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Japan

Japan opens its doors to foreign workers – but will they want to go?

  • Japan’s revised immigration law was passed last week and is set to come into force in April, despite criticism that the approval process was too hasty
  • The country is scrambling for workers to fill vacancies in sectors including elderly care, construction and agriculture
PUBLISHED : Friday, 14 December, 2018, 2:39pm
UPDATED : Friday, 14 December, 2018, 2:39pm

Days after Japan passed a law introducing a foreign guest-worker programme to bolster a labour force shrinking due to the ageing population, a study showed it would struggle to compete with other developed countries to attract residents from overseas.

The Gallup survey showed that Japan’s population of 126 million would grow by just 1 per cent if there were global freedom of movement, compared with 147 per cent for Canada and 46 per cent for the US. However, Japan would fare much better than South Korea, whose population would shrink by 17 per cent, according to the survey.

Japan’s revised immigration law was passed last week and is set to come into force in April, despite criticism that the approval process was too hasty. The country is scrambling for workers to fill vacancies in sectors including elderly care, construction and agriculture.

Following opposition protests, the government issued a forecast of 345,000 foreign workers entering over the first five years of the programme – only about one-quarter of the number it expects would be needed to plug the labour shortfall.

Japan ranked only 29th out of 63 countries in terms of its ability to attract and develop talent, behind Taiwan and Estonia, in a ranking published earlier this year by IMD World Competitiveness Centre. Retailing, manufacturing and the service industry account for most of the foreign workers already in the country.

Yet, those who do move to Japan may expect a less hostile reception than in some countries. A Pew Research Centre survey found only 13 per cent of respondents said there were too many immigrants in Japan, while 58 per cent said the current number was about right and 23 per cent said there should be more. Asked if there were too many immigrants 37 per cent of UK respondents, 41 per cent of French and 28 per cent of South Koreans said yes.