Ageing population and prediction of 8 million fewer workers by 2030 spurs calls for government to accept migrants and refugees
Japan’s workforce is predicted to shrink by nearly 8 million within 15 years, spurring calls for more immigration.
Divisions have opened up in Japan’s government over the country’s refusal to accept even a modest increase in the numbers of refugees and immigrants, as a senior UN official called on Tokyo to do more to help resettle people fleeing conflicts in Syria and Iraq.
Shigeru Ishiba, who is in charge of revitalising regional economies, said Japan should accept more immigrants, and pointed to the acceptance of Japanese migrants in South America early last century as proof that integration can work.
The decision by the prime minister, Shinzo Abe, to rule out any relaxation of Japan’s strict refugee policy has prompted criticism of Japan’s strict policy on asylum. Last year, it received a record 5,000 applications but accepted just 11 people.
Ishiba, who is expected to challenge for the leadership of the governing Liberal Democratic party in three years’ time, is one of a growing number of government figures who believe that controlled immigration could help rescue the economy amid an expected decline in the number of workers.
“Given that Japan’s population is in decline, the government should promote policies that accept immigrants into Japan,” he said this week. “It is wrong thinking that foreigners must not come to Japan.
“It is necessary for the government to implement policies that do not cause any discomfort for us or for immigrants in terms of language, customs and other areas.”
Earlier this month, Taro Kono, the minister for administrative reform and head of the national police agency, said that relaxing immigration laws could help Abe reach his target of boosting GDP from the current 491 trillion yen to 600 trillion yen [5 trillion US dollars] by the end of the decade.
But the chief cabinet secretary, Yoshihide Suga, quickly dismissed Kono’s suggestion. “Foreign countries have undergone difficult experiences,” Suga said. “We should be careful about accepting immigrants.”
Government data released this week showed the number of workers in Japan is projected to fall by 7.9 million, or 12.4%, to 55.61 million in 2030. Its population of around 128 million will fall to 86 million in 2060, with the proportion of people aged 65 or over reaching nearly 40% of the total, according to government forecasts.
Abe, however, ruled out any significant change to Japan’s closed-door approach to immigration at the UN general assembly in New York in September.
“It is an issue of demography,” he said. “I would say that before accepting immigrants or refugees, we need to have more activities by women, elderly people and we must raise our birth rate. There are many things that we should do before accepting immigrants.”
Japan is also coming under international pressure to help ease the refugee crisis in Europe, although it is a major donor of humanitarian aid for refugees and has pledged financial support for countries affected by the conflict with Islamic State.
Its refusal to accept more refugees contrasts with other non-European countries such as Australia, which has offered to take in 12,000 extra refugees; and Canada, which has promised to resettle a total of 25,000 people.
Antonio Guterres, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, said during a visit to Japan this week that he “would like the Japanese government to push its actions … to increase the number of people resettled in Japan, and especially now to look into the humanitarian admissions of Syrians”.
Guterres, who said he had been discussing the issue with officials in Tokyo, added that Japan should “progressively improve the asylum system here … to make it more effective in the reception and in the recognition and integration of refugees in Japanese society”
Originally Shared On : Guardian
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