THE QUESTION RELATIVE TO IMMIGRATION IN JAPAN
We have talked about immigration in Japan with Pierre Boussard, head of sales and business development for Japan Mobility.
Japan Mobility is the specialist in relocation assistance for expatriates transferred to or hired in Japan. They assist their customers all across the country, from Okinawa to Hokkaido, by offering the full scope of relocation services: visa application, home search/school search, settling-in assistance, cross-cultural training, driving license conversion, 24-hour helpline, with a "Making It Easier" philosophy.
It's a surprise to no one, the Japanese population is ageing. With only 864,000 births in 2019, 6% decrease compared to 2018, the issue of birth rate due to population ageing is a real societal problem in Japan. The country with 120 million inhabitants has the oldest population in the world. How can this ageing be explained? What are the consequences? Is immigration a solution?
If today the Japanese archipelago has never known such a high average age, this is partly explained by a decrease in the birth rate and an increase in the life expectancy.
The decline in the birth rate is due to two factors: the first one is the rate of celibacy, which is constantly rising. Indeed, two-thirds of the 18/34 years old Japanese people are unmarried. It should be noted that births out of wedlock are perceived badly in this traditionalist society.
The second reason is the very high cost of living in Japan. The choice to have a child is often dismissed by young couples who are afraid to not be able to provide financial support for their child(ren). Today, starting a family and having children is not a priority for Japanese people. The average age of the first pregnancy among Japanese women is 30.7 years.
Births are rare, it is a fact. But the increase of the average age is also due to the ever-increasing life expectancy: 84 years old. This is the highest average age in the world. Quality of life and healthy food are the main reasons why life expectancy is so high. Professional activity is also a determining factor. Indeed, 1 in 4 people in Japan is over 65 years old, and some of them still work in the construction sector, which is booming. This occupation allows the Japanese to keep up a rhythm and physical activity and, in most cases, extends their longevity. But if the Japanese continue to work, it is not for pleasure but for necessity: their low pension often does not allow them to provide for their needs.
This ageing has serious consequences for the Japanese economy. Indeed, companies can no longer find staff with the competence needed to do the work. The country lacks of engineers, especially in technical fields such as aerospace, automobile...
There are small grocery stores all over the archipelago, open 24 hours a day called "Kombini". These convenience stores also offer banking, postal services, photocopying, and are an integral part of daily life. These shops have become part of Japanese customs and habits. If ten years ago, the staff at the cash desk was exclusively Japanese, the situation is changing today. Many of them are unqualified Vietnamese or Sri Lankan students, and some of these businesses are threatened with closure for lack of unfilled positions.
Japan has a shortage of both skilled and unskilled labor and this creates significant deficiencies. One of the solutions is therefore immigration, which is still a taboo subject in the archipelago.
Foreigners account for approximately 2% of the Japanese population. The most qualified come from the United States, Europe and more recently India. The least qualified are from Southeast Asia (mainly Vietnam) and Sri Lanka, where government agencies sometimes recruit and train them in their home countries before expatriating them to Japan. This practice is applied in particular in the hotel industry and in the assistance of the elderly.
The need for foreign labor is nevertheless a sensitive issue. Indeed, the Japanese are extremely attached to their culture where respect and harmony are paramount values. With the arrival of foreigners, the population is afraid of losing the ethnic homogeneity that has been established for hundreds of years. Aware that a lack of adaptability and investment by expatriates in their customs could weaken their society, the Japanese want at all costs to preserve this social harmony.
In view of its demographic situation and its population, even if the inhabitants disapprove it, Japan needs immigration. Immigration is done very slowly and can sometimes be complicated. The delay for issuing a work permit is from 1 to 3 months, and the Japanese immigration is known to be picky and requires a lot of details (motivation, background...). Even if the official criteria are met, they can refuse to issue a visa at the end of the process, without giving any reason. The lack of respect from some tourists towards Japanese customs does not help the reluctance of the population towards the arrival of expatriates. Settling in a new country means adapting to its values and respecting them.