Man is an animal suspended in webs of significance that he himself has spun...

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Why Do You Stay?

Yet another email that asks, "Why do they [migrants/expats] stay?"  That's a deceptively simple question that never has an answer.  Twenty years ago, I had a few answers that I dutifully and even happily pulled out whenever the question arose.  Today,  I have a completely different set of answers because I'm 50, not 20.  I changed, the US changed, France changed.   For that matter the world changed.  Go figure.

There are answers and there are rationalizations.  We are all frogs in a pot and someone else is controlling the heat.  But we can jump out and go elsewhere.  Maybe.  Never underestimate the power of inertia.  Nearly 97% of the people on this planet never pack up and leave their country of origin.  Is it because they are happy?  Or is it because they are risk averse?  One way to answer the question, "Why do you stay?" is to turn it around and ask the native-born-never lived anywhere else, "Well, why are you still here since you don't seem all that happy ?"  Is that a fair question?  You bet it is. If someone is going to ask me why I stay abroad, then why they stayed put is fair game.  

But recently I've started asking another question because I've met more and more people who move and move again (those Serial Migrants Ossman studies).  These are not the assigned expatriates (people who are sent by a company and rotated to subsidiaries around the world) but true nomads that move from one place to another, settle for a time, and then decide to try something else, somewhere else. Some even become citizens before they leave because, you never know, they might want to come back and who needs the immigration hassles?

The native-born citizens and other immigrants react very negatively to this.  Why come to a country, settle, and then leave?  Is there something wrong with our country or is there something wrong with you?  We still have this model in our head of immigration where the immigrant arrives, puts him or herself on the path to citizenship and then happily stays in his adopted country until the end of his days.  That's what immigrants are supposed to do, right?

It's never been that simple.  Entire papers and whole books have been devoted to the topic of return migration.  A substantial number of immigrants to the US in the early 20th century stayed long enough to become citizens before they packed up and went back to the home country or to a third country.  Immigrant does not equal "I plan to stay here forever."  Here are a few examples that I've encountered:
  • A refugee family who escaped the Soviet Union and landed in the US.  They stayed just long enough to get US citizenship for the entire family and then they left a year later to live in Europe where they stayed.
  • A young couple with different nationalities living in Northern Europe.  Prior to that they had lived in Asia for years. When I talked with them, they were exploring their options and were thinking Eastern Europe, Middle East...
  • Retirement migrants who immigrated once in their lives and when their working days were over, found a third country (or went back to their country of origin) to retire in.  The adopted country was a great place but wasn't necessarily their ideal place to grow old in
  • A young woman who goes from one global city to the next because after 5 or 10 years she gets bored. She wants the thrill of discovering a new place and she wants to be around people like her:  people who have lived and worked in many countries, not just one or two.  As for the immigrants and stay-at-home citizens in the countries she's lived in, she finds them equally uninteresting. (And, yes, that shocked the hell out of me. I sure never thought of it that way.)
So the question the global nomads ask the stay-in-the-adopted-country-forever immigrant is "Why do you stay?  The world is your oyster.  Especially if you are a citizen because you can always go back."

It's the same question asked by the stay-at-home citizens but it's coming from a very different place. They aren't arguing that we should go home and there is something wrong with us because left our home countries; they are saying that we should get out more.  The adopted country is not all there is.

So why are we still here?

Damn good question.

And for an interesting and eloquent look at how people make move or stay decisions over the course of a lifetime, have a look at this post by Iris Kapil over at her blog Iris Sans Frontieres:
Transitioning into old age from a life lived across cultures — Part IV

13 comments:

Inaka Nezumi said...

Interesting question. I imagine reasons to stay would be similar to reasons not to leave home in the first place:

1) Family. If they were a large part of the reason for moving somewhere new, then they are also likely to be a reason not to go somewhere else yet again. Unless all concerned want to go, and can agree on where to go.

2) Work. Is your job portable? How about that of your partner? If not, you probably won't be going anywhere until retirement at least.

