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

Sunday, April 30, 2017

No Fear

This Canal+ March 22 interview with Fatou Diome is a beautiful response to the proposed policies of the French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen of the Front National.  It is making the rounds of francophones on social media.  I post it today on the Flophouse because it is so eloquent and because she's right and not only about France:  Le Pen and her supporters are afraid, just as some Japanese are afraid of Koreans, some Americans are afraid of Mexicans and so on.  Fear of the Other (and espcially the Other that moves around the world) is everywhere.  Watch the entire interview.  It's brilliant.


Fatou Diome : "Vous avez peur de Marine Le Pen... 投稿者 legrosjournal


Saturday, April 29, 2017

FATCA: Post-Hearing Press Conference

No comments from me today.   I am sipping my morning coffee and will let Donna-Lane and others have the floor in this press conference video that took place after the hearing. (Thank you, Donna-Lane for the link on FB.)




Friday, April 28, 2017

FATCA: Daniel and Donna-Lane Go to Washington

"The other day I was speaking of the soldiers in the fight against FATCA and citizenship-based taxation.  Meet Daniel Kuettel and Donna-Lane Nelson who testified two days ago at a Sub-Committee on Government Operations hearing,  Reviewing the Unintended Consequences of the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA).  They were part of a larger delegation who went to Washington, D.C. to fight on behalf of Americans abroad.

Yes, folks, we finally got a hearing and and were well represented by Daniel, Donna, and Mark Crawford. Daniel and Donna both renounced their US citizenship because of FATCA and their compelling testimony gave voice to the millions impacted by this law.  Finally, US lawmakers saw the human face of those "unintended consequeneces."

I have to agree with Rick, Donna-Lane's spouse, that there was a lot of dodging and ducking on the part of FATCA's supporters at the hearing. I would summarize their defense as "It's not that bad" and "How else are we going to catch them?" Ahem.  Yes, ladies and gentlement, it is and government has other tools at their disposal to catch them that do not trample on Americans' consitutional protections. What ever happened to "innocent until proven guilty?"  Probable cause?  Getting a warrant before storming into someone's house or looking at their bank account activity?

There was also very credible evidence presented at the hearing that showed that the US government's efforts to find them aren't even getting a reasonable return since the costs are so high.  And out of what has been disclosed, the majority (80%) of the money is penalties, fees and interest, not taxes.

In response to those who say that we need more of  FATCA/CRS and damn the consequences, Edmund Burke said it far better than I ever could:

"It is the nature of tyranny and rapacity never to learn moderation from the ill-success of first oppressions; on the contrary, all oppressors, all men thinking highly of the methods dictated by their nature, attribute the frustration of their desire to the want of sufficient rigor.  Then they redouble the efforts of their impotent cruelty, which producing, as they ever must produce, new disappointments, they grow irrational against the objects of their rapacity; and then rage, fury, malice, implacable because unprovoked, recruiting and reinforcing their avarice, their vices are not longer human."

I urge you to watch the video.  I have included it in this post but for a much better and more comprehensive review of the hearing, please head over to the Isaac Brock Society (God bless the Brockers!) where Eric has put together a post with the video, summaries of the different speakers and lots o' links.  This is also THE place to join the international conversation about FATCA and citizenship-based taxation.  As I write this there are already 35 responses to Eric's post.

Donna-Lane, Daniel and Mark: You put youself on the frontlines of the American Diaspora Tax War and I thank you from the bottom of  my heart for your service.




Thursday, April 27, 2017

Canada, Our Oldest Good neighbor

There is a great story in Jacques Poitras' Imaginary Line:  Life on an Unfinished Border about how folks living on the U.S. northern border feel about Canada:

"Lloyd Woods, the former head of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service in nearby Madawaska, Maine, used to ask [U.S.] students in his school visits, "How many here have travelled to a foreign country in the last six months?" Two or three students would raise their hands. "How many of you have travelled to Canada in the last six months?" Every hand in the class would go up."

