A prior post discussed Japan’s economic problems created by its aging, declining workforce and population. In reaction to those problems, Japan has adopted a new law, effective this April, to encourage immigration, but with limitations designed to prevent social and political turmoil that the U.S. and Europe have been experiencing from immigration.
The new law was proposed by Prime Minister Shinzō Abe, who made an economic argument for welcoming overseas workers. He has said they would boost the economy and fill jobs that Japanese people often don’t want. However, Mr. Abe “told a group of economic officials and business leaders he has “no intention of implementing a so-called immigration policy,” meaning he didn’t envision setting a target for permanent admissions of immigrants.
Instead, he said, the point was “to aid sectors of the economy in real need by accepting foreign workers for limited stays and without their family members.” Initially only five sectors or industries were proposed for coverage by the new law, but after complaints by other industries, the scope of the program was expanded to 14 industries.
The new visa program requires candidates to prove a basic level of Japanese-language ability. The language requirement is important to foster acceptance of foreign workers and discourage cultural enclaves that could trigger a backlash, said Junko Yagasaki, a law professor at Meiji University in Tokyo.
In many cases, foreign workers in Japan cannot bring family members and can’t stay longer than five years. Only in the most labor-starved industries can foreigners secure a path to permanent residency—and the government can cut off the flow if the shortage eases.”
In addition, the new program allows the government to dial back immigration if there is a recession or technological shift that eliminates the need for foreign help. Economists at Mitsubishi Research Institute forecast that Japan’s labor shortage will peak at around two million people next year and gradually fall back to zero around 2028 because of expected advances in robotics and artificial intelligence.
Japan expects to use the new program to admit around 340,000 foreign workers in lower-skilled positions over the next five years. “In the past four years, the number of foreign workers in Japan has nearly doubled to 1.46 million, and the new visa system promises to accelerate the influx.”
 Gale & Davis, The Great Immigration Experiment: Can a Country Let People in Without Stirring Backlash?, W.S.J. (Sept. 11, 2019).