Each year expat community InterNations conducts an international survey to see which countries are perceived as friendliest to expats. Being an expat (aka, an immigrant) myself, I usually report on the results as an entertaining conversation starter for the travel obsessed. But this year when InterNations emailed me, I did a double take.
The findings for 2017 aren't just fun cocktail party chatter; they're serious evidence of how much the image of America has shifted around the world and cause to worry for those who believe globetrotters are a powerful force of economic dynamism.
America's tumble down the rankings
The survey analyzes responses from some 13,000 InterNations community members on a diverse set of factors that influence life abroad -- from cost of living to the ease of raising a family in a given locale -- to come up with its country rankings. The U.S. has traditionally come in around the middle of the pack. Last year, for instance, we were 25th out of 66 countries studied.
This year we plummeted to 46th.
While there has been a steady downward trend in America's place in the survey, that's a more dramatic tumble. What's behind the drop?
Career opportunities aren't the issue. The U.S. still ranks in the top ten for work. Nor do we fail to provide a warm welcome. Foreigners continue to say Americans are quite friendly to outsiders. Instead, the States falls down on two important issues. First, according to expats and prospective expats, work-life balance in America is brutal.
Accessing affordable healthcare in particular seems to have potential migrants spooked. One-in-three respondents rated the U.S. as very bad when it comes to the issue, compared to a worldwide average of seven percent for this question. Only Nigeria has a more troubled healthcare system, according to expats.
Thanks to this reality, as well as fewer supports like paid leave for parents and longer hours, work "fails to buy those living in the States a secure and stable lifestyle," reports InterNations. "The work-life balance is not good. I feel overworked just to make ends meet and don't have enough time or energy to socialize," commented one Peruvian expat. It's a complaint many struggling native born Americans will understand.
Welcome to dysfunction nation
But there's another big reason that suddenly no one wants to come to America. Yup, you guessed it, our toxic politics. "Down 32 percentage points from last year, just 36 percent feel that the USA is politically stable," notes InterNations.
With lawmaking a seeming bloodsport in the country and our new president doing everything in his power to prove his hostility to immigrants, perhaps that steep drop shouldn't come as a huge surprise.
Still, as a country where immigrants contribute an outsize amount to entrepreneurship, these findings are worrying. It seems it's not just Americans who are holding their heads in bewilderment every night as they watch the news. Talented foreigners thinking of coming here for a stint as students, travelers, or workers are apparently equally horrified by the dysfunction. That can't be good news for America.