So it is with great astonishment that I learned that the Trump administration is provoking a  fight with the Canadians.  Given the long history of cross-border contact, swapping of populations, intermarriage, and mutual dependence, my response to this is "WTF?"  Canadians aren't just neighbors, they are family.  I am not alone in having relatives in both countries. For a closer look at the human beings involved in all this, I recommend  Migrants and Migration in Modern North America edited by Dick Hoerder and Nola Faires.  For Trump maybe it would be best to hand him this 1946 brochure which explains just how important Canada and Canadian are to the United States.



With the Trump administration I don't know whether to laugh or to cry.  What he wants to do is so nonsensical and silly that even children know better.  Stephen Colbert  treats this latest act with the ridicule and contempt that it deserves.  And once we are finished laughing, let's invite the Canadians to pick up their hockey sticks and have at the U.S. president. We need all the help we can get to knock some sense into him.




Wednesday, April 26, 2017

A Better Mousetrap? Luring the Highly-Skilled Foreign Professional to France and Japan

The results of the first round of the 2017 French presidential elections are in and the top two, Macron and Le Pen, will face off in the second round on May 7.  Le Pen is widely known for her anti-immigration stance:  "Elle n’est pas une chance pour la France, c’est un drame pour la France." (It is not a opportunity for France, it's a tragedy.)  Macron has a more nuanced and (dare I say it?) a more intelligent  position.  He wants to attract immigrants of a certain type by making it easier for professionals, academic, entrepreneurs, artists and other talent to live and work in France.  A couple of months age he sent a message to Americans inviting those with skills who are unhappy with US policies to consider making France their new home.

Let's put that call for talent in context because it has become a very common approach to immigration. Migration is notoriously difficult to stop and, frankly, business, the scientific and academic communities and governments don't want to stop it; they want to shape and control it in line with their own interests.  Who they want depends on what they think they need.  Alberta, Canada, for example, recruits foreign workers for the oil and construction industries,  Japan recruits nurses and English teachers.  New Zealand is recruiting tech workers.

So Macron's call is for France to compete for a share of  the best talent in this international labor pool.  His strategy is to make it easier for them to get visas.  Is that enough?  Not necessarily.

In 2012 Japan introduced a point-based immigration program for foreign professionals:  academics, technical workers and managers.  Those who qualify have the red carpet literally rolled out for them: a 5 year visa or indefinite leave to stay; spouses also get work visas; parents can come along in some cases; and permission to work in just about any area, field or industry.

Looking at how they allocate the points gives you a good idea of who and what they want.  Academic degrees count for a lot:  a Bachelor's degree is worth 10 points, a Master's degree is 20 and a PhD is 30.  However, experience counts for as much or more:  7 years of business experience is worth as much as a Master's. In the Academic and Technical categories being young (up to 29) gets you more points than being "old" (35 to 39).  There are also bonus points for things like having a degree from a Japanese school or Japanese language proficiency.  The Japanese government wants to make the deal even sweeter by allowing the most skilled (those with more than 80 points) the right to permanent resident status after only one year in Japan.  Read the brochure for yourself.  It's a fascinating look into what Japan thinks will draw migrants to Japan, and how they calculate what profiles will be the best ones for Japan.  Then, if you are interested, go look at similar points-based programs in Canada and New Zealand.

Thus far, Japan's recruitment of the highly skilled has not been a resounding success.  The points system is just the latest attempt to attract and retain them.  This article in the Nikkei Asian Review says that Japan is far from meeting the goal of 10,000 skilled foreign workers by 2020.  So far Japan has only attracted about half that number and the departure rate is high.  The barriers, they say, are language and workplace culture.  I think that is an overly simplistic explanation.  Yes, those are factors but there are others.

Nana Oishi's 2012 article on skilled migration to Japan (full text available on-line here) is a deeper look into why loosening immigration restrictions for the highly skilled does not always suffice to attract them to a particular country.  This is how she sees skilled migration in the Japanese context and I add a similar perspective with regard to France.

