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Scrambling for the immigrant elite

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A new era has arrived in immigration. Many countries - the United States, the UK, France, Germany, the Netherlands - have for decades taken in poor immigrants with the express intention that they would do work that native citizens had become reluctant to do. The labor was either too hard, too cheap or too dangerous for the locals.

Now the rich countries don't want poor people. Many of the production-line jobs they came to do have been automated - or the industries they came to work in, as the cotton mills of Lancashire in the UK, have mostly closed. The Immigration Bill now before the U.S. Congress and Senate is crafted to legalize the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants and to "attract the world's brightest and best-educated people." As automation takes over more unskilled work and as the demand for labor emphasizes skills that higher education usually teaches, the needs of the United States and other developed countries change.

The heated debates over immigration and its consequences power the rise of the populist parties in Europe and push centrist governments towards tougher curbs. But the debates may soon seem beside the point: The traditional emigrant states are beginning to want their best minds back. The hunt for clever people is globalized: Universities, companies, even government bureaucracies seek them here and seek them there. The needs of the developed world and the greater needs of the developing world now conflict.

Western immigration has a long history. Pakistanis were employed to staff the declining cotton industry in the north of England from the 1960s. Mexicans have come into California and Texas to work on farms since the mid-19th century: The massive flows have been in the last few decades, with nearly one-third of the Mexican foreign-born population arriving since 2000. Germany imported Turkish immigrants since the sixties with no right or prospect of citizenship, to work in its automobile and other industries.

These days, citizens (including ethnic minority citizens) see in immigration a threat to jobs, social services and their culture. The problems aren't illusory or, as some liberals have maintained, merely the product of racist attitudes. Germany's 3-4.5 million citizens of Turkish origin do pose a real problem of integration. The economist Theo Sarazin's 2010 book, Germany Is Destroying Itself, was excoriated by much of the establishment for its uncompromisingly bleak picture of an unassimilated Turkish population, until part of his argument was accepted by Chancellor Angela Merkel.

As the head of the Demos think tank, David Goodhart, stresses in his recent book, The British Dream, over the past decade and a half UK immigration has been unprecedentedly rapid and large, as it has been in France. It has meant a substantial change in the look and culture of some urban areas and increased ghettoization. Goodhart, a liberal himself, was also harshly criticized - only to later see some of his critics agree with him.

Tensions are present in emerging countries as well. Last month, the Turkish Industry Minister Nihat Ergun said that his country no longer wishes to transfer qualified labor to Germany; he has called for a "reverse brain drain." Turkey is now economically successful; it wants to continue being so, and that takes skilled and ambitious citizens.

This wasn't the first such declaration and won't be the last. The rich Western states, many looking at shrinking populations, should all try to emulate Canada's immigration policy and target highly educated immigrants. As Ergun's comments show, highly skilled and professional workers were always part of the exodus: Now, the emigrant countries will strive to keep them or woo them back. At the same time, though, Western states will spurn most of the unskilled workers and their families, generally with little education, who had been the mass of immigrants, legal and illegal, in the United States (mainly Mexican), the UK (Pakistani), Germany (Turkish) and France (North African).

Emigration can help poor and relatively poor countries because emigrants send back money to their families - it's estimated to be around 10 percent of the Philippines' GDP, 2 percent in Poland and Mexico. It's much higher in the poor states of Central Asia, whose men increasingly find low-paid work in Russia. But it tends to fall the more successful the emigrants' countries become. In the mid-seventies, as workers flooded into Germany, the cash they sent back was more than 4 percent of Turkish GDP: Now it's 0.12 percent. Emigration gives hope - but it's also a sign of failure.

Mexico, presently undergoing a welcome spurt of growth, needs its professionals and skilled workersas Turkey does. The demands of countries that are leveraging themselves out of mass poverty should trump those of countries that did so decades ago. The rich world's duty is not to take their best-educated people but to support growth that is sustainable and not corrupt. That can mean more aid, fewer trade barriers, the sharing of expertise, and investment. The influence of the poor who seek a better life has grown, is growing and will grow: As the barriers go up, they need hope at home.

