Japanese Depopulation & Few Foreign Workers

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 5/19/2014 02:00:00 AM
For all its current woes, there is no doubt that the United States remains an attractive destination for skilled migrant workers. Despite its current bedraggled state, there is no doubt that American is still the place to be in any number of areas: creative industries, finance, technology....the list is lengthy. In comparison, there isn't even a single "must join" industry prominent mostly in Japan that compels expatriates to go there. Besides difficulties learning the language--Japanese is an order of a magnitude more difficult to learn than English--their society is also more difficult into. All the while, deflation and depopulation mutually reinforce each other in unproductive ways.

It's not that Japan hasn't been trying to attract migrant workers to help arrest its population slide and make the country more attractive to foreigners. Copying the likes of Australia, Canada and other countries of emigration, Japan instituted a points-based highly skilled foreign professionals scheme to hopefully attract these desired knowledge workers in May 2012. Unlike those English-speaking countries, however, the results in Japan have been decidedly underwhelming. As the pie chart indicates, those coming in under these program represent around 1.1% of the total number of overseas residents in Japan.
Dismayed by the poor performance, the government is now eyeing a review of the system in the near future, and may lower hurdles to qualification while tweaking the benefits. The Justice Ministry says the changes will hopefully take effect by the end of this year. But some experts say that only by a more fundamental overhaul will the program truly become attractive for foreigners worldwide, arguing its perks need to go beyond simply relaxing immigration rules for the eligible...

Many saw this as Japan’s belated effort to cope with its rapidly atrophying labor force and low birthrate. The threat of a demographic crisis looms large in the nation, as the total population is estimated to plummet to about 90 million by 2050 from the current 127 million.
To say that foreign response is underwhelming is an understatement since few outside of those already working in Japan bothered to apply:
Despite the original target of 2,000 registrants per year, the program had lured just 434 people as of April 6, according to the latest data, including a mere 17 who applied to the program from overseas and used the points-based system to enter the country [my emphasis]. Of the total, Chinese accounted for an overwhelming 57 percent, followed by Americans at 7 percent and Indians at 4 percent.
Even the already converted, especially foreigners studying in Japan, have an exceedingly hard time getting in under the current scheme. Meanwhile, proposals to make Japanese employment a more enticing prospect for expatriates have been shot down one by one due to political sensitivities over rolling out the welcome mat to gaijin (foreigners):
Compared with other nations’ systems, experts say the Japanese version sets the bar too high in terms of eligibility requirements for applicants. The conditions for annual income and educational background in particular are so demanding that they virtually eliminate any chance foreign students in Japan are able to qualify...Overseas students [in Australia by comparison] with certain qualifications, such as completion of at least two years of course studies, go through a designated points test. Once deemed eligible, foreign students can obtain permanent residency while also enjoying a slew of other benefits, including discounted health care and access to certain social security payouts...

The Japanese version’s penchant for focusing on annual earnings and academic accomplishments clearly signals the government’s intention to only accept individuals who are already “established,” Sato said. Researchers, for example, may be awarded an extra 15 points if they have published three papers in the nation’s well-known scholarly journals. Sato believes this kind of utter indifference to young hopefuls makes the Japanese system “severely flawed...”

Ideas that emerged included offering eligible foreigners income tax cuts, addressing their criticisms of Japan’s seniority-based corporate society, and improving laboratory environments for researchers, according to Immigration Bureau official Yusuke Takeuchi. None of these dramatic reforms, however, got the green light, he said, as such measures would have necessitated financial commitment. Easing immigration rules, on the other hand, wouldn’t cost the government a dime.
The Abe government has been pushed into defensive mode over Japan's scheme drawing flies compared to Anglophone countries. Especially galling to some would-be expatriates are limitations on whom they can bring:
This past February, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told the Diet that foreign workers in specialized and technological fields will contribute to "galvanizing" the economy. Yet the numbers reveal meager results. In the 20 months through January [2014], the government certified some 900 highly skilled foreign professionals. That translates to about 50 per month -- less than one-third the pace the Ministry of Justice expected.

Some who look into Japan's preferential treatment find the restrictions tarnish any appeal. An Indian IT expert who works for a major Japanese financial institution wanted to bring a parent over. Eventually, he wanted to start a family, and he hoped to have some help with child-rearing. Professionally, he met the conditions. But when he spoke with an administrative scrivener in January, he was informed he was out of luck because he did not already have a child. "Then there is no point in being certified as a highly skilled foreign professional," the man said.
Program implementation has been universally panned by English-language Japanese media, which tends to be more cosmopolitan. Having singularly failed to encourage more births, the options left on the table are few. The highly skilled foreign worker scheme is meant to invite those with a good change of integrating into Japanese society, but it hasn't worked. Moreover, alike in many economies the world over, there isn't necessarily a demand for highly skilled workers but just workers, period. The Japanese can pile the incentives and see if that makes foreigners come in the numbers originally anticipated, but those numbers are actually comically small (150 persons a month) compared to the rate of repopulation required to keep Japan from shrinking.

I think it's really time Japan threw the gates open to even unskilled workers willing to assimilate given the country's minuscule birth rates. If skilled workers cannot be made to come to Japan, workers period may just do the trick There aren't any real options left on the table as natalist policies in modern-day Japan would not exactly have good prospects of succeeding, either. It needs a coherent strategy that leaves others in no doubt that Japan welcomes them, most likely.