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How Japan Needs to Change to Welcome Immigrants

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Photographer: Toru Yamanaka/AFP/Getty Images

The country has to do more to assimilate foreigners and offset population decline.

 writes: The U.S. has been roiled by debates over immigration. Japan has the opposite problem — not enough debate. Immigration is happening, and no one is talking about it or preparing to deal with it.

Americans tend to use Japan as an example of a country that doesn’t take in immigrants. For example, my Bloomberg View colleague Justin Fox recently wrote that “politicians have so far been unwilling to allow immigration to take up the slack” of an aging population. It’s true that Japan has a small foreign-born population compared to other countries.

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But this image of Japan as a closed country gets two things wrong.

First of all, Japan doesn’t actually do much to keep out immigrants. The country has no legal limits on either the number of people who can get work visas there, the number of people who can get permanent residency, or the number who can become naturalized citizens. This stands in contrast to the U.S., which still imposes legal limits on immigration. And Japan, unlike most countries, doesn’t require permanent residency as a prerequisite for becoming a naturalized citizen. It’s true that Japan, like most countries, doesn’t have birthright citizenship. Japan also takes very few refugees. But in general, Japan has unusually lax immigration controls. The reason for Japan’s low immigration levels is that relatively few foreigners have chosen to move there.

Second of all, Japan’s immigration numbers have risen substantially in recent years:The country’s foreign-born population grew by about 150,000 in 2016, to a total of 2.3 million, with most of the increase coming from other countries in Asia. That’s about three-quarters as many as Canada. Japan’s population is much larger, so it’s not about to enter the ranks of high-immigration countries, but it’s definitely not the walled garden many in the U.S. make it out to be.

Walking around Tokyo these days, the change is palpable … (read more)

via Bloomberg

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