Keidanren: Immigrant worker influx vital to halt labor shortage

by Minoru Matsutani

Japan should expedite an increase in immigrant labor to engage in fields ranging from welfare to manufacturing, construction and agriculture to offset the shrinking domestic workforce, the nation’s largest business lobby said Tuesday.

Japan has essentially not accepted unskilled workers in those areas, but the Japan Business Federation (Nippon Keidanren) now argues the country should introduce “medium-skilled” workers, the group said in a report.

The transport and fishery industries should also be opened to foreign labor, Keidanren said.

The federation argued that Japan should accept unskilled workers as well as recruit more foreign students and provide social infrastructure to encourage immigrants to stay for a long time. It said this can be accomplished through such measures as stabilizing their legal status and helping them study Japanese.

Keidanren, like the government, has until now welcomed only high-skilled foreign workers, including information technology engineers, office professionals and language teachers.

The proposal underlines the serious labor shortage facing Japan.

The population, now at 128 million, is estimated to drop by about 30 percent to roughly 90 million in 50 years. By that time there will be 1.3 persons in the 15-64 age bracket tor each person aged 65 or older, compared with 3.3 in 2005.

“The business circle is deeply worried about the aging population,” Keidanren Managing Director Masakazu Kubota said.

The government, facing rising demand and an acute shortage of welfare labor, has started accepting limited numbers of medical workers. Under an agreement with Indonesia, Japan accepted 208 Indonesian nurses and caregivers in August.

That is far from enough, Keidanren said. The federation projected that the nation’s nurse and caregiver shortage will hit 1.8 million by 2055.

In addition to medium-skilled laborers, Japan may have to open up to unskilled foreign workers, too, some experts say, but Keidanren executives are divided on this stance, Kubota said.

The federation’s recommendations are part of proposals it will soon present to the government, the Liberal Democratic Party and the Democratic Party of Japan, and other organizations.

Proposals in the Keidanren report, titled “How the economy and society facing a decreasing population should be,” include promoting research and development, increasing preschools, supporting working mothers and reinforcing education, all of which the federation has been recommending for years.

While the federation did not specify how many immigrants or foreign students should be welcomed and by what date, its recommendations basically mirror those compiled in June by LDP lawmakers headed by then Secretary General Hidenao Nakagawa.

Both urge that Japan encourage immigrants to become long-term residents.

Nakagawa’s proposals say Japan should accept 10 million immigrants, or 10 percent of Japan’s estimated population in 50 years, and increase the number of foreign students to 1 million by 2025 from 130,000 at present.