When migrants became denizens: understanding Japan as a reactive immigration country

Komine, Ayako

On the surface, Japan continues to be a non-immigration country. Economic migrants are never admitted as permanent residents at the point of initial entry and rarely viewed as immigrants any time afterward. At the same time, however, Japanese immigration policy has become markedly settlement oriented since the mid-2000s. The government has managed to cobble together a series of initiatives the total of which now has the appearance of an integration policy mostly targeting co-ethnic migrants, so-called nikkeijin. The country has also introduced a new points-based system which confers immigration privileges, such as family sponsorship and expedited access to permanent residence, on highly skilled migrants. By pointing at these policy examples, I demonstrate that Japan has become a de facto immigration country where some migrants are denizens or expected to become so. The present aim, then, is to explain why and how this shift has occurred despite the stasis which characterizes the policy façade. I argue that these changes are best understood as react- ive and incremental adjustments to unexpected outcomes of earlier policy deci- sions on the admission of both unskilled and highly skilled workers as temporary migrants.