Japan must ease migrant rules or lose carers – minister

Japan must completely revise its immigration rules to deal with a shortage of labour in an ageing society or risk losing workers to China, whose population is also greying, Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara said on Wednesday.

Maehara said China, with its one-child policy, would become a “super-greying society” in the long term and could possibly look beyond its borders to secure labour, especially in nursing care, posing competition to Japan.

“If China cannot find enough workers in its own country, then they will look for workers from other Asian countries,” Maehara said in a speech to a trade group.

“When that sort of competition occurs, we have to wonder if people will come to Japan.”

The Japanese government has long kept immigration to a minimum, partly from fears of a possible rise in crime.

But the dearth of young people has forced Tokyo to rethink its attitude to foreign workers, especially for nursing care as it faces a growing need for care givers for the elderly.

Since 2008, hundreds of Indonesian and Filipino nurses and care workers have entered Japan under Economic Partnership Agreements.

But Maehara said very few of them have passed exams that would enable them to stay. Such workers must qualify for a nurse’s licence in Japanese within three years or leave the country.

The current system basically rejects foreign workers except for the status of trainee or student, Maehara said.

Language has been a big barrier for those taking the nursing exam, but Japanese people should also do their part to be more accepting of foreign workers, he said.

“Not only do those coming to Japan need to learn Japanese, but also elderly Japanese may need to learn English in order to receive care from them.”

Japan is the most rapidly ageing society in the world, with nearly one in four Japanese now aged 65 or over and the figure expected to reach 40 percent by 2050.