The number of working foreigners in Japan has more than doubled in the past decade to 1.3 million, but that remains below 2 percent of the total labour force. This compares with 17% in the United States.
A third of Japan’s construction workers are at least 55 years old, compared to 21% in the U.S. The increasing number of Japanese citizens over 65 years of age has intensified the need for caregivers for the elderly. Foreign caregiver qualifications are not recognized in Japan and migrant nursing workers must pass a certification course.
Japan long ago adopted a policy to accept just high-skilled foreign workers, and only as non-immigrants. But chronic labour shortages – especially in construction, shipbuilding, agriculture, healthcare, hospitality, and manufacturing – have caused the Japanese government to liberalise its immigration policy. In June, 2018, the government announced plans to create a new, five-year permit system that would accept 500,000 low-skilled non-Japanese laborers by 2025.
One important but as yet unresolved issue is whether the country should accept immigrants who are given open-ended permission to stay (i.e., permanent residency) or accept foreigners only as non-immigrant guest workers who are allowed to stay temporarily.
In May 2012, a points-based system for highly skilled professional (HSP) workers was introduced in three fields: advanced academic research, advanced specialty/technology, and advanced business management. Points are assigned according to various criteria, such as education, work history, annual income, age, and research record.
The government introduced a faster-track points-based application process in April 2017. Under this system, HSPs who earn 70 points or more can apply for permanent resident status after a three-year stay in Japan. Those who earn 80 points or more can apply after only one year.
Recent pushback from the domestic labour market indicates that the government might need to conduct more extensive consultations. It might become necessary to introduce certain labour market tests, such as requiring employers who plan to hire foreign workers to show they have attempted to recruit domestic workers beforehand.