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Group tries to count American expats abroad

The Local · 7 Jul 2011, 10:32

Published: 07 Jul 2011 10:32 GMT+02:00

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The question is a surprisingly elusive one: How many US citizens live abroad?

Although there are estimates – they generally run between four to six million – nobody really knows the answer.

Some individual countries count the number of Americans residing there – Germany says about 97,000 live on its territory – but there are no worldwide figures since there’s no requirement that citizens tell the US government they’ve moved abroad.

But the Overseas Vote Foundation (OVF), an organization that helps Americans abroad register to vote, thinks technology can help determine a ballpark figure that could increase the political clout of expats.

A new project running until mid-July aims to get US citizens living in other countries to register online via a website and Facebook app.

Once the counting is done, aggregated data will be compiled into reports that could be useful in giving overseas Americans a stronger voice in American political life, says Marina Mecl, a former teacher who is the organization’s outreach director.

“Just knowing there is a really specific number will also make us more important in the eyes of US citizens at home,” she told The Local.

Counting the challenges

Many activists have argued that it’s vital to be able to know how many American expats there are.

An accurate number could help the US government better focus consular services. It could help US Congressional representatives target their policies toward constituents living out of the country. It also would help organizations like OVF more efficiently promote their efforts to get Americans abroad voting.

But funding has gotten in the way of previous governmental counting efforts.

An influential 2004 Census Bureau report said that while it was easy to count US government employees, such as members of the military living on bases, doing the same for civilians would be too onerous and expensive.

“Counting Americans abroad as an integral part of the 2010 Census would be a monumental task,” the Bureau concluded, after a series of unsuccessful small-scale test counts.

Will OVF finally be able to do what the government couldn’t?

It’s hard to say because it’s technology-based approach – participants fill out a short online form – has never been tried before.

And OVF’s own leadership admits this is an experiment with many pitfalls.

“I don’t shoot for gold on the first step,” said the organization’s Munich-based head Susan Dzieduszycka-Suinat. Some good things will come out of the project and some things are unforeseen.”

Among the challenges: The count could be skewed toward counting Americans in countries with widespread internet access like Germany. Also, some Americans overseas – those trying to avoid the Internal Revenue Service or make a clean break from the United States for instance – may actively avoid being counted.

Story continues below…

Dzieduszycka-Suinat takes pains to emphasize that OVF isn’t compiling Americans’ personal information and doesn’t plan on turning it over to the IRS or any other government agency.

After the results are in, she says, experts will use scientific sampling techniques to compile aggregate numbers into a usable report.

“This should have happened a long time ago,” Dzieduszycka-Suinat said. “We’re doing this for everyone – all the Americans out there.”

Moises Mendoza



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Your comments about this article

11:26 July 7, 2011 by Traveler33
I would suspect that the number of Americans living in Germany is a lot closer to 150,000 to 175,000 or more. That figure of 97,000 really only considers the number of US troops in or around Germany, not all of their family's or any of the US contractors that for the military. Not that it's a bad thing being an American living abroad. I actually think its a great, it widens your perspective of the world and allows you to experience the wonderful and rich culture of Germany. Being of German decent I have found numerous relatives that I didn't know I previously had and I just love the culture here.
11:40 July 7, 2011 by pepsionice
If you don't count the troops, the dependents or contractors in support of the US military....then I'd guess around 60,000 Americans reside for some reason in Germany. Twenty percent are likely military retirees. Oddly enough, I'd be guessing that the same number of Germans are living in the US (my humble opinion).
14:12 July 7, 2011 by cobalisk
I think the idea looks good on paper but is really pointless in practice.

There is no tangible benefit for Americans living abroad to be counted in some way, aside from creating reliable demographic mobility trends.

I usually try not to be negative and I understand from an academic viewpoint how this info would be good to have (i'd love to have it myself) but the idea that the info will lead to improved services for expats is, well, I find this stunningly naive.

Because the US government's policy to expats is 'they left so they don't count'. Unless they suspect said expat is rich, in which case the whole capital withholding nonsense comes into play. Expats are only used as income streams to the US. The idea that congressmen/congresswomen would cater to expats in any way is simply ludicrous.
15:58 July 7, 2011 by The skeptic expat
I departed the states because of the intrusion of big government and they have no need to know my location. The American government is a huge joke of nothing more the big business puppets.
16:07 July 7, 2011 by catjones
Can't they get this info from each country's Ausländerbehörde?
17:00 July 7, 2011 by german-guardian
Germany herself probably knows how many Americans are living in Germany.

However, for other countries like Africa or any less develped nation, counting the people is a good idea.
18:22 July 7, 2011 by Loth
Not all ex pats live abroad. Some folks have moved from high tax states to cheaper ones after their jobs were outsourced overseas. Free trade has to be fixed if America ever expects to have good jobs ever again. Schemes will just not cut it. Free trade has to be addressed.
20:22 July 7, 2011 by Englishted
In the town I live there have been 3 new housing estates in resent year yet the total figure of those living in the town has not moved for over 10 year.

