Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Thursday hinted he was willing to expand the scope of young Japanese-Brazilians eligible for preferential visa status to speed their emigration to labor-hungry Japan.
The possibility of loosening an immigration rule on so-called nikkei Brazilians and Peruvians of Japanese descent comes as the nation scrambles to alleviate an acute labor shortage linked to its dwindling population.
While addressing the Lower House Budget Committee, Abe made an assurance that he would “give positive thought” to a suggestion by the conservative opposition party Nippon Ishin no Kai to ease the immigration law to promote a greater nikkei influx.
“The nikkei people have many relatives in Japan and they are indeed in a special relationship with us. Japan, as a country, must treat them with love and respect,” Abe told Nippon Ishin no Kai lawmaker Mikio Shimoji.
The term nikkei dates back to around 1900, when Japanese people migrated in droves to Brazil and other parts of the globe looking for a better life, mostly as sugar and coffee plantation workers.
Japan already grants the descendants of nikkei preferential visa status, giving them the right to work full-time and semi-permanent status. The measure was introduced in 1990 in what was seen as an attempt by the government to offset a labor shortage stemming from the mania that was the bubble economy.
This special treatment applies almost unconditionally to the second and third generations of these descendants.
But the fourth generation, or the great-grandchildren of the original emigrants, are discriminated against in that they are required to fulfill certain conditions, such as being minors and unmarried, to stay in Japan.
The government has traditionally considered fourth-generation children undeserving of the same visa perk as their parents and grandparents because they are less involved with Japan, Abe explained Thursday.
Shimoji of Nippoin Ishin no Kai, however, said a rethink of this policy is now needed.
“Talk abounds about how undermanned Japan is and I know our nation cannot easily open its doors to immigration,” the lawmaker told Abe.
“But given the fact that those fourth-generation kids also have Japanese blood running through them, I think we should give them access to our country as well, so they can eventually return home with skills they have learned here.”
The opposition party plans to submit a bill to amend the law to the Diet.