What America Can Learn from Japan’s Immigration System

By | 2018-04-24T20:04:18-07:00 April 24th, 2018|
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While the guilt-ridden West takes in refugees from all over the Third World and is wrestling with problems of assimilation, internal conflict, and hardened cultural enclaves, Japan continues to defy pressures from the international community to open its doors to mass immigration.

Granted, in the last decade, Japan has seen an uptick in legal immigration, as its shrinking native population contributes to a draining workforce. This immigration, however, is highly regulated and specific. Most of the immigrants in Japan are there on temporary work visas.

In contrast, the United States is feeling the effects of decades of illegal immigration, a lax legal immigration system (per the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965) and acceptance of large numbers of refugees. As a result, America faces an unprecedented level of ethno-religious and cultural tension that is compounded by economic pressures.

The advent of artificial intelligence and robotics also plays a large role in replacing millions of jobs in low-skill, tertiary sector employment—which would negate the need for low-skilled, uneducated labor from so-called “developing” countries. All of this points to the need for a more restrictive immigration system that puts our citizens and their needs before taking in more people from around the world. With that in mind, we might learn a few things from  Japan’s strict immigration system.

On the Cutting Edge of Automation
Instead of importing immigrant labor, Japan has instead focused on putting to work women and even the elderly in a variety of jobs. Additionally, Japan has also taken the view that a shrinking workforce is not necessarily a bad thing.

As it turns out, many companies and businesses would rather adopt AI and automation in lieu of unskilled, uneducated human labor. The reality is that artificial intelligence will likely replace most, if not all low-skilled jobs by the mid- to late-21st century. Japan is poised to be on the cutting edge of this development.

The rise of AI will lead to a more selective process of hiring and to the necessity of higher education or trade school certification for most jobs. The result will be a smaller, more skilled, and educated workforce that has higher wages. All of this points to a net positive for social harmony, provided existing populations are adequately employed. But the persistence of the notion that a civilization needs more working bodies for economic growth could pose a threat to good outcomes.

Culture counts. Most Japanese have dispensed with—or never adopted—the view that high rates of immigration would be good for their economy.  Thus, Japan’s unemployment rate, at 2.4 percent as of January 2018, is staggeringly low. It has dropped to its lowest levels since 1993. In total, Japan’s unemployment rate has remained below 6 percent since 1953. Automation has played a part in that, but the real difference is Japan’s rigorous and disciplined culture based in Shintoism (the ethnic religion of the Japanese ), which shapes its citizens from a young age to develop into responsible, hard-working members of society.

America Went in a Different Direction
The United States has done quite the opposite. With the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, we reversed our longstanding restrictive immigration policy that was designed to preserve the European heritage of our population. From 1921 to 1965, the 
National Origins Formula was the nation’s immigration policy. It was followed by the even stricter Immigration and Nationality Act of 1924, signed into law by Calvin Coolidge. In many ways, Japan’s current immigration policy reflects the ideas that inspired the older, saner U.S. rules.

What these two earlier pieces of American legislation did was to maintain the European cultural and political heritage of America’s majority population. The laws also recognized that industrialization made low-skilled foreign labor less of a necessity. Even prior to the 1924 law, America’s immigration policy was fairly strict with few exceptions. As a result, our nation had a shared credo, a recognizably similar system of ethics, beliefs, similar heritage, and a dominant ethno-religious majority that shaped the societal norms of the nation. It was understood that the nation was worth preserving as it had been built and that the culture that built it, though welcoming, could not withstand massive influxes of people with dissimilar beliefs or habits.

In 1960, America was 85.4 percent white, 10.5 percent black, 3.2 percent Hispanic, 0.5 percent Asian, and 0.3 percent Native American. In that same year, religious statistics showed America being 92 percent Christian (67 percent  Protestant, 25 percent Catholic), 3 percent Jewish, 2 percent “other,” 2 percent none and 1 percent undesignated. The numbers tell us that prior to the 1965 reforms, America had clearly defined cultural and societal norms. That’s not to say that there weren’t ethno-religious minorities, but their influence was minimal because their numbers were minimal. What made minority presence in America unique at that time was that they had to assimilate to Anglo-Protestant culture, because it was the core of the American way of life. Since the 1965 Immigration Act, as global immigration has increased, that dominant cultural and religious heritage has gradually faded.

What About Refugees? 
Japan’s refugee policy is also different from those of other Western nations. More than 99 percent of refugee applications to Japan are rejected. In 2017 alone
, there were 19,628 refugee applications and of those only 20 were accepted. The common mindset on the refugee issue in Japan is that one must care for one’s own people before taking in others.

During the height of the Syrian refugee crisis in 2015, Japan was under intense scrutiny from the international community for its refusal to take in refugees at the level of other Western nations. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe would have none of it.  “I would say that before accepting immigrants or refugees, we need to have more activities by women, elderly people and we must raise our birth rate,” he said. “There are many things that we should do before accepting immigrants.” 

Although Japan takes in few refugees, the nation sends a huge amount of its GDP to foreign aid projects that assist Third World nations with development and infrastructure projects.

The fact is, most Japanese are averse to the idea of taking in more foreigners. That’s reflected in the decades-old strength of Abe’s conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). The average Japanese citizen is aware that his nation’s relative peace and harmony is due to its homogeneity. He’s skeptical of letting in large numbers of foreigners that might upset the existing order.

That being said, there are some loud voices among the political Left, business elite and even some LDP politicians (such as Foreign Minister Taro Kono) who have advocated increased immigration, though for differing reasons.

Lessons for the United States
The takeaway for Americans is that the post-1965 immigration law has adversely affected the United States and needs to go. Senators Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and David Purdue’s (R-Ga.) 
RAISE Act is an ideal remedy. The bill would drastically reduce levels of legal immigration and put greater emphasis on admitting foreigners with higher education and economically valuable skills. 

Obviously, we cannot copy and paste Japan’s immigration policy—which, after all, is uniquely Japanese—but there are aspects we could adopt and some steps we might take to improve our legal immigration system. While we wouldn’t want any American plan to be as restrictive as Japan’s, the RAISE Act would be a step in the right direction.

The RAISE Act would cut immigration levels by 50 percent and slash the number of green cards issued in any given year. It would also cap annual refugee admissions at 50,000, end the visa diversity lottery and abolish chain migration once and for all.

America may be a “nation of immigrants,” but any strong nation must have a shared credo, religious-based societal norms and morals, a common language and national heritage if it wishes to maintain any sort of social stability. That doesn’t mean that ethno-religious minorities cannot come here–they’ve always been welcome. But as in Japan, their numbers must be limited in size and scope as to not further the fracturing and balkanization of American society.

About the Author:

Ian Henderson
Ian Henderson is a contributor to Shield Society, former director of outreach for The Millennial Review and former development coordinator for PragerU. He graduated cum laude from the University of California, Los Angeles with a bachelor's degree in Political Science, specializing in Asia-Pacific, Middle East, and European politics.