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Japan May Want Migrants More Than They Want Japan

Japan May Want Migrants More Than They Want Japan

Story Highlights

  • In borderless world, Japan would see its total adult population increase by 1%
  • Brexit vote chills desires of highly educated to move to the U.K.
  • Canada more likely than U.S. to attract highly educated migrants

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- While many countries are turning migrants away, Japan's demographic woes are forcing it to turn to migrants to help solve the country's labor shortages. Lawmakers there passed a controversial law Saturday that allows more foreign workers to come to the country, starting next year.

Japan may need these migrants to shore up its shrinking, rapidly aging workforce, but Gallup's latest Potential Net Migration Index (PNMI) suggests that the traditionally insular country has a long way to go to make it an attractive destination to them.

If everyone worldwide moved where they wanted, the index shows Japan's population would increase by 1%. And while it could see its population of young people increase by 51%, its highly educated population would fall by 8%. Most of these people would come from Southeast Asia.

Potential Net Migration in Aging Japan
Potential Net Migration Index Potential Net Brain Gain Index Potential Net Youth Migration Index
% % %
Japan 1 -8 51
Based on surveys in 152 countries and areas between 2015 and 2017.
Gallup World Poll

These results are based on Gallup surveys of the migration desires of more than 450,000 adults in 152 countries between 2015 and 2017. Gallup created three indexes to gauge the likely changes to a country's population if people who say they would like to migrate permanently actually move where they want.

Gallup's PNMI measures the total potential net change to the adult population. The Potential Net Brain Gain Index measures the potential net change to the population with the equivalent of a bachelor's degree or higher. The Potential Net Youth Migration Index measures the net change to the 15- to 29-year-old population.

See how your country would change if everyone moved where they wanted and find out more about how Gallup arrives at these estimates at its Migration Research Center.

Other Developed Countries Could Share Japan's Demographic Fate

Absent migration, Japan's population expected to shrink by as much as 13% over the next 25 years. But it isn't alone.

Other developed countries -- such as the United States, the United Kingdom, France and Canada -- are contending with aging, shrinking workforces, labor shortages and low fertility rates, and could eventually share a similar fate. But Gallup's data show that for now, these countries are much more attractive destinations than Japan.

PNMI scores in these four countries are all safely in positive territory, meaning that more adults would like to come to them than leave them. But while each of these populations hypothetically would see their youth populations bloom, based on their Potential Net Youth Migration Index scores, they would not see a similarly large influx of educated workers, based on their Potential Net Brain Gain Index scores.

Potential Net Migration in Rapidly Aging Developed Countries
Potential Net Migration Index Potential Net Brain Gain Index Potential Net Youth Migration Index
% % %
Canada 147 120 343
United States 46 7 112
France 44 27 170
United Kingdom 37 -1 133
Based on surveys conducted in 152 countries between 2015 and 2017
Gallup World Poll

Brexit Chills Desire Among Educated to Move to the United Kingdom

The United Kingdom, where official net migration figures have been falling since the referendum vote, stands out among this group because at -1%, it is the only one with a negative Potential Net Brain Gain Index. Before the referendum, between 2010 and 2012, the score was 21%.

The referendum's chilling -- if not freezing -- effect on the most educated potential migrants could have serious implications for universities and other industries that are worried about attracting educated international talent to the United Kingdom.

Canada More Attractive Than U.S. to Educated Potential Migrants

Although the migration debate has roiled Canada and the United States, the status quo remains much the same in these two countries, compared with Gallup's earlier studies. The U.S. continues to be the more popular destination of the two, but Canada continues to be more attractive to more-educated potential migrants than the United States is.

This remains consistent with earlier Gallup research that shows the U.S. appeals more to the youngest and least-educated potential migrants, while those who choose Canada are, on average, slightly older and more educated.

Bottom Line

Gallup's PNMI provides useful information about who these countries are attracting around the world and the areas where they need to work to ensure they retain the talent already at home. This is true particularly for countries with aging, shrinking workforces that may, like Japan, have to make some hard decisions further down the road.

After years of draconian limits on migration, Japan is now reluctantly looking to migrants for rescue. But based on people's desire to move right now, Japan may want migrants more than they want Japan.

Dato Tsabutashvili contributed to this analysis.

For complete methodology and specific survey dates, please review Gallup's Country Data Set details.

Learn more about how the Gallup World Poll works.

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