The Right to Move?

Debating the ethics of global migration

With Florian Coulmas, James Farrer, John Haffner, Hiroshi Kimizuka, Gracia Liu-Farrer, Midori Okabe, Mathias Risse, Devin T. Stewart, Michele Wucker, Kosaku Yoshino

Saturday, December 12, 2009 09:00 AM to
Sunday, December 13, 2009 05:00 PM

By Mafleen (CC).
Sophia University Institute of Comparative Culture
Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs



James Farrer, Director, Institute of Comparative Culture, Sophia University
Devin Stewart, GPI Program Director, Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs
Midori Okabe, Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, Sophia University



Most research on migration has focused on empirical questions about the motives, strategies, and social and economic consequences of migration, or at the state level about the boundaries of citizenship and costs and benefits of migration in terms of social and economic development. We suggest that discussions of the migrant experience and migration policy might be differently informed by focusing explicitly on the ethics of migration. Do people have, for example, a fundamental "right to move," and if so, how do we ground this right in political and social theory?

There are many specific ethical questions about migration, both at the individual level of how people justify migration and at the collective level of why countries should encourage, or limit migration. Beyond general philosophical purposes, focusing on definitional questions of ethics should have implications for reconceptualizing both migration policies and empirical research agendas on migration. This planned symposium represents an interdisciplinary and comparative discussion of the ethics of migration, with attention to both migrant/actor and state-centered perspectives.

We will bring together philosophers, sociologists, political scientists, legal scholars, and policy makers. This will be a two day event with paper presentations and Q/A on the first day and an open-ended roundtable discussion on the second day. Short essays from the symposium will be published in a special issue of Policy Innovations.


Akihiro Asakawa, Assistant Professor, Graduate School of International Development, Nagoya University

Is "Borderless-ization" Happy? The ethical justification of proper management of international migration

We are facing a much more active movement of goods, money, and people in the phenomenon called "globalization." In this paper, I would like to think about "borderless-ization" in relation to this current situation and the ethical justification of proper management of international migration at this historical moment. Currently, we are experiencing a dramatic decrease of barriers of movement in terms of time and cost mostly because of the development of a global airline network. Therefore, as a consequence of technological changes, the natural barriers to movement have almost vanished, and we would have a "borderless" world without any migration control by nation-states. Here I discuss one very "unhappy" result of "borderless-ization" regarding one particular group of foreigners in Japan, the Nikkei (Japanese-descendant) Latin Americans. Because the Japanese government is allowing their residence only based on their Japanese "blood," they are permitted to live and work in Japan almost unrestricted. This has resulted in a large increase of their employment in automobile-related industries, in industrial jobs which do not require Japanese language ability and other skills. In facing the current global economic downturn, they are suddenly laid off, with negative consequences for themselves and for Japanese society. This example shows that the lack of proper management of international migration may result in very unhappy and unethical outcome.

Florian Coulmas, Director, Deutsches Institut für Japanstudien

The Ethics of Language Choice

Whenever people move they carry their immaterial passions with them willy-nilly: their creed, their culture and their language. This kind of baggage is not always welcome. This paper takes issue with immigrant languages, arguing that inasmuch as language is an object of political responsibility it also involves important ethical problems. In monolingual countries, scarce as they are, and in countries with long-established and uncontested language regimes, language is as inconspicuous as the air we breathe. But in modern societies whose states depend on highly complex forms of communication, the introduction of a hitherto unused language poses new challenges, both of a practical and ethical nature. Against the background of unceasing migration streams towards developed countries, the question of "language rights" has attracted considerable attention among migration specialists in recent decades. In this context the present paper examines the "territoriality principle" and the "individuality principle" of language use as well as the notion of language rights, addressing the following question: Does the right to move imply language rights? It will also review some of the answers that governments have given to this question.

