Updated: Feb 15, 2019
By Ishani Chettri ('20)
Earlier this month, Japan passed a new immigration law designed to attract about 345,000 foreign workers in the next five years. The law will take effect next April and showcases Japan’s increasing issue of population decline with more than 20% over the age of 65 and the fertility rate dropping from 2.1 children per woman to 1.4, as well as the estimated loss of 400,000 people per year.
The Washington Post stated that the new bill hopes to attract more immigrant workers to fill the increasing empty gaps in the Japanese workforce. However, opposition parties are skeptical of the law citing the new workers’ social inclusion and rights as well as the timeliness and the overly fast passage of the law without further consideration.
Additionally, Japan is known to have strict conservative views on immigration but due to the state of its economy, the Japanese government and supporters say its citizens must put aside their xenophobic views to make this plan successful.
As a response to the opposition parties’ questions regarding the immigrant workers’ social inclusion and rights, it is predicted that they will be paid the same as their Japanese counterparts in jobs that are both low and high-skill jobs, specifically in certain areas of work such as construction, elder care, and the hotel industry.
They will also be provided language classes in Japanese due to a requirement of being proficient in Japanese to work a job. Meanwhile, the bill is expected to allow workers to obtain a five-year visa with the potential to extend their stay to five more years with a second type of visa.
But do immigrants even want to stay for that long? While receiving a permanent residency in Japan would mean more workers, immigrant workers would have to get to used to the Japanese culture and way of life, something that is difficult to accomplish for anyone who has to leave their home country.
Why are the opposition parties against this possibly sustainable economic plan? According to an CNN article, Japan has tried plans like this before in the 1990s where they tried to recruit descendants of Japanese immigrants that lived in Latin America after World War II. However during the 2008 recession, the government forced those immigrants to go back to their home countries due to lack of economical support.
Currently, there is already an existing plan where about 250,000 foreigners are working in Japan. The opposition parties want to abolish this law before this new bill goes into effect. Already, conflicts have risen within the preexisting immigration workforce bill as workers are overworked, paid very little, and get little to no training. Additionally, the rushed planning and questionable treatment of the workers makes the intent of the new immigration bill difficult to determine.
President of the Model UN club and senior Soham Warik said, “In my opinion, I think Japan might be able to sustain this bill at least for short run because it allows there to be a short run upheaval of workers and encourages there to be a boost for the diminishing workforce. Unfortunately, the issue will be in the long-run effects since the workers will only be able to stay for 5 years and the time after that would be a period of decline again for the workforce. Regardless, Japan has implemented this kinds of policy before and it can use the information and lessons from that to better guide these new amendments.”
Japan is not the only country headed towards the path of an older population. The problem of a decreasing workforce is an issue the USA, UK, Singapore, and France, among others, will have to deal with by 2030.
While the USA is building more on its anti-immigration policies, Japan is taking the opportunity to include more immigrants despite its conservative stance. However, the possibility that the USA will end up using similar tactics if the population declines seems unlikely.
Global Studies teacher and Model UN advisor Mr. Scott Wissocki said, “The situation in Japan isn't really comparable to the United States as they have a population that is among the oldest in the world, which is causing a strain on the economy. Meanwhile, the immigration issues we are dealing with in the United States are very different, and will probably always be very different. We will likely never have an issue finding immigrants who want to come here to work as our problem is that we have too many people who want to come here. So even though immigration is a hot button issue for both the United States and Japan, the issues are not very similar.”
This may be occurring on the other side of the world, but it does not mean that students in the USA shouldn’t care as the likelihood of a population crisis is slowly becoming apparent in the western world as well. In fact, more and more students are becoming more interested in global and current events due to schools’ implementations of clubs like Model UN and prolonging the graduation requirements for social studies.
Warik said, “I do feel to some extent that some students are encouraged to pursue global affairs because of the nature of assignments that they encounter in school, but in my opinion, that's not necessarily a bad thing. It still gives them exposure to the content areas and encourages them to explore a little more.”
As of now, Japan has no other way to fill in their decreasing workforce and are resorting to immigrants, but the chances of success are unreliable. Bringing in more immigrants could potentially save their population crisis but past and current efforts prove otherwise.
Junior Shibani Athreya said, “It’s good that Japan is bringing in more workers as they have more of an opportunity to increase their population in a clever way by also gaining more capital. With more people residing in Japan, the economy will also spur vastly.”
Whatever Japan decides to do in the future for their work force could ultimately signal the same kind of fate for other developed nations around the world as well.