Japan household helper plan shows wider immigration dilemma
Reuters -- Dec 11
During the early days of "Abenomics," U.S. businesses were optimistic they could convince Japan's government to make a small change to the nation's tight immigration rules to let more household helpers into the country.
But a year after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took office, an idea that some thought might be an easy win for immigration reform while meeting a stated aim of Abe's growth strategy has made no apparent progress.
If Abe's government drags its feet on one small step, it suggests scant prospects for any broader measures to let in foreign workers any time soon - which many experts say will be necessary for Japan to sustain its economic growth in the face of a rapidly shrinking workforce.
"Japan needs to let in more foreign workers to solve its population problem," said Hidenori Sakanaka, former head of the Tokyo Immigration Bureau. "Letting in more domestic workers is just a small part of the big picture, but it might make a big difference to the people who employ them."
The proposal has been discussed by three ministries, people familiar with the process say, although Abe has not publicly mentioned the idea. Loosening visa requirements for domestic helpers could allow more Japanese women to return to full-time work, proponents say.
That is one goal in a broader Abe strategy to get Japan on the path of stable economic expansion after almost two decades of debilitating deflation and sluggish growth.
But after Abe won plaudits for pushing aggressive fiscal and monetary expansion after coming to power last December, reaction to his longer-term economic growth plans has been less enthusiastic.
His immigration-reform plans would make it easier for highly skilled immigrants to get work visas and cut the time needed to qualify for permanent residency. This falls short of the comprehensive steps needed to address the country's shrinking birthrate and burgeoning elderly population, experts say.
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