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Japan’s Prime Minister Refuses to Relax Immigration Rules for Refugees

by Alison Basley

In the face of growing pressure from the UN refugee agency, Japan’s Prime Minister is not backing down from his refusal to relax immigration rules. Japan’s government has been debating the need for foreign workers but Prime Minister Abe insists the country should only accept foreign workers “where they are truly needed.”

Since Japan has seen its workforce shrink by around two million since the 1990s and the birth rate is at a record low, a points-based system was introduced five years ago to “promote entry of highly-skilled foreign professionals.” Japan officially rejects unskilled migrant workers outright.

Those given preferential treatments are youth, those with high income, Japanese speakers, and those in the fields of academic research, business management, or “specialized/technical activities.” The country accepted just three asylum seekers in the first half of 2017.

In 2008, the Japanese government began a resettlement scheme for Karen people from Myanmar living in Thai and Malaysian camps which only allows about 20-30 refugees a year. At the end of last year, 17.2 million refugees attempted to flee wars or prosecution. Japan’s donations to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) have also slipped, declining a little bit every year since 2013.

Interestingly, Japan has not experienced a terrorist attack since 1995 and the country’s economy has grown for a seventh straight quarter, its longest expansion since 2001. Japan Times reports that a rise in business investment and steady exports have offset a decline in consumer spending. In fact, Japan’s economy has continued to expand above its potential growth rate of 0.5-1.0 percent, thanks in large part to exports.

Japan is surely looking at this data as an indicator that taking in more unskilled workers during a time of economic recovery for an already impeded workforce would not be beneficial to the country. Moreover, Japan is watching as its European allies who take in overwhelming amounts of refugees are subjected to a decrease in public safety, while Japan remains free of terror attacks.

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