James Farrer, Director, Institute of Comparative Culture, Sophia University

Cosmopolitanism as Virtue: Towards an ethics of global city life

Migration is ethically significant both for migrants and receiving communities. The most common framework for conceptualizing the ethical dimensions of migration is an implicit utilitarian ethics. Policy discussions quantify the costs and benefits of migration, usually expressed in economic terms, for both the migrants and for the receiving societies, often giving these very unequal weightings. A radically different ethics of migration proceeds from a Kantian concept of cosmopolitanism, in which everyone can be ascribed a right to move as a "citizen of the earth," or the cosmopolis. While this view is attractive from the perspective of a universalist humanism, it seems divorced from the real politics of nation-states and incapable of addressing the radical encounters with difference or otherness that migration actually entails. The approach I would like to consider in this paper is based on virtue ethics, both Aristotelian and Confucian. Aristotle and Mencius both ground individual ethics in a philosophy of self-actualization and concerted perfectionism. Politics, as an extension of ethics, aims at achieving the collective "good life" of a just and enlightened society. Despite (or perhaps because of) their cultural particularism, virtue ethics, more than Kantian ethics, seem capable of representing the real-world blending and collisions of multiple ethical traditions, such as the Western and Confucian notions of virtue, while also accommodating the changing social conditions of life under globalization, including a vision of the "good life" in the messy real world of the global city, rather than an abstract cosmopolis.

As a virtue, cosmopolitanism represents not a general affiliation with a universal humanity, but an ethically motivated encounter with actual "others," with an aim to self-improvement and collective betterment. (Derrida has developed a seemingly compatible philosophical conception in the ideal of unconditional hospitality, but without the telos of self-improvement that I posit here.) I suggest that for the voluntary migrant, and for the host, migration may involve the cultivation not of multiculturalism per se, but of cultural complexity, with an aim to collective improvement. At the individual level, this may represent the cultivation of what J. Rogers Hollingsworth describes as "cognitive complexity," or the capacity to see the world in multiple and novel ways, which Hollingsworth discovers to be a correlate of extraordinary high levels of intellectual creativity, including scientific discovery. At a more mundane and less elitist level, cultural complexity takes the form of a generalized metropolitan mindset that sociologists, such as Georg Simmel, Robert Park and Richard Sennett, have long associated with the life ways of large and disorderly modern cities. I would suggest that cultural complexity is essential to the "good life" in the modern global city that migrants and hosts both aim to achieve. And without migration, cultural complexity will not evolve. Cities are created through migration, global cities through international migration. As a political corollary, without high levels of both in- and out-migration, and the necessary ethical commitments to cosmopolitanism, modern societies will fail to develop the individual and collective virtues suitable to "living well" in a global and urbanized society.

Linda Grove, Vice President for International Exchange, Sophia University


John Haffner, Author, Japan's Open Future

Immigration, Openness and Renewal: A new direction for Japan

This paper argues that Japan should admit many more immigrants: more than it does right now, and more than it is planning on doing. It is organized in three parts. The first part argues that the immigration debate in Japan is really at its core a debate about identity, and often a misleading one at that. Many dogmatic assumptions about what it means to be Japanese turn out, on closer examination, to be ill-founded: Japan has always been a multicultural society, just as immigration has been a major feature of its history.

Second, the paper examines arguments for and against immigration in Japan and attempts to show why the arguments in favour of immigration outweigh the arguments against. In addition to compensating for Japan's declining population, immigrants would bring new sources of capital, new ideas, new global connections, facility with languages other than Japanese, and many other advantages. They would also prove an invaluable bridge in linking insular Japan to the global community. While many Japanese worry that immigrants would bring new social frictions, crime, and conflict, in all likelihood these worries are overblown. If Japan were to open to significant levels of immigration, there would inevitably be some adjustments and local frictions, but overall Japan would benefit. Again, the country would change in some notable ways, but paradoxically, immigrants could help engender a spirited renewal in various aspects of Japanese culture, just as they have done for Japan in the past.

The third and final part of the paper argues, however, that even though the case for a major increase in immigration levels is strong, Japan is unlikely to implement this new direction. Instead, it seems most likely that Japan will be a smaller and much less influential country in 2050 than it is today.

Hiroshi Kimizuka, Deputy Director, General Affairs Division, Immigration Bureau, Ministry of Justice

Japanese Immigration Control Policy and Administration

Recently, there are heated arguments on the "pros and cons" for acceptance of immigrants in the industrial society of Japan. Japanese government and public opinion have agreed to the acceptance of "advanced professionals" and "medical workers" (nurses and caregivers) based on a bilateral agreement because they are generally expected to contribute to the development of local communities and the Japanese economy. On the other hand, there is much lower acceptance of the immigration of "manual and unskilled workers" in Japan, because of citizen concern about their potential influence on the economy, employment, national lifestyles and security. In practice, the immigration control system of Japan is not exclusionary. If an applicant has an academic background or occupational experience, for example, a bachelor's degree given by university inside or outside of Japan, job qualifications, and concludes an employment contract with a company or organization found in Japan, the applicant receives a permit stamp in his or her passport and will be given the privilege to stay and work in Japan so far as the contract is effective. However, such people make up only 9 percent of foreign nationals resident in Japan. Most others are people who married Japanese or were recognized as Japanese posterity. They have residential permits with unrestricted activity and can choose any jobs including "manual and unskilled work." Because their status of residence (spouse of Japanese, spouse of permanent resident, etc.) represents semi-permanent settlement, it is difficult to restrict the range of their activity in the country. It is important to discuss the ethics of migration or develop strategic thinking with regard to various immigration problems; however, it may first of all be necessary to achieve a nation-wide consensus on whether this country should choose the path of "depopulating nation" or "multiracial nation."