Limited Demand:  Though the Nikkei Asian Review article above says that Japanese companies are open to hiring foreigners, there is a disconnect between what they say and what they do.  "The most recent survey showed that 46% of Japanese corporations have never hired highly skilled migrants and have no plans to hire them in the near future (HITO Research Institute, 2011)." (P. 1086)

Lack of Advancement Opportunities:  Oishi says that professionals are motivated more by an opportunity for professional development and gaining new skills than they are by high salaries.  She found that foreigners were kept back by unclear or difficult promotion paths. (No foreigners at the management level, for example.)  Why should a Japanese company (or any company) invest in a foreign worker if they perceive that that worker might move on?  She cites research (Tsukasaki 2008) that shows that foreign professionals do not necessarily acquire skills and experience in Japan that are valued elsewhere.

Inflexible Labor Market:  This one, I think, is also pertinent to France. A labor market that is "flexible" is one where it's not too hard to enter and once in, it is relatively easy for a migrant or citizen to find other work.  France is a country where this lack of flexibility hits migrants very hard. (See this 2014 MPI report on the integration of migrants into the French labor force.)   Oishi says that access to the primary Japan labor market (permanent, full-time jobs) usually occurs right after graduation from high school or university.  Japanese companies hire the graduates and then train them.  By age 35 or 40 it's much harder to find another good job in a good company.  Hence, the higher points for younger workers.  In France, same problem but I'd say the age discrimination starts around 50.

Education:  For skilled migrants with family, the education of their children is a top priority.  These are "international" people who want an international education for their offspring.  That means a multi-lingual education and a school system that teaches skills that are good anywhere.  Some countries (like France) have special programs in the public school system that are subsidized by the state.  Japan is working toward state-supported dual-language IB (International Baccalaureate) programs in Japanese schools.   And that is a good sign.  These things are very important to skilled migrants because the cost of self-financing education for their children is factored into the migration decision and impacts the retainment of foreign workers.  Oishi says:
  • "However, a Japanese education runs the risk of “trapping” children into a monocultural and monolingual environment that might make it difficult to excel in the global environment. To avoid such a “Japanese trap” in education, many highly skilled migrants plan to either leave Japan eventually or send their children back home where the quality of education is better." (p. 1091)
What would also help the migrants, of course is home country subsidies for this kind of education in the host country.  And that seems to be something that the French presidential candidates support.  However, this effort is at cross-purposes with the host country's effort to retain and integrate migrant children.

Pension and Tax Systems:  At the time Oishi's article was written foreigners had to work in Japan for 25 years before they could draw a Japanese pension.  She writes:
  • "Pension contributions are automatically deducted from an employee’s salary every month, and if he or she withdraws from the Employees Pension Insurance system after 10 years of contribution, he or she receives only the equivalent of 2 months of salary as a lump sum refund, a small fraction of the actual contributions." (p. 1092)
I don't know if this has changed or not and I appeal to those who know more about this to set the record straight.  I will point out that Japan does have (like France) pension agreements with other countries - 16 of them.  That is something but not nearly enough.

Japan's worldwide tax system is another problem which I wrote about here.  If you are a Japanese resident you must report and pay taxes on earned and un-earned income from anywhere in the world. There is also an inheritance tax which means that a French resident of Japan will owe Japanese taxes on what he or she inherits in France.  France has a similar worldwide taxation system.  Both do have tax treaties with other countries but what they offer and how they apply are a complication that migrants with other options do not necessarily want to deal with.  Is Macron aware that a US academic working in France will be filing tax and asset declarations in two countries with a possibility of double taxation?  Nothing attractive about that.

Gender/Racial Equality:  A lot of the professional migrants that Japan and France want to attract are women and visible minorities.  Neither country is known for work environments that are attractive to either. In Oishi's study, she notes:
  • "The lack of gender equality and work–life balance has discouraged highly skilled migrant women from working for Japanese corporations. It was extremely difficult to identify professional migrant women in Japan; the author was informed that not many professional migrant women would be interested in working for Japanese corporations, which are notorious for gender inequality."
France has made a lot of progress in this area and certainly is known for a good work/life balance but there are still issues.  A 2015 EU study concluded that in France, "Having children and/or being pregnant are still perceived by employers as an impediment to employment and to promotion." Certain kinds of racial and national origin discrimination have also been well documented in both countries.

