Age of Abe
Japan Cracks Open the Immigration Door

Facing a serious demographic crisis and with Abenomics sputtering, Prime Minister Abe is rolling out a “bold proposal” to escape the population trap: pathways for more foreign workers. The Wall Street Journal reports:

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government is easing the path for foreign workers, with new policies that include a pledge to deliver the world’s fastest permanent-residency cards for skilled migrants.

A set of immigration measures, including that one, was buried amid dozens of ideas released last week in Mr. Abe’s annual list of policy changes. The government also said it planned to bring in more workers for understaffed nursing homes and 2020 Tokyo Olympics construction projects.

And it promised to raise the proportion of foreign students in Japan who stay in the country to work after finishing their studies. That figure, which is currently around 30% according to a labor ministry official, is targeted to rise above 50%.

The plan is a cautious one, and that’s probably for the best; Japan has historically had a very tough time absorbing new populations. Tokyo will be much more careful to open its doors than Western countries have been: None of the recent proposals clears the way for the permanent settlement of immigration populations, for instance. Nevertheless, the move is genuinely “bold” and particularly so for conservatives like Abe who are cut from traditionalist cloth. It is the latest demonstration of Abe’s willingness to push aside conventions in order to promote growth.

Such pragmatism should be appreciated elsewhere. The West has been stumbling in the dark on immigration, and leaders are suffering a serious political toll.  Japan has always walked a different path. Whether Tokyo can provide an alternative model to the immigration dysfunction elsewhere is an open question—but it’s one worth asking.

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