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Europe's migration lessons for Japan (European Council on Foreign Relations)

November 15, 2018

By Irina Angelescu

From the article:

Japan is in the process of changing its famously restrictive immigration laws. During the last few weeks, Japanese lawmakers have held an extraordinary session of the Diet to discuss the topic. They aim to bring in foreign workers to address the most severe national labour shortage in four decades while causing minimal disruption to society. This may prove difficult: in 2017, legal foreign residents comprised only 1.95 percent of the country’s population.

What lessons can Europe – a continent with a long history of immigration – teach Japan? In light of the much-publicised migration crisis in Europe, many Japanese see the European experience as a cautionary tale rather than a model to emulate. Indeed, for those who oppose immigration, the rise in social unrest and populism in Europe that followed the migration crisis vindicates their stance. However, they have adopted a reductive view of a complex phenomenon. If Japan genuinely wants to address its migration challenges, as well as the challenges of a shrinking population, it needs to look beyond the migration crisis.

A third lesson is that the gains discussed above will only be sustainable if the government implements effective integration policies in collaboration with civil society. Here, countries in Western Europe are by no means perfect but, in the Center for Global Development’s 2016 ranking of states’ immigration policies, they performed better than Japan. Integration is a multifaceted process that requires effort from both sides: immigrants working to integrate into the host society, and that society reaching out to accept them. According to Harvard University’s recent study of perceptions of immigration in Western Europe and the United States, most people exaggerate the size and impact of the immigrant population in their country. Those who know immigrants are a notable exception.

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