If that perception is wrong or foreigners underestimate the progress that has been made than both countries have work to do.  Assuming that Oishi is correct and that salaries are much less important to the skilled than opportunity, the skilled migrants will need assurances that they will be allowed to pursue that opportunity without discrimination or unfair treatment.

Oishi has a lot more to say and I recommend that you read her article.  The point here, however, is that there a wide variety of factors that migrants (and especially skilled migrants) take into consideration before moving to another country to live and work.  The skilled (however that is locally defined) have some advantage here because they are sought after in this international labor competition.  They have more options and it's as much about them choosing a place as it is about a place choosing them.  Simply tweaking the immigration system and expecting the skilled to come to your country is wildly over-optimistic and a good example of the Better Mousetrap Fallacy.

They will not necessarily come with the skills in the numbers you would like if your country does not make an offer that may include easier access to visas, but also has positive answers to questions about education for children, families, pensions, taxes, flexible/inflexible labor markets, benefits, and integration.  If Abe and Macron are serious about skilled immigration than they have a lot of work ahead of them.

Monday, April 24, 2017

The Diversity of Americans Abroad

In the Greater Journey: Americans In Paris the author David McCullough described the epiphany experienced by Charles Sumner in 1838 at a lecture at the Sorbonne on the Greek philosopher Heraclites.    Sumner was startled to see young, well-dressed people of African origin in the audience. He was even more intrigued because their presence did not cause any comment and they were simply students like any other student at this prestigious institution of learning.  Sumner wrote:
  • "They were standing in the midst of a knot of young men and their color seemed no objection to them.  I was glad to see this, though with American impressions, it seemed very strange.  It must be then that the distance between free blacks and whites among us is derived from education, and does not exist in the nature of things."
In 2017 we need something like Sumner's enlightenment with regards to Americans abroad.  The United States (and many other nation-states) are multi-racial and multi-cultural and the Americans who go abroad reflect that diversity.  This should not be a surprise to anyone and it certainly isn't to the American community in France.  The presence of African and other Americans of all creeds and colors is well documented and among them were many internationally known artists, writers, scholars and scientists who came to Paris for a time or to stay.  If you have any doubts about whether or not this is still true read Black Paris Profiles by Monique Wells which reveals the stories of contemporary African-American writers, journalists, teachers, businessmen and women, and entrepreneurs in France.

Oddly enough, Americans at home and abroad are often surprised by this.  What they have to say goes something like this: "African-Americans (and other non-white Americans) are so oppressed at home and are so poor that they can't possibly travel or go abroad like white Americans."  Really.  And so how would they explain the presence of African-Americans, Asian-Americans, native Americans and Hispanic Americans in places like Paris, Tokyo, Shanghai, Berlin?

That kind of thinking just makes me crazy.  I'm not sure what offends me more, the vision of African-Americans as so lacking in resources that they are stuck in the US, or the idea that all Americans of European origin are rich and thus they are the only Americans able to go abroad.  African-Americans were going abroad before slavery was abolished in the US and one of the reasons many left was because of racism and lack of opportunity in the US.  Whatever progress has been made in America,  it is still an argument that resonates.  In an article on the Fly Brother website, Ernest White II writes:
  • "We have options. There are places in this world where our presence isn’t viewed as a menace, as a problem, or even as an inconvenience. There are places where we are welcomed, listened to, appreciated, and even loved. These places can and do challenge us in ways we could have never imagined, but our very existence isn’t challenged...In the end, the tangible investment in passport fees, airline tickets, and lodging expenses pay off in that they remove the yoke of low expectations. They can release us from the snares of a society that thinks it’s got us all figured out. Most importantly, these investments pay off in options."
That's a sentiment that many Americans abroad can relate to.  We are in an era of increasing income inequality and mass travel.  It should not surprise anyone that some Americans might find other countries to be a better deal for the average person:  better jobs, comprehensive social welfare programs, and a higher chance of social mobility.   Now there is no guarantee that these things will be had by all American emigrants, but Americans in the homeland read about lives in other lands in books, blogs, and social media, and can envision something else, somewhere else.

As explained in The Age of Migration (Castles, Haas & Miller 5th edition, p. 29) the problem with classic economic models of migration is that while extreme poverty can slow or stop some migration, "Improved education and media exposure may increase feeling of relative deprivation, and may give rise to higher aspirations and, therefore, increased migration, without any change in local opportunities."