The old arguments about racism, which have so exercised liberals, are not wholly beside the point - racism remains everywhere - but they are less relevant than they were. The fortunate rich countries will benefit at least as much when the aspiring poor countries grow; and for that they need their cleverest people. It's truly liberal to say: Keep your tired, your poor, your huddled massesand your energetic, your aspiring, your entrepreneurial individuals - and improve their lives. Then the racism and condescension that thrives on the struggles of immigrants in unfriendly host communities will dwindle, and maybe even, over time, die.

© (c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2013. Click For Restrictions - http://about.reuters.com/fulllegal.asp

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24 Comments
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With Japan's points system and institutional racism.. why would any "elite" immigrant want to go there? Probably a moot point because large immigration levels ain't going to happen anytime soon

2 ( +5 / -3 )

With Japan's points system and institutional racism.. why would any "elite" immigrant want to go there?

A more neutral question is: "what kind of 'elite' immigrant would want to live in a non-English speaking country?"

3 ( +4 / -1 )

The vast majority of highly educated Westerners who live in Japan seem to fall into two categories: (1) have a Japanese spouse and stay here to satisfy the spouse; (2) have some deep and genuine interest in some aspect of Japanese culture. With the falling yen, certainly ain't the financial reason anymore.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

Mumbai

Not me. I just like it here. My family are here, my friends are here, my job's here. Why would I want to leave?

5 ( +6 / -1 )

With Japan's points system and institutional racism.. why would any "elite" immigrant want to go there?

why else? for the money!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Mumbai: I don't think it's right to stay that someone "stays to satisfy their spouse". Believe it or not, some people genuinely enjoy Japan and choose it over their birth country. Not everyone decides to live in a country for financial reasons either. For some it is just a matter of lifestyles matching up to a different culture.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

What lucabrasi and sakurala said. Some of us are here because we just like it. The spouse and job are bonuses, the icing on the cake. It was never about the money.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

It does happen. I have heard of Americans with Japanese spouses who want to return to the US, and the Japanese spouse refuses.

I know one couple where the American woman took the son to Michigan while the husband stauyed in Tokyo.

My wife can live in the US. I plan on leaving next year for the US. I can't get a stable job. Why stay here?

0 ( +2 / -2 )

The old arguments about racism, which have so exercised liberals, are not wholly beside the point - racism remains everywhere - but they are less relevant than they were.

Racism cannot be irrelevant and be everywhere at once. Self contradictory. Even if you do compare today to yesterday.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I left a job that pays 3-4 times as much to return to Japan. My commute and working hours are longer.

But, and this the cruncher, the people I work with actually listen to me. I'm talking about professors (emeritus) of highly ranked universities. I've already helped saved the company financially and have suggested several improvements that have been acted upon. With no previous experience in the field, my boss, who is a famous professor of engineering, has implemented my designs to improve current manufacturing processes. And what we do may well change the future of Japan, if not the world. Most likely, seeing that things are already moving in that direction.

No bad when you consider I haven't worked here for 3 months yet.

The chances of this happening back home? Absolutely zero. So yeah, as far as job satisfaction goes, I'll pick Japan.

Won't even go into how I prefer a country with a decent work ethic and goes to great length to preserve it's history and culture.

If you have what it takes, Japan is a oyatoi gaikokujin's dream. Think big.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

What lucabrasi and sakurala said. Some of us are here because we just like it. The spouse and job are bonuses, the icing on the cake. It was never about the money.

And what you say too Cleo.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Reformed. You sound like quite the perfect employee. you ever need a job just shoult. 3rd category is expats who are here because their company asked them to be.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

@AKBfan

I left a "first class" company back home where nothing ever got done, there was 2-3 times as much management as what was necessary, and pretty poor management at that. And the majority of the employees were next to useless too. Way too many rules in place and no incentive to try harder. The few employees who did try, did a fantastic job though.

