Let 10% of Japan be foreigners: Nakagawa

by and

Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers made an ambitious proposal Thursday to raise the ratio of immigrants in Japan to about 10 percent over the next 50 years.

The frankness of the suggestion reflects the seriousness of Japan’s population decline, which is marked by a rapid increase in the elderly population and a falling birthrate that threatens to undermine future economic growth.

“There is no effective cure to save Japan from a population crisis,” the proposal said. “In order for Japan to survive, it must open its doors as an international state to the world and shift toward establishing an ‘immigrant nation’ by accepting immigrants and revitalizing Japan.”

Headed by ex-LDP Secretary General Hidenao Nakagawa, the group of about 80 lawmakers drafted a “Japanese-model immigration policy” that they plan to submit to Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda next week.

The group said its definition of “immigrant” is the same as that used by the United Nations, and can count individuals who have lived outside their home countries for more than 12 months. This includes asylum-seekers, people on state or corporate training programs, and even exchange students.

In what might be the government’s first time using the word “immigrant” in this context, the proposal calls for enacting a law that specifies Japan’s basic principles and policies on immigrants.

It also says immigration policy should place importance on nurturing the talent of newcomers, adding that providing more education and training opportunities is indispensable.

In addition, an “immigration agency” should be set up within three years to unify the management of foreigner-related affairs, including legal issues such as nationality and immigration control.

“This (proposal) covers a wide range of issues that need to be taken care of both in the short term and the long term, but as members of the legislature, we’re determined to make the necessary changes to the law,” Nakagawa said, noting the group will ask its peers in the ruling and opposition camps for their support. “We’re going to move swiftly.”

According to Immigration Bureau data, the number of registered foreigners in Japan set a record high of about 2.08 million in 2006. Among them, permanent residents have continued to grow, reaching 837,000, or 40 percent, of all registered foreigners in 2006.

Hirohiko Nakamura, an Upper House lawmaker and secretary general of the LDP group, said increasing the recognition of refugees is also on their agenda. The group proposes accepting up to 1,000 asylum-seekers and other foreigners who need protection for humanitarian reasons.

The proposal also said a foreigner who has lived in Japan for 10 years or longer should be given nationality if the person wishes to become a Japanese citizen. The group also says citizenship should be given to all permanent residents.