Coming soon to Japan: Unskilled immigrants?

ADEK BERRY/AFP/Getty Images It’s no secret that Japan has traditionally been averse to immigration. Many long-term immigrants wait eternally for Japanese citizenship. The Japanese parliament also recently approved a plan to fingerprint and photograph all adult foreigners entering Japan. But is the tide against foreigners turning in Japan? Possibly. According to a recent Mainichi newspaper ...

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597467_071227_japan_05.jpg
A young Japanese supporter waves the country's flag before the start of the third-place play-off match between Japan and South Korea for the Asian Football Cup 2007 tournament at the Jakabaring stadium in Palembang, 28 July 2007. After a gruelling tournament that ended in heartbreak, Japan and South Korea must lift themselves for their third-place match that will guarantee one of them qualification to the 2011 Asian Cup. AFP PHOTO/Adek BERRY (Photo credit should read ADEK BERRY/AFP/Getty Images)

ADEK BERRY/AFP/Getty Images

It's no secret that Japan has traditionally been averse to immigration. Many long-term immigrants wait eternally for Japanese citizenship. The Japanese parliament also recently approved a plan to fingerprint and photograph all adult foreigners entering Japan.

But is the tide against foreigners turning in Japan? Possibly. According to a recent Mainichi newspaper telephone survey, 63 percent of respondents favored allowing the immigration of unskilled foreign laborers, even though the Japanese government generally opposes such measures—opting instead for a "cautious" approach toward unskilled workers. Out of the 63 percent, 58 percent supported accepting unskilled foreign workers in fields facing worker shortages, and 5 percent believed that entry-level foreign workers should be accepted without conditions.

ADEK BERRY/AFP/Getty Images

It’s no secret that Japan has traditionally been averse to immigration. Many long-term immigrants wait eternally for Japanese citizenship. The Japanese parliament also recently approved a plan to fingerprint and photograph all adult foreigners entering Japan.

But is the tide against foreigners turning in Japan? Possibly. According to a recent Mainichi newspaper telephone survey, 63 percent of respondents favored allowing the immigration of unskilled foreign laborers, even though the Japanese government generally opposes such measures—opting instead for a “cautious” approach toward unskilled workers. Out of the 63 percent, 58 percent supported accepting unskilled foreign workers in fields facing worker shortages, and 5 percent believed that entry-level foreign workers should be accepted without conditions.

Hidenori Sakanaka, head of the Japan Immigration Policy Institute, believes the shift in favor of foreigners may be due to Japan’s enormous demographic challenge associated with its rapidly aging society. He also suggests the Japanese may gradually be appreciating the work already done in Japan by entry-level foreign workers in fields from nursing to agriculture, forestry and fisheries. Necessity may be the mother of invention—or in this case, acceptance—but it remains to be seen whether this is really a cultural shift toward embracing immigration. If legislation follows, I may be convinced.

Prerna Mankad is a researcher at Foreign Policy.

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