Posted on December 10, 2018

Shrinking Japan OKs Divisive Bill to Get More Foreign Labor

Mari Yamaguchi, Associated Press, December 7, 2018

Japan is set to approve legislation that would officially open the door to foreign workers to do unskilled jobs and possibly eventually become citizens.

Lawmakers were due to vote late Friday on a government proposal to allow hundreds of thousands of foreign laborers to live and work in a country that has long resisted accepting outsiders.

It’s seen as an unavoidable step as the country’s population of about 126 million rapidly ages and shrinks.

Many short-handed industries, especially in the services sector, already rely heavily on foreign “trainees” and language students. The country also selectively grants visas to white-collar professionals, often from the west.

Bringing in foreign laborers is a last resort after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ultra-conservative government tried to meet labor shortages by encouraging more employment of women and older workers and using more robots and other automation.

“Japan has come to a point where we had to face the reality that there is serious depopulation and serious aging,” said Toshihiro Menju, an expert on foreign labor and population issue at Japan Center for International Exchange.

“Shortages of workers are so serious … that (allowing) immigrants is the only option the government can take,” he said.


The number of foreign workers in Japan has more than doubled since 2000 to nearly 1.3 million last year, out of a working-age population of 67 million. {snip} Almost all convenience stores are partly staffed by Asian workers and so are many restaurant chains.


In many cases the workers are subjected to poor working conditions and other abuses.


Under the proposed legislation, two categories of workers would be accepted: less-skilled workers and former interns with basic Japanese competency are allowed to stay in the country for only up to five years as visitors and cannot bring in family members. That is meant to encourage them to leave when their visas expire, preventing them from settling in Japan.

The second category, those with higher skills, Japanese language and cultural understanding, would be allowed to bring their families and apply for citizenship after living in Japan for 10 years if they commit no crimes.

Many Japanese understand the need to make up for labor shortages. Industry groups have urged the government to expand the work visa program so they can legally hire more foreign workers.


Abe has denied Japan is opening the door to immigrants. His right-wing supporters view Japan as a homogenous society and want to keep out outsiders, especially those from other Asian countries. They cite concerns over the risk of more crime.

Human rights activists and lawyers have criticized the legislation, saying it has insufficient protections and support for foreign workers and lacks a vision for how Japan might create a more inclusive society that accepts diversity.