Graying Societies and Immigration
John de Boer (Research Associate, GLOCOM)
In his series on the declining birthrate in Japan, J. Sean Curtin points out that many European countries such as Germany and Italy face similar challenges. Like Japan, their societies are aging and this is forcing governments to scramble for a solution. At stake is nothing less than the economic clout of these societies. Citing a UN population survey, Professor Curtin outlines that if trends continue Japan's population will decline by approximately 23 million by 2050 with 35.8% of its population being aged 65 years or older (Social Trends #20). According to Curtin, Germany's population is also set to decline by 23 million by the time we reach 2050 (Social Trends #21). Unless curtailed, great demands will be placed on these societies as a result of their graying and shrinking populations. In the worst case scenario, rising social welfare costs will be accompanied by lower economic output, ultimately forcing these two giant economies out of business.
Numerous studies have been published recommending a variety of strategies to combat this problem and immigration is often cited as a potential remedy. Most recently, Deutsche Bank published a report on the subject entitled International Migration: who, where and why? For Deutsche Bank one of the main issues is about securing a productive and highly "skilled" labor force. On this point, judging from Japan's immigration policies which is open only to highly skilled and/or educated individuals, the Japanese government seems to agree. The challenge, according to Deutsche Bank, relates to how these particular countries can entice elite migrants to their economies. Considering that there are a large number of aging societies in the industrialized world, competition for human resources will be fierce. The Deutsche Bank has likened this to a "beauty contest" between graying industrialized countries for highly qualified staff. Candidate countries will not only have to attract workers by offering higher wages, mechanisms for social integration and cultural proximity but also may have to enter into agreements with countries of origin in order to secure their "release".
In this scenario, as the Deutsche Bank puts it, "undesired immigration is to be avoided" and only the beautiful are to be selected. This is done through controlled migration where governments establish criterion that is sufficiently high to weed out refugees and disadvantaged or "unskilled" migrants. The problem with this system is not only that it makes competition for the scarce number of so-called skilled workers that much more severe, but it also stimulates an illicit trade in humans.
The undesired, who are often forced to migrate due to situations of poverty, famine or conflict, end up being trafficked by organized crime. Unwanted migrants choose this as their only option and are often forced to risk their lives in order to escape their morbid reality. Some pay the Mafia by selling their body upon arrival, others borrow huge sums of money placing their families as collateral in order to pay the transport fee. Those who do not die on the way, eventually find themselves enslaved, abused and tortured for the rest of their migrant lives. The lucky ones find themselves doing dirty, dangerous and difficult work in high demand sectors, which notoriously have deep connections to this underground (in Japan's case mizushobai and construction).
The tremendous demand for "skilled" labor in graying societies such as Germany, Italy and Japan combined with initiatives that try to prevent "undesired" migrants from laying a foot on their soil is contributing to a humanitarian disaster. Thousands are dying and millions are being violated each year. While industrialized countries in need of workers are not entirely to blame for this tragedy, it is important that these governments recognize that their immigration policies play a part in creating a problem that is much more tragic than those faced by an aging society.