Reasons for Immigration Policy Differences in Japan and the United States

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Immigration Policies of the United States and Japan
Why do similar modern democracies like the United States and Japan have strikingly different immigration policies? Despite both countries having post-industrial economies in need of qualified, skilled labor, their policies in regard to this crucial issue remain on complete opposite ends of the spectrum. While one would think that countries as developmentally analogous as the United States and Japan would share similar policies and goals in regard to immigration, this is hardly the case. The United States takes a very liberal approach to immigration and accepts it as a regular and necessary utility of society; Japan, on the other hand, implements a much more restrictive policy and views immigration more as a last resort than anything close to a necessity. In total, the United States accepts between seven and eight times more immigrants than Japan (Hollander). These distinct differences in policy come from two main sources; dissimilarities in both culture and governmental structure play a large role in the variance of immigration policies in these two, otherwise comparable, countries.

The first, and perhaps most significant, factor in the differences in immigration policy between the United States and Japan is the cultural factor relating to the histories of these two countries. Both countries’ immigration policies are primarily built upon how immigration was viewed in the past. For example, the United States has a strong history of immigration; as the first settlers of the nation were immigrants themselves, it seemed only natural for the early established governments to accept and encourage legal immigration. In fact, until 1875 the United States had no national restrictions limiting immigration in any way; this lack of policy coupled with the fact that many policymakers saw immigration as a vital part of economic growth led to widespread immigration throughout the 1800’s and early 1900’s (Adolino 110). This period of mass immigration has led to a continuing tradition of accepting most forms of legal immigration into the country. In fact, this tradition is so strongly ingrained in the country’s history that the United States is one of the few industrialized nations to recently pass legislation further increasing immigration quotas (Adolino 111). This increase led to 9.1 million legal immigrants being accepted into the country during the 1990’s, the most during any decade; as a result, over ten percent of the nation is now foreign-born (Pantoja, Persaud). Clearly, as the United States was built upon immigration, its policies continue to reflect this historical precedent.

On the other hand, Japan has a long history of restricting immigration. This deep rooted rejection of immigration stems from a historical preference for a traditional, homogenous society; this preference has led Japan to have the smallest foreign population of any industrialized country with foreigners making up just over one percent of the population (Adolino 115). Japan’s perceived animosity towards immigration is built upon three central principles: foreign workers should be admitted only as a last resort, unskilled labor will admitted under no circumstances, and all foreigners will be admitted on a purely temporary basis; these principles, most notably the prohibition of permanent settlers, deter many foreigners from applying for immigration into the country (Adolino 115). Even with an increase in immigration during the 1990’s, these old principles still keep legal immigration low despite a low and steadily decreasing fertility rate, declining labor supply, and policies encouraging reduced work hours (Adolino 115). By ignoring the looming labor shortage, it is clear that Japan’s restrictive history still plays a significant role in the formation of immigration policies.

Just as history plays a significant role in the differences in policy between the United States and Japan, public opinion also...
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