Drastic rise in Japan’s migrant intake urged

June 17, 2008                                                                                            Win a green card Subscribe in a reader

JAPAN would sweep aside centuries of resistance to cultural diversity under an ambitious proposal to prop up its dwindling population and rescue its economy with skilled migrants.

A group of 80 politicians from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party has called for a drastic increase in the ratio of immigrants in Japan to 10% of the population about 10 million people within 50 years. Presently the country’s 2.08 million registered foreigners make up 1.6% of the population. Australia’s foreign-born population, by contrast, exceeds 20%.

In their "Japanese-model immigration policy", to be presented to Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda this week, the politicians declare: "There is no effective remedy to save Japan from a population crisis. (But) in order for Japan to survive, it must open its doors as an international state to the world and shift towards establishing an ’immigrant nation’ by accepting immigrants and revitalising Japan."

On current demographic trends, Japan will lose 70% of its workforce within 40 years. By then more than 40% of the population will be over 65.

Analysts agree that unless dramatic action is taken, the damage to the world’s second-biggest economy will be disastrous. If Japan is to rely on immigrants as a solution, it will need to put aside generations of wariness and, in some cases, outright mistrust of foreigners.

Despite a steady fall in crime over the past 60 years including a 6.9% decrease from 2006 to 2007 most Japanese are convinced the country is in the grip of a crime wave, and many blame foreigners.

Almost 85% of people surveyed by the Cabinet Office last year said public safety had deteriorated in the previous decade, and more than 55% blamed foreigners. That is despite the fact that the foreigner crime rate, minus visa violations, was recently put at 0.08% less than a third of the rate for Japanese.

In a recent interview, Mr Fukuda said: "There are people who say that if we accept more immigrants, crime will increase. Any sudden increase in immigrants causing social chaos (and) social unrest is a result that we must avoid by all means."

Other conservative politicians, such as former health minister Hakuo Yanagisawa, say women should do more to lift the birthrate. He caused uproar last year when he described women as "birth-giving machines" who should do "their best per head" to provide children for the nation.

The new draft policy, however, signals a growing resignation in the political establishment to the need for help from outside the country.

Japan Immigration Policy Institute director Hidenori Sakanaka has said that "as a first step, Japanese society will need to move away from valuing homogeneity and wariness of individualism and begin respecting and embracing individual differences. Looking at the way corporations employ foreign workers it is clear that new arrivals are not granted the same treatment as native Japanese."

The policy proposes taking in up to 1000 asylum seekers, and argues that any foreigner based in Japan for 10 years or longer should be granted nationality.

The policy, devised at the instigation of former secretary-general Hidenao Nakagawa, says Japan must focus on developing the migrants’ skills by providing education and training. It calls for the creation of an immigration agency and an anti-discrimination law.

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