Japan passes immigration law to lure workers
Japan’s parliament passed a new immigration law Saturday that aims to attract 345,000 foreign workers over the next five years, seeking to plug gaps in the country’s rapidly shrinking and aging workforce.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government forced through the new law despite protests from opposition parties that argued the legislation was vague and hastily drawn up. Critics also claim it fails to address the question of social inclusion and rights for foreign workers.
But the law is driven by some inescapable demographic pressures. The fertility rate has fallen to 1.4 children per woman, far below the replacement rate of 2.1, while the population is already dropping by about 400,000 people a year.
That places a significant burden on Japan’s economy, with fewer taxpayers and more dependents. The proportion of people over 65 years old has already risen to 28 percent – one of the highest in the world.
Even with the new measures, Japan keeps one of the tightest reins on immigration among industrialized nations. Yet Abe’s government – like others in the West – must increasingly grapple with an eco- nomic future that depends on bolstering the workforce from the outside.
Japan’s upper house of parliament passed the law by 161 votes to 76 just after 4 a.m. Saturday morning, after a day when the opposition parties raised a series of unsuccessful blocking motions. It followed a vote in the lower chamber last week, with Abe’s ruling coalition enjoying large majorities in both houses. It will come into effect next April.
The legislation is designed to attract “semiskilled workers” across a range of industries where shortages are most severe, including construction, the hotel industry, cleaning and elderly care.
They will be allowed in on an initial five-year visa, with the possibility to then qualify for a second type of visa for an additional fiveyear period.
To address concerns that the immigrants would depress wages for Japanese workers, the new law stipulates they must be paid the same as their Japanese peers. But many other details – including rules to prevent labor abuses – remain to be fleshed out and are due to be specified in a Justice Ministry ordinance before the end of the year.
The current program is supposed to bring in workers from other Asian countries to gain skills in Japan.