More than 70 percent of Japanese are worried that an increase in the number of illegally employed foreign workers could undermine public safety and result in human rights abuses against the workers themselves, according to a government survey released Saturday.

But more than 80 percent said Japan should accept foreign laborers conditionally or unconditionally, and many said Japan does not yet have the legal or other systems in place to deal with crimes, abuses and other problems that may result from accepting foreign workers.

“The result does not necessarily imply that Japanese people have become more exclusive. Actually, some people do think Japan could accept more foreign labor on certain conditions,” said Isao Negishi, an assistant director of the Immigration Bureau Immigration Policy Planner’s Office at the Justice Ministry.

The Cabinet Office survey, conducted May 13 to 23, covered 2,075 respondents in their 20s and older.

Asked about illegal employment of foreigners, 70.7 percent said it is “not good,” up 21.5 percentage points from the previous poll in November 2000, while 24.5 percent, down 15.9 points, judged it “not good but inevitable.”

When multiple answers were allowed, 72.5 percent of those against foreign labor voiced concerns about deteriorating public safety and morals, and 49.2 percent about breaches of the workers’ human rights in cases such as prostitution.

In addition, 48.1 percent claimed such foreigners violate Japanese laws, and 45.2 percent believe their jobs could eventually be used to funnel financial resources into organized crime groups.

In contrast, 47.5 percent of people who judged illegal employment of foreigners “inevitable” said such workers need money to sustain their families, followed by 36.3 percent believing they are satisfied with their status and 31.8 percent blaming employers instead of the foreigners.

The poll was also designed to analyze public opinion on whether Japan should accept more foreign labor in the near future to offset a decrease in domestic supply due to the aging society and low birthrate.

Basically, Japan, unlike most other developed countries, has so far granted foreign labor status only to a limited number of academics, journalists and other professionals as well as skilled laborers, and is not open to unskilled labor.

Among those positive about accepting foreign labor, 25.9 percent said the current control system should be maintained, while 39 percent said Japanese women and the elderly should be employed before foreigners, who could then work in sectors running short of personnel. Only 16.7 percent thought Japan should widely accept foreigners, both skilled and unskilled.

Japan’s population is set to drop to 100 million within 50 years from its peak of 127 million in 2006. It will further fall to 64 million within another 50 years if the birthrate remains as low as it is now, according to a projection in 2002 by the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research.

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