Gracia Liu-Farrer, Associate Professor, Graduate School of Asia-Pacific Studies, Waseda University

Doing Wrong or Not: The case of undocumented Chinese migrants in Japan

Most countries consider unauthorized immigration and undocumented stay to be criminal activities and a social and security threat. In December 2003, in order to make Japan into "a strong society against crimes," the Japanese government started a campaign to reduce the number of illegal foreign residents by half in five years. The police regularly raid locations where illegal immigrants are likely to concentrate, such as entertainment districts, construction sites, and some residential areas. Plainclothes police roam in train stations and neighborhoods trying to identify suspects by looks. By 2008, the number of people overstaying visas was significantly reduced. Among the deported foreigners, Chinese have consistently ranked number one.

Many social scientific studies have investigated why and how irregular migration takes place. Economic incentives and social networks are important factors that cause and perpetuate illicit border crossing. However, researchers rarely inquire how the undocumented immigrants justify their "criminal acts" and perceive the prevention measures against them. This paper looks at irregular migration through the migrants' lens. Based on participant observation and interviews with undocumented Chinese migrants in Japan, this paper describes the patterns of undocumented migration from China to Japan, their diverse economic and social practices, their reaction toward the imminent threat of deportation, and how they think of their own behavior and their criminalization. Through the narratives of undocumented Chinese migrants in Japan, the paper discusses the different concepts of rights involved in the act of irregular migration and its prevention measure.

Midori Okabe, Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, Sophia University

Managed Migration, Managed Rights—A comparative study of the European Union and Japan

This paper investigates the political achievements in the field of immigration policy by analyzing transformations in the cooperation between recipient and sending countries in controlling migration. The aim of this paper is to clarify how universal human rights are limited at the border. Also, it focuses on the recent attempts (mostly by the EU) to develop "compensation" measures to balance state sovereignty and human rights protection. A comparative study of the case of the EU and of Japan is used to develop several theoretical points. Firstly this paper points out that in both cases the migration issue has become a security problem within an internal-external nexus, but the way this problem emerged was through entirely different processes particular to each case. Secondly, a review is made of the discrepancies between the regional regulation (mostly of the EU in its program of "cooperation with third countries of migration," and in Asia the embryonic attempt to include migration issues in the FTAs and EPAs) and the global norms the UN and other international organizations uphold. Here a question is posed whether or not the regional "management of rights" is justified especially in light of the movement of people.

Mark Raper, President, Jesuit Conference of East Asia and Oceania

Precarious Lives: Involuntary displacement of people in Asia-Pacific today

This paper will be written from the perspective of a practitioner who has worked some thirty years with refugees and will comment principally on contemporary forced displacement in Asia-Pacific. It argues for a normative framework for migration that acknowledges moral obligations based on recognition of human dignity, solidarity, and inclusive relations that value the common good.

People living in precarious situations outside their places of origin, whose dignity and human rights are not adequately respected, include refugees, internally displaced persons, undocumented or unlawful migrants, guest and seasonal workers, victims of trafficking, stateless persons, and those with only temporary protection from deportation. Their displacement is caused by conflicts, poverty, inequality, poor governance, and by disasters for which often the preparations have been totally inadequate. What links them is their vulnerability.

Looking at the reality of human displacement in Asia-Pacific today, a broader view of human vulnerability and human security is needed rather than narrow considerations of state security premised on the defense of territory. Restrictive practices are increasingly present in national and international legal infrastructures governing the movement of peoples. There is currently a mismatch between human vulnerability and political/legal institutions.

