Japan’s Revolving Door Immigration policy


According to this article, Japan has a history of baiting illiterate foreigners with promises of prosperity to  contribute to the Japanese economy. Then, as their best years fade, their visas are not renewed due to their illiteracy and an institutional perception of them as the “others.” This seems to be a short-term problem to Japan’s long-term economic woes. However, the end of the article notes that such false promises are no longer as alluring as they once were and such workers have begun decreasing.

This leads to many questions of mine. If these people have been contributing to an already troubled Japanese economy, how much worse can things get? As this source of income and service dries up, will the situation deteriorate even more? Does this population contribute in any significant way to the Japanese economy?

Looking past this rather suspicious practice, it does seem that immigration may vital to Japanese economic prosperity. If talented immigrants can be brought in at a young adult wage, they have a lifetime of work to perform, decrease the age of the workforce, and the state only contributes towards their post-retirement benefits rather than also their childhood benefits, it would be a win-win for both parties.

1 thought on “Japan’s Revolving Door Immigration policy

  1. the prof
    Did the post provide any numbers? — there is a very restrictive program for nurses to come to Japan, but the provisions mean that after two years of work very few will be able to receive licenses and remain, because the nursing test is in (written) Japanese. So (not surprisingly) very few apply. However, in the auto industry I’ve been to factories where the majority of workers are immigrants. In the area where I lived in suburban Tokyo many of the restaurants were ethnic ones run by immigrants. There were 800 students from China at my base, Chiba University, many of whom were in technical fields and intended to seek jobs in Japan. There was a neighborhood in Tokyo of Indian software engineers. In the Tohoku (northeast) region of the country farmers are tied into a network that helps them find wives from the Philippines.
    Check the Japan Statistical Yearbook for data; in 2009 there were officially 2.2 million foreigners (you need to go to the Immigration Bureau website for more recent figures). Despite the slow economy, this was up by 1.1 million since 1990. Now in a population of 127 million it’s not a lot, but enough to be visible, and most of them are in the labor force. However, data suggest a drop the past several years, with the steep recession of 2009 and more recently 3/11 with the disruption it wrought. Migrants are sensitive to economic conditions.
    Of course there are also illegals, people who have overstayed their visas, and students of “paper” schools who in fact work full time. (For that matter, most of the “real” Chinese students I talked to worked long hours to make ends meet.) On the opposite side, the children of Korean immigrants (from Japan’s days as an imperial power) are for the most part taking out Japanese citizenship. (Despite being born and raised in Japan, and typically speaking no Korean, they aren’t automatically citizens.) So the number of individuals counted as immigrants on that front is falling.
    All of that means that in much of Japan, including some (but not all) suburbs, immigrants are quite visible. But the situation is complicated. The Ministry of Justice in its immigration bureau guise “sticks to the letter” in handling visas. But the police, who are loosely under the Ministry of Justice, typically have no interest in chasing down those who overstay, believing they have better things to do. There are of course xenophobic groups, but there are also support groups, and companies that are happy to find good workers. My experience was that the local government (Chiba City) had gone to great lengths to facilitate immigrants, with pamphlets in multiple languages for all the basic functions (schooling, taxes, pensions, healthcare) and staff who spoke various languages. Trains in Shizuoka Prefecture have signs in Korean, Chinese, English and Portuguese and not just Japanese. Today no one turns around to look when people speak other languages. It was not that way 20 years ago.
    However, that varies from place to place, and some cities (where immigrants from Brazil are 10+% of their population) have reputedly not adopted well in terms of second-language support in schools. We need to ask Okada-sensei about that!!

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