Friday, March 30, 2012

And now for something completely different

Absolutely nothing I've the time to write as I'll be spending the next few days at the Perl QA Hackathon here in Paris. They're held in a different country every year, I've attended every one of them and, curiously, this will be the third time they're being held in the country I'm living in. Given that, here's a snippet from my past, vaguely related to my family and my profession.

A number of years ago, when I was still living in London, I was asked to make a promotional video for a conference in Lisbon, Portugal (I proposed to my wife at that conference). When I had moved to the UK, I met family members that I didn't even know existed a few years ago. I made this video with my brother Greg.




I was quite pleased with how the video turned and later, at the request of a few people, I released the promo outtakes. Warning: strong language ahead!




He still lives in London, sharing a flat with another brother we didn't know about while growing up, Lewis. Our sister Lynne lives in Stoke-on-Trent a few hours north and we have a sister, Gayle, living in Texas, closer to where our mother lives. Our father, Jim, lives in Germany, and I've a few uncles, aunts and cousins scattered hither and yon.

I only knew my mother and sister growing up (aside from two other brothers who are dead), so finding out I had so many brothers and sisters came as quite a shock to me. I still remember the first time talking to my newfound sister Lynne that I wanted to live in the UK. A year later, I was. Interesting the turns life takes, yes?

Anyway, off to the Hackathon. See you in a few days!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Get a Passport for Singapore

Singapore has been mentioned in this blog a couple of times before. Ifty Haque wrote about Singapore being the "soft landing" in Asia and I posted a small photo collection of Singapore (I should really start doing those again), but recently, I've noticed that Singapore might be an easier way "out" for those looking at relocating permanently. Singapore is still the most competitive economy in Asia and while they are currently struggling a bit, just like everyone, the list of Singapore jobs is just incredible.



View Larger Map

The Singaporean economy is focused around five areas: electronics, chemicals, engineering, IT, and biomedical sciences, so if your background is there, you've an advantage. However, these are not the only areas of work available. If Singapore interests you, I suggest you start reading about Singapore job hunting strategies (note that those are four separate links) and then hit the many Singapore job sites (again, four links).

And how to get a passport?

Singapore River From Esplanade Bridge
Singapore River
Photo by Edwin Lee
First, you need to get a job. Once you have a job, save your wage slips because they're very important. You can use them to bolster the fact that you've not been illegal and then you can apply for permanent residency in Singapore after only six months! This is fantastic. Many other countries make you wait many years just for permanent residency, much less citizenship.

Once you are designated a Singapore Permanent Resident (SPR), you only need to wait two years before you can apply for citizenship in Singapore.

That's it. From start to finish, you could have a Singapore passport in as little as two and a half years. The food is fantastic, the official language is English and the economy is still going strong.

There's just one catch: Singapore does not recognize dual citizenship. Of course, once you have permanent residency, you may not find this to be a problem, but in the long run, it's something to consider.

And if you've heard the rumors that Singapore has banned chewing gum, they're true. Reading about why is interesting.

Monday, March 26, 2012

High-end Perl Job in New York City (H1B Visa)

New York City.
New York City
Photo by Kyle McCluer
I asked about recruiters and now I have one who has given me a lead and another one who's finding out if any of his client are willing to sponsor.

The lead is a position in New York City by a company willing to sponsor an H-1B visa for the right applicant. They are willing to sponsor that visa because the right applicant is very hard to come by.

Essentially, the Person needs to be an extremely  experienced Perl programmer. They must be comfortable with a C compiler and have a thorough understanding of algorithms. The work is independent of the work done by the company. You would be building tools needed to build the primary application of the company, a 1GB (that's not a typo) C++ binary that needs to be compiled in a distributed manner on multiple platforms.

