Japan Times: Aging Population Needs Immigrants24 May 2013
Imagine a prosperous industrial nation whose demographics are listing heavily toward pensioners – and people on the cusp of retirement – prompting concerns about who will care for them in the their old age, and who will pay for it. If this sounds strikingly familiar, that’s not an accident: the United States and many of its European trading partners are all coming to grips with the long-term costs of a rapidly aging population. Many in these countries are looking to immigration as a potential solution – a source of workers who can care for the elderly and pay taxes to maintain the social safety net. [See Los Angeles Times: Immigration Will Help Retiring Baby Boomers, MurthyBlog, 20.May.2013.]
The same is true in Japan. As a recent commentary in the Japan Times describes Japan’s demographic conundrum:
“As of 2012, 24 percent of Japan’s population, numbering about 30 million, is over 65 years of age, and this will reach 40 percent by 2055. More importantly, the number of workers supporting each retiree is shrinking, from 10 in 1950 to 3.6 in 2000 and 1.9 by 2025. And there are fewer replacements in sight.” [See Immigration reform: Could this be Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe’s New Growth Strategy? by Jeff Kingston, The Japan Times, 19.May.2013.]
According to the Japan Times, “… about half of family caregivers are age 60 or over, meaning that much of elderly care is in the hands of the elderly.” Up to now, Japan has made only token efforts to attract immigrant nurses and caregivers, partly because of ingrained cultural resistance to foreigners – a resistance that resembles certain anti-immigrant sentiments in the United States and Europe. As the Japan Times points out, in Japan, “…public discourse is dominated by widespread misconceptions that foreigners are crime-prone – despite national crime statistics proving they are not a menace to society.”
That perception may be shifting, the Japan Times reports, due to the success of Chinese immigrants who “have leveraged their transnational networks to facilitate and contribute to burgeoning trade and investment links” – and possibly also due to the shortage of skilled workers in high-tech fields like IT. The article suggests that Japan may be following the lead of the United States: a senior cabinet official in the Japanese government recently proposed admitting more foreign engineers and skilled workers. It remains to be seen whether the Japanese government will likewise embrace foreign health workers and caregivers.
Perhaps, as in the United States, Japanese voters will be more receptive to all kinds of immigrants, once they fully understand the economic benefits of immigration. As the Japan Times points out:
“In terms of growth strategies, the potential benefits of attracting resourceful immigrants are significant, since – just as in the U.S. – they could be engines of innovation and employment. Migrants tend to have high aspirations and are willing to work hard to achieve them; to the extent they prosper they could help rejuvenate the overall economy.”
U.S. policymakers should take note: other countries are waking up to the benefits of immigration, as a way to ease worker shortages, meet the needs of an aging population, and grow a more robust high-tech economy. The world is watching and learning from our immigration reform efforts. Someday, we will measure our success by the extent to which major trading partners – like Japan – follow our lead. If Congress gets it right, other countries won’t have to learn from our mistakes, but from our success in creating the best immigration system in the world – a template for forward-thinking governments everywhere!
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