The great flight: American expats on the rise
Earlier this year, the US State Department revealed that there are 6.3 million American expats living and working overseas, the highest this figure has ever been. Add to that the 65 million who travel abroad every year and there is evidence aplenty that the wider world is increasingly appealing to US citizens.
Emily Matchar, a freelance writer and author of Homeward Bound: The New Cult of Domesticity, is one such American who has moved abroad, along with her husband.
However, the main reason for international relocation has been because of a lack of opportunities in the US. Writing in the Washington Post, Ms Matchar explained that it took her husband close to 300 job applications to secure his dream job: “A well-paid position teaching philosophy at a respected university.”
The distinguishing thing about this was that it was in Hong Kong. While Ms Matchar saw it as an adventure, her husband’s response was more pragmatic: “I wasn’t looking for an adventure, I was just looking for a job.”
With Barack Obama securing a second-term as president, there is hope that he can build on his initial promises – the idea being that he has been held back from achieving more because of having to deal with the devastating effects of the global financial crisis.
He clearly has a lot to do, as this story reveals. Something is amiss when talented individuals are unable to secure a position in their own home country, reconciling themselves to the fact that if they want to enjoy a decent standard of life doing what they love, a life abroad beckons.
“In the past, Americans often took foreign jobs for the adventure or because their career field demanded overseas work,” wrote Ms Matchar in the newspaper.
“Today, these young people are leaving because they can’t find jobs in the United States. They’re leaving because the jobs they do find often don’t offer benefits such as health insurance.”
While there is a certain amount of validity in her argument, the lack of opportunities isn’t the defining reason for leaving the US. There are other, interesting factors at play.
According to a survey done last year by American Wave, an interesting project that compiles data on why Americans relocate, the age group that is most likely to leave the US is the 25-34 bracket. Not only are they more willing to take a risk, they are also more attuned to life abroad because they are considered to be highly globalised. The world is just one extension of a neighbourhood.
“They also represent great potential for the US in years and decades to come,” Bob Adams, founder of the project and chief executive of New Global Initiatives, commented.
“By virtue of their overseas experience, they will know global markets better than their age peers at home. They will pick up new skills, new understandings, new ideas as they work in other nations. They will create businesses overseas that may well be supplied by American firms. They will work for American firms in other nations and benefit the US in that manner.”
And, he concluded, many will end up returning to the US, bringing with them invaluable experience and skills that they will end up reinvesting directly back into their country of birth.
While investment in education is needed, alongside more jobs opportunities – not forgetting overhauling employee and state benefits – there is some consolation that even though many people will feel they have no choice but to head abroad, if and when they return, they will bring back with them a certain new energy. Obama called this hope.
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