Friday, March 15, 2013

US expat evacuations: not what people think

Saigon Evacuation
We've turned your country into a parking
lot. The least we can do is evacuate you
Over on Reddit, I asked people's opinions about why more Americans are planning on leaving the US. As is to be expected, when an expat pointed out that we're taxed by the US government and get nothing in return, there was the silly comment of "I wouldn't say you are paying taxes for nothing. If shit hits the fan in your country the US tax payers usually shell out to get your ass out of the country."

I hear this constantly. It seems like it's the last line of defense for those trying to justify the USA's unique worldwide taxation schema. However, Reddit user prezvdi replied to the above with a stunning response:

Do you have ANY experience to back this statement up?? I'm an American living & working in the UK since 2006. I was in Cairo, Egypt for work when the fun kicked off. I sat in the Cairo Marriott Hotel and watched the UK, the French, the Russian, the Dutch, the Chinese governments arrange for evac of their citizens. My company arranged my "departure" with no governmental assistance. I was safe at home in London when I saw on the BBC that finally the USA was going to send help. So yes, the US government will come to your aid. After nearly every other country on earth. Just hope your hotel isn’t overrun first.
I already knew that other countries often simply go in and rescue their citizens, but I didn't realize quite how bad it is for Americans abroad. After all, I live in France and I don't worry that much about the US needing to fly into Paris and rescue me.

So how does the US handle this situation? If they need to evacuate US citizens abroad, they will charge the full commercial rate. That's a US government document, but let me focus on some key bits:
Who will pay to evacuate me and my family? 
If commercial carriers are operating, the Embassy will recommend that you depart on your own and at your own expense. If you don’t have money to pay the fare, the Embassy can help you contact family and friends and assist in transferring money from them. In extreme circumstances, a destitute American wishing to return to the U.S. may qualify for a repatriation loan. The conditions for making such loans are stringent, and your passport will be limited until you repay the loan.
It goes on to say that if commercial carriers are not operating, the US government will charter aircraft, but still bill you the full commercial rate. While other governments are busy getting their citizens the hell out of danger, the US has the cash register open.

So do they bring you home? No. The FAQ explains: In most cases, the U.S. government will bring Americans to the nearest safe location, which is generally not the United States.

So if you're being evacuated from Pakistan, enjoy your stay in sunny Tadjikistan!

I've been trying to find out the evacuation procedures of other countries with little success. France appears to be quite willing to evacuate their citizens as needed and I can find no mention in French law about charging for said evacuation. The UK might charge for evacuation, but unlike the US, apparently has procedures in place to waive said charges when applicable.

So no, the US tax payers will not "shell out to get [my] ass out of the country." That again leaves me in the curious position of wondering why the US demands payments from expats when it gives nothing in return.

In reading through the US evacuation procedures, I noticed something else curious, but first, a digression.

My wife and I have agreed that if we ever have a second child, it will be by adoption. However, US adoption laws are quite clear about how I can pass on US citizenship to an adopted child:
  1. One parent is a U.S. Citizen by birth or through naturalization; and
  2. The child is under the age of 18; and
  3. The child is residing in the United States as a lawful permanent resident alien (that is to say has entered the U.S. on an immigrant visa and has an alien resident card) and is in the legal and physical custody of the U.S. citizen parent; and
  4. If the child is adopted, the adoption must be final. If the adoption is to be finalized in the United States, the child becomes eligible for citizenship once the adoption process is completed.
Due to point 3 above, our adopted child wouldn't be a US citizen. One of my children would be a US citizen and the other one would not. Under French law, there is absolutely no legal distinction between biological and adopted children. Under US law, adopted children aren't even second-class citizens if they're living overseas! Of course, this isn't the only way that US parents can discover that their children aren't allowed to be US citizens, but it does have one unlikely, but particularly nasty, consequence.

Imagine that we've adopted a second little girl, my family up and moves to somewhere in the Maghreb and a civil war breaks out and I get killed. If the US is evacuating their citizens, according to their evacuation plans (emphasis mine):
If a child does not have an American parent or guardian in-country, the U.S. government will allow one adult to travel with the child on an evacuation flight. If there is more than one American child in the same family, only one adult escort will be permitted. Non-American siblings will not be provided evacuation assistance.
Got that? The US would be kind enough to allow my non-American wife to accompany our French-American daughter, but her sister would have to be left behind. Fortunately, the French would step in and help out, but honestly, does the US really need to be that explicitly cruel? How often does this situation happen that the US has felt the need to explicitly deny non-American siblings of American children the right to be evacuated to safety?

USA: the land of the cold-hearted cash register.