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Group wants to count American expats abroad

The Local · 7 Jul 2011, 17:22

Published: 07 Jul 2011 17:22 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 – Sweden says about 17,000 live within its borders – 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, the organization says.

“There are many groups lobbying for the rights of Americans abroad. All of them benefit from having hard numbers,” said Peter Dahlen, a native of Delaware who volunteers for the group in Sweden.

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 Sweden. 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

23:58 July 8, 2011 by Onepack
As US citizen living in Sweden, I do not want to be counted. I do not want to exercise "clout". I am delighted to be a guest in this great country and even more delighted that I have been granted Swedish citizenship.. USA has "clouted" enough countries. Let's see if USA citizens can be quiet neighbors for a change.
13:24 July 9, 2011 by GregInGbG
The article is not entirely accurate.

As a US citizen, you are required to submit a US tax return, and to report your worldwide income, unless your income does not reach quite minimal amounts. On this tax return, you are required to enter your address. Therefore, IRS, (part of the US Dept of Treasury) knows your address listed on your last tax return. Failing to submit a tax return is a federal offence. Good luck in evading the IRS, and not paying your taxes.

And if you vote in US elections, the county where you last resided has your overseas address as well, so they can send you a ballot.

Its just that the Census Bureau does not. It will take a constitutional amendment to change that, which is not likely.
20:24 July 9, 2011 by el dorado
@Onepack - I'll believe Sweden is a great country when Sweden takes responsibility for the medical personnel who freely and endlessly murder and tortue the people who are forced to pay their salaries. I'll believe Sweden is a great country when Sweden pays its good medical personnel what they're worth. Nurses and doctors continually leave bc they are not paid well and/or bc they feel that it's unethical to practice in the work environment that politicians have created for them.

Sweden steals people's tax money and then leaves them to suffer and die. Sweden is an authoritarian medical state whose government employees freely torture people, most often with extremely little or no consequence. The Socialstyrelsen is fully aware of these horrors, and yet, its employees gladly sit back and let people die.

I have never witnessed such horrific and grotesque apathy and suppression as I have in Sweden, where people have the power to help one another but instead follow politicians who deny an adequate health care budget, choosing instead to let children, the elderly, and everyone in between painfully rot and die.

Time and time again, animals in Sweden have better access to better care and are treated with infinitely more respect than humans.
14:32 July 11, 2011 by Indignerad
lol, where do all the nutcases like "el dorado" come from? The kind that starts rambling about something incoherent that has nothing to do with the subject at hand. It seems that The Local has an unusual amount of these people.
16:17 July 11, 2011 by helveeta
@Onepack, I agree, I am in your same situation and do NOT want to be counted by the US. Control freak of a country that it is!

I already file taxes in the US each year and they know my address here in Sweden so that is all they are getting from me!

@el dorado, wth are you talking about??
00:52 July 12, 2011 by mkvgtired
Onepack, the group is called the Overseas Vote Foundation. I think they they are talking about making sure expats still have a say in US (not foreign) politics. One of their main objectives is to get people registered to vote. Just how I read the article, I could be wrong.
14:06 July 12, 2011 by Onepack
It's me, onepack, again. First, I can tell you my wife (who was born in Sweden) is a practical nurse here in Sweden, and she sees first hand how the medical system works. And so do I , since I have had to have my heart looked after in Lund at the hospital. We both know that the system is not perfect. But let me tell you, the system "across the pond" is no better and in many cases worse. Case in point. We used to live on Beacon Hill, the most prestigious neighborhood in Boston. Once, a friend of ours had an emergency ( internal bleeding). We took her to Massachusetts General Hospital, one of the BEST hospitals in the world... went to the emergency room... Long story, short. She almost died because the emergency room personnel were uneducated and totally uncaring.... It comes down to this: when you need medical help it all comes down to how well educated, how well rested and how motivated the "team" is.... No matter where you live around the world!

There are many things I find "imperfect" about Sweden. But at least they don't try to shove their will up the behinds of every country with whom they do business.... Wish I could say the same about my home country - USA.
02:59 July 13, 2011 by Freedom4all
I think behide all this counting thing there is IRS looking for Americans to rob even when you live out of the country.last year I had some 19 years old young man from Census Bureau office trying to get me register.I told the guy I don't want to register.I am u.s citizen there no state law or federal gov law that can force me to register....the guy told me he'll be back with cops...I told him I'll be home waiting.I closed my door and started LMAO with my girl.That guy never came back ever.It was a good day.By a law all Americans citizen have to file tax return every year or fed will come and take you to jail.I'll make sure I pay nothing or very little to big brother.I am planing to move to Canada or another country next.I am a film maker.I always own money to IRS.I am sick of paying IRS my money.
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