Can contemporary liberal states formulate and pursue a “liberal” immigration control policy? Set against the backdrop of the experience of immigrant-receiving Western liberal democracies, this article examines this question by focusing on Japan. Its main objective is to map the under-studied case of Asia’s most liberal democracy, which is conventionally associated with an “at best illiberal” stance on immigration. I contend, first, that liberal immigration control policy is inevitably defined by approximation, and second, that Japanese policy outputs have become, albeit to varying degrees, more liberal in three fundamental domains of immigration control: the admission policy is increasingly open and unambiguous; the selection policy is gradually being racially decentered; and the removal policy is more attuned to migrants’ rights. However, this case also demonstrates that such an evolution generates inconsistencies across, and tensions within, the different policy domains, which underscores the contemporary liberal state’s general incoherence on immigration affairs.

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