Dubai may be guide as Japan copes with more immigrants

A recent comment from a major business figure in Japan is bound to increase alarm among the country’s nativists. Hiroya Masuda, the chief executive of Japan Post Holdings, a major conglomerate that operates the country’s post offices, told the major business news outlet Nikkei in a June 21 interview that some towns and cities needed to prepare for a future in which “40-50% of the population … will be foreigners.” Speaking on behalf of the independent policy group Reiwa Rincho, of which he is a co-leader, Masuda called on the government to undertake reforms relating to immigration as well as education, social security, and taxation policies with more foreign residents in mind. Masuda’s prediction of a more immigrant-dominated Japan mirrors population projections produced by the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research. A report released by IPSS on April 26 concluded that by 2070, Japanese nationals will make up only 77 million of Japan’s total population of 87 million. The IPSS report predicted that the coming years will see a continued decline in the fertility rate and an increase in net immigration, implying that a larger foreign population will prevent a sharper decline in the total population. IPSS’ projection of a Japan with more than 10% foreign-born population is a dramatic increase from the current estimate of 2.2%. Dubai’s experience As Japan thinks about how to live with more foreigners in its midst, Dubai, the largest city in the United Arab Emirates, could be a good reference. Dubai, with foreigners making up some 92% of its 3.3 million residents, represents an extreme case of an immigrant-dominted society that the likes of Masuda believe Japan may eventually become. Yet rather than succumbing to conflicts between “natives” and foreigners, Dubai has grown to become a major business hub in the Middle East. Through large-scale automated visa processing, the provision of long-term “golden visas” to high-skilled, high-wealth individuals, and the establishment of free-trade zones allowing 100% foreign ownership of businesses, Dubai has attracted and leveraged foreign talent for rapid economic development. For Japan to replicate Dubai’s experience in utilizing foreigners for economic growth, a particularly important point of reference is how to prevent the native population’s ambivalence toward the wealth and success of foreigners from becoming outright resentment. Data show that more than two-thirds of the Japanese population believes that hiring for jobs in Japan should prioritize Japanese nationals, the highest figure among multiple countries surveyed. And despite record numbers of foreigners in Japan, survey results from 2003 to 2018 show a steady decline in the general public’s interest in interacting with foreigners. Reduced interest in studying or traveling abroad among Japan’s youth only exacerbates the problem. Two-tier system Dubai’s answer to preventing native resentment has been the systematic use of discriminatory policies favoring natives. Dubai provides no pathway to permanent residency or citizenship for the vast majority of foreign residents, forcing them to leave once they no longer provide economic value to the city. Only citizens are availed of benefits such as free education, cheap land, and highly paid jobs in the bureaucracy. The combination of such policies ensures that natives feel that they are concretely benefiting from a continued influx of immigrant labor. In other words, they are made to feel that the government is “on their side,” using the output of immigrant labor to sustain the natives’ comparatively higher standard of living and, by extension, higher socioeconomic status. Policies that provide additional benefits to the native population have largely prevented widespread xenophobia despite a large foreign population. Whether Japan is willing to replicate this Dubai model of conscious policy discrimination against foreign residents may comes down to the moral values of its business and political leaders. Dubai is certainly no paradise for immigrants. Various research has shown that the city’s immigration policies have failed to protect Dubai’s migrant workers from exploitation by employers, with many blue-collar workers perishing under harsh working and living conditions. As a self-declared liberal democracy with respect for universal human rights, Japan may find it ethically difficult to codify the unequal treatment of foreigners in its laws, even if the result is a native population more accepting of a larger foreigner presence. As Japan rethinks its immigration policies in facing a future with dramatically more foreign residents, Dubai provides both an optimistic and cautionary tale. On one hand, Dubai provides a blueprint for a foreigner-driven economic renaissance, based on natives accepting an economic environment dominated by foreign talent and money. On the other hand,

Dubai may be guide as Japan copes with more immigrants

A recent comment from a major business figure in Japan is bound to increase alarm among the country’s nativists.

