How immigration will change Japanese politics

Workers from Thailand work at Green Leaf farm in Showa Village, Gunma Prefecture, Japan, 6 June 2018 (Photo: Reuters/Malcolm Foster).

Author: Nobuhiro Aizawa, Kyushu University

The Japanese government has revised the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law that could expand the entry of non-skilled foreign workers into the Japanese workforce. The law introduces the Specified Skilled Worker Category 1, opening up new professional fields for unskilled foreign workers. It is expected to attract around 345,000 workers in the next 5 years.


Fourteen professional sectors suffering from labour shortages were chosen for the scheme, including aged care, construction, agriculture and tourism. The law also entitles these non-skilled workers to a path to permanent residency should they pass professional testing and successfully renew their status.

The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) finalised a draft law after electing Abe as Chairman for his third term in September 2018. It passed through parliament — where the LDP holds a majority — in December 2018 and took effect in April 2019.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga emphasised the urgency of the new policy, explaining the need to save ailing but strategic industries and address the aging local economy. But the revised immigration control act was much more than an economic policy, and it divided public and political opinion.

Objections to the law came from both the opposition and from within the LDP itself. According to The Nikkei polls, the law garnered more backing from supporters of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan than from LDP supporters. Hidden disagreements were evident among party members — between generations and regions. These political fault lines signalled the beginning of a new politics of immigration in Japan and could become a critical turning point in Japanese politics. There are three areas that will likely become key battlegrounds.

First, the terms ‘foreign workers’ and ‘immigration’ have become selling points in Japanese politics. The more strongly the government refused to frame the …continue reading