Date
8 December 2016
With a rapidly aging population, Japan needs care givers and other service workers. Five-year guest worker visas are in the pipeline. Photo: BBC
With a rapidly aging population, Japan needs care givers and other service workers. Five-year guest worker visas are in the pipeline. Photo: BBC

Japan opens up to foreign workers but there’s a catch

Japan is opening its doors to construction workers, care givers, store clerks and others — but for a limited time only.

The number of foreign workers, although still relatively small, has nearly doubled over the past eight years.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ruling party is considering policies to speed up arrivals, Bloomberg reports.

Japan will allow more unskilled workers to enter temporarily as companies struggle to fill positions in a country with the lowest unemployment rate among G7 nations.

Abe has made it clear that opening the country to permanent immigration by unskilled labor is not an option, reflecting a historic fear among the Japanese people that foreigners would cause social unrest and erode national identity.

Masahiko Shibayama, a lawmaker and adviser to Abe, is among those testing the boundaries as policymakers seek to meet the needs of a country with a shrinking population.

He has called for a guest-worker program that would give five-year visas for sectors suffering from labor shortages.

Yet, he said that even a recent tourism boom has raised questions among Japanese about how many foreigners should be here.

“I think it’s important to establish a culture that accepts foreign workers. However, in the case of Japan, it’ll be totally different from the large number of refugees that went to Europe, so I don’t think public opinion will be split on the issue.”

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