You're Good to Go, or Thoughts on Encouraging Emigration: Part II

By David North on May 31, 2012

As I argued in a previous blog, it is a good idea for the United States to encourage aliens to voluntarily return to their home nations.

It reduces the burdens of over-population and reduces our future welfare payments, all without coercion of any kind. Coerced departures (deportations) will of course still be necessary, but each of them is likely to be much more costly to the nation than the average assisted voluntary departure that I envision.

Paying government lawyers to win deportation cases and sometimes the appeals, and paying for detention of aliens fighting deportation are all expensive activities, as are the actual deportations.

My suggestion about encouraging emigration is to some extent based on a bit of my own personal migration history. I was living in the American suburbs several decades ago in a tract house and a terrible marriage. Neither of us had any appreciable savings. I alone had a job; she had no place to go but our house, and I felt that I could not afford to set up separate living quarters for myself, like an apartment in the city.

Then I landed two small moonlighting assignments, maybe worth $2,500 together. Suddenly I realized I could afford to move to an apartment, and did so (we divorced a little later). The pair of moonlighting gigs was a tipping point and I migrated and lived happily ever after.

The emigration policies I have in mind are based on the assumption that some emigration decisions can be encouraged by government-created tipping-point mechanisms. There are always people on the verge of a decision and sometimes a minor factor can push them one way or the other. Some of these tipping points can be created within existing systems and others would involve a new program, which will be the subject of a future blog.

Let's start with an easy (though not particularly common) problem. The illegal is in the United States and wants to fly home; he or she does not have a passport or a passport-like document to get on the plane, so there is no departure. But if DHS were to issue a "Good to Go" document, free, to the individual after making sure that airlines would accept it for out-going passengers, the person would leave. The document would make it clear, in large type, that while the document identifies the alien, it does not give him or her any benefits at all other than a legal departure.

Moving to a somewhat different situation, let's say that the alien wanting to depart has already secured a valid alien travel document of some kind (reentry permit, refugee travel document, or advance parole document) that cost him between $360 and $445, depending on several factors. The alien would agree not to seek to return to the United States for at least five years. The alien could, on a once-in-a-life-time basis, apply for a refund of the payment once he has resettled in his former homeland and had been there for, say, three months. The refund would be available from a U.S. office in that country, such as the embassy, and would be repaid in the local currency upon surrender of the document.

A more common scenario: An alien has a refund coming from his income taxes and may be thinking of returning home. In addition to either a free exit visa or a refund on his alien travel document, he can receive the tax refund in American dollars at an address overseas. This is currently a possibility; the income tax form even has a place for a foreign address on it, but such a possibility may not be generally known or, more importantly, generally known to the population that might benefit from it.

The IRS should publicize the availability of such refunds (while making it clear that this is automatic the first time it is requested, but may be subject to scrutiny if it happens again and the address is not within commuting distance of our borders). Maybe IRS should routinely tell aliens involved that an overseas refund is one of the options for 1040-NR (non-resident) filings. Certainly it should inform governmental and non-governmental agencies dealing with migrants that this arrangement is available. USCIS should make it widely known to its clientele. If the alien is getting the refund anyway, why not send it to him in his home country?

Moving up the spectrum of complexity, let's talk about the alien who is thinking about retirement, and goes to the Social Security office to file for benefits. He may be eligible for all the one-time emigration benefits described above and, more importantly, a monthly Social Security check as well. Let's assume that he has a legitimate application.

This is a population that should be given the full treatment regarding the benefits of emigration, for reasons explained in an earlier blog. While not all aliens are eligible for retirement benefits mailed overseas, many of them are, and those that are should be told quite specifically about their options within the system and the other benefits described above. There should be bilingual letters accompanying first-time Social Security checks (to the extent that the agency still uses checks) explaining the overseas delivery possibility. Press releases should be sent to the foreign-language press in America, foreign-language radio should be told about these arrangements, etc.

Meanwhile, Social Security has already created a splendid, interactive electronic data system that shows the rules for receiving Social Security checks overseas in a long list of nations. My concern is that low-income migrants of retirement age may not aware of this system or know how to use it if they are aware. (I found it fun to play with. Could I, a U.S. citizen, take my Social Security check to the Falklands, or to Cuba? Yes, for the first; no, for the second.)

While I think everything I have suggested above can be done by a change in agency policy or regulations, my final suggestion of the day probably requires congressional action.

Currently, usually for reasons long since forgotten, Social Security checks cannot be mailed, or cannot be mailed for more than six months, to alien retirees in Cambodia, Egypt, Iraq, Laos, Vietnam, and some other countries. (The ban on checks to Iran and North Korea continues to make sense.) We should make it possible for potential emigrants in the first set of countries to get their Social Security payments if they return to those nations.

What about a system for encouraging aliens to leave the country, when none of the suggestions above would do any good? That will be the subject of a future blog.