March 3, 2006


Hard Work, Furtive Living: Illegal Immigrants in Japan: Japan needs, but does not welcome, migrant help (Sharon Noguchi, 2 March 2006, YaleGlobal)

Martinez (which is not her real name) and her fellow foreign laborers experience the flip side of the polite, safe Japan that Western tourists and foreign business people encounter. Japanese society extends little protection from exploitation for powerless illegal immigrants.

Their numbers will undoubtedly swell now that Japan’s birthrate has sunk to 1.29 children per woman, well below the replacement level. In 2005, Japan’s population dropped for the first time since the government began keeping records in 1899, a year ahead of projections; births fell 4.2 percent and deaths increased 5.4 percent. With the population beginning an accelerating decline, factories need assembly-line hands, retirement schemes seek contributors, and producers want consumers.

The government does not issue visas for manual laborers or for immigrants. For decades, Japan had been one of the few countries to industrialize without drawing on immigrant labor, relying instead on rural residents and women. But during the bubble economy of the late 1980s, an acute labor shortage prompted Tokyo to grant long-term visas to Japanese descendants abroad, up to the third generation. The assumption was that such immigrants would easily fit into Japanese society, more so than other foreigners.

Today, more than 350,000 Latin Americans, most of them ethnic Japanese, live with their families in Japan. These legal immigrants do the so-called “3D work,” the dirty, dangerous and difficult jobs shunned by middle-class Japanese. They are joined by illegal immigrants, foreign students, and trainees—primarily Asians ostensibly in Japan to learn skills to use back home, but who in reality supply docile low-wage labor.

About 1.9 million foreigners are registered in Japan. Combined with illegal entries, non-Japanese make up 1.5 percent of Japan’s population, a tiny proportion compared to immigrant populations in Europe and North America. The challenges so familiar to officials in the US, Europe and Australia are thus relatively new in Japan.

Official policy has not come to terms with the labor deficit, and without government action, employers will meet the growing demand for workers with illegal immigrants.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 3, 2006 4:20 PM

Grow or die, that is the issue. The dirty little secret of both political parties when in power is that immigration whether legal or illegal is the only way to keep the USA from having a shrinking population. We are fortunate that most of our immigrants are Christian and will blend into our society within a generation. Europe is not so fortunate with its immigrant populations.
I suspect that Japan will solve its population implosion with a mix of Chinese and Koreans.

Posted by: morry at March 3, 2006 5:34 PM