Accepted paper:

Towards an Open Japan? Abenomics and Immigration Policy

Author:

David Chiavacci (University of Zurich)

Paper short abstract:

Foreign pundits often identify a more open immigration policy as a missing element in Abenomics. However, admission policy reforms are actually an element of Abenomics. This paper will analyze the background of these immigration reforms and discuss their possible impact on Japan's labor market.

Paper long abstract:

In view of Japan's aging population and future labor shortage, foreign pundits and commentators have often identified a more pro-active and open immigration policy as a missing element in Abenomics. Abe himself has been seen as a prime representative of an ethno-nationalistic establishment that is not prepared to overcome Japan's self-perception as an ethnically homogeneous society and is missing another opportunity to steer Japan into a brighter future of economic dynamism and renewed growth. However, while Abe is surely not a passionate prophet of more open borders and of increasing Japan's intake of foreign workers, admission policy reforms are actually an often overlooked element of Abenomics. The foreign trainee system has been substantially reformed and a new system for foreign domestic workers and nannies is tested in a number of Japan's special economic zones (keizai tokku). These reforms have not only to be qualified as structural reforms, but are in fact the largest reforms in admission policy since the reform of the immigration law and the introduction of a new foreign trainee system around 1990. Moreover, while these reforms of around 1990 seemed very limited at the time, they led to significant new immigration flows and completed Japan's transformation into a new immigration country. Hence, the impact of Abe's reforms in immigration policy could potentially be much larger than on first impression. This paper will analyze the background of the immigration reforms under Abenomics and discuss their possible impact on Japan's immigration flows and its labor market. It will show that Japan's admission policy making and recent structural reforms are not simply based on ethnic nationalism, but on a much more complex ideational and institutional policy making. It argues also that Abe has a good chance to go together with his predecessor of the 1980s, Nakasone, into the history of Japan's immigration policy as the two political leaders, which are undoubtedly prime examples of Japan's ethno-nationalists, but still opened up Japan to immigration and foreign workers like no other Prime Minister of the postwar era.

panel S6_12
Demographics and economic participation