JIN-372 -- Waking up to "the Issue of Immigration"

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Commentary on the Week's Business, Technology and Cultural News
Issue No. 372
Tuesday June 20, 2006 TOKYO

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@@ VIEWPOINT: Waking up to "the Issue of Immigration"

== Entrepreneur Association of Tokyo - July 11th - Speaker: Tim Romero ==

Presentation Title: "The Micro-Multinational Corporation - How outsourcing
and offshoring can be a viable strategy for small- and medium-sized
businesses." Tim will be discussing the alignment of interests, communication,
and quality control not only for software development, but for task and process
outsourcing in general. And perhaps, most important, how to tell if outsourcing
will actually save you money.
Date/Time: Tuesday, July 11th 7:00 pm
Location: City Club of Tokyo - Maple Room (Canadian Embassy Complex)
Language: English
Website: http://www.ea-tokyo.com
Email: info@ea-tokyo.com

@@ VIEWPOINT: Waking up to "the Issue of Immigration"

Immigration is a contentious issue in both the United States and Europe.
The US is being inundated with job seekers from Mexico and places
farther south, while France and Germany are being flooded with migrants
from Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Immigrants provide certain
industries with necessary labor, but are also blamed for depressing wages
and roiling the social order.

Many Japanese regard immigration as a "taigan no kaji," a fire on the
other side of the river. Certainly, from an institutional standpoint,
Japan has not put out a welcome mat in recent centuries. But many
Japanese feel the problem of foreign workers is a sign of a seismic
shift in Japanese society.

A nationwide survey about foreign migrant workers, the results of which
were published in the "Nikkei" of June 19, disclosed a disjunction between
the Japanese image of their country and reality. In reply to the question,
"How many foreigners live in Japan?" only a quarter of those surveyed
gave the correct figure, 2 million. The largest number, close to 30
percent, replied 1 million. As well, most respondents underestimated
the number of entrants to Japan, which was 7.45 million last year.

There has been a dramatic rise in the number of foreign migrants to Japan.
The increase in Chinese residents has been especially pronounced. Over
the past decade their number has grown tenfold, to approximately 500,000.
The number of Brazilians and Peruvians of Japanese descent also continues
to rise.

The vast majority of Chinese enter Japan on student or trainee visas. Even
if they come to Japan not to study but to work, they outwardly remain
students or trainees. The number of trainees entering Japan has rapidly
increased since the implementation in 1993 of an on-the-job training
system in the name of contributing to developing nations.

The influx of South Americans has a different origin.

During the bubble economy of the 1980s, when Japan suffered a severe labor
shortage, the immigration law was changed to give special treatment to
people of Japanese descent. Japanese-South Americans, taking advantage
of the new law, flocked to Japan. Even after the bubble burst, there
are still no restrictions on the work they can perform.

In any case, many foreign nationals of Japanese ancestry perform the
manual jobs shunned by Japanese. For example, they shuck scallops,
manufacture simple parts, and demolish buildings. Many industries
could not survive without foreign labor.

There is a formal visa status for professionals, but none for unskilled
workers. The gap between the institutional stance and reality is
widening. This is referred to as the "foreign labor issue" in Japan,
but it is essentially the same as the immigration issue in America and
Europe. In answer to the question, "Should Japan accept more foreign
workers?" respondents were almost evenly divided, with 27.4 percent
in favor, 29.7 opposed, and others unsure.

Some reasons given for either viewpoint are encouraging. The most-oft
cited reason for accepting more foreign workers (above 50 percent)
was "It will globalize society," closely followed by "Migration across
borders is the trend of the times." This perhaps jibes with the
least-cited reason for opposing more migrant workers, "The mono-racial
society would disappear" (below 10 percent), for it may suggest
indifference or even rejection of the long-cherished ideal of a
racially homogeneous nation.

The mono-racial society is a myth; minorities have always lived in
Japan. The survey results can be interpreted as recognizing this belief
for the myth that it is.

With 2 million foreigners in their midst, the Japanese should stop
speaking of "the issue of foreign workers" and recognize "the issue
of immigration."

-- Burritt Sabin

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Written by Burritt Sabin


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