In my study of Anglophones in Japan the American survey and interview participants had very diverse socio-economic statuses in the United States. Many were the children of police officers, teachers, nurses, truck drivers, factory workers, or domestic workers.  The majority did not have degrees from elite institutions. And many were from rural areas, small towns or small regional cities as opposed to connected global metropolises like New York or Los Angeles.

Add to this mix the Great Recession and the decline of the middle-class, and worsening conditions for the working classes and I am amazed that so many of the 62% of Americans making less than 50,000 USD actually stay in the US. And what stops them from migrating, I suspect, has more to do with the myth that America is a place people immigrate to and not a place people emigrate from, debt, problems with certificates and other professional credentials being recognized abroad, and nation-state emigration and immigration bureaucracy than extreme poverty.  I could be entirely off base about this, and please challenge me if you have a different opinion.

Because the fact is that Americans do leave and have always left America.  Today, there are African-Americans in Tokyo, Chinese-Americans in Paris,  and Native Americans in Berlin. And let us not forget that a sizable number of Americans abroad are military personnel (about 200,000) living in over 150 countries. The US Army and Navy are even more diverse than the general US population (see page 34 of the Population Representation in the Military Services).  Civilian Americans abroad frequently overlook them because US foreign policy is often criticized by our host countries and there is a distancing from it.  And, to be brutally honest, I think there are generational, class and racial issues here as well.  Not all American military go home to the US as the wide network of VFW posts around the world will attest. In my travels I have met veterans of World War II, Vietnam, and both Iraq wars living in France, Japan, and Belgium.

So for me there is no doubt that the diversity of Americans in the homeland is reflected in the population of Americans living abroad.  And that leads us back to Sumner's epiphany. In some ways Americans in the homeland and abroad are just as clueless as he was. African-Americans abroad? How ever did they manage to do that?  Well, drop the condescending attitude, learn something about Americans abroad, and you'll find out, folks.

The diversity is there, we just don't acknowledge and value it as much as we should.  At our worst we actually perpetuate harmful stereotypes about our compatriots and acquiesce to the racism in our host societies.  I have had some very troubling conversations over the years where Americans have stood by and watched (or even colluded with) the racism, classism, and sexism in their host societies against their fellow Americans.

The ugliest Americans, I suggest to you, my dear readers, are not those who struggle with a foreign language and the culture, but those "consummate asses" who elevate themselves at the expense of other migrants and their own compatriots.   Pretend to be the only American in Paris, Buenos Aires, Brussels, Tokyo, Shanghai or Singapore, if you must, but do get a reality check from time to time. There are 75,000 other Americans in Paris with tales to tell and you are hardly living in a "ghetto" if you acknowledge them in the streets and have coffee and a chat once in a while. Broadening your horizons in a foreign country can be as much about meeting Americans you would never have encountered at home as it is about integrating in the host society.  Before I moved to France I had never spent time with anyone from New York Arizona or Michigan.

Above all, do no harm by word or deed to other settlers and sojourners.  We have all rolled the dice in the Cosmic Crapshoot of Life.  We have all crossed borders.  We are all migrants.  And for those of us with pretty blue passports, we are all Americans.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Election Day: The French Abroad Voting in the US and Canada

Today is election day for the French abroad and at home.  Tim Smyth in the US has been driving by one of the polling sites and he took a picture which he posted on Facebook. Tim very kindly gave me his permission to post his photo on the Flophouse.

Tim writes, "Below is a picture of the line to vote at the Lycee Francais in Somerville, MA [State of Massachusetts] outside of Boston at around 4:00PM. It was actually slightly longer when I first drove by."

Photo by Tim Smyth, April 23, 2017

And here is a video of the French voting in Washington, D.C.



And this video on Twitter by Francois Zeller showing a very long line of French trying to vote in Montreal.  The Montreal Gazette says that French waited for hours in line to vote.  The article has a video with on the spot interviews with French voters.


And here are a few general articles about the election in the New York Times, the Japan Times, Al Jazeera, and the Guardian.