New York City
New York City (nope, not Tokyo!)
Photo by Vikram Vetrivel
For this role, it was specifically pointed out to me that a typical résumé of "I've got three years of solid Perl experience" is simply not going to cut it.  Unfortunately, many Perl résumés I've come across are of exactly this variety. In short: this is a real job with a great opportunity to get an H1B visa to the US, but if don't think you'll qualify, please don't apply and burn my bridge with this recruiter :)

You can contact him a perlhunter.com. The individual who runs that business is himself a well-known expert Perl programmer and you won't be able to bluff your way past him, but if you've got the chops and are itching to live in the Big Apple, drop him a line and let him know I sent you.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Looking for Recruiters with International Positions

I've just referred another person for a job in another country. I don't know if he will get it, but it makes me happy to know that I help to inspire people. I want to do more of that.

I have posted a popular 5-part series to getting a work permit, I write country profiles for targeted countries, job profiles for jobs people sometimes aren't aware of, answers to common questions and now have a modestly loyal following of people who are trying to find work abroad. The blog has been running for over a year and I update it about three times a week. It's becoming, in short, a sort of "one stop shopping" for would-be expats and my readers are often ready to move abroad.

My audience, according to Alexa (but see below), is predominantly  35 to 44 years of age, childless, and with a grad school education. For international relocation, this is a great combination.

More than relaxed
How Recruiters Feel About Me
Photo by Tambako the Jaguar
What I'm struggling to figure out is a strange phenomenon regarding recruiters. Several times I have seen job postings from recruiters which specifically state "company will sponsor work permits for qualified applicants". When I see these, I email the recruiter, explain who I am, and ask permission to repost the job application on my site with contact information for the recruiter. In other words, I'm not trying to side step them and I'm trying to put their ad in front of people who are more likely to respond to it.

What do I ask in return?

Nothing.

Seriously, I don't ask for anything. I'm not looking for a kickback. My goal is exactly what it looks like: helping people live and work in other countries. No recruiter has turned me down because no recruiter has ever responded to one of these emails. Why is that? Let's say they earn 30% and place someone on a 50K salary. That's a potential 15K they might lose out by simply not responding to an email. I don't understand why this is. Can you explain to me how I can do a better job of helping international candidates accept your jobs?

If you're a recruiter or if you know of any recruiters who have postings appropriate for this blog, get in touch. I'm not asking money; I just want to help people realize their dreams.

Disclaimer: one recruiter offered me a "finding fee" for everyone I referred and he placed. I did agree (hey, I won't turn down money), but he's no longer a recruiter.

Update: I now have one recruiter who's going to check to see if any of his UK clients will consider sponsorship (it's a longshot, to be honest). I passed along information about the new UK sponsorship rules since most companies aren't familiar with them, but they're pretty easy to follow. The only obstacle is the immigration cap the UK has set.

Update 2: I've recently bought a domain and my new Alexa rankings are much lower for obvious reasons. However, my traffic continues to increase. I was 31,000 hits in March 2012, but that was due to a post getting lost of attention on large sites. My traffic is currently around 15,000 hits a month and climbing.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Aftermath of the "Giving up Citizenship" Post

As you can see, there was a bit of traffic spike from my More Americans Giving Up Citizenship Than Reported post.


Mind you, that was at the start of the traffic spike. It's still going on (thank you Google for having an infrastructure which can handle this!) and it's generated an extra 15,000 page views so far and while it's slowing, it's not stopping.

The comment thread was, well, interesting. It demonstrated a few fascinating things.

First, I am not a data analyst. Much of my job is grabbing data, doing unholy things to it and sending it along. I tend to do this with extremely large systems, such as my work with the BBC's central metadata repository, but I don't do the sort of concrete analysis of what the data means. Instead, I twist the data to a more useful representation so that real data analysts can take a crack at it. That's sort of what I did on that blog post.

