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So you want to emigrate? (Part one of two)

I've been hearing it ever since I started following US elections online: in 1996 it was "If Clinton gets re-elected, I'm leaving the country" from Republicans, in 2000, wins for either Gore or Bush would be reasons for their most virulent opponents to bail, and in 2004, many are finding the thought of another 4 years of Bush and/or the hate amendments that have passed in 11 states unbearable. It seems to be a relatively new development: in an article in De Groene Amsterdammer, not yet published online, historian Geert Mak expresses surprise at hearing his American contacts saying it when he traveled through the western United States for the first time in 15 years last summer. Americans wanting to leave for political reasons? Never!
There is one difference between 1996 and 2000 on the one hand, and 2004 on the other, though: then, it was nearly all talk, and few people followed through. This year, it looks like people are actually going through with it.

Salon reports:

David Cohen, partner of Cohen-Campbell, a leading Canadian immigration law firm, had barely settled into work Wednesday morning when his phone started ringing with Americans seeking legal guidance to taking up residence in the land of the maple leaf. The Bush victory did it, they told him: America's shift to the right had finally squeezed them out of their own country. Farewell Ten Commandment statues in public squares, hello single-payer healthcare.

and Scott Martens at A Fistful of Euros writes:

We’ve had a number of hits in the last day from Americans googling “immigration to Europe” or similar queries. For a sizeable group of people who voted against Bush, this election is an unambiguous sign that they are completely alienated from a nation bent on transforming itself into something far from what they thought their countrymen stood for. They are disaffected, and they are turning to Europe and to Canada for answers.

In the past, Europeans turned to America when their governments went mad. We owe it to them to return the favour.

Of course, most of the people considering emigration now won't follow through, but more of them will than in previous years.
Some people, like Joey Manley and Daily Kos writer DHinMI think this is a bad idea and that disaffected liberal Americans should stay because they will be needed in the US. I don't think this is a strong argument against emigration, for a simple reason. Exiled Americans will still have their passports. They'll still be able to vote. They'll be able to stay in touch, campaign, blog, raise campaign Euros, and if they find that they need to be physically present in the US to be effective, they can always come back. Temporary migration is commonplace, and political exile won't mean burning any bridges (ask Ahmad Chalabi).

There are two arguments in favor of political migration. One is that it's a powerful gesture that reverses the American narrative. As Scott Martens mentions, Americans think of their country as the place that the persecuted, the disenfranchised and those who can no longer call their own land home come to for freedom and a fresh start. Leaving for political reasons is a strong message that the US is no longer that country, and that instead it has become a place to flee from. No wonder that so few Americans do this — it goes against what they've been raised to believe.
In the specific case of today's political situation, the Republican campaign has exploited an existing division within the US. They have pushed the notion that Red State America is "Real America", and the Blue States are just

some sort of Sodom on the Bay, with 90% tax rates, mandatory Wicca ceremonies in public schools, and an anarcho-syndicalist majority in the state legislature. How could "real" Americans be expected to accept a candidate from such a place?

(from The Gadflyer)
Who could blame a Blue-Stater for saying "Fine! If I don't belong here, I'll just pack up and go!"
The second argument is that for some people affected by the hate amendments, the US, or at least their home state, may actually become a place to flee from lest they are turned out of their houses and dragged behind trucks.

Should people who want to move do so then? Not, I think, if making a strong gesture is the only reason. Gestures are a dime a dozen, and emigration is rather more expensive than that. But if moving can actually improve your life, if you can study abroad (Andy Tanenbaum of the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam is offering a good Master's program for computer science people), get a career in a foreign country or spend time with a partner abroad, then do it. Even if you end up hating it, you'll still benefit from the experience — a lot.

If you decide to move, here are some tips:
* Don't apply for political asylum anywhere unless you've done time in Guantanamo and have the scars to prove it. Even then, most countries refer to a list of unsafe countries as a first filter for political asylum applicants. Anyway, you're not actually being persecuted (yet) so this will get you laughed at. (Apologies to those of you who already knew this, but some of the rhetoric used by some potential emigres suggest that they would actually go and apply for asylum). Go as a student, worker or even tourist, and get the appropriate visa.

* Don't go digging through your ancestral history in the hope of getting a European passport. It's a waste of time, and unless you intend to remain unemployed throughout your stay you will be able to live here for a long time with an American passport.

* Don't just pick the most obvious country; do some research to find the place you'd enjoy staying in. No country's perfect, but some will be more to your liking than others. I'll post a bit about the Netherlands in part two.

