Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Can Japan Overcome the Immigration Policy Dilemma?
MENJU Toshihiro / Managing Director, Japan Center for International Exchange

December 16, 2021
Rapid decline in population and increase in foreign residents
Now in the 2020s, Japan has entered the phase of rapid depopulation. The National Institute of Population and Social Security Research is assuming that the drop in population in the 2020s will reach 5.5 million people, more than double the 2010s level.

This was further aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The number of births in 2020 was 840,000, marking the lowest on record, and the birthrate fell more rapidly than expected, to 1.34%.

While depopulation accelerated, the number of foreign residents continued to increase until the outbreak of COVID-19. By the end of 2019, the number reached a record-high of 2,930,000, an increase of 200,000 people in one year (7.4% growth). Although the number of new entrants decreased amidst the outbreak of COVID-19, the total number of foreign residents at the end of 2020 remained at 2,890,000, showing only a 1.6 percent yearly drop, underscoring the fact that the foreign residents are settling down in the country.

Foreigners in distress under the COVID-19 pandemic
Were the lives of those foreign residents stable under the pandemic?

At the end of October 2020, the number of migrant workers rose to a record high of 1,720,000, of which those working with either non-regular employment or indirect employment status accounted for an extremely high proportion. As a consequence, many of the migrant workers lost their jobs upon the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic, and were forced to take shorter working hours, and fell into distress.

When an NPO, Anti-Poverty Network, distributed the money raised through the fund-raising campaign “Emergency Mutual Support Fund”, it became apparent that there were many foreigners in acute need, and 67 percent of the recipients turned out to be foreign residents. Similarly, when Second Harvest, an NPO giving food aid to the needy, provided food support in September 2020, over 70 percent of the recipients were foreigners.

Immigration policy dilemma
The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the settlement of foreign residents and their unstable social status. The lack of clear immigration policy on the part of the Japanese government and its ambiguous attitude toward foreign residents seem to have resulted in the immigrant’s unstable employment status and the delay in their Japanese language education. Even among those who have resided in Japan for a long period, the majority had a low proficiency of Japanese. It became evident that should they lose their jobs, their lack of solid Japanese language skill rendered their re-employment extremely difficult.

The continuing ambiguous attitude of the Japanese government toward immigrant issues is attributable in part to the strident call by certain forces to stigmatize “immigrants”, deeming it a taboo subject. As a result, Japan is trapped in an “immigration policy dilemma”, whereby the foreigners who have in effect settled down in Japan cannot be accepted as “immigrants”. However, as economic recovery proceeds across the world, it is highly likely that there will be a fierce global competition to secure competent human resources. Japan must pull itself out of this immigration dilemma immediately if only to secure human resources.

Expectations placed on the Kishida administration
Prime Minister Kishida’s administration was inaugurated in October 2021. Although the administration has not made clear statement regarding immigrants, it has started to consider, within the framework of the resident status and specialized skills that allow foreign blue workers to work, expanding the job categories which would open the way for them to have accompanying families with them and gain permanent resident status. This is seen by the Japanese media and experts as a positive posture of the government towards accepting immigrants.

At the end of 2018, the Abe administration went ahead with implementing “comprehensive measures for acceptance of and co-existence with foreign human resources”, while disavowing the adoption of any “immigration” policies, and kicked off inter-ministry cooperation for supporting foreign residents. Further, many municipal organizations rapidly adopted “plain Japanese”, an easy-to-understand Japanese for foreigners, and the movement is gradually being spread among some parts of the private sector as well.

Although the policies for acceptance of immigrants are evolving in various fields, there remains uncertainty. The prefectural assembly of Nagano passed a resolution back in October 2020, requesting the government to legislate the basic law for multicultural coexistence, as a step toward asking for a more definite central government response. In order to make a clear break from the immigration policy dilemma, the Kishida administration will need to articulate its position regarding “immigrants”, and make it known both at home and abroad that Japan is making positive changes.

Toshihiro Menju is Managing Director, Japan Center for International Exchange.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

毛受 敏浩 / (公財)日本国際交流センター 執行理事

2021年 12月 16日








2018年末、安倍政権では移民政策をとらないとしながらも「外国人材の受け入れ・共生のための総合的対応策」を開始し、在留外国人の支援を行う省庁間の政策協調が始まった。また多くの自治体においては外国人にとって理解が容易な「やさしい日本語(plain Japanese)」の採用が急速に浸透し、一部の企業にも広がりつつある。


一般社団法人 日本英語交流連盟

English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Can Japan Overcome the Immigration Policy Dilemma?