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THE QUESTION OF IMMIGRATION TO JAPAN

We talked about immigration to Japan with Pierre Boussard, sales and business development manager for Japan Mobility.

Japan Mobility is the specialist in relocation assistance for expatriates transferred or employed in Japan. The company assists companies throughout the territory, from Okinawa to Hokkaido, offering all the services of installation assistance for their employees-expatriates: visa application, search for accommodation/school, intercultural management, 24/7 helpline, with the philosophy “Making It Easier”.

It is no surprise that the Japanese population is aging. With only 864,000 births in 2019, a drop of 6% compared to 2018, the issue of the birth rate linked to an aging population is a real societal problem in Japan. The country with its 120 million inhabitants is the oldest in the world. How can we explain this ageing? What are the consequences? Is immigration a solution?

If today the Japanese archipelago has never experienced such a high average age, this is partly explained by a drop in the birth rate and an increase in life expectancy.

The decline in the birth rate is due to two factors: the first is the rate of celibacy, which is constantly increasing. Indeed, two-thirds of Japanese are single among the 18/34 age group. It should be noted that births outside marriage are very frowned upon in this traditionalist society. 

The second reason is the very high cost of living in Japan. The choice to have a child is often dismissed by young couples who are afraid of not being able to financially support their child(s). Today, starting a family and having children is not a priority for the Japanese. The average age of first pregnancy among Japanese women is 30.7 years.

Births are rare, that’s a fact. But the increase in average age is also due to the ever-increasing life expectancy: 84 years. This is the highest average in the world. Quality of life and relatively healthy nutrition are the main reasons why longevity is so strong. Also, occupational activity is a determining factor.   One in four people in Japan is over 65 years old; and some of them still work mainly in construction, a booming sector. This occupation allows the Japanese to maintain a rhythm and physical activity and, in most cases, prolongs their life expectancy. But if the Japanese continue to work, it is not out of pleasure but out of necessity: their low retirement often does not allow them to support themselves. 

This ageing has serious consequences for the Japanese economy. Companies are no longer finding people with the skills needed to do skilled work. The country is mainly short of engineers, especially in technical fields such as aerospace, automotive...

Throughout the archipelago there are small grocery stores, open 24/7 called «Kombini». These local businesses also offer banking services, postal services, photocopying, and are an integral part of everyday life. These shops have become part of Japanese customs. If ten years ago, the staff at the cashier was exclusively Japanese, the situation changes today: many are unskilled Vietnamese or Sri Lankan students and some of these businesses are threatened with closure due to lack of unfilled positions. 

Japan is short of skilled or unskilled labour and this creates significant gaps in the long term. One of the solutions is immigration, a subject still taboo within the archipelago. 


The population is over 65 years old in Japan; and some of them still work mainly in the construction sector, which is booming. This occupation allows the Japanese to maintain a rhythm and physical activity and, in most cases, prolongs their life expectancy. But if the Japanese continue to work, it is not out of pleasure but out of necessity: their low retirement often does not allow them to support themselves. 

This ageing has serious consequences for the Japanese economy. Companies are no longer finding people with the skills needed to do skilled work. The country is mainly short of engineers, especially in technical fields such as aerospace, automotive...

Throughout the archipelago there are small grocery stores, open 24/7 called «Kombini». These local businesses also offer banking services, postal services, photocopying, and are an integral part of everyday life. These shops have become part of Japanese customs. If ten years ago, the staff at the cashier was exclusively Japanese, the situation changes today: many are unskilled Vietnamese or Sri Lankan students and some of these businesses are threatened with closure due to lack of unfilled positions. 

Japan is short of skilled or unskilled labour and this creates significant gaps in the long term. One of the solutions is immigration, a subject still taboo within the archipelago. 


Foreigners make up about 2% of the Japanese population. The most skilled come from the United States, Europe and more recently India. The least qualified are from South East Asia (mainly Vietnam) and Sri Lanka where sometimes government agencies recruit and train them in their home countries before expatriating them to Japan. This practice is particularly applied in the areas of hospitality and assistance to the elderly.  

The need for foreign labour is nevertheless a sensitive subject. Indeed, the Japanese are extremely attached to their culture where respect and harmony are paramount values. With the arrival of foreigners, the population is afraid of losing this ethnic homogeneity established for hundreds of years. Aware that a lack of adaptability and investment by expatriates in their customs could weaken their society, the Japanese want at all costs to preserve this social harmony that is dear to them.  

In view of its demographic situation and the ageing of its population, even if the inhabitants disapprove of it, Japan needs immigration. The latter is done in dribs and drabs and can sometimes be complicated. The deadline for issuing a work permit is 1 to 3 months, and Japanese immigration is known to be picky and require a lot of detail (motivation, background, etc.). Even if the official criteria are met, she can refuse any visa issuance at the end of the process, without giving any valid reasons. The lack of respect on the part of some tourists towards Japanese customs does not help the reluctance of the population to the arrival of expatriates. Settling in a new country means adapting to its values and respecting them.

Births are rare, that’s a fact. But the increase in average age is also due to the ever-increasing life expectancy: 84 years. This is the highest average in the world. Quality of life and relatively healthy nutrition are the main reasons why longevity is so strong. Also, occupational activity is a determining factor.   One in four people in Japan is over 65 years old; and some of them still work mainly in construction, a booming sector. This occupation allows the Japanese to maintain a rhythm and physical activity and, in most cases, prolongs their life expectancy. But if the Japanese continue to work, it is not out of pleasure but out of necessity: their low retirement often does not allow them to support themselves. 

This ageing has serious consequences for the Japanese economy. Companies are no longer finding people with the skills needed to do skilled work. The country is mainly short of engineers, especially in technical fields such as aerospace, automotive...

Throughout the archipelago there are small grocery stores, open 24/7 called «Kombini». These local businesses also offer banking services, postal services, photocopying, and are an integral part of everyday life. These shops have become part of Japanese customs. If ten years ago, the staff at the cashier was exclusively Japanese, the situation changes today: many are unskilled Vietnamese or Sri Lankan students and some of these businesses are threatened with closure due to lack of unfilled positions. 

Japan is short of skilled or unskilled labour and this creates significant gaps in the long term. One of the solutions is immigration, a subject still taboo within the archipelago. 

Foreigners make up about 2% of the Japanese population. The most skilled come from the United States, Europe and more recently India. The least qualified are from South East Asia (mainly Vietnam) and Sri Lanka where sometimes government agencies recruit and train them in their home countries before expatriating them to Japan. This practice is particularly applied in the areas of hospitality and assistance to the elderly.  

The need for foreign labour is nevertheless a sensitive subject. Indeed, the Japanese are extremely attached to their culture where respect and harmony are paramount values. With the arrival of foreigners, the population is afraid of losing this ethnic homogeneity established for hundreds of years. Aware that a lack of adaptability and investment by expatriates in their customs could weaken their society, the Japanese want at all costs to preserve this social harmony that is dear to them.  

In view of its demographic situation and the ageing of its population, even if the inhabitants disapprove of it, Japan needs immigration. The latter is done in dribs and drabs and can sometimes be complicated. The deadline for issuing a work permit is 1 to 3 months, and Japanese immigration is known to be picky and require a lot of detail (motivation, background, etc.). Even if the official criteria are met, she can refuse any visa issuance at the end of the process, without giving any valid reasons. The lack of respect on the part of some tourists towards Japanese customs does not help the reluctance of the population to the arrival of expatriates. Settling in a new country means adapting to its values and respecting them.

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