According to The Telegraph, Japan has one of the world’s most rapidly aging populations but is in strong need of a younger workforce, particularly in the construction sector, as it prepares for the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.
The Japanese government is working on specific measures, which it is expected to reveal by the end of March 2014, to allow more foreign workers into the country as part of its economic revival. Measures under consideration include extending the period for on-the-job training programs for foreigners.
Another option would allow highly skilled expats to obtain permanent residency status in Japan more quickly, gaining permanent resident visas after three years instead of the current five. British expats, along with citizens from a handful of other nations, who are 18 to 30 years old, can work in Japan for up to one year on a working holiday visa.
COMMENT: About two million foreigners were living in Japan at the end of 2012, including about 620,000 permanent residents, according to Japan’s Justice Ministry.
Foreigners currently make up only 1% of the work force, a tiny figure compared to other developed economies. Many English-speaking foreigners work in Japan as language instructors. Other popular professions include translation, IT, modeling, gastronomy and entertainment.
The current major skills gap is in the construction industry which faces its worst labor shortage for almost 20 years, partly due to rebuilding after the earthquake and tsunami of March 2011. A shrinking labor pool threatens to derail Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s campaign to revive the economy, which slipped to the world’s third largest when it was overtaken by China in 2010.
Government ministers have acknowledged that comprehensive steps are needed to address the country's shrinking birth rate and bolstering elderly population, but they face resistance from locals scared of losing their jobs. Expats themselves also need convincing of Japan’s friendliness to foreign workers given its low usage of English.
Japan’s Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry, along with local governments, has started to address this issue by changing street signs in tourist spots from romanised Japanese to English to make them easier for foreigners to understand.
Japan is estimated to need about 10 million immigrants over the next half century to offset its projected population decline.