National / Politics

Japan may boost immigrant numbers

by Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writer

While stressing that no decision has been made, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga on Friday did not deny a media report that the administration is considering increasing the number of immigrants to boost Japan’s potential for long-term economic growth.

The Sankei Shimbun reported Friday that the Abe administration has decided to consider accepting a massive number of immigrants, possibly as many as 200,000 a year, to make up for the rapid aging and shrinking of the Japanese population.

“It is true (the Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy) is now having discussions to promote mid- to long-term development of Japan, with an eye on structural changes such as the shrinking of the population,” Suga, the top government spokesman, said during his daily news conference.

“It is also true a knowledgeable person there proposed the utilization of foreigners as one policy option . . . but we, as the government, have not made any decisions on such a matter yet,” Suga said.

As he pointed out, during the Feb. 24 session of a subcommittee of the Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy, a key advisory body for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the administration revealed an estimate that Japan will be able to maintain a population of more than 100 million if it accepts 200,000 immigrants a year and the total fertility rate, a key indicator of a country’s birth trends, recovers to 2.07 by 2030 from the current 1.39.

Whether to accept huge numbers of immigrants to maintain Japan’s economic potential has long been a politically sensitive issue. Many conservative lawmakers in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party are opposed to such ideas.

But earlier this month, in an apparent sign of a policy shift, a high-ranking official close to Abe argued that Japan should accept a large number of foreign unskilled workers and that such a policy should be included in a package of new growth strategies Abe plans to announce in June.

“Resistance of the LDP is strong, but it’d be easier to win understanding of people if (immigrants are limited to) such areas as domestic helpers, baby sitters, medical workers and nurses,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The Abe aide also pointed out that the prime minister, in a speech delivered at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Jan. 22, already promised to world business leaders that Japan will accept more foreign workers.

“Few people have understood the importance of the speech, but (Abe) has already made the promise to world leaders in Davos,” the official said.

In his speech to global business and political leaders, Abe said Japan should tap more female workers to increase the country’s growth potential, and for that purpose, Japan “needs support of foreigners” in such areas as domestic help and home nursing of the elderly.

Abe did not mention any target number for foreign workers.

According to a Cabinet Office simulation, Japan’s population will plummet to 87 million in 2060 from the current 128 million if the total fertility rate remains at the current level of 1.39.