Japan is one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations, drawing in almost 30 million tourists from around the globe in 2017. This number is already up by 15% and is projected to increase for the rest of the 2018 year. With its culturally rich background that is visible through modern day Japan, it’s not hard to understand why Japan has become remarkably attractive to visitors globally.

While the Japanese government has welcomed tourists to Japan with open arms, foreign workers who want to work in Japan have faced several barriers and setbacks. Japan’s population consists of 98.5 per cent ethnic Japanese and it seems most nationals would prefer it stay that way.

It’s no secret that Japan’s ageing population and resulting labour shortage will cause significant issues in the future. It seems the current administration is taking notable measures in an attempt to counteract the considerable negative economic effects that will materialize.

Japanese Worker

According to an article by the Nikkei Asian Review (2018), Prime Minister Abe has set a concrete goal: to attract more than 500,000 foreign workers by 2025. Plans include the creation of a new type of work permit for severely undermanned sectors such as “construction, agriculture, and nursing care”. As the article goes on to mention, desiring workers can obtain these permits one of two ways. One option is to complete the Technical Intern Training Program for its five-year duration. The other is through examination of Japanese language skills and technical terms.

While this is an economically feasible option, there are other concerns facing the new work permits and resulting foreign workers. Cultural integration is a difficult task, especially when language barriers are present. Sponsored language classes are another attempt to alleviate differences. Another rising issue is the treatment of foreign workers, as historically, they have received unfair treatment compared to their Japanese counterparts. This includes social insurance, tax systems, and working caps.

The work permit is planned to be submitted to the Diet for review by the fall and implemented next April. Nevertheless, the new permit will come with challenges. Slowly but surely, the Japanese government has realized the Japanese economy will not be able to sustain itself on Japanese labourers alone. While this might so to say, “corrupt”, Japan’s homogenous society, growing demand and pressure from businesses has left the government little choice.

Japan's Ageing Population - Old Man Working

Japan has one of the strictest immigration policies in the world. Its lack of diversity is what allows the culture to remain untouched and unchanging. But, it could also be the country’s downfall. The government faces pressure on both sides: businesses that need more workers, and citizens who attribute the peace and harmony in Japan to its lack of foreigners. Based on violence seen throughout immigration in Europe, Japan is wary of long-term immigration. They would rather accept low skilled workers temporarily, in an attempt to fix their looming economic problems.

In other previous attempts to increase the labour supply in Japan, campaigns encouraging women and elderly have tried to promote participation in those industries. Businesses have fought to increase the retirement age in order to keep an adequate labour supply but alone it is not enough to fill the needs of today’s modern society.

High skilled workers are accepted longer term in Japan, but usually for up to 10 years. Acquiring permanent residency in Japan is extremely difficult and has a high rejection rate. Foreign students are common in Japan but many return back to their home countries after completion of their degrees. Low skilled workers are commonly looked down upon within society, but realistically, they are extremely important to the economy.

Foreigner Working in Japan

If the Abe administration starts accepting more low skilled workers, with a positive impact, it could change the immigration stance in Japan. Successful social integration, as well as improved economic performance, could be very persuasive in relaxing immigration policies. This is an extremely controversial topic in Japan, but as time goes on, it becomes an economic necessity, in order for the population to survive, and Japan to continue to be on the cutting edge of technology and global leaders, increased immigration must occur, even if it’s starting at the bottom with low skilled workers. Every structure needs a good foundation, even metaphorical ones.

Only time will tell the impacts of this new work permit, but the foreshadowed effects of the ageing population are certain. Japan is losing its labour force, and an increased number of workers are needed especially to aid the ageing population. This is the right first step for the Abe administration, an almost sure recognition of the fact that Japan needs immigrants. Hopefully, society accepts them as well, and Japan begins to prosper again.