Last Tuesday, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced that Japan wants to start accepting more foreign workers, mainly in the blue-collar category, from April next year. On the face, this seems to be an exciting development for anyone interested in working in the Land of the Rising Sun! But if you look at the issue carefully, it may eventually not be good for these workers.

Records show that proportion of foreigners in Japan is a meager 2 %, compared to France’s 16 % and Korea’s 2 %. The Japanese people generally like it that way. The Japanese are usually very nice to tourists and foreigners who go there on short-term visas, such as students. They, however, generally do not like having many foreigners in their society on a permanent basis.

For many years, Japan used to be a closed country, with a very unique culture and way of doing things. Many people, that I used to interact with, in Japan, used to argue that foreigners may disrupt the social fabric of life in Japan. The Japanese are usually scared of drug dealers and religious extremists, among other things.

When the Japanese notice that a foreigner is willing to learn Japanese and adheres to the basic norms of Japanese culture, they eventually like that foreigner. This is what I saw from my experience in Japan. Initially, the Japanese used to be indifferent. The more I learnt Japanese and mastered their culture, the easier my life became. I made so many friends from almost all the 47 prefectures of Japan. I am still in touch with most of these friends.

The policies of the Japanese government are usually driven by the views of the general population. This is the reason why Japanese prime ministers resign when their public support levels plummet. This issue of immigration is a thorny issue in Japan. The government cannot start showing willingness to open up for more foreign workers without carefully analyzing the views of the masses.

Japan has been sitting on a demographic time bomb for a long time. Japan is facing a problem of declining population and the aging of its society. In 2017, the number of Japanese 90 or older topped 2 million for the first time. In the same 2017, the country registered the lowest number of births since records began in 1899.

Japan is facing a serious labor shortage, which will only get worse and worse in the coming years. In 2017, there were 150 job openings for every 100 workers, the most in over four decades. For many years, there has been so much investment in robotics in order to cut down the need for blue collar workers.

But still, that is not enough; there are industries such as caring for old people, where robots cannot replace human beings effectively. There is an urgent need for people to do these kind of jobs. This serious labor crunch is causing the Japanese society to reluctantly start changing their conservative stand on immigration. Surveys show public attitudes are gradually becoming more accepting of foreigners.

If Japan was not faced with this acute labor shortage, they would not even be thinking of opening their country to immigrants. All folks who are looking forward to working in Japan under the proposed visa have to understand this truth.

Under the new plan, a visa will be valid for up to five years. The workers will be banned from bringing their family members. The workers will also have to pass skills tests and Japanese language proficiency exams.

The stipulated conditions seem to be highly in favor of Japan; the poor foreign workers do not have much to gain out of this policy. The policy does not say if the visa will be renewable. Japan is an exciting place; but for most foreigners, they encounter a huge cultural shock when they arrive there.

Integrating in the society takes a long time. The first two or three years might actually be spent on learning the language and getting used to the culture. Remember these people are not young; their ability to master the Japanese language might not be that good. If the visa is not renewed, all the effort of relocating to Japan might actually end up as a waste.

Resettling down in their native countries after a five year stint in Japan will not be easy. On the other hand, their Japanese employers will have benefited a lot from their efforts in the Land of the Rising Sun. I am also not sure if the wages of these workers will be regulated. There is a danger that the companies may also end up exploiting them.

Banning these workers from bringing their families along with them is inhuman. I hope that they will remove this requirement as the deliberations continue. How do they expect a person who has left his family thousands of kilometers away to give 100 % of his or her effort at work? Have the proponents of the requirements ever stayed away from their families before?

One thing, that seemed very strange to me in Japan, was the ever increasing number of Japanese women who were married or dating foreigners. Sometimes, I used to think that this phenomenon was on the rise simply because Japanese men were not as committed as foreigners in relationship.

While some foreign men were genuinely in love with their Japanese women, there were also many foreign men who went into those relationships simply because they needed to legalize their stay in Japan. If the Japanese government goes ahead with this policy of separating foreign workers from their families, there will be more relationships/marriages between these workers and Japanese women.

The families of the foreign workers will be destroyed. New multi-racial families will be formed simply because of economic reasons. Such families will surely not stand the test of time. So by trying to preserve the Japanese social fabric by limiting foreign families on the Japanese soil, the damage will still be made, albeit in a different way.

To call upon foreign workers to solve the problem of shrinking labor force is a good development. But those foreign workers must be treated with dignity. It must be a win-win situation. They must be given renewable visas. They must also be given good salaries so that they are able to save some money and do some developments in their home countries.

On a very serious note, please allow them to come to Japan with their spouses and children. Programs, that will make it easy for them to get integrated in the society easily, must be created.

When they eventually go back to their countries, they must not be looking back to their Japanese experience with regrets. These people may eventually serve as Japan’s greatest ambassadors out there.