Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Why do you want to leave?

For those who don't want to read all of this, that's fine. However, I would love a short response explaining which country you currently live in, whether or not you wish to leave and why.

Yesterday's "United Kingdom profile" took just a few short hours to enter the "top ten list" of most popular posts in the past month, despite not having much information there. Part of this is due to the fact that it's an English speaking country and viewed as accessible and part of this is because many grow up with "romantic" ideals of what Europe is like. As I've mentioned before, when people tell me they want to live abroad, they usually mean "I want to live in Europe", though I've found that if I start asking questions, there's often only a vague sense of why they want to go there.

110118 Tunisia unity government unravels 08 | تشكيل حكومة الوحدة الوطنية في تونس | Echec du gouvernement d'unité nationale en Tunisie
Tunisian 2011 Revolution
Photo by magherebia
But Europe is a huge immigration target, often sought out by those with no cultural ties to Europe. Why would they want to leave their home countries? There are both "pull" — why go to country X? — and "push" factors — why leave country X? — in these decisions. While the pull factors are often complex, the push factors tend to be relatively simple: your home is pushing you away. It can be any of a number of factors, including political oppression, suppression of your religion, war, famine, drought, or any of a number of things. However, when there are push factors involved, the one thing the the emigrants don't want is to wind up in another country like the one they've come from. This is why England and the rest of Europe are so damned popular. Would you really want to be an emigré in Tunisia right now? Or how about Egypt? Expat oil workers are having their families evacuated and the US State Department has warned Americans already in Egypt to "defer non-essential movement and exercise caution".

Then there are people like Arthur C. Clarke who emigrated to beautiful, peaceful Sri Lanka and spent the rest of his life there, the last 25 years of which were in a country engaged in a civil war withe Tamil Tiger terrorists.¹ If you are, for example, an American who desperately wishes to leave your home country for a "better life", keep in mind that you'd probably find your home country pretty damned attractive if you were sitting in Cairo right now. That's why people in the US who say they want "asylum" in another country should probably consider that asylum is something which should be offered to those truly in need. Compared to political refugees like gays from IranChristians in Afghanistan, or Somali refugees now being harassed by Kenyan police and soldiers, most people don't really have much room to complain. The "push" factor for most reading this blog is pretty insignificant in the grand scheme of things.

That being said, Americans still want to leave. Lots of them are desperate to leave. Bob Adam's broke this down in a story for Barron's where he commissioned a survey of US households and found the following (note that these are households, not individuals):
  • 1.6 million U.S. households have already made the decision to relocate. That figure has remained stable over the year and a half during which seven surveys were conducted.
  • Another 1.8 million households are seriously considering relocation and are likely to do it.
  • 7.7 million households are "somewhat seriously" considering relocation and "may" do it.
  • Nearly 3 million households are seriously considering the purchase of a vacation home or other property outside the U.S., and another 10 million are "somewhat" seriously considering it.
In other words, 10% of US households would like to emigrate with another 10% considering living outside the US "part time". If these numbers are true, this is astonishing. I knew many of my US friends wanted to emigrate, but I assumed sample bias. Finding out that much of the US feels the same way leaves me astonished. There is no war, famine or pestilence driving them out, nor is there serious political oppression. Is everyone just looking for adventure or is this normal for a country's population? I have no idea.

1. To those familiar with the situation and who object to the term "terrorist", I use the term in the strictest sense of "the threat or use of violence against non-combatants to effect political change".  There is no judgment there, only description. See Louise Richardson's excellent book What Terrorists Want: Understanding the Enemy, Containing the Threat if you wish to know more about this fascinating subject (and understand some of my point of view here).