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1.6.2013 | Von:
Thorsten Nieberg

Concerns of German Expatriates in Hong Kong and Thailand

Ein Wahlbrief liegt am 04.10.2012 im Statistischen Amt in Stuttgart (Baden-Württemberg) auf anderen Wahlbriefen.Absentee ballot for the 2012 elections in the German state of Baden-Württemberg: Germans who live abroad must enter their names into electoral registers to be able to take part in elections in their home country. (© picture-alliance/dpa)

German expatriates in Hong Kong and Thailand have many concerns and needs with regard to their security which derive from the very specific situation in which they live. These matters can mainly be categorized as relating to communication and access to information, the protection of their physical well-being, external voting and political representation, the provision of pensions and health insurance, taxation, schooling and education, and repatriation. As German citizens expats demand of the German state to deal with these needs and issues of concern.

Some of these issues of concern will be presented in the following. In this context, the above outlined concept of human security serves at a point of reference in order to classify these concerns.

Communication, access to information, and the protection of physical well-being

Related to notions of communal, political and personal security are the concerns of German expats in Hong Kong and Thailand about difficulties in obtaining access to information regarding their matters of interest as expats. An illustrative statement of this view from Hong Kong reads:

It would be quite nice if there was a bit of [German government] advice on … where one can access certain information which are of relevance [to us German expats] … in the Internet … [and] I think it [is not too much to ask] to seek such information without [complicatedly] searching for them. [1]

Germany provides electronic information to its expats through a wide range of departments and agencies. Yet, such a tangled web of data bases makes it very difficult for seekers of advice to gain access to the information they want. Recognizing a certain responsibility of individual persons to seek information, it nevertheless can be expected from governments that their agencies not only provide such information, but do so in a way that is accessible and comprehensible. Considering the Australian case, for example, one can see that the government there maintains specifically-designed web portals (see Figure 4) for the country’s social groups which should allow easy access to online government information and services—and without users having to know which agency to contact. [2]

The Australian government’s group-focused Internet frameworkThe Australian government’s group-focused Internet framework (© http://australia.gov.au/people)
Another issue of concern specifically shared by German expats in Thailand is the way in which information and advice is communicated to expats in times of political crisis. Germany, as part of its consular service, provides an alert system to its expats aimed at giving fast and effective assistance in crisis or emergency situations. A key tool in this system—which is primarily administered by the various local German missions and based on voluntary online subscriptions by expats—is the sending of security-alerts in the form of electronic messages (emails).[3] While this provision was indeed recognized by some German expats in Thailand as an important means in Germany’s efforts to protect its expats from harm to their physical well-being, it was nevertheless criticized for its one-sided dependence on the Internet—which was deemed to be still too slow for fast-track alerts and potentially unavailable in the respective crisis situations. For this reason, it was suggested that, in the future, the German government should strongly consider the supplementary inclusion of a Short Message Service (SMS) into the alert system to overcome the difficulties associated with emails.

External voting and political representation

Another recurrent theme of concern for German expats in Hong Kong and Thailand—embodying notions of communal and political security—was that the process of voting from a distance (external voting) was too complicated and too troublesome, and—in fact—somewhat contradictory to the basic right to democratically-elected representation of interest. Specifically, it was argued, this was because there was no special constituency for Germans abroad and that, therefore, Germans abroad—whose votes scatter among the various electoral districts—were unable to elect a designat-ed representative for their own interests.

[I]t is fact that, if we had a separate constituency for Germans abroad, the person who would represent them had to foster a policy that is in line with their interests. Certainly, [given the current electoral structure, however], not any Member of Parliament is fostering [such] a policy. Therefore, the in-terests of Germans abroad [clearly] "go overboard".[4]

Currently, under German federal electoral law, it is the personal responsibility of all Germans abroad, who have not maintained residence status in Germany and intend to vote in any German election, to apply for enrollment in the voting register so as to be able to cast their ballot from a distance. In addition, it is a general requirement for all Germans abroad to request—in response to a written polling notification—that the responsible electoral office issues a polling card and sends it to the registered address abroad. This polling card must then be posted back early enough by the voter. As for the mobile population within Germany, it also applies to Germans outside Germany that they cast their ballot through the electoral division of their latest address in Germany. [5]

As a means to overcome their senses of exclusion and insecurity, as derived from external voting and related issues, the wish was expressed that the German government should step up its technical research efforts into electronic voting procedures so as to ease this process and to allow for a better exercise of citizen rights from a distance. In addition, a separate constituency for Germans abroad was suggested to be established.