3) Health. If you are in treatment that depends on local health insurance coverage to be able to afford, you may not be able to be away for long stretches.

Also, as you mention, if one does not have citizenship, then leaving for an extended period may mean losing residency privileges where one is now, so one would only move if certain not to want or need to come back. This could be a big factor for a country like Japan, where so few foreigners ever even apply for citizenship.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

Nezumi-san, Yep, all of those are factors. A post I am planning is about how these things are negotiated within the family. I have met couples who worked this out before they got married - we will live in my country and not yours or we will spend x years here and then move there. That's certainly more foresight than I ever had. And yet it doesn't solve everything. I have met some very angry apouses who would like to move back or move on and see more of the world, have the kids learn another language and they feel that renegotiation is impossible.

The medical stuff. Oh yes. Watching the Republicans try to gut Obamacare is extremely stressful. Their "solution" is to allow people to continue coverage if they get sick which is of absolutely no help to a migrant/expat who is being treated in another country and wants to go back to the US. I should point out though that it can work in the opposite way - a medical condition can be a reason to want to go to another country where the care is better and more affordable. International Retirement Migrants not only look for good care but the possibility of homecare which may be completely out of their reach financially in the home or host country but very affordable in an adjacent country. When I was doing my MBA one of my classmates was working on this in Morocco for European retirees.

DL NELSON said...

I stay because the quality of life is higher. I have good health care. I've developed friends and put down roots. I don't want to go back, which is not possible, because I can't stand the lifestyle there. I stay because I want to live among many nationalities and cultures. I stay because I am do damned happy.

DL NELSON said...

that was so damned happy.

Eric L. said...

Worth noting that until 1994, U.S. law (specifically 8 USC 1451(d)) said that leaving the U.S. within a certain period after naturalisation (5 years before 1986, 1 year from then until 1994) was "prima facie evidence of a lack of intention on the part of such alien to become a permanent citizen of the United States at the time of filing his application for citizenship". If you triggered that provision, the Department of Justice could file suit against you to get your naturalisation certificate cancelled as fraudulent, just like marriage fraudsters and war criminals.

Incidentally, the bill which repealed this provision (Immigration and Nationality Technical Amendments of 1994) was the same bill which made it illegal for a U.S. citizen to leave the U.S. without a valid United States passport. Prior to 1994, the exact wording of the law (8 USC 1185(b)) only required a "valid passport", without saying which country's passport.

Inaka Nezumi said...

While I have heard of people taking out citizenship in order to be able to leave and return (specifically, a couple of US cases that I have heard of), I don't think most people actually naturalize with the intention to leave. It is often said that the most fervent patriots are naturalized citizens. Most probably simply aren't interested in leaving.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

Donna, Absolutely many of us have found aa better standard of living in our host countries. This is something that some of the homeland citizens find hard to believe but it is true.

Eric, Fascinating. I knew such a provision existed in the past but I hadn't realized that it was revoked so recently.

Nezumi-san, I think the taking on of citizenship (or the decision not to) is never about one thing only. People calculate the benefits and the issue before they do it (or don't). Do most people naturalize with the intention to leave? Probably not. But is the idea part of the calculation of benefits? Absolutely it is. As for being more or less patriotic that is one where I would respectfully ask for the evidence. Perhaps taking on citizenship and displays of fervent patriotism are signals to the host country that the person wishes to be accepted wholeheartedly in the new nation. One of Yamashiro's points (see today's review) is how Japanese-Americans after World War II became more patriotic because they were reacting to the nation that put them in camps and found them to be suspect citizens. Something of this nature occured in part of my own family after WW I and II. They gave up speaking German and flew the flag high because they felt they had to prove something. So this is a compicated one. Let me see what I can dig up on this. Surely there are studies....

Inaka Nezumi said...

