Japan looks to immigrants as population shrinks: report

Japan’s ruling party is considering plans to encourage foreign workers to stay in the country long-term, a daily reported Monday after the birth rate fell for the 27th successive year.

The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has proposed setting up an “immigration agency” to help foreign workers — including providing language lessons, the Nikkei economic daily said without naming sources.

The party also intends to reform current “training” programmes for foreign workers, which have been criticised for giving employers an excuse for paying unfairly low wages, the paper said.

LDP lawmakers believe that immigration reform will help Japanese companies secure necessary workers as the declining birthrate is expected to further dent in the nation’s workforce, it said.

A group of about 80 LDP lawmakers will draw up a package of proposals by mid-May, it said. No immediate comment was available from the party on Monday.

A government report on the falling birthrate warned in April that Japan’s workforce could shrink by more than one-third to 42.28 million by 2050 if the country fails to halt the decline.

The government said Monday the number of children in Japan has fallen for the 27th straight year to hit a new low.

Children aged 14 or younger numbered 17,250,000 as of April 1, down by 130,000 from a year earlier, the internal affairs ministry said in an annual survey released to coincide with the May 5 Children’s Day national holiday.

The figure is the lowest since 1950 when comparable data started.

The ratio of children to the total population sank for 34 years in a row to 13.5 percent, also a record low, the ministry said.

Local media said it was also believed to be the world’s lowest, coming below 14.1 percent for both Italy and Germany.

Japan has struggled to raise its birthrate with many young people deciding that families place a burden on their lifestyles and careers.

Japan’s population has been shrinking since 2005 and the country is not producing enough children to prevent the drop.

The average number of children a woman has during her lifetime now hovers around 1.3, well below the 2.07 necessary to maintain the population.

Government leaders in Japan, which largely thinks of itself as ethnically homogeneous, have rejected the idea of allowing mass-scale immigration.

Some politicians have argued an influx of immigrants would lead to lower wages for Japanese workers and a higher crime rate.