Think tank urges Japan to be more open to expat workers

by Ray Clancy on November 30, 2010

Japan needs expat workers

Job opportunities for expats could open up in Japan if the country relaxed its traditionally restrictive immigration system, according to a report from a leading international think tank.

A skills shortage means that Japan would benefit from skilled immigration but needs to have a more open system, says the Japan Forum on International Relations (JFIR).

JFIR proposes that Japan implement social integration policies alongside the skills based immigration system to avoid tensions related to immigration that occurs in certain countries in Europe.

Such a move would also help to re-energize the Japanese economy and is needed if Japan wants to survive in a globalized world.

‘If Japan wants to advance its integration with the burgeoning East Asian economy it essentially has no other choice but to accept foreign migrants while making full use of domestic human resources,’ said Kenichi Ito, president and chairman of the JFIR’s policy council.

The report describes the systems in Australia, Canada, and the US as models for a new Japanese immigration system.

‘A key question is not whether Japan should accept foreign migrants or not, but how Japan should accept them,’ added Ito.

The number of foreigners moving to Japan has increased in the last decade but only very slowly from 1.5 million ten years ago to two million today.

‘The annual intake is estimated to be 50,000 to 60,000 as far as the last 10 years is concerned. We think such a number is too small,’ Ito said.

The report recommends that Japan should consider the admission of temporary foreign workers and long-term residence should be accepted selectively while giving priority to highly qualified workers who should be free to move in and outside Japan to work.

It should also identify sectors of the Japanese labour market where jobs are hard to fill and make acceptance of migrant workers more flexible.

Making it easier for expats though involves much more than changing the immigration system, the report also points out. For example, social security agreements and systems will need to be more foreign friendly and there would need to be changes to the employment act to protect foreign workers.

It urges caution though about giving permanent residency to foreign workers as that ‘is probably unconstitutional and may also lead to grave political consequences’.

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