This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Monday, July 9, 2018

Japan is Admitting More Immigrant Workers--Very Cautiously

Japan has entered its long-expected decline in population, and this seems finally to have awakened the idea that immigrants might be useful to the economy. A story in this week's Economist shows the tentative steps being taken.
Acceptance of foreign labour is gradually increasing in Japan, one of the world’s most homogenous countries, where only 2% of residents are foreigners, compared with 16% in France and 4% in South Korea. A poll conducted last year found opinion evenly split about whether Japan should admit more foreign workers, with 42% agreeing and 42% disagreeing. Some 60% of 18-29-year-olds, however, were in favour, double the share of over-70s.
Whatever Japanese think of them, foreign workers have become a fact of life, at least in cities. There are 1.3m of them, some 2% of the workforce—a record. Although visas that allow foreigners to settle in Japan are in theory available only to highly skilled workers for the most part, in practice less-skilled foreigners are admitted as students or trainees. The number of these has been rising fast. Almost a third of foreign workers are Chinese; Vietnamese and Nepalese are quickly growing in number.
Pressure from business lies behind the change in attitudes, both societal and official. Over the past 20 years the number of workers below 30 has shrunk by a quarter. In addition, the ageing population is creating jobs that few Japanese want at the wages on offer, most notably as carers. There are 60% more job vacancies than there are people looking for work. Industries such as agriculture, construction and nursing are increasingly dependent on foreigners. Some 8% of Sakura no Mori’s staff are foreign, as are 7% of workers at 7 Eleven, Japan’s biggest convenience-store chain. 
The government does not allow these immigrants to bring in family members and many are required to frequently renew their visas, presumably so that the government could send them home at any time. In most jobs they must also become fluent in Japanese which, unlike English, is not regularly learned in countries outside of Japan. It is likely that as the demographic pressure increases over the next few decades, the walls built up against immigration will have increasingly larger cracks in them.

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