The Next President's Task List: Reciprocity as a Key Tenet
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By James R. Lint
Faculty Member, School of Business, American Military University
Contributor, In Homeland Security
This article is the third in a series.
With the upcoming presidential election, our leadership will undergo a change. New people with new ideas will enter government offices. One area which should be examined by the new administration concerns the international concept of reciprocity, which should be a tool to balance fairness among nations in multiple areas.
Reciprocity in Visa Programs
Some international laws and travel policies, including visas and the Visa Waiver Program, are built around the concept of reciprocity. After a security review, the U.S. gives visas or waives the need for visas to citizens of countries that do the same for U.S. citizens.
The U.S. asks other countries to extend similar privileges, but does not always receive them. Not all countries comply with the policy of reciprocity, even though it is considered fair to all. As a result, the U.S. State Department reminds travelers of the differences in the countries they’re visiting, saying, “Penalties for breaking the law [abroad] can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses.”
Generous U.S. Financial Support Is Not Reciprocated
The U.S. is generous in providing Medicaid, food stamps, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Housing and Urban Development (HUD) programs, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Head Start, Work Study, and Medicare to citizens. Few countries share the same policy.
In fact, hospitals in some other countries will often not release the body of a deceased foreigner to the survivors until they have fully paid the medical bill. Should we provide citizens of other countries with U.S. support services if they do not grant the same services to American citizens in their country?
Reciprocity Needed for Retirees, Like Programs from Other Countries
Many American citizens look to retire overseas, where the cost of living is lower and a small retirement fund can go farther. However, if they overstay their visas, American retirees may have to pay a penalty and could go to jail, especially if they are not able to pay the fines. These policies are aggressively pursued by the host country.
In the Philippines, which has a large American retiree population of more than 9,000, the penalty for overstaying a visa is 4,000 pesos ($82 US) per month. When non-U.S. citizens overstay visas, they are treated with greater flexibility.
Some countries do roll out the welcome mat for foreign retirees, according to U.S. News and World Report. They offer sometimes significant tax breaks, in-country discounts and other perks once residents qualify for resident retiree status.
The U.S. does not gain from an overseas retiree population of non-working, financially qualified people, who would put money into our economy without taking jobs from U.S. citizens. For years, many countries have offered retiree visas for individuals with a steady pension income and who can pay a deposit bond. The U.S. should have a reciprocity program similar to the retiree programs in Colombia, the Philippines and Panama.
Reciprocity Should Be Available in Education
The U.S. Supreme Court, in the landmark 1982 case Plyler v. Doe, required states to provide all students with free public education through high school regardless of citizen status. The court decision did not apply to education beyond that level.
Many states grant in-state tuition for non-U.S. citizens. However, the federal government has not secured similar reciprocity from other favored countries.
Inequality in Workers’ Rights
Many countries require a special work visa for foreigners, which is often hard to obtain especially for those who do not have skills that the host country needs. It’s generally easier for people to find work in the U.S. But without similar reciprocity, the U.S. is missing an opportunity to ensure other countries establish and enforce similar policies that protect and promote equality in workers’ rights abroad.
Reciprocity Becoming a Nationality Issue
Reciprocity becomes a nationality issue when the U.S. grants citizenship to children born in the U.S. to non-citizen parents. Their home nations do not grant reciprocity for that privilege or acknowledge dual citizenship.
The outcome of these complex and often politically volatile issues are generally associated with North and South America immigration issues. In fact, these issues are global and should be part of the overall policy discussion.
Maternity tourism is an upward and overshadowed trend that shows few signs of abatement. It places a burden on law enforcement as, “Authorities are looking for evidence of bringing in and harboring of undocumented visitors; conspiracy, fraud and misuse of visas and permits; tax evasion and false tax returns.”
Other than Canada, the U.S. is the only first-world nation to grant jus soli or birthright citizenship. Conversely, for China, Korea or other Asian countries, the policy and concept are nonexistent.
In Asia, ethnicity is the issue for citizenship. Koreans and many Asians view ethnicity as citizenship.
If a Korean-American teenager returns to South Korea and is listed on the “Family Register” at a Korean regional office, that youngster can be conscripted into the army. Some people call this dual citizenship, but the reality is that it is two countries each seeing the citizenship status differently. Sometimes even the U.S. Embassy is not effective in winning a release.
Reciprocity Offers the New President a Powerful Tool
Reciprocity could be a powerful tool for our next president to require other countries to extend equality and fairness to American citizens abroad. It’s not necessarily quid pro quo, but rather an opportunity to further the same level of human rights and fairness abroad. The changes in Washington may bring new changes for our international businessmen, retirees and tourists in foreign lands.
About the Author
James R. Lint recently retired as the (GG-15) civilian director for intelligence and security, G2, U.S. Army Communications Electronics Command. He is an adjunct professor at AMU. Additionally, James started the Lint Center for National Security Studies, a nonprofit charity that recently awarded its 43rd scholarship for national security students and professionals. He has 38 years of experience in military intelligence within the U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Army, contractor and civil service.
James was also elected as the 2015 national vice president for the Military Intelligence Corps Association. In 2016, he was accepted as a member of the Military Writers Guild. He has served in the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis and at the Department of Energy’s S&S Security Office. James had an active military career in the Marine Corps for seven years and also served 14 years in the Army. His military assignments include South Korea, Germany and Cuba in addition to numerous CONUS locations. James has authored a book published in 2013, “Leadership and Management Lessons Learned,” and a new book in 2016 “8 Eyes on Korea, A Travel Perspective of Seoul, Korea.”
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