If you don’t like it, leave — for a price

A common retort that libertarians, even minarchists, hear when criticizing ‘their’ government is “If you don’t like it, then just leave.”1 Indeed, residency is perceived to be one piece of evidence (among others, like voting, paying taxes, etc.) for one’s implicit consent to the state and its rules. Just leave. As if there are better alternatives. Or, as if ‘their’ country being the least bad option somehow justifies its government. Just leave. They make it sound so simple, don’t they? If only it were. Unfortunately, states are not so keen on letting their slaves get away so easily, free and clear.

So, my wife is from India and she recently got her U.S. citizenship. She had a permanent greencard (which cost us a couple thousand dollars and much hassle over several years to acquire, by the way, even for the wife of a U.S. citizen), so why would she want U.S. citizenship? Well, for one thing, even with a permanent greencard she wouldn’t be able to leave the country for a protracted period of time, say to return to India for an extended visit, without more hassle and the risk of being barred re-entry and losing her permanent resident status. Because India has not yet passed a dual citizenship law (and doesn’t seem likely to do so anytime soon), she has to renounce her Indian citizenship. Okay, fine. She can get an oddly named OCI (Overseas Citizenship of India) lifetime visa to visit India whenever she wants, however long she wants.2 That doesn’t sound so bad. But India’s 1967 Passports Act doesn’t make renouncing Indian citizenship so easy.

Indians acquiring foreign citizenship are required to renounce their Indian citizenship, surrender their Indian passports, and acquire a “Surrender Certificate.” So my wife has to mail her Indian passport to the Indian Consulate in Chicago and pay $175 (plus $20 for mailing fees) for the certificate. She has 3 months from the time she acquired U.S. citizenship to do so. And she needs copied pages from her U.S. passport, which she can’t apply for until acquiring U.S. citizenship, as part of the paperwork. If she misses this 3 month deadline, additional penalties begin to accrue. Yes, I say “additional penalties” because she is already being unjustly penalized by having to pay $195 and face greater hassles entering and exiting India. I’m not sure what the additional penalties are, but suffice to say they would further increase the costs of leaving India and renouncing citizenship. There are also penalties for foreign citizens traveling to India under their Indian passport. The minimum penalty appears to be $250 for each such visit, but penalties of up to 5 years in prison and a fine of up to $1,250 are mentioned as well.

But, no, that’s not all. There are more fees and paperwork to apply for her OCI lifetime visa. $275 and another $275 for our American born daughter’s OCI visa, plus mailing fees of $21. She also needs five passport photos each of herself and our daughter. Passport photos run you $10 on average and, of course, you can only buy them in pairs, so we’re looking at another $60 there. Of course, I need my own visa, but mine is good for only 10 years and I can only stay for up to 6 months at a time. I forget how much it cost as I got it several years ago. The Indian Consulate in Chicago reports that for a family of four, including two children under 18, recently naturalized, this whole process (renunciation of Indian citizenship, “surrender certificate,” and OCI visa) would cost:

  1. OCI fees: $1,100 ($275 x 4)
  2. Surrender certificate fees: $700 ($175 X 4)
  3. Mailing fees: $23

Plus the cost of all the passport photos, of course — another $120 — for a grand total of $1,943.3 Just leave, eh?

No doubt the statist will respond that when he said you should just leave, he didn’t mean you should be able to return for a visit, much less acquire effective permission for permanent residency. Even granting his point for the sake of argument, that only subtracts the temporary visa or OCI visa fees, plus photo expenses, from the penalties of renouncing Indian citizenship while increasing or adding others.

The United States doesn’t make it easy to leave either. I’m not sure about India, but it appears the U.S. State Department doesn’t like the idea of letting people go stateless (imagine that!) and will not be “reluctant” to allow (!) expatriation (renouncing citizenship or permanent residency) until you have attained citizenship or legal asylum in another country, which of course is usually an expensive and complicated process. The U.S. is notorious for being unusual among nation-states in taxing its own citizens’ (and permanent residents’) earnings abroad, so it comes as no surprise that it imposes an expatriation tax if you’re worth enough. Even more outrageous, the U.S. government taxes the earnings of expatriates and it is against the law to renounce citizenship in order to avoid paying U.S. taxes. So much for one of the main reasons for “just leaving.” It is apparently possible to be granted credits and/or exclusions, but even so there are conditions that must be met and the fact that you have to file tax returns is outrageous. As the last link indicates, there are of course hefty penalties for filing expatriation and tax forms late or not at all. $10,000 for not filing expatriation Form 8854. The recent Tax Increase Prevention and Reconciliation Act signed by Bush in May 2006 is apparently a mixed bag and even applies retroactively to January 1, 2006 (isn’t that unconstitutional? naturally, the SCOTUS would side with the state itself on this one). The Heroes Earnings Assistance and Relief Tax Act of 2008, also under Bush, also appears to expand and increase taxes on expatriates in order to offset increased benefits to military ‘service’ members. To make matters worse, the U.S. under Obama has recently instituted capital controls hidden (naturally) in the Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment Act (HIRE; H.R. 2487).

