TT-698 -- Japan's Competition for Immigrants, ebiz news from Japan

* * * * * * * * * T E R R I E 'S T A K E * * * * * * *
A weekly roundup of news & information from Terrie Lloyd.

General Edition Sunday, Feb 17, 2013, Issue No. 698


- What's New -- Japan's Competition for Immigrants
- News -- First human trial of stem cell therapy
- Upcoming Events
- Corrections/Feedback
- Travel Picks -- Kushida Shrine, Fukuoka/Studio Ghibli, Ehime
- News Credits

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There is a significant online debate going on in the USA about the merits of a new bill being introduced by a bipartisan group of senators who want to loosen up America's immigration policy as it relates to green cards. Green cards are the primary way for non-citizens to work and are equivalent to permanent residency here in Japan (Japan also allowing workers in on a subgroup of lesser visas). The proposed legislation will increase the number of H-1B "specialty occupation" visas, such as Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) applicants, on the basis that there is both a shortage of these people and that businesses hiring them become successful and create more jobs for more people downstream.

Whether STEM candidates are in fact in short supply in the US is debatable, but it is interesting to see special interest groups there push so hard to allow technology immigrants an easier path into the country. It's a clear indication that the USA wants to keep the world's best new technology start-ups there and not have them go somewhere else. Of course, this line of selective immigration policy is nothing new and indeed STEM candidates are sought after world-wide. Japan's own Highly Skilled Foreign Professional visa introduced in July last year targets a similar group of people and offers on a new points system a very easy 5-year work visa with all the trimmings. By "trimmings" we mean spouses and dependents not only can enter Japan but can also work, the applicant has the right to employ foreign home help (i.e., foreign nannies), and they get a fast-path to citizenship.

The Japanese professional visa is still too new to see any statistics yet, but even before it was introduced the number of STEM candidates coming to Japan was increasing -- perhaps due to the replacement of people fleeing the 3/11 disaster? In any case, we were surprised to learn that the Engineers category hit a 10-year high in 2011. So, does that mean that Japan may be quietly achieving a skills influx that will accelerate with the introduction of the new professional visa category? It's hard to say, but our guess is that if the new US bill does increase the H-1B cap from 65,000 people currently to 115,000, and depending on conditions, possibly up to 300,000, then we imagine this will impact the Japanese numbers negatively for at least a year or two.

[Continued below...]

------------- Job Vacancy, American Embassy -------------

Position: Commercial Assistant, Foreign Commercial Service, Japan
Experience: Either fully experienced or trainee
Timeframe: Urgent hire, applications close Feb 19th, 2013.
1. If experienced: professional service manager, analyst, and advisor to U.S. client firms. Provide advice and assistance in all aspects of facilitating the export of U.S. goods and services to Japan, and of attracting Japanese investment to the United States. Assist U.S. firms, conduct market research. Plan/organize trade-related programs and events for business and government.
2. If trainee: assist U.S. client firms in facilitating the export of U.S. goods and services to Japan and attracting Japanese investment to the United States. Market research, market trends analysis. Plan and organize programs and events to promote U.S. commercial interests.

For more details, see: (click Commercial Assistant opening), then submit your application to Human Resources Office, U.S. Embassy Tokyo. By post: 1-10-5, Akasaka, Minato-ku, Tokyo 107-8420 and by fax: 03-3224-5818.

[...Article continues]

Why? Well, since most skilled migrants come from China, India, and the Middle East, where educational standards are high and population size ensures only the best get through, English-speaking nations are perceived to offer better lifestyles and a clearer track to citizenship -- versus just being a place to go. Therefore, the preference is usually USA, Canada, then Australia. That said, we are aware of a significant number of Chinese people who couldn't get into the USA because of a 9-year backlog in green card applications (based on the US policy of limiting green cards to no more than 7% of applications per source country) and who therefore decided to come to Japan instead. Despite Japan's concern about hosting too many Chinese, the fact that these people originally learned English for a US sojourn now makes them trilingual and thus very appealing to multinationals.

It's hard to know what Japan could do to make itself more attractive to STEM candidates, although the preference for the US shows that lifestyle for any accompanying family is an important factor. To compete, Japan needs to set up international schools which are reasonably priced (i.e., they need to be publicly funded), housing in sympathetic and supportive communities, and support to help families integrate. This last item should be easy to do, and yet Japan is appallingly bad at helping newcomers integrate. For example, we know from personal experience that many wards in Tokyo have no meaningful accelerated language program for children of immigrants, meaning that these kids have to struggle for several years to try to understand lessons then another couple of years to catch up with their local peers. It must be hard for a highly qualified foreign engineer or scientist to focus on his/her work when the spouse and kids are busy complaining every evening about how they can't get things done because of language problems.

