The first thing I noticed was the grass. It looked like the lawn at the foreclosure around the corner from my house back in Atlanta… albeit with better weeds.
I have a habit of “noticing the things that I notice” when I visit a country for the first time. In Uruguay, it was the well-kept gravel streets in the suburbs. In Madagascar, it was the abundant bougainvillea. In India, it was the smell of swamp, sewage and spices. It serves as a mnemonic tool and a way into finding out more about a place’s quirks.
Here in Geneva, it was the grass – as in uncut, wild and vaguely country villa-ish.
Turns out the Swiss like to let the grass grow a bit to remind them of their rural roots. For them, like me, cities are only a temporary nuisance on the lifelong journey back to the countryside.
That’s one reason why Swiss passports are among the most sought-after in the world… and almost impossible to get.
Tomorrow morning I’m to be the keynote speaker at a conference here on economic citizenship – the burgeoning practice of selling passports to people who are willing to pay for them.
The conference organizers initially assumed I’d be assessing the best second passports for very rich people. But I told them that wasn’t really my beat. I specialize in workable solutions for everyone, not just those with eight-figure net worths. After all, as I plan to tell them, a whole lot of people of all walks of life have their eyes set on another country.
For example, according to a recent survey, 35% of Americans would consider moving abroad, 15% would seriously consider a move within the next five years and 55% of those aged 18 to 34 – the heart and soul of the workforce – say they’d consider leaving the U.S. permanently.
Those are the sort of figures one expects from what demographers call “source” countries – places that supply the bulk of international migrants, like Mexico, Syria or Pakistan.
But they describe the land of the free and the home of the brave.
Something’s Happening Here
Those figures are especially surprising given that the current presidential campaign season is consumed with fantastical plans to keep people out of the U.S. From the way some candidates talk, you’d think people were beating down the proverbial doors to get in.
But the truth is that net migration into the U.S. from Mexico, for which some recommend a border wall, has been zero or negative for several years. Apparently the U.S. isn’t as attractive as we flatter ourselves to believe.
Quite the contrary. Every day I meet or hear from Americans in the prime of their lives who are worried about their children’s future… in the way people in collapsing colonial societies used to worry. Indeed, the U.S. right now has many of the hallmarks of societies that produce a lot of migrants – instability, uncertainty and declining living standards for people whose parents could take progress for granted.
The problem is that the systems that support and facilitate legal global migration are designed for the extremely wealthy. That’s because at the moment they are dominated by boutique consultancies who earn huge fees for helping little island countries sell their passports to plug big holes in their budgets.
But that market clearly isn’t the only or even the biggest one. It’s just the only one that’s currently being served. And tomorrow, I’ll be making the case for a radical shift in focus: migrant opportunities for people like you and me.