Japan Panel Proposes Limits On Foreign Workers

Japan panel proposes limits on foreign workers
Wednesday, May 31, 2006; 12:54 AM

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan should limit the number of foreign workers allowed into the country and require those who are let in to acquire a command of the Japanese language, a Justice Ministry panel recommended this week.

Japan is debating ways to boost its aging workforce while taking into account public fears that admitting more foreign workers could lead to a rise in crime.

The country's population started shrinking last year, and many are concerned over the effect the demographic change could have on the economy.

The head of the panel, Vice Justice Minister Taro Kono, has suggested limiting the proportion of foreigners to 3 percent of the population, compared with 1.2 percent now, a ministry spokesman said on Wednesday.

“Some countries accept 5 or 10 percent, but that would be absolutely impossible for Japan,” the spokesman said.

People with specialist skills should be favored over manual laborers, according to a ministry press release on the report.

The panel also proposed tightening immigration requirements on foreigners of Japanese descent, who are currently allowed to work in Japan with relatively few restrictions.

“We should not accept people simply on the basis that they are of Japanese descent,” the document said.

“Those who are already in the country should be required to have a means of making a living and Japanese language ability in order to be allowed to remain,” it added.

There were around 250,000 foreigners, mostly Brazilians, living in Japan on similar visas as of the end of 2004.

Concerns over such immigrants grew after the indictment of a Peruvian for killing a seven-year-old girl last year. The accused man was reported to have entered the country on the basis of his Japanese ancestry.