While we're at it, a law against racial discrimination against migrants (such as choosy landlords) is urgently needed in Japan as well.

Apart from STEM candidates, the other type of newcomer that migrant nations are increasingly targeting is the financial migrant -- whether an active business investor or a retiree. This type of migrant is an easy target for governments, because they bring fresh cash into the country without much associated cost -- i.e., they can be great medicine for improving a country's GDP figures. Australia launched in November last year a so-called 888 visa, which allows up to 1,000 applicants a year to invest AUD5m into government bonds, real estate, or companies. The visa has got the investment fund industry all excited, because they are expecting most of the money (up to AUD$5bn a year) to come to them.

The 888 visas primarily target Chinese wealthy individuals, and the usual immigration limitations on age and dependents have been set aside. It has been estimated that in China there are at least 28,000 ultra-high net worth (UHNW) and 440,000 high-net worth (HNW) individuals looking to emigrate. In case you were wondering, as we were, a UHNW individual is likely to have at least US$30m of net asset wealth, and US$5m-US$30m of investable assets. An HNW individual would have investable assets of US$1m (i.e., exclusive of real estate). Other countries that are targeting the Chinese include the ones on this list, with the usual enticements.

Looking at this list, for as little as US$100,000 you can pick up citizenship in Dominica -- although we're not sure anyone would actually want to live there. Probably a much more viable and flexible visa for Asia's new-rich, with prolonged work and residence rights as with a US green card, but not for eventual citizenship, is Malaysia's "My Second Home" (MMH2) category. We mentioned this in last week's Terrie's Take as being attractive to a small but growing number of Japanese (and non-Japanese alike). It requires the applicant to have JPY15m in liquid assets and off-shore income of JPY300,000 monthly. All quite doable for even modestly capitalized retirees and business owners.

We know that Japan is watching these immigration trends abroad with high interest. Several years ago we were told that METI was considering an entrepreneur visa, to make it easy for investors with limited funds but highly attractive business plans and work experience to come set up their operation in Japan. That visa never got off the ground, we assume because it was viewed as having too much potential for abuse.

But fear of abuse is a poor excuse for not addressing the obvious need that Japan has for more talented and prosperous immigrants. By simply limiting the numbers for a new program, it is easy for Japan to experiment with different offers and to see if this has the desired effect economically. The fact that the country is so close to China, if Japan was to offer a Malaysian-style second-home visa category which prevents citizenship but allows people to flow in and out freely from their retirement homes, then we believe it could attract billions of dollars of fresh money and give real estate in selected regions a real shot in the arm in the process.

...The information janitors/


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+++ NEWS

- Molex accounting fraud case almost resolved
- First human trial of stem cell therapy
- Orix to acquire Robeco asset management business
- Itochu leveraging subsidiaries in ticket sales push
- Rakuten group earnings hit record high

=> Molex accounting fraud case almost resolved

Victim of a massive fraudulent loan-and-futures scam by one of its own accounting managers here in Japan in 2010, Molex appears to have resolved the biggest issue relating to putting the fraud behind them. The company has announced that it has agreed with Mizuho Bank to make good on a JPY17bn settlement (yes, that's right, the fraud cost them US$180m!), which will cause Mizuho to drop the court case they had pending against the firm. ***Ed: You can read more about this sorry case here: Very good example of what can happen when there is insufficient oversight by a major firm of their generally reliable and honest Japanese subsidiaries.** (Source: TT commentary from -- Molex press release, Feb 15, 2013)

=> First human trial of stem cell therapy

Japan still has R&D power in some sectors, and one of these is stem cells. Apparently a Kobe-based lab called Center of Developmental Biology has received permission from a government regulators to start human testing of stem cells for age-related macular degeneration, in 2014. The trial will be small, just 6 people, but is thought to be the first officially sanctioned trial of man-made stem cell therapy globally. WHO says that macular degeneration is the third most common cause of blindness, after cataracts and glaucoma, thus providing Japan with a good reason to fast-track testing for that particular disease. (Source: TT commentary from, Feb 15, 2013)