First, let's look at the summary data for that post:

Summary/Year 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010
Total Expats 1655 3995 5318 5912 6188 6788 5174 2793 5530
Effective Renunciations 735 638 759 830 910 910 1010 998 961
Reported Renunciations 425 537 631 762 278 470 231 742 1,534

You may notice that while there is a sharp rise in reported renunciations since 2008 (and 2011 was 1,781!), there really wasn't a significant rise in effective renunciations. Further, I mentioned, as did others in the responses, that there are a variety of exceptions to the "no dual nationality" rules which may or may not be significant. Of course, I pointed out that effective renunciations only applied to Europe, but reported renunciations were world-wide, making it very hard to compare them, especially since it's not possible to evaluate the quality of the data. My best guess? I think we're probably losing around four to six thousand Americans per year, but I wouldn't bet money on that.

 Фёдор Михайлович Достоевский
Source: Wikimedia Commons
Finally, to really get to the heart of the matter, you'd have to have a pretty serious study of the data and I imagine it would be expensive. I'm willing to bet that this will never happen. Nationality law is simply too complex and I can't imagine anyone stumping up the money to do that, but even a superficial study would be great.

'Nuff of that. Let's consider the comments. The one comment which exemplified much of what happened was left by an anonymous commenter:
Keep this in mind. There is no right to bear arms in these countries. This is MY country. I will not give it up. For those that have lost their balls(or never had any) go. We don't need sunshime patriots.
There are a variety of interesting issues with that, starting with "no right to bear arms in these countries". Here's a lovely bit about the extensive gun ownership right here in France. Or you can check the per capita gun ownership around the world and you'll see that many European countries score near the top (though nowhere near the US level). Heck, in Switzerland, gun ownership isn't just a right, it's a requirement.

These types of ill-informed comments were the norm even when I lived back in the US: people would boldly assert "facts" that even a couple of seconds of digging would prove were false.

There was also an amusing claim that the EU is "morphing into a super soviet-like monstrosity". I don't get that at all. We have:
  • Freedom of speech
  • Freedom of religion
  • Freedom of travel
  • Freedom to vote
  • No Soviet-style centrally planned economy
And to top it off, Europe is very, very capitalist. True, European style capitalism is often tempered by voter approved government programs to curb market failures. For example, France is often considered to have the best health care in the world, but the French health care system isn't that different from the US system.

How we can be both a very free and open society and a "soviet-like monstrosity" is beyond me.

And then there was the "New World Fourth Reich Fascist Globalist Banking Autocratic Order is a GLOBAL totalitarian eugenics tyranny" comment. I'm not even going to touch that one.

Very few of the people making outrageous claims could even bother to cite evidence for these claims, but it reminds me of when I was a little boy and told my friends that everybody in Russia was a slave. I was just repeating what I heard and that's a lot of what I read in the comments.

I guess this goes to show that many people don't bother to try and dig into the data and, when they do, they don't bother to analyze it (aside from my wife, who mentioned some caveats I needed to include and my friend Ann who pointed out some data quality issues).

Monday, March 19, 2012

More Americans Giving Up Citizenship Than Reported

To the masses who've showed up to read this story, if you're interested in moving to another country, read my Start Here page. Or if you're interested in my response to the comments everyone has left, read about The Aftermath.

Important Note: I am not a lawyer and the following is my ad-hoc interpretation of data. Do not consider the following to be a legal description of your situation.

When I wrote about US Renunciations Hitting New Record, Eric from notlearningcantonese wrote:
And not to sound like a tin-foil-hatter, but I've personally come to the conclusion that renunciation statistics are deliberately being under-reported. I didn't believe this theory at first because the one renunciant I know personally (a classmate) actually did show up in the list, but every time I dig into the numbers I find something suspicious. E.g. there's about 8,000 Americans per year naturalising in EU countries, according to Eurostat --- but the number who naturalise in countries which disallow dual citizenship is greater than the number of names in the "name and shame" list.
And that got me to digging. What I needed, specifically, was source data. First, I grabbed the list of Americans who have acquired EU citizenship. Their interface is an abomination, but once you've assembled the correct data, you can export it in a variety of formats.