The provision of pensions and health insurance

Especially for many German expats in Thailand, the provision of pensions and health insurance is an important issue—a circumstance that can be mainly seen as a reflection of these person's concerns about their economic or, more precisely, financial and health security. Specifically, the argument was that, even though pension payments in Germany generally were not too low, overall living there remained too expensive to afford a reasonable lifestyle—something that was better possible in lower cost countries such as Thailand.

However, many German pensioners who reside in Thailand do not maintain any valid health insurance. It was argued amongst other reasons that this circumstance was due to the coverage of the German statutory health insurance scheme not applying to persons who are located in states that are outside the reach of Germany's specific social security agreements, such as Thailand, even though formally eligible.

It was suggested that a possible solution to the health insurance issue could be that Germany seeks further social security agreements with countries beyond Europe, thereby ensuring a spatial extension of the statutory health insurance scheme. Supporting this view, there was a feeling expressed by retirees and affected family members that it was only fair for persons, who had made their contributions to the German economy and welfare system during their working years in Germany, that they are granted full access to these subsidiaries later—and irrespective of their place of residence.

Taxation

Germany and Hong Kong have not concluded a so-called double taxation agreement. Therefore, the income of German expats is taxed not only in Hong Kong but also in Germany. Some of the interviewees complained that this would lead to notable financial burdens. Concern over financial burdens was not only expressed by assigned employees but also by some freelance professionals working in Hong Kong, such as architects, who noted that they not only had to raise funds for their social security arrangements on-site but also had to continue making contributions into an occupational-specific pension scheme in Germany if they wanted to retain their accreditations—and hence the opportunity to once again work in their principal fields of occupation in Germany in case of return. Concerns with regard to taxation are linked to the dimensions of economic and communal security.

Schooling and education

A number of German expats in Hong Kong and Thailand raised the high school fees of German schools abroad as an issue of concern due to feelings that they were unable to grant their children the desired education. However, German parents’ concerns were also related to the fact that the local Thai and Chinese languages were not valued enough in the curricula to allow better opportunities for children to engage with local communities. It should be noted here that the German government currently provides some 30 percent of its overseas schools’ budgets. The remaining 70 percent must be raised by private means, including through the imposition of tuition fees. [6]

Repatriation

A major issue of concern within the area communal and political security especially raised by German expats in Thailand who have local partners, wives or husbands, is related to the German language proficiency test that is a mandatory part of Germany's visa requirements for most non-German applicants, including those from Thailand. Specifically, there was the concern that this language test was too difficult for persons from such developing countries as Thailand (especially women) and in fact that this would violate German basic law and the protection of marriage in par-ticular. The story of one German expat intending to return to Germany with his Thai wife after then 17 years of marriage may be cited to illustrate these issues:

Using integration as a camouflage, some bureaucrat [now has invented] this language proficiency test: "Well, that's just easy", they say. But, for someone like my wife [it certainly is not because she only] went to school for three and a half years. … [So], my marriage is being destroyed. [7]

Today, there is an increased political debate developing about this issue in Germany, also involving legal complaints taken to highest levels of judicature. [8]

This text is part of the policy brief on "Germans Abroad".

Fußnoten

1.
Nieberg, interviews in Thailand, 11 May 2010.
2.
Legal and Constitutional References Committee (2005), pp. 28-30.
3.
Auswärtiges Amt (2011a).
4.
Nieberg, interviews in Thailand, 16 November 2010.
5.
Bundeswahlleiter (2012).
6.
Auswärtiges Amt (2011b), (2011c).
7.
Nieberg, interviews in Thailand, 21 October 2010, 15 November 2010.
8.
Tageszeitung (2011).
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