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One point that's often lost in heated debate is that immigration could be vital in helping countries to have enough young workers in the economy to support their aging populations.

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.

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.

"Young and working-age immigrants do this directly as they integrate in a country’s society and economy, and they also contribute to population growth when they have children."
— Irene Bloemraad, sociology professor and director of the University of California Berkeley’s Interdisciplinary Migration Initiative

The U.S. is unlikely to see any population decline over at least the next couple of decades because of immigration. Sustaining the population is crucial for maintaining strong economic growth and supporting baby boomers' social and health care needs.

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," Bloemraad says.

  • 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

Home confinees face imminent return to prison

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Thousands of prisoners who've been in home confinement for as long as a year because of the pandemic face returning to prison when it's over — unless President Biden rescinds a last-minute Trump Justice Department memo.

Why it matters: Most prisoners were told they would not have to come back as they were released early with ankle bracelets. Now, their lives are on hold while they wait to see whether or when they may be forced back behind bars. Advocates say about 4,500 people are affected.

The "essential" committee that still doesn't exist

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images

Nearly five months after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced the creation of the bipartisan Select Committee on Economic Disparity and Fairness in Growth, it's not been formed much less met.

Why it matters: Select committees are designed to address urgent matters, but the 117th Congress is now nearly one-quarter complete without this panel assembling. When she announced this committee, Pelosi described it as an "essential force" to "combat the crisis of income and wealth disparity in America."

Biden's ethics end-around for labor

President Biden surveys a water treatment plant during a visit to New Orleans today. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

The Biden administration is excusing top officials from ethics rules that would otherwise restrict their work with large labor unions that previously employed them, federal records show.

Why it matters: Labor's sizable personnel presence in the administration is driving policy, and the president's appointment of top union officials to senior posts gives those unions powerful voices in the federal bureaucracy — even at the cost of strictly adhering to his own stringent ethics standards.