Then I marked the countries which do not appear to allow multiple citizenships and I summed the total number of Americans acquiring citizenships in those countries, per year, discarding years before 2002 as the data seemed too incomplete.

Then I added in the Federal Register data on individuals who have chosen to expatriate (reported under 6039G of HIPAA). Actually, this data is so abysmally organized that I calculated 2002 and 2003 and grabbed the remaining years from the International Tax Blog.

As for the countries in the EU which do not allow dual citizenship, they are, as near as I can tell:
  • Austria
  • The Czech Republic
  • Germany
  • Latvia
  • Lithuania
  • Luxembourg
  • Netherlands
  • Slovakia
  • Slovenia
  • Spain

Of course, it should be noted that there are always exceptions to the rule. For example, the Netherlands generally will not allow a naturalized citizen to hold another citizenship, unless they are naturalized via marriage. All countries have all sorts of exceptions, but I suspect you'd find that the majority of naturalized citizens do not fall under the exceptions.

Further, you'll note that the data below is incomplete. Not all countries reported their figures for the Eurostat data, with the UK's omission being particularly glaring for 2009. (Dashes indicate missing data).

Country/Year 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010
Austria 22 17 39 33 28 41 62 45 13
Belgium 135 145 118 110 121 122 160 158 -
Bulgaria 1 3 4 2 1 5 8 - 2
Cyprus 4 - - - 40 30 65 52 -
Czech Republic 0 0 7 11 3 1 1 2 6
Denmark 60 43 56 51 45 17 21 23 13
Estonia 0 - 0 - 0 0 0 0 0
Finland 1 32 90 81 36 42 82 22 38
France - - 694 149 - 602 499 466 517
Germany 164 232 267 357 429 434 595 578 784
Greece - - - - - 37 175 127 189
Ireland - - - 888 1,518 1,841 96 120 112
Italy - 118 - - - - 356 333 251
Latvia 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 6
Lithuania - 5 0 0 0 1 0 0 0
Luxembourg 0 0 2 2 0 2 3 47 44
Hungary 1 2 2 3 4 12 11 9 2
Malta - - - - - 16 44 37 50
Netherlands 225 181 181 267 217 195 199 230 -
Poland 8 32 41 59 8 24 44 47 50
Portugal 127 95 81 65 55 - 26 34 -
Romania 5 0 0 1 0 - 85 56 -
Slovenia 11 8 14 6 9 9 9 18 23
Slovakia 187 97 136 64 113 110 8 5 7
Spain 125 98 113 90 111 117 133 73 78
Sweden 578 397 293 358 430 344 286 311 423
United Kingdom - 2,490 3,180 3,315 3,020 2,786 2,206 - 2,922
Total Expats 1655 3995 5318 5912 6188 6788 5174 2793 5530
Effective Renunciations 735 638 759 830 910 910 1010 998 961
Reported Renunciations 425 537 631 762 278 470 231 742 1,534

Update: Apparently Denmark's figures should have been included. My check of countries which forbid dual citizenship was pretty quick, so I'm not surprised. Enough American become Danish every year to definitely increase the number of effective renunciations.

As you can see, aside from 2010, every year shows that more Americans obtained citizenship in countries which do not allow dual citizenship than Americans having reported as renounced. Heck, just for 2008 we have Germany reporting twice as many Americans acquiring German citizenship as there are reported renunciations. Under US law regarding dual citizenship, Americans acquiring citizenship in another country do not automatically lose their US citizenship. However:
Section 349 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1481), as amended, states that U.S. citizens are subject to loss of citizenship if they perform certain specified acts voluntarily and with the intention to relinquish U.S. citizenship.
I think it could be reasonably argued that voluntarily acquiring citizenship in a country which requires that you relinquish your US citizenship falls under Section 349 of the Immigration and Nationality Act. Or you might claim not that you lost your US citizenship, but that you assumed you lost it since that is the law of your new country, thus making a plausible defense for why you should not be subject to US taxes.

