You hear this regularly around the time of presidential elections: “If ___ is elected, I’ll leave the country.” Then, a month later, not that many of the people who said that have actually left the country. Some do move, but most do not. On an annual basis, about 4,000 people renounce US citizenship. Yes, every year, an increasing number of people leave the US for work or school. However, the vast majority of these people only move away on a temporary basis. Eventually, they come back to the US. As a comparison, over 600,000 people become new, naturalized US citizens every year. Of course, many more become legal immigrants who never go on to become citizens.
So, why is this? Why do so many people make the claim that they will leave the US? That this new law, the next president, is the worst, and that this will be the final straw that will really get them to move? Here are the top six reasons, (probably) in order of importance.
One: You don’t have the money.
Moving costs money. Moving to another country costs a lot of money. There are large numbers of Americans who are either in debt, or who have very little savings. Depending on where you might want to move to, if you fit into this category of Americans, this particular move probably wouldn’t be one of those “throw everything in the car and go on a road trip” sorts of moves. You’d need a plane ticket. You’d probably need to ship some stuff. When you got to…wherever, you’d need to have more savings until you got a job. If you are a retiree with substantial savings, your odds of being able to afford a move would increase dramatically. Working-age, not so much.
Though, let’s be honest: a lot of people around the world do emigrate with a lot less money. (A lot less, that is, than what the average American would likely consider “substantial.”) Often, people will arrive in Texas, Sweden, or South Africa with just the clothes that they’re wearing. Even people that have no money—or are in debt—can likely get a hold of a few dozen dollars and hitchhike to the Canadian or Mexican border. It’s just that such an experience would most definitely be very uncomfortable and highly unsafe. When you arrived, you would probably have little assurance that you’d be able to get a job or government assistance. Really, you’d have no assurance that anything would be better at all. So, really, when people say that they “don’t have money”, what they mean is that it would be a bad idea, financially, for them to leave the US.
Two: Other countries won’t have you.
It’s a funny thing: the people who say that the US is too right-wing, and who claim that they’ll move to Canada or Denmark (or whatever country it is that they imagine to be a socialist paradise) eventually find out that is not so easy as that. In Canada, there is a points system that gives an edge to those who speak English (or French), but also to youth, and especially to those whose job skills are in high demand. If you are, say, a nurse, or if you happen to work in IT, then you would likely have a good chance of emigrating to Canada. If you work in retail, however, or middle management, insurance, or in any of a host of other lower-demand careers, then you’d be out of luck. If your experience is in one of these areas (or if you work in a higher-demand field, but only have entry-level skills), then it is unlikely that you will ever qualify to apply for a job, never mind become a citizen. Similar systems are in place in Australia, New Zealand, and the UK. Denmark and many other European countries allow almost no one to enter for work. Xenophobia is a serious matter in many European and prosperous East Asian countries. Americans (and, possibly, immigrants in general) stand a better chance of being allowed into some countries in Latin America, and a few others throughout Asia and Africa. Now, whether Panama or Colombia–or maybe Macao—is the kind of move you were looking for, that’s a different matter.
Three: You have ties here.
This is one of the main reasons why people don’t move anywhere, within a country or even within a city. It’s more than just your job: you probably also have family and friends where you live. If you have school-age kids, it would likely be difficult to move them out of the country, let alone find a good school for them. If you have elderly parents, then you might need to stay to take care of them. You have your high-school buddies, your friends from church or temple, your D&D game-night pals, and more. You know where to get a cheap meal that you love. You know what auto mechanics nearby are honest. (Then again, would you even have a car where you’re thinking of moving?) This reason diminishes in importance only if you are more independent (or solitary).
Four: In the eternal battle of fight or flight, maybe you are more fight.
When you were first saying, “I’ll move—I swear,” that came from fear. But, when that guy that you’d despised ended up winning the election, or that law that you’d said would ruin anything ended up being passed, you changed your mind. You saw that there were other people who saw it the same way that you did. Maybe you went to a protest. Maybe you got involved in local primaries or caucuses. Maybe you donated to a candidate—or, maybe, you even thought about running for office yourself. This is what happened after Obama was elected, and after Trump was elected: groups of people decided that enough was enough, and they got organized. In the end, you probably determined that it was better to work on improving what you have and what this country has, versus heading out to a new country. Fighting isn’t always bad.
Five: In spite of America’s flaws, maybe it’s not actually that bad.
When you take a look around and consider other countries (and, especially, if you limit your scope to the countries that would actually have you), you realize that the US really isn’t so bad. This one you might not grasp until after you’ve done some research on a new country. Some people don’t realize this until after they’ve moved. You might think that Americans don’t care about pollution, but you’d be surprised to find out that we actually have much cleaner air than most other countries do. You might feel that your freedoms are being infringed upon. Here, again, it turns out that the situation could be much worse. Yes, it is easy to rag on what is wrong with America. Ultimately, though, what matters most as far as moving is concerned is whether it would really be better somewhere else.
Six: You don’t like uncertainty, and your life in a new country could be worse.
This category is a mix: a little of number three, some of five, and some psychology. Uncertainty can be daunting. To paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld: “You don’t know what you don’t know.” You don’t know, for instance, if another country will take you in. You don’t know if you can get a job there. Could your spouse can come with you? Could you learn to speak the language? Could you find a decent place to live? Would people accept you, would they be cordial to you? There are so many other things that you simply do not know, so many factors and variables that you could never anticipate. Your new life could be very different from the life you have now. It could be uncomfortable. It could be depressing and lonely. It could be dangerous.
(As an added bonus to this list, remember that every immigrant who comes into the US needs to overcome the many roadblocks that are listed above. The vast majority of our country’s citizens either immigrated here, or are descended from immigrants. The decision to move to a different country is not a decision that is ever made lightly. And, once again, consider the above numbers: Over 100 times more people become US citizens every year versus cease being US citizens. If immigration is the highest form of flattery, we should all be very flattered.)