National

Population fixes have anti-foreign bias, official says

by Tomohiro Osaki

Staff Writer

The government is in denial over Japan’s looming demographic disaster and adopting unrealistic solutions rather than face the need to accept large numbers of immigrants, a former senior immigration official said Friday.

Hidenori Sakanaka, a former director of the Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau who now heads the Japan Immigration Policy Institute, said his voice has long gone unheard because an anti-immigration culture exists among Japan’s intellectuals and media.

Speaking at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan, Sakanaka said that policies such as trying to push the elderly and more women into the workforce to combat shrinkage shows “the government’s desperate desire to avoid opening up their nation to immigration — at all costs.”

On Tuesday, an advisory panel to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said in an interim report that the government should focus on raising Japan’s birthrate to save the nation from an impending crisis of shrinking towns and workforces.

For Japan to maintain a population of around 100 million over the next 50 years, the report said that Japan’s fertility rate must rise to 2.07 percent from the current 1.41. But it also said it would not recommend the wholesale acceptance of immigrants to forestall the projected decline in the population — as Sakanaka advocates.

He told the audience in Tokyo that he believes Japan should become, over the years, a “nation of immigrants,” dismissing the panel’s suggested goal of boosting the birthrate to 2.07 percent as “unfeasible.”

“Not just Japan, but all other advanced and civilized countries are facing reduced birth rates. I don’t think achieving a 2.07 percent birthrate several decades, or even 100 years from now on, is possible. There are so many unknown elements,” he said.

Sakanaka also condemned Abe’s plan to expand a contentious foreign-trainee program to prevent labor shortages ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Experts say unscrupulous employers often exploit such trainees.

They allegedly use the program to obtain cheap labor, which often opens the door to other abuses. Currently the trainees can obtain a three-year visa, but government now plans to allow them to stay for two additional years.

Calling it an “incarnation of modern-day slavery,” Sakanaka said the planned expansion will “only be remembered as an embarrassment.”