Further, when you check the number, realize that US expats in Europe are only about one quarter of worldwide US expats.

One missing piece of information: I have not been able to find out the process by which people demonstrate to their new country that they have given up their previous citizenship. I've done a lot of searching on the Web and posted questions to message boards, but I have no answers yet.

The Federal Register data on US renunciations are of very bad quality and the collection processes are abysmal, so it's difficult to get real numbers here. Further, I've read (and don't have links for) that both Mexico and Japan don't actually force you to relinquish your citizenship, even though it's required by law.

However, if you're an expat who's acquired citizenship in one of these countries and you're in FATCA hell with the IRS trying to drive you into bankruptcy, this could make for a very interesting defense: even if you don't formally renounce, you may argue that you lost your citizenship anyway. I've never heard of a case where someone has argued this defense before, but it would be very, very interesting.

Why are reported renunciations so low? Because to show up in Federal Register list, you have to formally renounce with the US State Department and they turn that information over to the IRS, who then publishes that information in the Federal Register. This appears to be a manual process, with many names omitted and sometimes duplicated. Further, if you lose your citizenship outside of this process, it is presumably not reported.

While it appears that the number of Americans acquiring EU citizenship has remained fairly constant over the past decade, with 1,781 (most of them likely in Canada due to FATCA issues) Americans being reported as renouncing last year (the highest on record) and the probability that this number (whether real or reported) is likely to be even higher next year, I think there's a chance that the number of ex-Americans might start to approach levels that policy makers sit up and take notice — particularly if anyone argues successfully that they lost their US citizenship due to acquiring an exclusive foreign citizenship.

Friday, March 16, 2012

International job sites

It's time to stop just reading my damned blog and to start job hunting! Here's a list of international jobs sites I pulled from this Reddit post. Not all of them have jobs that say they sponsor internationally, but if you've read my work permit series, you know know these are often a good start.

Post more sites in the comments!

Site Description
Undutchables International recruiting for skilled labor in the Netherlands
indeed Lists jobs all over the world
O Hayo Sensei English teaching jobs in Japan
seek Australia job site
Tree-planter.com Tree planting jobs in Canada
wwoof World Wide Opportunies on Organic Farms
InfoJobs Empleo Jobs in Spain
LoQuo Barcelona "Craigslist for Spain". Has a jobs section.
travajos.com Jobs in Spain
Jobindex Jobs in Denmark
Jobzonen Jobs in Denmark
jobnet Jobs in Denmark
Work in Denmark Jobs in Denmark (caters to Internationals)
Øresunddirekt Jobs in Denmark
posao.hr Jobs in Croatia
MojPosao Jobs in Croatia
rep.hr Jobs in Croatia
Monster.de Jobs in Germany (Monster has jobs all over the world, though)
StepStone Jobs in Germany
jobs.ac.uk UK Acedemic Jobs
seek Jobs in New Zealand
trademe Jobs in New Zealand
JobsinHubs.com English jobs in Europe
tealit.com Jobs in Taiwan
careerjet.sg Jobs in Singapore
EURES European Job Mobility Portal
Monster India Well, duh. Remember Monster has jobs all over the world
maukri.com Jobs in India
tesol Teach English as a Second Language
Pole Emploi International Managed by French unemployment offices. Lists jobs outside France, including Africa
Academic Transfer Academic jobs in the Netherlands
Booking.com They're hiring so often and growing so fast that I would be remiss pointing out their IT opportunities in Amsterdam
xpat jobs Jobs targeting those with foreign language skills

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Paris Sunday Market

Last Sunday Leïla and I went down to the local Sunday market to go shopping.  It's actually in Les Lilas, on the outskirts of Paris, but no one knows where the hell that is, so I just say Paris.