I'm far from a perfect employee. I just try solving problems myself rather than waiting for others. Flexibility helps - why limit yourself to just one field? I'm a businessman / translator / programmer and recently engineer.

Life may not go as well as people want but if you just sit back all the time, you only have yourself to blame. Here's some advice that seems to work. Don't blow your horn too much and be patient. If you consistently have good ideas, people will take notice. If not, look around for people who do.

I'd like to add that, despite not being the "elite", the obvious skills of speaking and reading Japanese in Japan makes it possible for employers to make use of you.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Back on topic please.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

If you go to any country and do not speak/read the language, expect to fail or live in a limited environment.

If you go to any country and do not apply yourself, expect to fail or live in a limited environment.

If you go to any country and do nothing but complain how things are different, expect to fail or live in a limited environment.

As you can see from the above, some of us choose to live here because we prefer to. Make an effort to fit in and things change dramatically. But don't give up halfway. I'm trying to give some good advice here - I have no interest in proving anything

0 ( +2 / -2 )

The old arguments about racism, which have so exercised liberals, are not wholly beside the point - racism remains everywhere - but they are less relevant than they were. The fortunate rich countries will benefit at least as much when the aspiring poor countries grow; and for that they need their cleverest people. It’s truly liberal to say: Keep your tired, your poor, your huddled massesand your energetic, your aspiring, your entrepreneurial individuals - and improve their lives. Then the racism and condescension that thrives on the struggles of immigrants in unfriendly host communities will dwindle, and maybe even, over time, die.

Must be nice to live in Utopia.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I like Japan too. I don't live there anymore, and sometimes miss it.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

"Now the rich countries don't want poor people"

lol

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Racism cannot be irrelevant and be everywhere at once. Self contradictory. Even if you do compare today to yesterday.

That's not what the author said. He said less relevant, not irrelevant. The civil rights movement succeeded in making overt racism socially unacceptable. Complaints about immigrants have now moved away from "they are what they are" to "their presence measurably hurts me," which is a statistically-and-fact driven argument.

I mean, there is a reason that the average U.S. household is now worth less than the average Canadian household.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Well, it's a matter of opinion.

People simply want to live in Japan because of the environment, but sometimes people doesn't understand that it is a totally different place. I mean, because of language, how a foreigner is seen by a Japanese and, last thing, facing the reality that Japanese people will never accept you as one of them. Not now, not tomorrow. Just to say that it is not easier as it seems sometimes...

In my case, I know that if I will seriously decide to live in Japan for a reason (girlfriend or job opportunities) someday, I have to prepare myself in both body and mind, because it is truly different than my home country (I was born and currently living in Italy).

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Fix the jobless problems in your own countries before you import more labor.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Fix the jobless problems in your own countries before you import more labour.

Like you own country has done so very well?

But your ludicrous outburst is besides the point. The article is about employing elite workers. Seeing reading comprehension eludes you, you needn't concern yourself any further.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

The article is about employing elite workers.

Hey, you can read a headline! Read further and the article it goes into the issue of competition for jobs between locals and immigrants.

Seeing reading comprehension eludes you, you needn't concern yourself any further.

This snarky comment is so bizarrely ironic and I don't where to start to pick it apart.

Like you own country has done so very well?

No, it hasn't. That's one reason I came to Japan: 15 percent joblessness upon graduation, and many of the young people migrating. The labor market there is VERY competitive, even though the govt and corporates prattle on a "labor shortage," which exists in their minds but certainly not on the ground.

"ludicrous outburst" LOL. Whatever you say.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Thank You, John Lloyd!!! Your article is well-written, unbiased, and honest. You did not downplay the concerns or grievances of either side. You chose to focus on the bigger picture rather than choosing a side of the ongoing debate. So many authors write editorials as if it was an opinion piece nowadays. You are a professional who wrote an opinion piece as if it were an editorial. And that is a rarity in your line of work these days. The first time in a very long time that I have seen both sides of this issue presented in a fair and balanced manner.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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