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Thursday, November 28, 2013

Overseas Exile U.S. Expat Survey

Overseas Exile - a great blog written by a brilliant guy, Curtis Poe.

Earlier this month, Curtis decided to shine some light on Americans abroad by putting together his own Expat Survey.  If you are an American living outside the U.S., please participate.  The survey is completely anonymous and I vouch personally for Curtis' honor here - he is not asking for names or any identifying information and he will not use the data for anything other than this survey.   If you live in the U.S. homeland or you live elsewhere and know Americans living abroad, please pass along the link and and ask them to participate.

This is important.  Unlike other countries, the U.S. government does not even attempt to learn anything about its citizens abroad.  There is zip, zero, nada.  Everyone should think hard about the implications of that - it means that whenever Congress writes a law that impacts us, they do so in an information void. Just about anything that comes out of their mouths is simply a projection of their own opinions and emotions.   That's not only stupid, it's almost criminally irresponsible.  For an example of a country that does a much better job, have a look at the French government's  Enquête sur l'expatriation 2013.  This is the kind of information upon which responsible policy can be based and I am personally infuriated that the U.S. government can't seem to get it together to do something similar.

Ain't rocket science, guys.

Fortunately there are two books coming out that should help.  I am eagerly awaiting the publication of:

Migrants or Expatriates?: Americans in Europe (Migration, Diasporas and Citizenship) by Amanda Klekowski von Koppenfels (publication date: Jan 31, 2014) and

The Citizenship of Americans Living Abroad: Democracy and Those Who Leave
by Katya C Long (publication date: December 1, 2014)

Curtis is now publishing the preliminary results of his survey and they are fascinating reading.  Four parts and four posts so far.

Part 1 Expat Results: Personal

The last should be required reading for all homelanders, especially U.S. politicians.  Remember that American expats are looking at the U.S. from the outside. What we think is what we tell our foreign spouses, friends, our fellow church members, and colleagues.  It is how we talk about our country to our dual citizen children.  Who do you think is of greater influence to a Frenchman or a Chinese:  the U.S. President or the American spouse, mother, father, fellow worker, comrade, confidant or friend?  

I honestly think that a few years ago most Americans abroad were very much Goodwill Ambassadors in their host countries.  Even when we didn't entirely agree with homeland politics, we felt (or at least I did) that we had a responsibility to build bridges and try to present our country's case.  When I think of all the times I did this precisely because I felt I had a role to play that was much bigger than just little old me, American IT worker and mother of two Frenchlings, I feel like a fool. 

Forget FATCA reciprocity, there is another kind based on mutual respect and trust that should be the foundation of the relationship between the United States and its diaspora.  In the words of James Baldwin: “Allegiance, after all, has to work two ways; and one can grow weary of an allegiance which is not reciprocal.”


A broken man on a Halifax pier said...

"Ain't rocket science, guys."

I can see how it would seem that way in European countries with a well-established, distinct American expatriate community (France, Italy, Switzerland) but the problems noted earlier are still very challenging, see

- from "There are thousands"
- comment 2

The problem is that US citizenship is legally quite clear but in practice comes in shades of grey in a way that makes a statistically defensible count more or less impossible. (A not untypical example of the paler end of the shades: a co-worker who recently realized that she was actually a USC under US law - given the whole tax thing, she was kind of horrified. She's certainly not going to get a SSN and a passport.)

Probably the best available way of counting high-committment USCs abroad is to mine existing passport data.

Also 'Americans abroad' are not in many cases the same thing as 'expatriates': I was born and raised and have always lived in south-central Ontario, which didn't stop me from asserting a derivative claim to US citizenship, getting a US passport - only used for crossing the border, I used the Canadian passport for everything else - voting in Massachusetts and finally renouncing when the tax thing became an obstructive nuisance. If I hadn't stuck my hand up, how would any U.S. census possibly have found me.

- An unrelated note: if you're putting together reading lists on citizenship and identity, I'd recommend Jacques Poitras' book on the Maine-New Brunswick border ( In some ways it's a counterpoint to the rest of the books on your lists, having to do with the imposition of a border on a settled region, rather than voluntary expatriation and its consequences.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

Good point, Broken Man, but look at the French community in the US (the subject of my next post). Similar issues. Does the French government really know how many French there are in the US or the world? Nope. But that doesn't stop them from trying to find out *something* about these folks. Remember, for a survey it's not about counting - it's just about learning about the community abroad.

And thank you for the book recommendation. It's going straight on my to-read list.

Patrick said...

Responded to the survey. Although I would not use the term 'expat' to describe myself. Expats (from my perspective) are people who maintain a link with the country of origin whilst 'abroad', and have some notion of 'returning'. I know I will never return to the States (how could you with school-age children not born in the US- wouldn't be fair to them). I feel I have fully assimilated in my adopted country (which I am a naturalised citizen of). I know of no Americans where I live, nor do I seek them out. I haven't voted in the past two US presidential elections and never travel on my soon to expire US passport (won't be applying for another one- can't take the chance with everything going on now). Very happy living a British life. What would be a better term? 'American emigrant'? 'Ex-American'?

Victoria FERAUGE said...

Patrick, I have the same problem. Expat to me also implies that you've been sent (and are being supported) in your migration journey by a company or an entity in the home country. When we were in Japan, for example, we were expats working for a French company that paid our way there and back.

France is completely different. I've started using the term "migrant" as in "American migrant." It's neutral and it ties us to all the other migrants in the world and that is how it should be, I think. Nothing special about an American in France - just another migrant that came in at the same time as thousands of others from other countries did and got the same treatment and has the same carte de resident.

DL NELSON said...

I added it to my facebook page after taking it. Thanks for this.

DL NELSON said...

I added it to my facebook page for all my expat friends

Anonymous said...

I likewise don't consider myself an expat, I consider myself an immigrant. ("Migrant" sounds somehow temporary to my ears.)

Thanks for pointing out the survey. Wouldn't have known about it otherwise.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

D. Nelson: Wonderful! Thank you. A reader wrote to me and pointed out that the survey was still lacking in diversity (few retirees, for example). If we could all spread the news - perhaps write or comment on various blogs American migrants frequent - I think that would be very helpful.

@Anonymous: Yeah "immigrant" is indeed what we are and yet very few Americans I've met abroad want to use that word. Why is that?