I’m not a lawyer and am no expert on these issues — state laws, especially tax laws, can be quite complicated — so feel free to correct me or elaborate on any particulars.

What is clear is that it’s not so easy to just leave after all. Moreover, even when it’s possible, returning even for a limited time, much less an extended stay, is not so easy or cheap. There are other problems with leaving the country as well. It is not so easy to leave friends and family behind, find a job in another country, learn a new language and culture, move all your stuff, and so on. There are also U.S. tax penalties for cashing out of retirement plans early. There are probably more that I’m forgetting at the moment or have never heard of. All told, there is a hefty price to pay for leaving. Why should we have to pay such a price just because we don’t recognize the legitimacy of the state or certain of its rules?

But all this about the difficulty of “just leaving” is really neither here nor there. The difficulties undermine the statist’s position but they do not strike at the root. “If you don’t like it, then just leave” is not really an argument. “Just leave” just does not follow from “If you don’t like it.” Why should we have to leave? Why can’t we stay and complain? Seek to change things? Why should we be subject to laws, regulations, and actions to which we have not consented and that we consider to be unjust while we remain here?

“Well,” the amateur or professional social contract theorist will reply, “this land is our land. If you remain here, you are demonstrating implicit consent to the state and its laws.” Of course, this too does not follow at all. There can be many reasons why I might remain in a country other than consent to its state and its rules. Lysander Spooner long ago exploded social contract theory and the implicit consent justification of the state. There is also the fact that the alleged implicit consent is directly contradicted and trumped by explicit denial of consent.

But what I want to point out here is an even greater logical problem for this line of ‘argument’. As the theory goes, a state is justified if and to the extent that it has the consent of its people. Now, no state anywhere in history has ever had the unanimous, explicit consent of its people. So social contract theorists have had to settle for implicit consent and do not usually insist that it be unanimous. Nevermind that a majority consenting to or approving something does not in and of itself make that thing right, much less justified to impose on those who do not consent to or approve it. Social contract theorists will often make ‘reasonable man’-type arguments, putting forth conditions and propositions to which they think a ‘reasonable man’ would consent. Quite naturally there is much reasonable disagreement among even social contract theorists as to what constitutes a ‘reasonable man’.

As I mentioned at the start of this post, however, they will also often point to particular practices as evidence of implicit consent: e.g, voting, paying taxes, and our focus for this post, residency. The notion that residence demonstrates implicit consent unintentionally reveals that what we are dealing with here is actually a viciously circular argument.4 Behind the command “If you don’t like it, then just leave” is the hidden implication that society or the state has a prior claim to your land and property, indeed to all the land, property, and individuals in a given geographic area. The statist might respond to the obvious objection “Why should I have to leave?” with the claim that by coming or staying here you have consented to the state and its laws, but notice that this too relies upon the hidden and unargued for premise that society or the state has a prior claim to all the land, property, and individuals in a given geographic area. Why should we believe this? While common or public (i.e., jointly-held private) property is not necessarily precluded by libertarianism, it is quite a collectivist stretch to claim that ‘society as a whole’ owns (or owned prior to parceling it out) all the land in a given geographic area; here we must part company even with Locke. To say that the state owns (or owned prior to parceling it out) all the land in a given geographic area is to assume prematurely that the state is legitimate, that it could justly own anything, so it will hardly do to attempt to show that the state is justified by pointing to ‘evidence’ that presupposes that the state is justified.

Just leave? Sorry, try again.

Update: My brother-in-law, who just got his US citizenship, has informed me that the Indian Government recently decided not to charge the extra $175 for renouncing Indian citizenship, but only for people who got their US citizenship before June 1, 2010. Those lucky individuals who beat the cutoff will only be charged $20, unless they are even luckier and somehow already happen to have a “Cancelled” stamp on their Indian passport. See the text in red at the bottom of this page on the Chicago Indian Consulate’s website.

[Cross-posted at Is-Ought GAP.]


  1. Thanks to Stephan Kinsella for reminding me of the especially vulgar “AMERICA: LOVE IT OR LEAVE IT!!!” He tells me he typically responds with “No, if you don’t like it that I get to stay here and bitch about it, then you leave.” This works in the United States, but not in every country. 

  2. This is one of those convoluted things governments do. The Constitution of India does not allow simultaneously holding Indian citizenship and foreign citizenship. But the Indian government decided to grant ‘overseas citizenship’ or ‘dual citizenship’ to former Indian citizens through the OCI visa anyway. Despite including the term ‘citizen’, an OCI visa does not grant full citizenship (no voting rights, etc.). 

  3. And what if you have more children or your children are not minors? They have to file as individual applicants and the mailing fees increase. 

  4. There is a distinction to be made between circularity and vicious circularity in argumentation. It is the latter that is logically problematic. For more on this, see, e.g., Douglas Rasmussen, “A Groundwork for Rights: Man’s Natural End,” Journal of Libertarian Studies Vol. IV, No. 1 (Winter 1980): 65-76. 

