The ongoing debate over immigration in the States and Europe is cause for some introspection on being an expat now well-past five years.
In my life, I have been an expat for roughly a decade, with the longest stretch being the current Indonesian adventure. One assumes that the term 'expat' refers primarily to folks who go about it in a legal manner, with all the appropriate stamps and permits to carry on the daily routine of life, since one rarely hears the term applied to those who do not.
Currently in the US, there is a tremendous amount of hand-wringing over 'immigration reform', which involves granting amnesty to illegals, forgiving back taxes and offering various incentives to help them on their way up the social ladder. The US immigration system is a farce by any measure and laughable to those of us who endure the rigors of other nations' policies.
Let's take Indonesia as an example of what most of the world considers immigration policy.
Here, a 30-day tourist visa costs $25 on arrival. You can get a 60-day visa outside the country for around $45, plus any agent fees and such. The 30-day visa is extendable up to 90 days at $25 per month. The 60-day visa is extendable up to 180 days with the same $25 per month.
Beyond that, you can obtain a 6-month and one-year visa, called a KITAS, that is concomitant with an IMTA work permit. You must have the KITAS to get the IMTA, but the former does not guarantee the latter. For one year, it runs about $2,000, all in. If you get the one-year visa, then you must get the NPWP, or taxpayer number.
You are liable for tax on all income from whatever source anywhere in the world until the NPWP is cancelled - even if you leave Indonesia. To cancel the NPWP is a 6-month process with a guaranteed tax audit for all the years you have been in-country.
In all cases, you must either maintain a valid ticket out of the country, or your employer is required to pay your ticket out at the end of the contract. This is to ensure that if you are deported, you pay your own way.
Furthermore, foreigners can not own any property outright. You can co-own it with a spouse, but if your spouse dies or divorces you, you have one year to divest the property or face confiscation. The best you can hope for otherwise is hak bangunan, which gives you full rights to property for up to 30 years, and is renewable one time.
The biggest reform to Indonesian immigration laws in the past two decades was the creation of a 10-year KITAP, or permanent resident visa. This is only available to expats married to locals and so far does not come with the IMTA - that's extra. It costs $5,000, and because there are yet no controlling regulations issued for them, it is nothing but a big shaft. One story I heard was that an expat got one after months of strenuous effort, only to have it cancelled when his employer applied for a work permit. It was replaced with the standard one-year KITAS.
If you want to become an Indonesian citizen, the you must hold a KITAP for some mysterious amount of time. Then your application will go through a Kafka-esque process until it reaches the president's desk, where he must sign it and publicly declare you a citizen.
Given this background, when I hear of 'immigration reform' in the US, or Europeans wailing and gnashing their teeth over immigrant workers taking over the place, I laugh. By comparison, the US immigration system is a joke, and the reform is hardly worth the effort since no one pays the least bit of attention to it in the first place. I personally know two Indonesians who have lived and worked in a major city for more than 25 years with hardly a bead of sweat to show for their dealings with immigration laws.
The word 'farce' comes to mind.
To call the debate in the US "reform" is a bit disingenuous. It's more like deciding whether to keep the patient on life-support or pull the plug.
A number of writers have speculated that the true demise of Rome was due to the overwhelming number of former slaves who eventually took over the daily operations of the empire. Most of the real Romans had long since bugged out or left the drudge work to the under classes. By the time the Visigoths overran the city, there were few folks left to worry or care.
Most people who think the current immigration 'reform' is compassionate have never lived, much less traveled, outside the US. They have no clue what real immigration policy is, nor do they have any notion of history to inform their thinking.
The Big BO invited a group of illegal immigrants to the White House, a place where few citizens are allowed in the name of 'security'. There are currently little or no repercussions for employers or illegals alike when they flaunt what little regulation exists. If the media really had the intention to debate the story, they would interview US expats in other countries about what it means to be an immigrant. But that might risk introducing a bit of reality into the discussion.
Immigration reform does not mean giving away the store or spending a bit more time groping people at the airport. Reform means enforcing the visa expirations, disallowing 'anchor babies' and withholding social benefits paid for by productive taxpayers.
Personally, I think all national borders should be done away with because the whole thing is nothing more than a revenue scam, and has little or nothing to do with national security. But public discourse on the topic of immigration should at least be honest and complete. Don't call it immigration reform when what is really on the table is creating a class of specially privileged people based on the fact that they have no history or investment in a country.
In every case where I have lived overseas, I have gone out of my way to learn the languages and customs of my host country. I have done all I could to assimilate, even when I stand out like a galleon among row boats.
If an immigrant begins his tenure in another country by refusing to follow the common law, what does that say about his long-term intentions? And to reward that behavior with blanket amnesty and special treatment that offers enhanced status over current citizens is nothing less than insane.
Whether we are discussing the US, UK or EU, the current immigration debate smacks of either a concerted effort to undermine the long-term viability of those nations involved, or a depth of stupidity rarely matched in history.
I opt for the former.