Foreign Policy Blogs

Visa system for skilled foreigners

The Japanese government outlined a plan to give preferential treatment to foreigners with specialized skills Thursday. The government will issue points to foreigners based on things like academic background, skill sets and business experience. Foreigners with preferred skills will be able to extend three-year visas to five years.

Japan will soon face a labor shortage due to the growing ranks of retirees and dismally low birthrate. Japan has no tradition of accepting foreigners, and is clearly looking for a way to bring in foreign labor on its own terms.

I have noticed that due to the nature of Japanese life, foreigners don’t stay long in Japan, and Japan doesn’t attract the best foreigners. To mainland Asians looking to emigrate, Japan is a Plan B for those who can’t make it to the U.S. Skilled, educated Asians go to the U.S. to work in IT or medicine, while unskilled, uneducated Asians go to Japan to perform menial labor or go into the sex industry. The government is finally realizing the need to make Japan more attractive to the best and brightest foreigners.

However, I don’t think making visas more available will be a major incentive in attracting skilled foreigners. Like I said above, I think the reason most foreigners shun Japan has to do with the nature of Japanese life.

Japan is a hierarchical society, and new immigrants enter at the bottom of the hierarchy. It usually doesn’t matter to Japanese employers how much experience or accreditation one acquired in their home country, they would still start in an entry-level position, and be expected to defer to their seniors, even if the senior has less knowledge in the field. They have to work their way up the hierarchy, and there is often a glass ceiling for foreigners as Japanese view them as temporary workers who can’t be integrated into Japanese society. The Japanese themselves recognize that their society is difficult to live in, and they don’t expect foreigners to be able to integrate, therefore they make no attempt to integrate them.

Japanese work culture can also be frustrating to foreigners. Japan’s work ethic is rooted in Zen Buddhism, in which hard work is a virtue. Oftentimes, Japanese employees work hard simply for the sake of working hard. Achieving good results is a secondary byproduct. A clever, efficient worker who can do a good job on his own, but leaves as soon as his shift ends, will be passed over in favor of a worker who takes a long time doing a barely sufficient job, seeking help from other coworkers, and staying at the office until after sundown.

Compounding these problems is the low quality of life Japan has to offer. Japanese cities are dreary, lifeless concrete deserts. Dwellings are small and expensive, built of sub-par materials and cramped close together, which makes them uncomfortable and minimizes privacy.

Japan will have to adjust its work environment and quality of life if it expects to attract more skilled foreign labor, as well as stopping its own massive brain drain to the West.



Dustin Dye

Dustin Dye is the author of the YAKUZA DYNASTY series, available through the Amazon Kindle.

He lived in Okayama, Japan, where he taught English at a junior high school through the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program for three years. He is a graduate from the University of Kansas, where he received a bachelor's degree in anthropology.

His interest in Japan began in elementary school after seeing Godzilla fight Ghidorah, the three-headed monster. But it wasn't until he discovered Akira Kurosawa's films through their spaghetti Western remakes that he truly became fascinated in the people and culture of Japan.

He lives in Kansas with his wife, daughter and guinea pig.

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E-mail him: [email protected]