be effective without appearing confrontational, since every hostile encounter jeopardizes the long-term relationship that the consulate needs to cultivate with immigration, police, and civil authorities….
The third and final relationship is one where the nation tries to directly extract some profit (political or economic) from its emigrants.  Taxes are one example but there are others:  fees for emigrants workers, "brain drain" and "exit" penalties, attempts to divert remittances, and policies that encourage expats to return with their skills and assets acquired elsewhere to be invested in the home country. 

From the examples cited above, one might get the impression that Diaspora Engagement Policies are the province of small, poor nations.  Gamlen argues that this is not at all true.  On the contrary, "States using diaspora engagement policies are found in all geo-political regions. They are not all poor, and some of them are transnationalizing a civic model of citizenship."  Sometimes its not entirely clear that a state has engaged in such policies since, in some cases, it has less to do with one overarching grand design and more to do with clusters of initiatives and programs that add up to a de facto policy that evolves over time.  France's policy toward its emigrants is quite transparent but, using Gamlen's typology, it's possible to see an actual emigrant policy in the United States - it's simply much more implicit and very badly organized.  

One could argue quite convincingly that there is a policy to actively discourage emigration from the United States by taxing the worldwide income of those who live and work abroad and by imposing onerous exit taxes on those who leave the country and renounce their citizenship.  It's almost as if, following Gamlen's description of the different relationships possible, that the U.S. started with relationship three (extraction of profit), is grudgingly moving toward extending some rights (yes to limited voting rights for some U.S. emigrants/citizens abroad but no actual benefits or incentives or protection) and is light years away from actually institutionalizing the relationship with its diaspora and communicating with it directly.  The reason for this, I think, is the incredible discomfort that Americans feel when they learn that there are large numbers of their compatriots who do not choose to live in the U.S.  America is a place people come to - it is not a place people leave.  Or that is what many would like to think.

Perhaps one day they will get it right.  I live in hope but I don't expect in my lifetime.  After all, as Winston Churchill once said:   “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing - after they've tried everything else.”


French Girl in Seattle said...

Interesting and thought-provoking article. We have lived in the US for 16 years and are American and French citizens (I would not have given up my French passport had I been asked to be honest.) We have voted mainly in American elections of the past five years. I did not feel the right to vote in France, especially when the time came to choose the next president, when I knew I would not be around to feel the impact of my vote (I must say French candidates did their best to get me to change my mind, however, especially Nicolas Sarkozy who sent us several messages, including an excellent video!) Most times, I feel stuck "in between" countries. Not really from here (the USA) not really from there anymore either (France.) France is still on my mind everyday -- all our family lives there, and then there is the blog, of course :-) It is never simple, is it? On anoter note, I loved the Churchill quote :-) Veronique

Victoria FERAUGE said...

Hi Veronique, I'm with you. I would very much like to be a dual (French/American) citizen. We'll see if that remains possible.

It is not simple and I know what you mean about feeling stuck between two places. It took me a long time to feel truly "bien dans mes baskets" anywhere. Seattle is just too distant but I was not born in France. We have family in both places too (and in Canada). But there are advantages too to being not really one or the other. The most interesting stuff happens in the grey zone where two worlds meet. And it's fun to watch the Frenchlings go out into the world armed with two home cultures, two languages and influences from Asia, North America and Europe.

I'd love to see the video from Sarko. I was a fan and was sorry to see him go.

All the best,