Opening Japan’s Immigration Door

Buried in the government’s new growth strategy is a short section calling for an easing — albeit slight — in Japan’s ultra-tight immigration restrictions. It’s a small gesture, but symbolically significant for a nation that has been slow to open its borders, despite a shrinking native population.

The Kan administration hopes to “double the number of highly skilled foreign personnel” over the next decade, said the report issued Friday. That’s up from about 200,000 now.

An accompanying Justice Ministry report suggests specific policy changes to reach that goal, such as allowing those people to stay in Japan on special visas for five years — up from the current three — and to make it easier for them gain permanent residency status.

The goal, according to the Justice report is to “show the world what sort of highly skilled talent the country hopes to strategically invite.” Such an influx, it added, could: “increase productivity of industry, stimulate the labor market, and consequently, create new energy in the social economy and strengthen international competitiveness.”

Japan is one of the least immigrant-friendly developed countries in the world. In 2006, just 1.1% of Japan’s workforce (about 753,000) was made up of immigrants, highly skilled or otherwise, compared with 8.5% for Germany and 15.6% for the U.S.