=> Orix to acquire Robeco asset management business

The yen may have eased in value, but deals already in the pipe will continue for a while to come. The latest is the announcement that major financial services firm Orix will acquire the asset management business of Holland-based Rabobank, Robeco, for a cool JPY240bn, in a cash and stock deal. This will be the largest acquisition ever by Orix, and will give the company a more stable source of income than the trading businesses that it is typically in. (Source: TT commentary from, Feb 15, 2013)

=> Itochu leveraging subsidiaries in ticket sales push

In what appears a determined effort to breathe some life back into struggling web portal Excite Japan, the portal, FamilyMart subsidiary, and Space Shower Networks have all invested in a new firm which will represent and distribute entertainment tickets nationwide. The three firms, which are all Itochu-held firms, will start selling tickets from next week, and hope to rival Lawson and Seven-Eleven. Apparently the Japanese domestic ticket market is worth JPY1.1trn, and convenience stores account for 30%-40% of those sales. (Source: TT commentary from, Feb 16, 2013)

=> Rakuten group earnings hit record high

Rakuten is still doing well group-wise, thanks to impressive new growth from domestic mobile purchases, which have substantially offset losses the firm is experiencing in its foreign operations. Regular website sales were flat, but smartphone and tablet purchases soared 40% to bring the overall sales total to 443.4bn. Domestic hotel and other EC business was also up by 15%, while operating profit on the financial business soared 80% year-on-year. As a result, Rakuten's net profit was JPY19.4bn, significantly better than the JPY2.2bn loss last year. (Source: TT commentary from, Feb 15, 2013)

NOTE: Broken links
Some online news sources remove their articles after just a few days of posting them, thus breaking our links -- we apologize for the inconvenience.



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Due to the technical nature and demanding work environment, this position is suitable for someone with basic helpdesk experience who can adapt to a constantly changing environment. In addition, since this role requires direct coordination with both regional and global IT teams, fluent Japanese and business English will be required.

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Date: Thursday, February 21, 2013
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RSVP: RSVP by 5pm on Friday, February 15th
Venue is The Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan


In this section we run comments and corrections submitted by readers. We encourage you to spot our mistakes and amplify our points, by email, to

=> No corrections this week.



=> Once-in-a-Lifetime: Kushida Shrine, Fukuoka
Grand tutelary shrine of Hakata

I left Hakata Machiya Folk Museum just before dusk. Turning back the way I'd come, I noticed lots of young couples streaming in the opposite direction. I wheeled around and fell in line beneath the torii of Kushida Shrine, sometimes affectionately called “Okushida-san,” - home to three tutelary deities, where students pray for academic success. It was examination time.

My sight obscured by the ceiling of the entrance gate, I could hear wing beats -- a cacophonous frenzy above the courtyard. As the line crept forward, I could see hundreds of birds in tight formation, settling in the branches of one of the three trees in the shrine then alighting to the next moments later. This enormous, high-decibel rush transpired until the sun set, exactly. Out of the birds' silence emerged the monotone chanting of a priest inside. It was a beautiful, solemn moment, a reminder that all such moments are unique. While in Japan, I've often thought, “Even when I return, I'll never experience this again”. I savored the voice, raising a few pitches before it fell silent, too.

=> Studio Ghibli Shop and Cafe, Ehime
Get your Ghibli souvenirs at Donguri no Mori

Dogo Onsen is the model for the spirit bathhouse in the smash-hit animation Spirited Away, a movie from Studio Ghibli. The movie happens to be the most successful Japanese film of all time, and Studio Ghibli has produced a whole string of animation hits, both before and after Spirited Away. Other productions you might have heard of include Grave of the Fireflies, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Porco Rosso, Princess Mononoke, Howl’s Moving Castle and the perennial favorite, My Neighbor Totoro. These works have been dubbed into several languages and enjoyed considerable success in cinemas overseas. Most of the films are set in an indeterminate ‘retro’ period of time, when there was abundant greenery and clean water. They manipulate the emotions with great skill.

As you’re walking up Dogo Arcade from the direction of Dogo tram station, the old Dogo Onsen Honkan building seems to peer at you down the tunnel of the arcade. Entranced by this surprising sight, you may not notice the Studio Ghibli Shop, Donguri no Mori on the right hand side. But if you’ve ever enjoyed a film from Studio Ghibli, chances are you’ll like the shop too. In contrast with the other shops in the arcade, it’s all apparently made of wood, and there’s some fake greenery evoking the typical Ghibli atmosphere. Outside, you’ll spot the fluffy Totoro and Catbus sitting on a bench.



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Terrie, dream on that any of these changes will ever be made, and migrants are deserting Japan in general with numbers down in 2010,11 and 12.