It hit the headlines in Japan recently when the proportion of immigrants there rose above 2% of the population for the first time. For comparison, the average across the EU of people living in a country who were not born there is 13%. 40% of Londoners were not born in the UK. Much of the increase in Japan is in younger workers coming from Asian countries such as the Philippines and Vietnam, with new visa categories for highly skilled engineers or to care for the elderly. Chinese nationality residents are the largest group, as they were 10 years’ ago, but only represent around 25% of foreign residents now. According to a special feature in the Nikkei Business magazine, in 2008 Chinese people made up around 45% of foreigners in Japan and there was also proportionately a much larger group of Brazilian residents (often Japanese ethnicity Brazilians working in car factories). In 2016 Japan had the fourth largest number of new foreign residents, after Germany, USA and the UK.
Around 40% of companies in Japan surveyed by the JRI say they are currently employing non-Japanese, a further 4.5% say they have non-Japanese as temporary workers and 12.7% say they hired non-Japanese workers in the past. The biggest reason by far given by Japanese companies for hiring non-Japanese workers is that they were not able to hire Japanese (50%) with other reasons being “to liven up the organisation” (15.8%) and “because foreigners work hard” (13.1%).
Japanese companies say the main issues they have with hiring foreign employees are communication difficulties, that employees who they train are only allowed to stay for a fixed period and that there is a large variety in the quality of foreign employees.
But as the Nikkei Business special feature points out, many foreign workers are not happy either. Japan only ranks number 32 of 33 (Brazil is bottom) in terms of countries where people would like to work, according to a survey by HSBC. The main reasons for the low ranking are that Japan is seen as a closed society, that it is difficult to settle permanently there, that pay is low, worklife balance is bad and the educational environment for children is not good.
The Nikkei Business feature tries to end on a positive note, pointing out that this influx of foreign workers is a $27bn business opportunity for Japan – helping the new immigrants with accommodation, banking, living essentials and education.
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