Wednesday 30 August 2017

Why Japan has no immigration policy - and doesn't look likely to create one anytime soon

A slightly unorthodox blog post today, but I'll put my professor hat on and talk a little bit about my field of speciality - migration (or the lack of it) in Japan! I'm prompted by a flurry of media interest in the topic: I was contacted by CNN last month (spot the quote) and on Monday CNBC Asia (Street Signs) had me on via skype link for a brief live interview. See here for the video!

Three robots in the Softbank shop in Harajuku
Robots: Not the answer to Japan's labour shortages
A key theme seems to be incredulity that Japan doesn't seem to have the same sense of crisis over its demographic free-fall as shared by much of the rest of the world. Japan's population is set to plunge by 40% to 88 million by 2065 with over-65s accounting for almost 40%. Nevertheless, despite growing labour shortages, especially in areas such as nursing, caregivers for the elderly, construction, and agriculture, Japan still doesn't have a proper migration policy (imin-seisaku =移民政策). Why not? The simple answer is the perception - which has no statistical reality - that foreigners would harm public security/safety (chian =治安) and upset social harmony and cohesion. This is reinforced by reports of terrorist atrocities abroad and a still popular ideology of racial homogeneity at home. The result is plenty of backdoor schemes to solve the labour shortages - the Technical Intern Training Program (TITP) is increasingly being utilised for this purpose - but no stomach or political will to introduce a proper guest worker programme.

In sum, I would say that the Japanese have already accepted a smaller economy - and reduced influence in world affairs - if that is the price they have to pay to maintain social harmony and public security. There is really no reason to be particularly bewildered about this: policy-making is rarely logical and rational and more often based on images, perceptions, and emotions: policy has to resonate with the general public. Take Brexit for example: the British public, driven by discontent over migration, has decided to prioritise social harmony over the economy and move towards a tightening of borders and a "closing-in." Is this really much different from Japan?