American exceptionalism: Harassing tourists and others

A discussion broke out on The Dish about the high-handed and sometimes abusive treatment that foreigners entering the US are subjected to, even citizens of international peers, like the EU, compared with the treatment that Americans (and others) receive entering most European countries. All foreigners entering the US are, by law, treated as “an intending immigrant” when they arrive, and need to prove otherwise. Now, a former immigration official has replied with a justification:

Congress demands by law that every applicant for a tourist visa (or any nonimmigrant visa) be considered “an intending immigrant” until they prove otherwise. With good reason – a lot of them are intending immigrants. Why is it Americans have such an easier time traveling to other countries than citizens of those countries have traveling here? Because Americans go home, that’s why.

Even when US citizens work off the books for a year or two overseas, they almost always wind up coming home. The same can’t be said of most foreigners who come here, even Europeans.

Sounds pretty convincing. But is it true? How would he know? I’m always suspicious of categorical claims like this, even when I make them myself.

How about if we compare the number of people from different countries living abroad. According to the French government, there are 1.6 million French citizens living abroad, so about 2.7% of the population. About 2 million Germans (not counting the 600,000 or so Russians who are officially considered “Germans” by ancient descent), so about 2.5%. And Americans? According to the Bureau of Consular Affairs (part of the State Department) there are 7.6 million Americans living abroad. Divided into a population of 316 million, we get about 2.4%. Even if some of these estimates are off, it’s clearly not a qualitative difference.

Sorry, America, the world just isn’t as into you as you like to imagine.

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