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Expand chart
Data: Pew Research Center; Chart: Axios Visuals

Robust immigration has buoyed the populations of the U.S., U.K. and other developed nations, keeping them from shrinking for now. But a number of aging countries don't have enough immigration to replace their population as their fertility rates continue to plummet.

The bottom line: The control of borders is a serious political problem, but experts are eyeing legal immigration as one solution to a future demographics challenge. As nations age, many will be short of workers to support social programs relied on by the older population.

Yes, but: "Immigration is no silver bullet by itself: it can slow an aging population, but it would be impossible to reverse it with current or even slightly higher immigration numbers in most countries," says Irene Bloemraad, sociology professor and director of University of California Berkeley's Interdisciplinary Migration Initiative.

  • If the expected number of children per woman of childbearing age drops in the U.S. from 1.76 to 1.5 or 1 — well below the replacement rate of 2.1 — no amount of immigration can compensate, Richard Jackson, president of the Global Aging Institute, tells Axios.

Be smart: Demographers report a link between falling fertility rates and the incidence of populism, which in many countries has coincided with strong anti-migrant resistance.

A closer look by country:

  • The U.S.: The proportion of immigrants recently reached a more-than-100-year high. The Trump administration, however, has made it harder for high-skilled workers to get visas and proposed stricter penalties for student visa overstays, in addition to the hardline measures it has taken against undocumented immigrants.
  • Japan: Immigrants make up only 2% of the population, with fertility rates declining and immigration highly unpopular. Its foreign-born population has grown by 40% just since 2013, according to the Migration Policy Institute. But that's still far from the 10% share of the population needed to halt shrinkage.
  • Germany has a similar fertility rate to the U.S. The country has seen a surge of Syrian immigrants, but anti-migrant politics have followed, threatening Chancellor Angela Merkel's hold on power.
  • In China, population growth and fertility rates have fallen significantly since the 1980s — in large part due to its birth limits, which has left the country with an aging population, a shortage of working-age citizens, and millions more men than women. China is now considering ending its birth limits and seeking to attract some high-talent immigrants, the New York Times reported.

What to watch: Mass immigration to developed nations with aging populations would have global economic, social and political impact. The effects would be felt by countries immigrants are leaving in the form of lost human capital, and by those in which they're arriving, with both economic benefits and possible social discord.

Go deeper

Sullivan speaks with Israel's national security adviser for the first time

Israeli national security adviser Meir Ben Shabbat U.S. Photo: Mazen Mahdi/Getty Images. U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan. Photo: Chandan Khanna/Getty Images

U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan spoke on the phone Saturday with his Israeli counterpart Meir Ben Shabbat, Israeli officials tell Axios.

Why it matters: This is the first contact between the Biden White House and Israeli prime minister's office. During the transition, the Biden team refrained from speaking to foreign governments.

Biden speaks to Mexican president about reversing Trump's "draconian immigration policies"

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. Ismael Rosas/Eyepix Group/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

President Biden told his Mexican counterpart, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, on a phone call Friday that he plans to reverse former President Trump’s “draconian immigration policies.”

The big picture: The Biden administration has already started repealing several of Trump’s immigration policies, including ordering a 100-day freeze on deporting many unauthorized immigrants, halting work on the southern border wall, and reversing plans to exclude undocumented people from being included in the 2020 census.

Muslim families hope to reunite following Biden's travel ban repeal

Photo: Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images

Muslim Americans across the U.S. are celebrating President Biden's day-1 reversal of former President Trump's travel ban that targeted several Muslim-majority countries.

The big picture: The repeal of what many critics called the "Muslim ban" renews hope for thousands of families separated by Trump's order.