I don't know why, but I love going to that market. The food is incredible, there are all sort of strange things to find and I always want to buy too much. You can click on each of the pictures to see it larger.

IMG_0067Before moving to Europe, I'm embarrassed to admit that I never knew that scallops had that yellow extra bit. Of course, I also didn't know that scallops have up to 200 eyes.
Zombie FoodZombie food!
IMG_0064These delightful French treats, known as macarons, are locally made and absolutely delicious. 
IMG_0068You probably don't want that sausage in the background, but it's damned tasty.
IMG_0072Saucisses!
Yum!Damn, but I love the food here.
Plenty of used booksIf you look carefully, you'll notice one of the titles of the used books is Je voudrais me suicider, mais je n'ai pas le temps (I would like to kill myself, but I don't have the time).
Their meats are very deliciousHe stopped me and insisted I take his photo. I was happy to oblige. We've bought food from this place before and have I mentioned how damned good the food is over here?

Monday, March 12, 2012

Retiring in Ecuador

What? You've not heard of Cuenca?  Cuenca, Ecuador is home to over 5,000 American retirees and is growing rapidly.



View Larger Map

Cuenca photo via Wikimedia Commons
If you are over 65 and want a place to retire, Ecuador merely requires you to have an $800 a month income. Can you live in the US on $800 a month?

If you can't get out of the US before you retire, you can get out after. Heck, depending on where you live, you can have an apartment in Ecuador for only $150 to $200 a month. Medical care is cheap (which is good for Americans since the US won't allow Americans abroad claim Medicare even though they're required to pay for it).

Every time I look, it appears that Central and South America are really fantastic opportunities for Americans wanting to stretch their income but who can't get to Europe.

There's a lovely blog, watsontravels, of a couple of traveled to Cuenca, fell in love with it and retired there. However, they travel the world and do a good job of providing interesting perspective.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Will living abroad give you an accent?

There are generally two types of people who develop an accent while being abroad: people who have lived abroad for many years and people who have visited abroad for many days. The latter have invariably just returned from the UK or Australia (never Mexico, fancy that) and insist that they just "picked it up".

This is going to piss some of you off, but no, they did not just "pick up" that accent. What's worse, when they returned to the US, they sounded like a bloody idiot. In fact, when I return to the US, I sometimes hear people trying to fake British accents and it's gut-wrenchingly painful to listen to. Even in the UK I heard Americans trying to fake a British accent and, for some reason I've never understood, they were almost invariably young women.

Tongue
Takes a lot of effort to convince this to cooperate
Photo by Michael Glasgow
So do I have a "European" accent? Nope. I've lived here for years and I still sound solidly American. There is one tiny problem I have to worry about: I say toe-mah-toe instead of toe-may-toe. I say flat instead of apartment. In fact, many of my word choices are distinctly British, but that's after living there for years and getting tired of people constantly talking about my choice or pronunciation of words. As a defensive measure, I started using their words, though I could never get the accent. My accent has certainly changed in the years I've lived here, but it's not European, whatever that is.

After leaving the UK, I sometimes had trouble being understood in the Netherlands not because their English was poor, but because they spoke American English, not British English. I've ordered a white coffee and gotten back a latté. I tried to nick a fag and ... well, you can see where this is going. My friends and colleagues got used to my curious mish-mash of English and American words and that was that. Now in France, no one notices at all what words I use, but when I go back to the US, I better not thank someone with cheers instead of thanks lest I want to come off as damned idiot trying to impress people.

So no, if you move abroad, you likely won't get the accent. That's actually OK because many people will adore your local accent. You wouldn't believe how many compliments I've had about my boring, generic mid-west accent. Research on the topic I've read indicates that by the time you're around 20 years old or so (this can vary considerably), your accent is pretty much fixed and it takes a lot of effort and time to get rid of it naturally. Even actors are only deliberately faking it for a short period of time. There are several well-known British actors who use American accents to great effect but fall back to their natural accent when off-camera.