Sure, there is a mix of practical and emotional reasons for deciding whether or not to take on citizenship somewhere, and which factors dominate will vary from person to person. (And good luck trying to get people to be completely honest, even with themselves, about why they make the decisions they make.) I was just trying to throw in another possible factor, that I had forgotten to list in my first reply, to cite to the serial migrants you mentioned who wonder why some people may choose to STOP migrating, maybe even after only the first move.

As for the notion of the fervidly patriotic immigrant, I don't have anything beyond anecdotes, in both the US and Japan, of people citing that bit of "conventional wisdom," and of incidents that prompted such observations. I certainly don't have any source with statistical rigor. And even if it is a legitimate phenomenon, the reasons, as you say, could be all over the map, from a desperate attempt to claim one's place in society or to justify one's life decisions, to a free upwelling of unencumbered emotion. Probably again a mix, and one that would be hard to get good data on. Could indeed be an interesting subject for a study, though.

There are also of course people who doubt the patriotism of immigrants: "If they were willing to switch teams once, they'll do it again as soon the wind changes." So there is more than one conventional wisdom on the matter. (On which again I have no statistics, alas.)

Inaka Nezumi said...

Huh, it is apparently even a "TV Trope": http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ImmigrantPatriotism

However, someone has concluded from survey data that, at least in the US, immigrants are in fact neither more nor less patriotic on average than natives: https://www.cato.org/blog/immigrants-patriotism

Victoria FERAUGE said...

Nezumi-san, This is one very complicated subject and you are so right when you point out that people are not honest, even with themselves. I used to tell myself that if I had stayed in the US I would have gone to law school. But given how eagerly I took up the chance to leave the country, I have to wonder if that was just a way of signaling that I had sacrificed something to follow my spouse. "See what I gave up to move here?"

When I was writing my dissertation I drove my family nuts. I would write and then walk around the apartment arguing with myself. How can I defend what I just wrote? What are the counterarguments? Who can I cite? Are there any studies or surveys? And sometimes I would come back in and bin the entire section and start over.

You made valid points and added a lot to the discussion. I responded by thinking of the arguments against. And I was very curious about what evidence I could come up with for and against. I really appreciate that kind of back and forth. I enjoy people like you who say "Well, what about this?" which gets my grey matter stirring. But sometimes I think I get too wrapped up in the argument and I forget to say thank you. I really appreciate all the contributions here and yours are always great. Don't ever hesitate to tell me to chill. :-)

The topic of immigrants and patriotism is a really good one. Thank you for the article that points to some studies. I would be interested in seeing if there are studies of immigrants in other countries that attempt to measure this. Let me see what I can find while I still have access to my university library.





Inaka Nezumi said...

I enjoy a good dialectical workout, so thank you too. May even help preserve brain plasticity.

By the way, regarding university library access, I've noticed a recent trend towards journal and library access via alumni/ae associations. Might be worth checking with your alma mater(s) to see if there are any such offers available.

Allou said...

So why are we still here?
Well I am still in my Scandinavian country I moved to over 40 years ago because my family life here is so much better than what I would have been had I stayed in the US, or moved back to the UK, my birthplace. As an "ordinary" person I have had much better opportunities to live a peaceful, secure life with accessible education and health care. To have an interesting well paid job. My children have received useful educations, collectively paid for by our taxes, right through graduate and post-graduate level. I happily pay taxes because I can see the how the re-distribution gives others the same opportunities. One of my children is a global worker, very well paid. But he always lives like a local and says that it gives him a good idea of what life is like for an "ordinary wage-earner" in other countries. His conclusion - our weather in Scandinavia is not the best, but the general equality in terms of educational possibilities, living conditions etc. more than makes up for it.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

Nezumi-san, Thank you! I checked it out and the University of Washington alumni association does offer that access and for only 50 USD a year. I am saved.... :-)

Allou, Excellent point! Yes, life is a lot better for the average person in countries that still have good social welfare systems and worker protections and less income inequality. I know (we checked it out) that my children got a much better education in France in the public school system. In my home city in the US I would have had to send them to private school to get the same quality.