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Current Development of Migration | Japan |

Japan Japan tentatively opens its doors to international care workers Japan (2012)

Current Development of Migration

Gabriele Vogt

/ 3 Minuten zu lesen

In 1990 there were 1,075,317 immigrants registered as resident in Japan (0.87%), in 1995 the figure was 1,362,371 (1.08%) and finally in the year 2000 it was 1,686,444 (1.33%). In 2008 the immigrant population reached its highest level to date with 2,217,426 persons (1.74%). In the space of 18 years the size of the immigrant population doubled. In particular, the immigrant communities from China and Brazil experienced a dramatic rise.

In Japan the impact of the world economic crisis of 2008/2009 was reflected in a decline in the economically active immigrant population. This numerical decline has continued, to a limited extent, to this day. Currently (2011) 2,078,480 immigrants are registered as resident in Japan, representing 1.63% of the total population – which since 2005 has itself been experiencing moderate negative growth.

Immigration after the revision of the Immigration Law

Immigrant population as percentage of total population (bpb) Lizenz: cc by-nc-nd/3.0/de/

The revision of Japan’s Immigration Law of 1990 gave rise to the numerical increase, which continued until 2008, in the resident immigration population in the country. Two aspects call for particular attention. Firstly, the revision of the law of 1990 commenced with the "long-term residence" group, a new category of residence, designed especially for the needs of the substantial Japanese population in Latin America, particularly in Brazil and Peru. Descendants of former emigrants, extending as far as the third generation, could now enter Japan as "long-term residents" and engage in economic activity without restriction. Following this revision of the law the Brazilian and Peruvian immigrant population in Japan grew by more than five and a half times in each case.

Secondly, the system of “trainees”, or technical internships, – now highly controversial – was expanded within the framework of the revised Immigration Law by a decree of the Ministry of Justice. Since August 1990 small businesses with fewer than 20 employees have been able to accept "trainees" or ‘technical interns’ from developing or emerging countries. The trainee program is financed by the Japanese budget for international development work and is designed to accelerate the spillover of technical knowledge in developing and emerging countries. The vast majority – up to 80% – of the international trainees in Japan come from China.

In practice it is clear that the trainee program – like the category of "long-term residence" for those of non-Japanese origin – meets the needs of the low wage sector, which is not catered for in Japan’s official immigration policy. A similar picture is emerging for the most recent initiative in Japan’s immigration policy, the recruitment from selected south-east Asian countries, under bilateral agreements, of care workers for the sick and elderly.

Care migration

Since 2008 and 2009 respectively, under bilateral agreements with Indonesia and the Philippines, up to 1,000 care workers for the sick and elderly per year from each of these countries have been able to travel to Japan, where after taking a compulsory six-month Japanese language course they are able to take employment as assistant care workers – without regard to their previous qualifications. After four years at the latest, Japan’s state examination for nursing or elderly care must be passed or the work visa may be withdrawn. Success in the examination guarantees an unlimited residence and work permit.

Since the introduction of the agreement, however, no more than 17 Indonesian and two Filipino care workers have passed the examination. The biggest hurdle has proved to be the written Japanese language. Moreover, it has become clear that the system of migration to Japan for care work is not attractive to potential immigrants; in particular, criticism focuses on the refusal to recognize existing professional qualifications and on the high value placed on linguistic competence. In fact, so far only 791 Indonesian and 532 Filipino care workers have come to Japan via this channel of immigration – far below the target quota. Initially praised as a countermeasure to meet an increasingly acute shortage of care workers for an aging population, the present system of immigration for care workers is proving impractical and ineffective.



  1. MIAC 2012; MOJ 2011b: 19; MOJ 2012a.

  2. Jap.: Shutsunyūkoku kanri oyobi nanmin ninteihō, abbrev.: Nyūkanhō (The Immigration and Emigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act), which came into force on 1-1-1982. This replaces the Immigration Control Order (Shutsunyūkoku kanri rei, abbrev.: Nyūkanrei) of 10-4-1951 previously in force (Behaghel and Vogt 2006: 122–123).

  3. Jap.: Teijūsha. Residence permit allowing repeated renewal, generally issued for three years in the first instance.

  4. Behaghel and Vogt 2006: 129–130.

  5. MOJ 2011b: 20.

  6. Behaghel and Vogt 2006: 128–129; Chiavacci 2011: 138–146.

  7. Vogt 2011b: 331.

  8. MOJ 2011b: 11.

  9. In addition, from 2014 care workers from Vietnam will be able to take employment in Japan on the basis of a similar agreement (Japan Times 4-20-2012).

  10. Vogt 2011b; Vogt and Holdgrün 2012.

  11. Ogawa 2012; Vogt 2011b.

  12. Vogt 2011a.


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Prof. Dr. Gabriele Vogt is professor for Japanese Studies at the Asia-Africa-Institute of the University of Hamburg. Her research focuses on socio-scientific research on Japan and covers not only international migration to Japan but also Japan’s demographic chance and topics of political participation.
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