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Japan Embraces Unprecedented Wave of Immigration

Japan Embraces Unprecedented Wave of Immigration

Apr 11, 2024

Japan Embraces Unprecedented Wave of Immigration

In a striking shift from its historically insular immigration policies, Japan has opened its doors to a rapidly increasing number of foreign workers, a move met with significant resistance from the Japanese public. According to a recent Bloomberg report, the number of foreign laborers in Japan has surged to an all-time high of 2 million, marking a dramatic rise of 250,000 within a span of just two years. Given Japan's size—merely a third of that of the United States—this influx is equivalent to a hypothetical addition of 6 million workers in the U.S.


The majority of these workers are engaged in blue-collar jobs, with around half a million in factory assembly lines, 600,000 in construction and retail, and 400,000 in services and caregiving. Some regions in Japan now report that one-fifth of blue-collar workers are foreign—a notable change in a country known for its homogeneous workforce. The Japanese government has set ambitious targets to further accelerate this trend, aiming to welcome an additional 300,000 blue-collar immigrants annually through 2041, with a pilot program seeking to attract 800,000 starting immediately.

This policy shift comes at a time when Japan faces a demographic crisis with an aging population and declining birthrate, necessitating a workforce boost to sustain economic vitality. However, the move is not without its critics. A 2018 survey cited by Bloomberg indicates that a mere 23% of Japanese citizens are in favor of increased immigration, with concerns about potential rises in crime and threats to social harmony and security.


Despite the public's apprehension, the impetus behind the push for mass immigration appears to stem from the corporate sector, which benefits from the influx of unskilled migrants willing to work for minimal wages, while the societal implications are left to be managed by others. This trend mirrors situations in other developed nations, where labor shortages in specific industries drive immigration policies.

The irony, however, is that Japan has a significant number of underemployed citizens, including approximately 5 million young adults in their twenties and thirties, and another 5 million individuals in their fifties. Furthermore, the plight of the Japanese working poor is highlighted by reports of individuals trapped in low-skill, low-wage jobs, such as convenience store workers earning just $5.71 an hour, barely scraping by with little hope of advancing economically.

The influx of low-skilled foreign workers, projected to reach 7 million by 2040, is likely to further depress wages for such jobs, exacerbating the challenges faced by the Japanese workforce. As Japan grapples with this new reality, it remains to be seen how the tension between voter opposition and the interests of powerful corporate lobbyists will unfold in the face of an immigration policy that has reached one of the world's last holdouts against mass immigration.


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