written on Sunday, August 9, 2015
Like many software engineers my life involved moving from one country to another for work. Since that moment this whole concept of relocation fascinated me because almost everyone in my circle of friends ended up in a place far from where they came but their stories were different. I learned that the topic of relocation and immigration is a very complex and diverse one. How widely different the experience can be for different people! Most interesting about this however is how little people not affected by this understand the complexities of being an immigrant in another country.
While my experience of moving to another country was the easiest imaginable, it was harder for my wife. How different immigration can be is hard to imagine from the outside.
Since immigration is a big topic again I figured I might share some of my experience on the topic to shed some light on how all that stuff actually works.
The most important part is to understand the legal basis for pretty much all topics related to entering and leaving a country and the permits. This is surprisingly complex because of the huge variety of different terms for related topics.
Passports are travel documents and means to identify yourself internationally. As of a few years ago any person travelling will need one of those which includes little children. Interestingly however passports are a lot more complex than you might think because they are not directly linked to citizenship. More about this later.
A passport gets you across a border and in many cases can act as an universally accepted way to proof something about yourself. For most states in the world the passports follow a generally accepted format which makes them very convenient and they are on of the few documents you never need to translate. Because of this, they will become your best friend when you are not at home though they are by no means the only document you need to reside in another country.
Most people would assume that having a passport of one country makes you a citizen thereof. That however is not at all correct. There are different reasons for this and I can't go into all here. The biggest reason why you might have a passport of a country you are not a citizen of is because you are a stateless person.
For most people in the world once they hold a citizenship they cannot become stateless. The reason for this is that there are international treaties where if ratified in a country you cannot lose your citizenship unless you acquire another one. There are some countries where this is not the case. The United States being the most popular of them. A US national can give up their US citizenship and become a stateless person this way. The reason this works is because you do not need to be a US citizen to be a US national. For instance people born in American Samoa are US nationals but they are not US citizens. This is also the part where citizenship and nationality becomes unclear. A person born in American Samoa will for all intents and purposes be seen as a US citizen as their passport will indicate that they have US nationality.
On the other hand there are many stateless people living in Estona and Lativa who are officially stateless. The reason for this is that they are Russian speaking and are either not entitled to Estonian or Latvian citizenship or have no interest in applying for one. They are issued a special passport for stateless people which however some some special powers an Estonian passport does not have: they can travel to Russia visa free.
This for many is the million dollar question. How can I immigrate in a foreign country? Generally this question heavily depends on your own citizenship and the laws of the country you want to become a resident of.
Here are the most common ways to immigrate:
Sometimes you are entitled just like that to live in another country like a citizen of that country would be. This for instance is the case within the European Union. If you are German but you feel like living in the Czech Republic, you can do so. Just head there and you're done. That's not entirely true, you still need to do some paper work in some cases (like registering etc.), but there is no rule that prevents you.
This is by far the easiest route but it's restricted to a certain population of the world, and there is good chance you as a reader are not in that group.
Marriage is still the best way to get a permit of residence and it's becoming an even better by the day because the requirements are so stict nowadays. However marriage does not immediately give you residence and most people will probably have noticed that. As an example in order for me and my wife (who is not Austrian) to legally live together with our child in Austria we need to have household income of 17.500 EUR per year after taxes. That does not sound like a lot, but for many people it's not the easiest thing to show, especially because those earnings need to exist regardless of the outcome of your residence application. For most people this means showing that you have that much in cash available as you probably do not live in the country yet to demonstrate a regular income through paychecks.
In the United Kingdom the income requirement is currently 18.600 GBP / year and you need to show income for 2.5 years. Which means that if you want to show it in savings, you need to have at least 62.500 GBP on an account somewhere.
Legal immigration is expensive and a lot of work. Besides the proof of income (which just requires you to have money), there is a lot of time and effort required. All the documents you need (birth certificate, proof of being in good legal standing, citizen certificate, proof of registration in the original country, prior academic records, drivers license, etc.) need to be apostiled or otherwise made work for international usage and translated. In some country many of those documents can only be retrieved in a single place and then you need to go through notaries to get them attested. All steps need to be done in one exact order as each border crossing needs to be planned and there is time involved in the paperwork.
On top of that you often need to pass language exams so there is some learning to do. In Austria for instance you have to leave the country if you cannot show German on an A2 level and you cannot even apply without A1. There are some exceptions to the rule (for instance this does not apply to asylum seekers or people immigrating via freedom of movement) but for the most part everybody has to go through.
Finally: Where do you pay taxes? In most countries you pay taxes in the country you have your primary residence. However there are some exceptions. The US will tax you no matter where in the world you are, but they will try to not double tax you for some time. The US will also tax you if you stop being a citizen and they think you relinquished your citizenship to dodge taxes.
Many people I met over the years just never legally immigrated somewhere. That however does not mean that they are illegally in the country. It can also mean that they just never immigrated to begin with and just hop from country to country. They are there as submarines either by pretending to be tourists and regularly changing the place of living.
This is a bit different from the traditional method of not crossing the border much which many migrant workers do. This however can turn terrible the moment someone catches you. Overstaying your permitted time in Schengen for instance will lock you out for 5 years from almost the entire European Union.