Is America Facing an Exodus?

It’s remarkable to think that in 1991, only 14.3 million Americans possessed a valid passport. Twenty five years later, that figure is now more than 100 million, and it will only continue to grow.

For the second year, we commissioned a study of 3,000 people living in the U.S. that explores how strongly American residents are tied to this country as their permanent place of residence. We call it the “Anchor Index” and what we found is that 41% of American millennials are planning to live or work abroad in their lifetime. Across all Americans, 30% were considering living abroad — that is 75% of the U.S. passport holding population.

The idea of losing almost half of the young workforce to other markets may seem daunting. But in an age of global citizens, it could be a good thing, and here’s why:

Technology has made it easier to stay rooted from afar

From platforms like Skype or WhatsApp which help you stay connected to friends and family, to the new wave of FinTech startups who are changing the way money moves around the world, the idea of uprooting your life is far less daunting than it was even ten years ago. Technology has played a large part in enabling people to easily travel and live in foreign places, or even nomadically, while still maintaining strong ties to home. It all feels so easy now, being global. For many, they don’t feel it all — it’s just how it is.

A global citizen is a more empathetic one

It’s easy to fall into insular communities of like-minded people. We used to think that the internet would change this, that people would become more open to other’s ideas and feelings, but social media has proven otherwise. If anything, it’s even easier to filter out opinions that aren’t akin to your own. What the world really needs is more cultural exchange; face-to-face interaction between individuals who are absolutely nothing alike. This is what truly makes a global citizen — the understanding that difference is not inherently bad.

Inspiration for the next generation of leaders and entrepreneurs

Leaving home can be an incredible source of inspiration. After all, 40% of Fortune 500 companies were started by immigrants. From learning how to apply other nation’s solutions to issues impacting Americans or coming upon problems that have yet to be solved, traveling provides skills and experiences you just can’t get in a classroom. Like TransferWise’s very own co-founders who brought hundreds of jobs back to their home country of Estonia, the next generation of American expats could be inspired to do the same.

They’ll all be back in a few years

It’s common to see people exclaim on social media, “If Donald Trump wins, I’m moving to Canada!” Well, our “Anchor Index” showed that people in the U.S. truly mean it. Canada came in at the top destination for Americans looking to live abroad (followed by the UK and Australia) and roughly 40% of people revealed being more likely to move abroad if Trump wins this November (roughly 25 percent stated the same for Hillary). Yet, these trends ebb and flow. Whether they return in two years or four to eight, moving abroad, for most people, is more of a hiatus than a true exodus. Once the box is ticked and the wanderlust subsides, American expats may be itching to return. Let’s see.

This Fall, Americans will be the most popular people abroad

Regardless of your political stance, it’s an interesting time for Americans abroad. They’re likely to get bombarded by strangers who are interested in hearing their take on this momentous election. Embrace the chance to educate others. It’s foreign relations at the most micro level.

So, America, I say roll with the changing tides. Know that your citizens will only come back wiser, worldlier and more compassionate than they were when they left. And for the 30% of Americans looking to become more global citizens, we look forward to welcoming you to our little revolution.


Follow me on Twitter here: @crosserton

For more from the TransferWise team follow the TransferWise Ideas publication on Medium here.

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