New aspects of Japan’s immigration policies: is population decline opening the doors?

Akashi, Jun'ichi GND

This paper examines the possible impacts of rapid aging and population decline on Japan’s immigration policies. It is commonly understood that Japanese governments have shown a considerably restrictive attitude toward the acceptance of foreigners. In fact, immigrants and even foreign workers were not officially accepted in Japan unless they were highly skilled professionals. At the same time, recent initiatives such as the Economic Partnership Agreement about foreign health care workers from Indonesia and the Philippines, the third-country refugee program, and the point system for highly skilled foreign workers have shown a previously unseen dynamic in the respective policy fields. Similarly, a larger number of policy recommendations have called for changes of the current system and the official recognition of immigration. Do these developments signal a turn in Japanese immigration policies? This paper gives a comprehensive overview of the current state of Japanese immigration policies. Considering the background and the consequences of recent policy activities and recommendations, it will be argued that the Japanese government even now is not intending to open the country to foreigners. This adhering to past principles is attributable to difficulties in consensus building and a strong reluctance to make the topic as such a political issue. These problems can be observed not only on the level of the ministries and government offices, but also between and within the political parties.