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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

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Pfizer and Moderna boosters overwhelmingly prevent Omicron hospitalizations, CDC finds — Omicron pushes COVID deaths toward 2,000 per day — The pandemic-proof health care giant.
  2. Vaccines: The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0 — Starbucks drops worker vaccine or test requirement after SCOTUS ruling — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America.
  3. Politics: Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" by Biden on anti-mask school policies — Federal judge blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers.
  4. World: American Airlines flight to London forced to turn around over mask dispute — WHO: COVID health emergency could end this year — Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older — Austria approves COVID vaccine mandate for adults.
  5. Variant tracker

Arizona governor sues Biden administration over COVID funds tied to mandates

A teacher prepares a hallway barrier to help students maintain social distancing at John B. Wright Elementary School in Tucson, Arizona, on Aug. 14, 2020. Photo: Cheney Orr/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) filed a lawsuit Friday against the Biden administration for ordering the state to stop allocating federal COVID relief funds to schools that don't comply with public health recommendations such as masking, the Arizona Republic reports.

Why it matters: The Treasury Department said last week that the state would have to pay back the money if Ducey does not redesignate the $173 million programs to ensure they don't "undermine efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19."

Federal judge blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers

President Biden speaking from Eisenhower Executive Office Building on Jan. 21. Photo: Yuri Gripas/Abaca/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A federal judge in Texas blocked the Biden administration from enforcing its coronavirus vaccine mandate for federal workers on Friday, citing the outcome of last week's Supreme Court ruling that nullified the administration's vaccine-or-test requirement for large employers.

Why it matters: It's a blow to President Biden's efforts to increase the U.S.' vaccination rates, though much of the federal workforce has already been vaccinated against the virus.