15 comments… add one

  • There are times where If-You-Don’t-Like-It-Then-Leave is appropriate. For example, if someone agitates for more government programs, this would be a good retort since he is seeking to unjustly burden society. It would be quite valid to tell him to go find himself another society that agrees with his impolite call for more intrusion, imposition, aggression, etc.

    In any case a ‘complainer’ of unjust intrusions should have to no reason to leave — his ‘complaining’ is towards the goal of having that imposition removed. To tell him to leave is little better than shooting the messenger.

    Reply
  • The real problem is that the face of this planet is covered with Government. They are the gods of all people. You cannot just leave, because there is no scrap of dirt that some regime does not claim. Therefore, the only choice for liberty is to tear it down. At least one, preferably, them all; they all tyrannical enslavers should be expunged from our very thoughts. Human culture should be erased of this scourge they call government.

    Reply
    • zanlok,

      I agree. Even if there are countries to which we can move that are in general better than the one in which we currently live, none of them come close to being acceptable in light of our principles. Even having somewhere “better” to go does not justify the statist’s command of “if you don’t like it, then just leave.”

      Reply
    • Have you read Njal’s Saga?

      Reply
  • Absolutely boffo article: touché, Plauché.

    I was complaining about our benighted country to a friend the other day, and HE asked why I don’t leave. The miserable servile.

    It’s amazing how witless the advocates of the status quo are:

    YOU SAY YOU’RE NOT FREE ENOUGH? YOU’RE FUCKING FREE TO LEAVE! (whack) WHY DON’T YOU JUST GO? (whack) NO ONE’S STOPPING YOU! (whack whack whack) AND DON’T COME BACK!

    It’s amazing how close the average American is to a supporter of a totalitarian state.

    Reply
    • Thanks Wirkman!

      I actually had to look up the definition of “boffo” though. :(

      Amusing anecdote/comment.

      Reply
  • The if-you-don’t-like-leave argument also assumes that the property right claim of the government to your homesteaded or contractually acquired property is legitimate. Saying it is difficult to leave is besides the point and grants them their premise. They have no right to claim jurisdiction by mere declaration over your property.

    Reply
  • Imagine if libertarians were able to establish a relatively anarchistic territorial setting to emigrate to, one that didn’t recognize any authority of the other states and/or international organizations in terms of terrorism laws, banking and finance laws, drug laws, copyright laws, climate laws, etc. It would immediately be invaded, first by the clandestine intelligence agencies to disrupt the internal equilibrium, in attempt to promote on group over the other, and if that failed, by overt military invasion; via an international force, of course, likely cobbled together by a future Bush minion offspring, such as George P. Bush. Libertopia is housing terrorists, drug traffickers, dangerous unregulated polluters, cryptographical nerds, unregulated weapons manufactures, and mickey mouse copyright violators. Join the responsible world community of nations OR ELSE!

    It’s very much the mindset of “All within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.” There is no escape. The world would celebrate it’s slaughter…

    Reply
    • So true. A bit exaggerated perhaps, but well within the realm of possibility. Even now we see this kind of pressure on “anarchic” Somalia and tax havens like Liechtenstein.

      Reply
  • the U.S. State Department doesn’t like the idea of letting people go stateless (imagine that!) and will not allow (!) expatriation (renouncing citizenship or permanent residency) until you have attained citizenship or legal asylum in another country

    False! Yes, as the Harper’s article says, the State Department may be “reluctant” to let a prospective former citizen become stateless, but that doesn’t mean they won’t allow it.

    I’m a case in point. I renounced my US citizenship in Bratislava, Slovakia at the end of 2008, and have been stateless ever since. Heck, there’s even a whole website about it: http://www.nostate.com/.

    As I interpret things, the State Department will likely reject an attempted renunciation by a citizen who has not established at least temporary residency (or asylum, or tolerated stay, or similar) in the country of renunciation.

    Regarding your wife, I would suggest that she simply not inform the Indian government that she obtained US citizenship, but based on what you’ve said, it may be too late for that. And then the kids complicate things severely with regard to family visits to the country.

    Reply
    • Thanks for the clarification, Mike. I updated my post to reflect that.

      My wife and I don’t want to risk the fines and imprisonment if she travels back to India and gets caught. She still has family there, so who knows how often we’ll visit and how long we’ll stay each time. There are advantages to having the OCI visa, especially for our daughter who wasn’t born an Indian citizen.

      Reply
      • You’re welcome. And you’re right; in your position, I wouldn’t want to risk that either.

        Reply
  • they always say, if you dont love it , leave it … i say, ok , give me the money to leave and i will be more than happy to go .. dont ppl think that the ones who want to leave would if they could. its not like we can go to another contry and get in as easy as the politicians are letting ppl get in here …

    anyone want to sponsor me to leave, by all means, i will be more than happy to go … all i need is enough to get to another country and get a citizenship and get a job in england or ireland and i will be more than happy to leave ….

    Reply

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