When you have a census as badly do as the last one I'm surprised they know anything .Wait do they?
20:49 July 7, 2011 by german-guardian
@ Englishted

If you want to complain about everything in Germany, then get out and go back to which ever nest you come from. In all your comments I have seen, you seem to just spread hate against Germany, and make accusations about world war 2. Your comments are so disrupted (all your comments) that I am begining to think you are mentally disturbed. You are waiting for any excuse you can found from garbage to blame and accuse Germany.
08:04 July 8, 2011 by Heine Steinfeldt
@ german-guardian

What makes you think that "Englishted's" country of origin wants him back?
17:34 July 8, 2011 by Englishted
Please all reasonable people out there.

Would you kindly read my comment no.8 .

Then read comment no.9.

Does this man have any grounds for his comment ?.

Anybody who was here knows the census did not ask every household in German any questions,so I feel it cannot be accurate did I say anything about ww2 ? did I say I hate German? .

Paranoia is eating you away inside german-guardian see a doctor please.
18:35 July 8, 2011 by osas1212
I do not want the american government to know anything about where I am what I am doing they have destroyed any semblance of personal privacy. I have not voted for years and never will. I am more concerned about what Merkel does than Obama. I worked hard spent lot of time planning and had a house built here to stay forever for a variety of reasons.
19:06 July 8, 2011 by Englishted
@Heine Steinfeldt

That hurt cut me to the quill that did,I don't know if I should cry or drink a beer to make me feel better.

Guess which won?

13:17 July 10, 2011 by frankiep
"Some individual countries count the number of Americans residing there ­ Germany says about 97,000 live on its territory ­ but there are no worldwide figures since there¦#39;s no requirement that citizens tell the US government they¦#39;ve moved abroad."

This may be the 'official' stance of the US government, but like almost everything else concerning the US the reality is an entirely different matter. All American citizens must report to the IRS every year. This is regardless of place of residence or earned income. This means that, for example, an American citizen living in Germany and earning the equivalent of $40,000 a year MUST file a report with the IRS every year. Even if the person in question doesn't earn enough money requiring him to pay US taxes (the US is one of only two countries in the world which demands that its citizens pay taxes even if they haven't set foot in the country in the last 20 years) he must still fill out an FBAR form and send it in. The penalty for non-compliance is, the last time I checked, about $10,000. So for all intents and purposes the US government does know where its expats live and has effectively criminalized those who don't keep the IRS informed.

In my opinion, anyone who does not live in the US and has no plans or desire to move back is crazy to hold on to their US citizenship if they have other alternatives. The list of disadvantages of keeping citizenship are long: reporting every year to the IRS, paying US income taxes in addition to taxes where you live if your earnings are above $90,000 (which is not all that much in many countries), passing your US citizenship on to any kids you may have who will then be subject to the same requirement even if they never set foot in US in their lifetimes, having the US government claim %50 of any property you own when you die before your kids see any of it, and a new law which will make it difficult - and in some cases impossible - for US citizens living overseas to even open up a bank account (for more information, do a little research on FATCA).

Add this to the fact that just recently the US government has imposed, without notice, what amounts to an exit tax on anyone giving up their citizenship and it shouldn't be too difficult to see the handwriting on the wall about what things will be like in years to come.
02:56 July 12, 2011 by mkvgtired
This is an organization that wants to put together these figures, not the US government. It seems like this organization is trying to make sure people living abroad still vote.
22:53 July 12, 2011 by Beachrider
Anyone can renounce their USA citizenship. It is easy: Section 349(a)(5) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) (8 U.S.C. 1481(a)(5)) is the section of law that governs the ability of a United States citizen to renounce his or her U.S. citizenship.

It doesn't cost a nickle. If you want to go, then forfeit your SSA savings and go.

Don't let the door hit you on the backside, either.

I think that most of these complaints are more about getting 'other' citizenship. It is particularly easy to renounce USA citizenship.
02:39 August 25, 2012 by RogerC
Noble as this cause may be, regrettably it is doomed to failure. There are many Germans who were born in the US when their parents were visiting or temporarily assugbed there when boirn. They posess dual nationality which they are allowed to retain under German law without danger of losing their German citizzenship, but they understandably do not wish to reveal this fact publically lest they have their German bank accounts closed because, due to FATCA, many banks are getting rid of all US citizen clients. There are also many Germans born in Germany to one US citizen parent who are not aware that this fact means they are US citizens and therefore subject to US taxation on their German income, as well as being persona non-grata to German banks.

Some countries are able to have very good numbers on their citizens who live in another country but this is not the case with US citizens. And as long as the US re mains as the only supposedly "civilized" country that subjects its expats to home-country taxation when they live in another country, it is going to be impossible to have anything more than a "guesstimate" on how many there are anywhere.
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