The Strategist

Japan opens the gates for migrant workers

12/10/2018 - 11:52

The Japanese Parliament on Saturday passed a law that opens the country to low-skilled foreign workers. Previously, the migration flow has been severely limited due to the traditionally negative attitude of Japanese people towards labor migrants. It is expected that about 345 thousand people will arrive in the country in the next five years. The opposition criticized the new law for insufficient protection of the rights of visitors, but the Ministry of Justice promised to finalize this issue before the end of the year.

At an extraordinary session, the Japanese Parliament adopted a new immigration legislation, which in the near future will seriously change the life of the island nation. Two new categories of work visas were created. The first is intended for people employed in low-skilled jobs and does not allow their families to be transported to Japan. The second is for more highly skilled workers and assumes permission to enter the country for the worker’s spouse and children. The greatest need for personnel with relatively low qualifications is observed in the hotel business, medicine (nurses), the field of care for the elderly, construction (handymen), etc. The law opens the possibility of hiring foreigners in 14 similar industries.

Earlier, Japan had one of the toughest immigration laws in the world: low-skilled migrants were traditionally considered the source of crime and wage cuts. But since the beginning of this decade, the situation has been gradually changing. Since 2012, the number of foreigners working in the country (mainly with high qualifications) has grown from 680 thousand to 1.28 million people (which is still just over 1% of the population). Now it is supposed to let about 345 thousand new workers into Japan within five years.

Parliamentarians from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) have long indicated that there is no alternative to new legislation. The population of Japan is rapidly falling in number, and by 2065 it will decrease from the current 127 million to 88 million. The number of births per woman is 1.4, which is much lower than the level of 2.1 birth required for reproduction. 28% of Japanese are retired over 65, and this is one of the highest rates in the world. At the same time, the population is traditionally wary of immigrants: according to the June poll of Pew Research, only 23% of the country's citizens considered it necessary to increase their number, 17% were sharply opposed to the idea. A November poll by the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper showed that 48% were in favor of growing number of foreign workers, 42% were against this measure.

The law turned out to be quite vague and needs to be amended with additional clarifications and by-laws that should be drafted by the Ministry of Justice of Japan before the end of the year. The main thing that the legislators managed to consolidate was the obligation to pay wages to foreign workers no less than their Japanese counterparts (this should prevent a decline in wages). Nothing has yet been said about the protection of rights of foreign workers and structure of their way of life, which particularly worries the Japanese opposition.