And for that American friend of mine who insisted upon magically having a British accent after two-weeks abroad, suddenly switching to milk in your strawberry-cumquat tea was a dead giveaway.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Is Adultery OK In France?

First, a quick note to my wife, Leïla: don't read this post. I'm not French and it clearly does not apply to me. It's not a problem. Really. The title is simply bait to get people to find this blog!

Lefebvre, Odalisque
Jules Joseph Lefebvre - Odalisque
Photo of painting by leo.jeje
Now that I know I'm going to have a very interesting conversation with my wife later, I present you with Why it really is OK to stray in France. From the article:
Gleeden.com is a website that was set up for married people to meet others who want an uncomplicated romantic tryst. It already has 500,000 members in France alone and almost a million worldwide.

Hélène Antier, a spokeswoman for Gleeden, says many French people prefer to avoid divorce by finding a few “moments of adventure” outside their marriage. It may be working. Divorce rates in France are certainly lower than many of the country’s European neighbours, including the UK, Germany, Belgium and Sweden.
The article is more than just a puff piece for gleeden.com. It goes on a bit about the cultural attitudes the French have vis-a-vis adultery and I must say that it's a very strange cultural shift. I've overheard French women discussing when cheating is OK, the entire Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky debacle simply couldn't have happened over here, and the French really don't give a damn if politicians are discretely unfaithful (I suspect flaunting it would be a different story).

Even more curious, the article claims that the French don't commit adultery more than the neighboring countries: they're just less judgmental about it and their lower divorce rates (the USA is about 50% higher per capita according to WolframAlpha) suggests that their different views on morality are not causing their society to collapse.

Monday, March 5, 2012

UK side-stepping immigration cap

David Cameron, Prime Minister
Photo subject to Crown copyright
From a report in the Guardian on British companies using intra-company transfers to work around the government limits on immigration:
Figures from the Home Office's migration advisory committee show that the numbers coming to Britain under the "intra-company transfer" scheme have surged in the past two years and now outnumber those coming into Britain on work visas by three to one. The rise has rendered the cap on skilled overseas migrants redundant, with fewer than half the work visas available under the annual limit being used.
The UK government doesn't appear to have any problem with this, but that's largely because David Cameron, the Prime Minister of the UK, can now tell the voting masses that he's putting the brakes on immigration, while telling business that they can import anyone they want. He's not stupid: the UK, like much of Europe, needs skilled labor. Even if the public demands an end to immigration, business is still going to need workers capable of doing the job.

It's interesting, though, to see the British Tories flail around on this issue. The UK detested the Labour Party after years of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown and the Tories managed to acquire power in a manner not dissimilar to the US Democrats: with a "we're not them" platform. It's hardly an inspiring platform and the free market Tories are running around trying to hand the keys of the kingdom over to CEOs and bankers (though not quite as blatantly as US Republicans). This has led to quite a bit of backlash against them and in a stunningly stupid move, the Tories have not only alienated much of the voting youth but also hurt their country's long-term economic prospects by jacking up university tuition rates at a time when students can least afford it. I suspect it's not a coincidence that their graduation rates are plummeting at the same time.

So the UK is technically making it harder for you to emigrate there, despite the fact that they need skilled labor (and skilled Labour, but I digress) more than ever, but the government is letting workers sneak in the side door because they really don't have a choice.

It's like the US state of Georgia gutting their economy in a bid to keep out illegal aliens. Georgia lost a billion dollars last year due to their anti-illegal alien fervor (almost 6% of their annual revenue) and are on track to lose $800 million a year and wreck their agriculture industry because — gasp! — immigration issues are complicated.

Sadly, trying to convince the general public to not support simple-minded solutions to complex problems seems a lost cause.

