Here’s this week’s Media Mix, which is about a proposed revision to existing immigration laws that would allow more foreign workers to stay in Japan indefinitely. If the revision passes, it would go into effect probably as early as the spring. At the moment, of course, non-resident foreigners in general are not being allowed into Japan, so there isn’t a whole lot of formal debate over the matter. As pointed out in the column, however, there is a lot of circumstantial evidence being presented in the media that such a revision could prove to be controversial if only because a similar revision was controversial in 2019. It’s going forward because the ruling Liberal Democratic Party has already formulated a policy to relax residency rules for foreign workers in order to alleviate some of the labor pressures on employers. What they haven’t done is relax entry procedures, per se, so foreign workers, specifically laborers and service workers, would still have to get into Japan mainly through the equally controversial technical trainee program or as students who are allowed to work a certain number of hours a week or month. Companies who recruit white collar specialists already have greater freedom to hire foreigners, but that isn’t where the need is right now, so it will be interesting to see if the government relaxes entry requirements for laborers and service workers as well.
It may prove to be even more difficult since those who oppose any increase in the number of resident foreigners will make noise. When the last revision was implemented in 2019, Sakura TV, a web channel run by powerful right wing players in the media and government, including Nippon Kaigi (Japan Conference), protested loudly, but despite the fact that many LDP members also belong to Nippon Kaigi the revision went into effect. One conservative politician complained about the revision by falsely claiming that 85 percent of foreign workers who “ran away” from their employers did so in order to look for higher paying jobs. In actuality, they ran away because they couldn’t live on the money they were making, which is a very different thing. For this current revision, the pushback has mainly been on social media, which tried to pin the blame on Kishida, since some elements think Kishida is too “liberal” on certain issues, but the immigration policy that the revision advances was already designed by the LDP. It is, essentially, a cabinet decision. Some pundits have said that the reason the LDP boldly went ahead with the revision so soon after the last one is its victory in the recent lower house election. They are taking advantage of whatever momentum they have at the moment, and make no mistake: the impact of this kind of revision could be huge. One pundit compared it to the Status of Forces Agreement with the U.S. But as mentioned in the column, there will still be social barriers to foreign workers even if the structural ones are removed. Without coherent welfare policies that can help these workers adjust and assimilate, they might not want to stay in Japan indefinitely, and that may be what the conservatives are counting on. How it all plays out economically in the long run is anyone’s guess.