Hiroya Masuda, the chief executive of Japan Post Holdings, a major conglomerate that operates the country’s post offices, told the major business news outlet Nikkei in a June 21 interview that some towns and cities needed to prepare for a future in which “40-50% of the population … will be foreigners.”

Speaking on behalf of the independent policy group Reiwa Rincho, of which he is a co-leader, Masuda called on the government to undertake reforms relating to immigration as well as education, social security, and taxation policies with more foreign residents in mind.

Masuda’s prediction of a more immigrant-dominated Japan mirrors population projections produced by the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research. A report released by IPSS on April 26 concluded that by 2070, Japanese nationals will make up only 77 million of Japan’s total population of 87 million.

The IPSS report predicted that the coming years will see a continued decline in the fertility rate and an increase in net immigration, implying that a larger foreign population will prevent a sharper decline in the total population. IPSS’ projection of a Japan with more than 10% foreign-born population is a dramatic increase from the current estimate of 2.2%.

Dubai’s experience

As Japan thinks about how to live with more foreigners in its midst, Dubai, the largest city in the United Arab Emirates, could be a good reference.

Dubai, with foreigners making up some 92% of its 3.3 million residents, represents an extreme case of an immigrant-dominted society that the likes of Masuda believe Japan may eventually become. Yet rather than succumbing to conflicts between “natives” and foreigners, Dubai has grown to become a major business hub in the Middle East.

Through large-scale automated visa processing, the provision of long-term “golden visas” to high-skilled, high-wealth individuals, and the establishment of free-trade zones allowing 100% foreign ownership of businesses, Dubai has attracted and leveraged foreign talent for rapid economic development.

For Japan to replicate Dubai’s experience in utilizing foreigners for economic growth, a particularly important point of reference is how to prevent the native population’s ambivalence toward the wealth and success of foreigners from becoming outright resentment.

Data show that more than two-thirds of the Japanese population believes that hiring for jobs in Japan should prioritize Japanese nationals, the highest figure among multiple countries surveyed. And despite record numbers of foreigners in Japan, survey results from 2003 to 2018 show a steady decline in the general public’s interest in interacting with foreigners.

Reduced interest in studying or traveling abroad among Japan’s youth only exacerbates the problem.

Two-tier system

Dubai’s answer to preventing native resentment has been the systematic use of discriminatory policies favoring natives.

Dubai provides no pathway to permanent residency or citizenship for the vast majority of foreign residents, forcing them to leave once they no longer provide economic value to the city. Only citizens are availed of benefits such as free education, cheap land, and highly paid jobs in the bureaucracy.

The combination of such policies ensures that natives feel that they are concretely benefiting from a continued influx of immigrant labor. In other words, they are made to feel that the government is “on their side,” using the output of immigrant labor to sustain the natives’ comparatively higher standard of living and, by extension, higher socioeconomic status.

Policies that provide additional benefits to the native population have largely prevented widespread xenophobia despite a large foreign population.

Whether Japan is willing to replicate this Dubai model of conscious policy discrimination against foreign residents may comes down to the moral values of its business and political leaders.

Dubai is certainly no paradise for immigrants. Various research has shown that the city’s immigration policies have failed to protect Dubai’s migrant workers from exploitation by employers, with many blue-collar workers perishing under harsh working and living conditions.

As a self-declared liberal democracy with respect for universal human rights, Japan may find it ethically difficult to codify the unequal treatment of foreigners in its laws, even if the result is a native population more accepting of a larger foreigner presence.

As Japan rethinks its immigration policies in facing a future with dramatically more foreign residents, Dubai provides both an optimistic and cautionary tale.

On one hand, Dubai provides a blueprint for a foreigner-driven economic renaissance, based on natives accepting an economic environment dominated by foreign talent and money.

On the other hand, it has achieved economic success by often turning a blind eye to, and even enabling through discriminatory policies, widespread mistreatment of its most vulnerable foreign workers.

As Japan’s more immigrant-dominated future becomes more imminent, the pros and cons of the Dubai model should be more closely examined.