Friday, March 2, 2012

US citizenship renunciations hit new record

US Constitution
US Constitution
Photo by Jonathan Thorne CC
The gentleman who maintains the International Tax Blog has posted the latest  US citizenship renunciation figures. Last year say 1,781 renunciations and was 16% higher than 2010. Those renunciations are at the highest level since he started tracking the figures in 2004. He speculates, and I think he's probably correct, that 2011 was the highest number of renunciations in US history. In fact, I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that 2012 will be higher still.

What's going on here? Why are the number of renunciations increasing? One caveat: as the Renunciation Guide makes very clear, and as I can attest after having viewed some of the data firsthand, the published data on renunciations is crap. Names are duplicated, some names are apparently missing, as we see updates posted later, and there's no way to cross-reference these names to anything reliable because there's just not enough information. Further, while my many years of work with raw data tells me that when data is bad it's usually consistently bad, that's for computer-managed data. But for this data, as far as I can tell, it's largely a manual process of handing this data from the various consulates, over to some central office of the State Department and then over to the IRS. It's also entirely possible that there have been political decisions involved in how this data is moved around and presented.

So while it's not as bad as making life-altering decisions based on an email starting with words "I know this email will come as a surprise", you'd be a fool to make definitive conclusions based on this renunciation data.

But many people will tell you I'm a fool.

The names are published in line with a 1996 law designed to "name and shame" expatriates. Naming is rather silly as many of the names are generic (Jennifer Black, I'm talkin' 'bout you!) and, as already noted, some names are omitted and others are likely misspelled.

But what about the "shame" bit? You could say that there are three types of people who renounce.
  1. Those who want others to know they've renounced.
  2. Those who don't care if others find out they renounce.
  3. Those who do care if others find out if they renounce.
Obviously, for groups 1 and 2, the shame bit isn't going to matter. But for the third group, what does it mean?

For people considering renouncing, many of them say the same thing: they didn't want to renounce. They did not want to give up this part of their culture and history. They're still Americans even if they're living in another country. They have to be pushed pretty hard to renounce. They've gone through so much pain to get to that point that even if they don't want others to know they've renounced, I don't think it's going to be their biggest worry (and, of course, many probably don't know their name will be published).

So the "name and shame" seems pretty silly, but what's driving those renunciations?

FATCA.

I read expat blogs and forums quite a bit (no surprise there) and there's a firestorm of talk from people thinking about renouncing. Others are just going into hiding. The IRS witch hunt against people overseas who were unaware of their unusual tax situation, the variety of heretofore unadvertised laws impacting expats, combined with outrageous penalties for failure to file tax returns when you don't owe any tax (not to mention insane filing costs for said returns) is causing many expats to realize that the US government doesn't give a damn about them. We're having our rights stripped, we're having our benefits cut, and we get offered a ridiculout OVDI program where we can face huge penalties for not paying back taxes but at least we don't face jail time? Yes, people are pissed.

Some people impacted didn't realize they were American (yes, that happens). Many aren't "expats" and were born outside the US and never lived or worked there, but have an American parent. Others are too poor to afford the tax preparation fees (we expats pay a hell of a lot more than you do and we don't have plenty of US tax specialists here). Retirees abroad living off their savings are facing bankruptcy because they didn't know about the these laws.

When you move abroad, you often don't realize you still were liable for US taxes, but no one tells you. The consulates don't inform you. Many Americans are now only finding out when they start doing research to understand why their bank closed their account because they're American. New passports have tiny print in the back saying you still have to pay taxes to the US if you move abroad but many people still don't have those passports or they don't read the fine print.

We're finding out now, the hard way, that these poorly advertised laws are now being enforced mercilessly. I suspect many expats will simply "disappear" and hope they're never found while even more are going to renounce. It's a sad thing that this is happening, but the IRS has made absolutely no serious effort to educate people prior to threatening many of them with bankruptcy or jail time.

Next year is going to be interesting.
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