* Don't wait too long though; the 'gesture' aspect of your move will work better if a lot of people move soon. Also your savings will become worth less as the US dollar loses its value, which it is pretty much guaranteed to if I understand the economics correctly.

Comments (8)

Doing a very gauche thing and crossposting some stuff from Joey's forum, but that covers what I think is the big hidden good moral reason to leave an unwelcoming country: global morals rather than national ones.

The general line of thought behind "I'm staying" is "it's my country too, and by gum I'm going to fight to make it better," which is pretty much inarguable. It's noble, and courageous, and a fine course of action.

But I'd argue that applying your gifts and talents where they are welcome and appreciated, and where being yourself is something to be respected instead of shunned, is a different kind of contribution to the world. As reinder said, en masse emigration could make a difference, but I'd further argue that using your gifts where they can do the most good is globally as noble a thing to do as staying and scrappin'.

Neither is a better answer than the other, but I think there are more solidly grounded moral reasons for leaving the U.S. than just abandoning the fight. It could also be seen as maximizing your effectiveness as a person and contributor to the world. I see it a bit like choosing to perform life-saving brain surgery in a hospital instead of a daycare. You do much better and vital work when you're not distracted by all the childish fuckers kicking you in the shins."

and later...

"My argument is that there's a case to be made for doing more good for the world while being outside of the United States. If you're going to cure cancer, you might as well do it in a faster, more efficient and more welcoming work environment.

Again, I admire people who want to fight to make the USA a better place, and leaving the States may well not be a very good way to do that. But the other side of the coin is that if you can do more good for the entire planet from outside the USA, then maybe the world deserves that from you instead."

I hope this makes some sort of sense. Late and sleepy.

- Matt


Thank you for the clarity of thought here. My son has been researching different places in both Europe and Eastern Europe, while my wife and I have been looking toward some of our Latin American neighbors. We live in California. I have a sister in Virginia, who is talking about selling her home to move here because California looks like such a tolerant and liveable oasis of basic decency from her perspective.

That alone is scary. After all, the extent to which free elections have been subverted in this country is reflected in California too. We have an ego-driven showbiz governor who listens to Nazi marching songs in his free time. He was bought into power by Enron graduates who wanted to have dismissed a pending law suit over the Enron raids on California's economy (it happened, to virtually no public reports at all - our new "governor" signed off the suit for pennies on the dollar).

My son, looking most recently at Eastern Europe countries, figures areas that were only recently released from fascist (or at least authoritarian) hell will give his son a better shot at a decent, well educated life. My wife and I are looking at Hispanic countries south of here, figuring we'll at least be out of the direct line of fire our insane "leaders" have put us all in.

To me, there's the added attraction that many Hispanic countries have learned how to live gracefully with a two-class economic system, which is the transformation Bush and his handlers seem to be after in the U.S. There's an emerging middle class in some Hispanic countries, and it's countries with a solid or at least a rising middle class where living is a gift and economies are healthy.

My sister thinks the wealthy just want to solidify their hold on as much of the world's wealth as they can before global warming and other disasters throw everything into chaos. She reasons that they know as much as the rest of us, they're just more selfish and less able to identify with the mass of people. She sends me weirdly juxtaposed Bush quotes, disparaging the science behind concepts like global warming, and reports of permanent glaciers shrinking very fast in the high reaches of the Andes, promising to leave huge areas of South America without potable water.

When worse comes to worst, my sister thinks, the selfish rich want all the wealth to themselves so they can become feudal lords hiding in well fortified little kingdoms. Bush Land, Ken Lay Land, Bill Gates Land. Cheney Land. Armed, fortified, and eating the peasants for lunch if they feel like it.

Maybe she's right. I don't know. I'm old. I just want to retire somewhere in peace. There's no good way to do that here, not now. They printed dollars until the presses broke, just to keep the bubble going long enough to steal another election. That piper will be paid. The wealthy here don't care; they already have all their money in healthy currencies like the Euro.

I want out of here, with my limited resources in healthy Euros or Yen or something, before the piper calls on the dollar for payment. And there are so MANY civilized countries where the brownshirts aren't marching.

The smart people got out of Germany in the 1930s. Late in World War II, U.S. Vice President Henry Wallace was asked by the New York times what fascism would look like in America.

