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Expat Life

A U.S. expat living in France asks: Why does our government treat us so badly?

By Harriet Welty Rochefort

Unlike most countries, the U.S. does not treat its expatriates well.chl opinion logo

Far from being considered an element of “soft power,” as expats from other countries are seen by their governments, millions of American living abroad are instead treated like people who, somehow, have betrayed their country and, therefore, do not deserve fair treatment.

Harriet Welty Rochefort

The reason is deeply rooted in American history. For a country of immigrants who left their countries of origin for a better life in America, an expatriate is viewed as someone who does not think that the U.S. is the best country in the world and therefore, by leaving, he or she is a traitor to its values. The result of this thinking are innumerable restrictive or penalizing decisions affecting American expats.

For so-called “security reasons,” or to limit “double allegiances,” until the 1970s, U.S. citizens residing abroad could not be employed by U.S. embassies. When France set up its social benefits system in the mid-1900s, U.S. citizens who benefited from it were considered to be “paid by a foreign country.”

Continue reading below the graphic.

chl us view of world

There is also the view from the U.S. that expatriates are political undesirables. Until the 1973 to 1976 era, it was almost impossible for Americans living abroad to vote in U.S. elections and it took a “tea bag campaign” by AARO (read about this organization) to reach an acceptable status, followed by a similar campaign a few years later to make it possible for children of Americans to keep their American citizenship without excessive constraints of residence in the U.S. (Read the memoirs of Phyllis Michaux, who was instrumental in improving the status of permanent residents abroad.)

And then there seems to be the assumption that expatriates are rich and should pay for the good Americans who stayed home.

In addition to the double taxation generated by the U.S. definition of taxpayers which has been a hassle for U.S. citizens abroad since the 19th century, decisions by the Obama administration, which had their roots in the Bush administration, created the Foreign Asset Tax Compliance Act, or FATCA, in 2013. This has put a growing number of U.S. citizens in difficult situations and, very sadly, has forced more and more of them to renounce their citizenship (based on IRS estimates, 9,000 in 2017, 6,000 in 2016, up from 3,400 in 2015).

So why this mean-spirited attitude? Main Street America does not know much about the world (refer to graphic above) and does not care about people (even Americans) who do not live in the U.S. This is reflected in official government actions.

Bottom line: We’re left to fend for ourselves.
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Harriet Welty Rochefort is a U.S. expat living in Paris. She is the author of Joie de Vivre, French Toast, and French Fried. Reposted from www.understandfrance.org.