Ja­pan passes im­mi­gra­tion law to lure work­ers

The State - - Business - BY SI­MON DENYER AND AKIKO KASHIWAGI

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.

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