"The really dangerous American fascists," Wallace wrote, "are not those who are hooked up directly or indirectly with the Axis. The FBI has its finger on those. The dangerous American fascist is the man who wants to do in the United States in an American way what Hitler did in Germany in a Prussian way. The American fascist would prefer not to use violence. His method is to poison the channels of public information. With a fascist the problem is never how best to present the truth to the public but how best to use the news to deceive the public into giving the fascist and his group more money or more power."

One look at the corporate-owned mass media and the distortions that pass for "news" in my poor country will tell anyone where the Republicans have taken us. And the same "useful fools," as Stalin called the uneducated mob and the True Believers, support their own eventual destruction here as passionately as they did in parts of Europe when Wallace wrote that.

I am heartsick, I am scared, I am deeply disappointed and I'm fresh out of hope. The way I feel is - to hell with the grand gesture. I just want to retire somewhere and feel safe. There's a war on here, the decent side has lost (there's no point in campaigning when the election is rigged) and I am simply too damned old to keep fighting.

I think it was Stalin who remarked that it doesn't matter how people vote, what matters is who counts the votes. And Hitler or Goebbels or someone of that ilk said if you control what people know you can control what they do.

Huge numbers of my countrymen watch and believe the spin put out as "news" by Rupert Murdoch's right-wing propagana machine. The New York Times, the Wasington Post and the Los Angeles Times kill stories just before the election that make blatantly clear Bush's total lack of integrity. The network of Ed Murrow and Walter Cronkite, CBS, leaves its viewers as ignorant as Fox "News" does about basic facts of the Iraq invasion.

My poor country. There. I've said it. My remaining duty is discharged. What really gets to me is what the greediest and most voracous among us are doing to large parts of the rest of the world. In my name. And we can't vote them out. I've had it with this place.

Did I leave "anger" out of my "how I feel" list earlier? I am truly, deeply pissed at these bastards and what they are doing to all of us.


You're welcome, and thanks for *your* comments. It'll be a few days before I get around to doing part 2, in which I will look at a few specific European countries as potential places to move to.


Go to Russia. Enjoy your freedoms over there.

Why is it that Liberals turn around and claim that the media is a right-wing conspiracy that keeps the common man down, and Conservatives claim it's part of a left-wing conspiracy to delude people into thinking that Conservatives are evil?

The Media is out for itself alone. It is a business that works by manipulating people and making them want to see more of it, so it tries to factionalize people. Conservatives are Evil. Liberals are Evil. Everyone who is one of "Them" is Evil.

Listen to yourself. And look at what "your people" are doing, no matter if you are Conservative or Liberal. Only by blindly marching in tune with people can politicians deceive you. The best and bravest thing ANYONE can do is question their leaders and their political party. And if they find the answers are not to their liking... and they are unable to change things... then leave, and either find a party that DOES follow your perspective, or finding like-minded people and creating your own political party and work on the grassroots level to create a powerbase to represent your own views.

Robert A. Howard

You know, Robert, the poster above just might go to a former communist country, for reasons he spelled out in his comment. Honestly, I never thought I'd hear simple-minded drivel along the lines of "Go to Russia" again. If the only way you can make the US look appealing is by comparing it with the country led by George Bush's good friend Vladimir Putin, you're admitting that it is in really bad shape indeed.

Other than that, I agree, actually. The three things that liberals in general must do are 1) fight back, 2) avoid demonising the other side (although right now, there should be a grace period in which it is understandable if people vent and say mean things in the course of their analysis of what went wrong. As long as they keep it between themselves), and 3) create a populist message that appeals to a lot of people, but without compromising core principles.
What I meant to say in my original post is that you don't actually have to be physically in the US to do those things, and that for some people, in those states that have accepted hate amendments, there may be more urgent reasons to leave. I stand by those opinions.

Sorry, I lost my train of thought, and typed a different point 3) than I originally intended to. Point 3) should be: Think in terms of issues and generations, not elections. It's more important that over time, we get what we want than who the individuals are that give it to us and what party they belong to.


Reinder, the situation is dismal in the USA. People are already persecuted by the 'moral values' crowd: namely myself - I lost my job DIRECTLY because I was mistakenly perceived as gay. My 'moral' co-workers started outlandish rumors that took on a life of their own until I was fired explicitely on their account. Now, no one is hiring me because of the bad reference from that job of three years. My unemployment runs out in January, and I will end up homeless if I can't find a way out - now. It is shameful that people with so much to give (please, visit my site, I urge you) get prevented from doing so because we happen to believe in freedom. I need to leave, fast, to a place where I am allowed to do good for others with whatever gifts I have. What good am I as a human being if I cannot give these gifts to others?


my site is at


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