The inter-governmental refugee agency was first set up between the two World Wars, and re-established in a new form after the Second World War with the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees of 1951 and its 1967 Protocol. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was first seen as a temporary arrangement in a Cold War context. One could argue that a second paradigm shift was needed following 1989 when the world order changed greatly. The refugee regime has, nonetheless, adapted remarkably well; its principle failures can be blamed on the failure of signatory governments to observe its requirements. Today, despite an even greater international fixation on terrorism and consequently on security, our world is overtaken by converging global crises—economic, financial, energy, food, migration, climate and ecology—which indicate that yet again a shift in our approach to the movement people is demanded. A new imperative is added, that people learn to live differently together on earth if massive tragedy is to be avoided. It is a dangerous time, but a time of opportunity.

A range of new international human rights instruments, such as the Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers and their Families are needed in order to meet the needs of the increasing categories of "precarious residents." For the sake of security based on solidarity, regional instruments and national policies should also continue to be developed so that the most vulnerable are not neglected.

Although increasingly more complex, our task today is to discern which groups make the strongest call on our solidarity. Accurately identifying them will help us to mount cooperative international responses that take us beyond narrow national self interest to a truly global ethic of human movement.

Mathias Risse, Associate Professor, Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, Harvard University

The Capabilities Approach and Collective Ownership of the Earth: An approach to the ethics of immigration

This talk will report on work I have recently done with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). The UNDP has long been committed to the "capabilities approach" pioneered by Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum. In Nussbaum's explicit list of these capabilities, freedom of movement appears (as one instantiation of bodily integrity). But would an endorsement of this view commit us to an unlimited right to free movement, and if not, how should we think about its limitations? Ideas about collective ownership of the earth, and more generally an approach I've called "the grounds-of-justice" approach can help us make progress on this question. My subject in this talk therefore will be to explore how the capabilities approach and the grounds-of-justice approach can be usefully merged.

Devin Stewart, Director, Global Policy Innovations, Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs

Reconciling an Ethical Immigration Policy with the Myth of the Nation-State

The importance of the freedom to move is as old as humanity itself. For tens of thousands of years, people have migrated in order to find better hunting grounds, greener pastures, natural resources, and security from attack. In today's globalized economy, movement is crucial toward achieving a fair world as capital and trade flows can shift virtually overnight. Nevertheless, immigration policy is premised upon the socially constructed, relatively young, and even somewhat arbitrary concept of a nation-state. Given the checkered record of the nation-state in international affairs, is there an alternative concept through which a more ethical immigration policies could flourish?

Michele Wucker, Executive Director, World Policy Institute

Linking Ethics and Self-Interest in Human Mobility

Facing demographic and economic challenges, countries around the world are reconsidering the policies that govern migrant rights: the basis on which people are allowed to enter a country, the access that non-citizens have to services and rights, and the ability of non-citizens to naturalize. What are the consequences for citizens, societies, and economies of the decisions they make about who gets the right to move? How do limitations on the rights of others to move to a country, to become citizens, and to participate in the workforce and in social and political structures affect established citizens of those countries? What are the most ethical regimes involving human mobility—and how do they compare to policies that might maximize the well-being of citizens and non-citizens?

Kosaku Yoshino, Professor, Department of Sociology, Sophia University

The Englishization of Higher Education in Asia and the Migratory Flows of International Students

The advance of Englishization is giving rise to significant changes in ways of life in various parts of the world. "Englishization," or the spread of English, is an integral part of globalization. This paper examines the type of influence Englishization is exerting on flows of people as well as the reorganization of transnational social relationships and networks. The focus will be placed on the institution of higher education, where the impact of Englishization has been extremely acute.

Taking up the notion of Malaysia as a regional hub for higher education, the paper explores how the Englishization of higher education in Malaysia has affected the flow of movement of students from Asia and other regions of the world to their destinations of study. The paper pays particular attention to Malaysia's multiethnicity and the ways in which Malaysia's multilingual and "multicultural" staff in the education industry serve as transnational cultural intermediaries, for example, between PRC Chinese and Malaysian Chinese.

The implications of their role in influencing the flow of overseas students are examined. The paper thus inquires into the ways in which the micro-level experience of individuals is linked with intermediate-level institutions and organisations, thereby creating new spheres of living and activity against the background of global flows. It is in these structural contexts in which we examine some ethical questions of transnational migration, both at the individual level of how students choose to become educational migrants and at the collective level of why the state and intermediate institutions should encourage the migratory flows of international students.

Sophia University
7-1 Kioicho, Chiyoda-ku
Tokyo 102-8554 JAPAN
Phone: +81-(0)3-3238-4082

For details, please contact ICC director James Farrer:

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