By MADELINE McGEE
KENNESAW, Ga. — Hollywood, California, should be a ghost town after Donald Trump won the Nov. 9 presidential election given the number of celebrities who essentially denounced their U.S. citizenship.
The growing list includes Samuel L. Jackson, who said he’d move to South Africa; Raven Symoné, who said she already had her plane ticket to Canada ready; and Cher, who tweeted nowhere on planet Earth is far enough away from a Trump presidency, writing she’d be relocating to Jupiter.
A surge in panicked Americans expressing considerations to leave the U.S. if an unfavorable candidate is elected has become a hallmark of any election season. The difference is that the claims are bipartisan.
Looking at previous trends
Google Trends reported that searches of the phrase “leave the U.S.” saw dramatic spikes following the 2012 election of Barack Obama and March’s Super Tuesday primaries.
This rhetoric often targets Canada as a potential refuge, especially for those with liberal inclinations. Its single payer healthcare system, stringent gun laws and other comparatively liberal policies have led some Americans to view it as a liberal utopia.
Searches of the phrase “move to Canada” have skyrocketed by almost 3,000 percent immediately following Super Tuesday in March, the largest number of searches for that phrase in Google’s history. Actually, Canada’s immigration site crashed following Trump’s election.
This begs the question of whether the disenchanted electorate is actually following through with its relocation plans. The United States’s lack of record-keeping on emigration makes it difficult to say.
Heather Segal, an immigration lawyer based in Toronto, Ontario, says yes — sort of.
Moving to Canada
“I did see a slight increase in immigration to Canada after Bush was elected — both times,” she said. “Mostly, I get a number of calls of interest on what is required in order to come to Canada. In those calls, around election time, people have indicated that it is politics that is motivating their choice to move.”
Shoshana Green, also an immigration lawyer in Toronto, said the majority of those calls don’t come from average U.S. citizens.
More often than not, Americans fleeing the U.S.’s political climate are families containing at least one Canadian citizen. These types of migrants are far more common because they have ability to sponsor their non-Canadian family members for legal residency status, which a privilege that makes the immigration process considerably easier.
“Over the years we, will receive inquiries from Americans who are interested in Canada when the political climate appears ripe for a move,” Green said. “What is more common are couples comprised of a Canadian and American where the couple decides that it would be better to raise their family in Canada versus the U.S. A move to Canada is then contemplated where the Canadian spouse would sponsor the U.S. spouse toward acquiring status in Canada.”
This doesn’t mean that Americans — sponsored or not — are flooding into Canada each election season. Data from Canada’s Department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship suggests a much more moderate rate of migration.
Over at least the previous three election cycles, the number of U.S. immigrants gaining permanent residency status in Canada has remained somewhat stable, peaking slightly in 2008. Over the past decade, the number of annual immigrants has hovered between 7,000 and 10,000, which seems minuscule compared to the U.S.’s population of more than 318 million.
Because Canada doesn’t keep data on immigrants’s reasons for relocation, it’s difficult to estimate to what extent elections factored into these relocations, but most of the phone calls Segal and Green received remained just that — phone calls.
Although the U.S. emigration rate to Canada has remained mostly stagnant, the number of Americans choosing to renounce their U.S. citizenship certainly has not. The number of annual expatriation from the U.S. skyrocketed from 439 in 1998 to 4,272 in 2015, according to data from the Department of the Treasury.
Troubles of leaving U.S.
Tax attorneys Andrew Mitchel and Ryan E. Dunn argue it’s unlikely these renunciations are politically motivated. Rather, they say it’s more probable that those who give up citizenship do it for tax reasons.
Many of those who choose to renounce their citizenship are already living abroad. The United States is one of only two countries in the world that taxes its citizens living abroad, with the other being the African country of Eritrea.
Many Americans living abroad are not are not aware of their tax obligations to the United States, which, according to Mitchel and Dunn, can be complex and burdensome. When they become aware of the cost and time required to complete the filing process, they opt to give up citizenship instead.
It’s reasonable to expect that most Americans’s panicked claims about relocating to Canada or elsewhere will not come to fruition this election season — and perhaps with good reason.
Reddit user MarburgDE, who moved from the United States to Germany to the Czech Republic, learned through experience that even an action as drastic as an international move might not be a guaranteed solution to political disillusionment.
“When I first moved away, I thought stupidity was only confined to the English-speaking world,” Marburg said. “Then, I learned more languages, and I learned that stupidity is everywhere.”
Let’s see whether the laundry list of celebrities promising to vacate the United States under a Trump presidency make good on their promises.