Canada, like Japan, has a rapidly aging population. In 2017, Japan was listed third out of the top 25 countries with an elderly population, while Canada was 25th. The average age of a Japanese citizen was 46.5, while in Canada it was 41.7.
Justin Trudeau’s recent diplomatic talks with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe provides a perfect opportunity to learn from our Pacific ally on what works and what doesn’t when it comes to immigration and population replacement.
Similar demographic challenges
Demographically the two countries face similar challenges: an increasingly strained universal healthcare system, less people entering the workforce, and Japanese people, like Canadians, are also having less children.
Although the demographic circumstances are alike, the two countries have often had a diametrically opposed approach towards population replenishment.
Japan, unlike Canada, has a nativist-leaning attitude towards population replacement. While the country has recently passed a new immigration bill intened to broaden the country’s immigrant intake, the policy is largely concerned with skilled foreign workers meant to boost the country’s shrinking economy.
An immigration system that’s good for the economy
The bill, which was passed in 2018, has the intended goal of attracting 345,000 foreign workers into the country. The number, which is considerably less than Canada’s intended goal of one million immigrants over the next three years, is no small sum for Japan.
However, the difference lies in the purpose and length of stay for those who enter Japan. Unlike Canada, immigrants who arrive in the country are not on the immediate path towards citizenship.
Workers intent on living in Japan are brought in on five-year visas with the option of extending their stay another five years once the period has expired. Beyond that, those who intend to become Japanese citizens must have lived in the country for ten years and be willing to renounce any former citizenship they might have.
Unlike Canada, Japanese nationality is passed on by jus sanguinis, meaning that at least one of your parents have to have been Japanese citizens for you to be eligible for citizenship. On the other hand, Canadian nationality is passed on through jus soli, meaning it only requires you to be born within the country.
No social stigma around immigration discussion
In Japan, the social stigma associated with immigration criticism doesn’t exist, which makes it much easier for decision makers to have a levelheaded discussion on the topic. The contrast is quite different in comparison to Canada, where the topic of immigration is one of the most heated issues in the country. The result is a toxic political environment replete with name-calling and accusations of racism.
Despite the country’s hard-line approach to immigration, attitudes among Japanese citizens remain open and welcoming towards foreigners.
According to a poll by Pew Research Center, Japanese people have a positive view of immigrants. 59 per cent of people polled agreed with the statement that immigrants make Japan stronger, 60 per cent agreed that immigrants don’t increase the risk of terrorism, and 75 per cent believe that immigrants desire to adopt Japanese values and culture.
The difference in public opinion is startling when contrasted to Canada, a country which prides itself on being welcoming to immigrants. Despite Canada’s efforts to boost immigration and asylum seeker admission, attitudes towards newcomers are shifting around the country.
According to an Ipsos poll, 54 per cent of Canadians believe that “Canada is too welcoming to immigrants.” While another poll shows that half of Canadians want Canada’s immigration levels to decrease.
How is it that a country with an open immigration policy is seeing a regression in terms of attitudes towards immigrants?
Finding a middle ground
Although there are similarities in circumstance between Japan and Canada, there are also huge discrepancies.
The most glaring is that Japan is an island-nation and has no further room for expansion, whereas Canada is relatively empty in relation to its continental size.
Japan is having less babies, while also bringing in too few immigrants, creating a nation which is actively growing smaller and older.
As a result, Canada’s economy is performing better than Japan’s. Despite the flack the Liberals get for their immigration policies, the economy is doing pretty well with 3 percent growth in the last year, in comparison to Japan’s economy which only grew by 1.1 percent in the same year.
Clearly, Canada is doing something right when it comes to the country’s economic well-being.
The question remains, will Japan be able to survive their circumstances?
Are their efforts to keep their economies afloat through foreign workers enough to keep the country from collapsing in the next century?
In many ways, Japan has a lot to learn from Canada, but in the end, both countries would benefit from a middle of the road approach.