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Will this be the century of the immigrant?

When not asset-stripping industrial plants via text from Zermatt and nibbling vols-au-vent off the talons of exotic birds, we globo-elitist popinjays have occasion to consult the news. A few stories have given us solace of late.

In America, the government has softened its line against foreign students. Universities had sued on behalf of these cherished and — it has to be said — lucrative guests. In the UK, meanwhile, the most nativist government of my lifetime is dangling the prospect of citizenship to some 3m people in Hong Kong. A financialised island off the shore of a vast continental market: I wonder how they will adapt. If the projected 200,000 come, they may top in size and economic impact the east African Asians of the last century and the Huguenots of the 17th.

Mere twinkles of light in the general murk, perhaps. The larger trends — pandemics, populism — still promise a bleak century for the immigrant. It would take something equally momentous to counteract these forces.

And it appears to be in train. According to a report in The Lancet, birth rates are going to crash around the world. University of Washington researchers forecast that most countries will shrink in population over the course of the century and that some — Spain, South Korea — will halve. The world in 2100 will contain 2bn fewer people than UN demographers had expected.


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